Why did you choose to cover Merle Haggard’s “Got Lonely Too Early”?
Merle had a team member call to see if I’d like to record at the studio with him, and I was told that, “Merle has one condition, that you record one of his songs.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do a couple of his songs.” I wanted one song to be up-beat and with Don Markham. Don is as good as it gets and is responsible for some of the most iconic saxophone solos on Merle’s albums. One day, I was just listening to Merle’s Serving 190 Proof album, and I heard “Got Lonely Too Early,” and thought it was perfect; Don Markham’s solo ultimately made me fall in love with the song. I knew it was perfect for my vision.
What was the approach that you went after with this song?
I wanted to sing it Merle-style the best that I could do. I got a little intimidated because hitting some of those notes and bringing the emotion the way Merle did was a huge challenge. Merle was just one in a million, he could nail all the notes and serve up the emotion on the first take. I really had to get into character for these songs, and it really pushed me to add more layers of tone and emotion into the songs. When I told Merle that “Got Lonely” was going to be a single, he was so excited that all the work was so worth it.
So, what was it like to have the song produced by Haggard himself?
I never even imagined this would happen, to get to record at Merle and Theresa in the Hag Studio was a dream come true for me. I strived for perfection, because Merle’s music has been so influential to me that I knew I had to put my all into the recordings to ensure that I carried on Merle’s legacy through his music. The studio was breath-taking, and there was inspiration in every inch of the room – it was the perfect environment for creativity. Everything came together perfectly. He had pictures of so many different people that led Merle to his success, which I thought was very beautiful. Merle was so grateful for the people who were involved in his career and it was so touching to be a part of carrying on his legacy.
This single comes off your new album, Introducing Amy Jack. What’s the story behind the title?
We just wanted the title to be simple and focus on the songs, instead of a flashy name or artwork, so we settled on Introducing Amy Jack.
What was it like to work with Merle Haggard?
I remember Renee Zellweger saying on the Golden Globes, that it’s the journey that matters, and this echoes what Merle Haggard believed. He believed that climbing up the mountain is way more important than being at the top. While Merle was climbing the mountain, he believed that the writing is the core of it all, and that’s what Merle taught. I write because of Merle Haggard, I felt so connected to the idea of chasing that journey, and that’s the main inspiration of the album. Working with friends, co-writers, music mentors, Merle Haggard…they all made my journey so inspiring and always turned something into an experience. My co-writers, Don Goodman, Duane Hitchings were huge motivators for my journey, and I really look up to them. They’ve all had very successful careers, and I knew I wanted them on my team for this album to crank out the best work possible, but most importantly, I wanted to learn and grow through them and their expertise. So that’s what it’s all about, getting to work with people you trust and you learn from.
How much did he influence the album?
Merle once said, “If it’s not quality, why have it? Why do it? Why do it at all if it’s not quality?” He strived his whole life to put his all into everything he did. Merle Haggard was a genius, and like him, I take a lot of pride in my music and expressing who I am. This says it all about working with him. He took a lot of pride his whole life.
Merle was a true entertainer – before a show, he was always cracking jokes and connecting with the people backstage that he cared the most about. A lot of entertainers don’t talk before a show, but Merle was born to entertain, regardless of who he was with. His friends and fans — including Brad Pitt, Bill Gates, people in all walks of life — would show up for decades to see Merle and experience his magnetic personality. He would always tell people that he was an aspiring musician because he wanted fans to know that he was trying to learn every day, regardless of the decades of experience being an entertainer. But to answer your question, Merle has always been an inspiration for me, even as a little kid, I would listen to his songs and thought he was so different from other artists in the genre and how much I looked up to him. I remember thinking I want to be like him; I want to stand out.
Would you call this a departure from your previous musical work?
Looking back, all of my songs have been influenced by Merle’s convictions and genuine lyrics. I’ve always made it a priority for my songs to be transparent and have my own genuine flavor in them.
What aspect of country music in your own life did you get to explore on this record?
The first thing I experienced was thinking that country is a bigger challenge to sing. I sang some pop songs with Eddie Galan in LA, and with pop it’s more about the rhythm and fun to me. With country, you have to dig, and you really have to hit the feelings and the honesty has to be there. You can’t fake it because it can be about real-life struggles which most people have, and so that’s the first thing that struck me. I wanted to say for me, it’s harder to sing country because you have to give everything you have. You have to be able to tell your story in a genuine way that fans can relate to, which can be challenging, especially when you’re pouring your heart out to fans.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
Like Merle, I live them. All of them.
Any plans to hit the road?
Yes. If we can create, we can make it happen. I’d love to. It’s all Merle’s fault. Ever since I saw his bus, I fell in love with the idea to tour the country and share my music with other people.
What else is happening next in Amy Jack’s world?
I’m excited to start touring and I’m looking forward to more opportunities to come in the future. Merle always said that his father taught him to fear no man and that his success was built on that thought. I think about that a lot and am really excited to put myself out there.
Listen to Amy Jack’s latest album, Introducing Amy Jack, here.