In a world where people are constantly talking about ‘saving country music’ (from what exactly I’m not sure) Texas born songwriter Jarrod Dickenson should, by rights, be one of the saviours. His songs come from dusty barrooms filled with lonesome despair and whiskey soaked redemption. Having duked it out as an independent artist for a long while Dickenson has recently signed to the legendary Decca Records and released his second full length album ‘Ready The Horses’ on 29th September. He also heads to the UK on tour in October so we had a chat with him beforehand.
Your new album ‘Ready the Horses’ drops on September 29th. How excited are you to get this album out there?
Oh I can’t wait! It’s been a long time coming. We’ve had the record for a year and a half now I suppose so we’re eager to get it out there and share it with the world!
It’s been five years since the release of your last full-length album. Do you feel like you’ve changed a lot as a songwriter in that time?
I hope so. Any artist will hopefully evolve as the years go by and I definitely feel like this next record of mine is certainly an evolution from ‘The Lonesome Traveller’ and hopefully the one after this one will be as well.
You released your EP ‘Songs from Willow Street’ in 2014. What have you been up to since that release?
A lot of touring! We’ve been on the road pretty much non-stop for the last couple of years! It’s great because there’s nowhere that I’d rather be than travelling around singing songs. Yeah, we’ve done a lot of touring, and obviously been done some writing for ‘Ready The Horses’ and the album that will come beyond that.
As you say it’s been in the works for the last couple of years. Is it a collection of songs that have been with you for a long time or did you take the time out to write for the record?
It’s definitely a collection of songs that I’d been, for the most part, playing live for the last couple of years. There were a few that were new in the studio but for the most part they’ve been road tested and found, hopefully, to be worthy of putting on tape. Playing them live is definitely the best barometer – getting out in front of a group of people and if you see them wincing then it’s probably not your best work and it’s time to get back to the drawing board!
Does that make it easier and any less daunting releasing a record when you can think “I’ve played these songs in front of the fans before and they seemed to enjoy them”?
Yeah I think so. They’re definitely songs that feel comfortable to me at this point so, more than anything, I’m just anxious to get it out there and let people hear what we’ve been working on whereas you’re absolutely right when it’s a collection of songs that nobody has really heard there is always the worry of “are people gonna like these?!” so we’re just happy to get it out there.
This album comes out on Decca records and is your first with them. How have you found working with such an esteemed label?
It is yeah. First album on any label! We’ve been doing it the old independent way from the start. We’re really excited about it and everyone at Decca seems to be excited about the album, which is a nice thing for us. It’s all new territory for us but to be on a label like Decca is… I can’t even say that it’s a dream come true because I didn’t even think that it would ever be a possibility so it’s a real thrill and an honour! Like you said they have such a rich heritage. The first thing that comes to mind would be the Rolling Stones but it goes so much deeper than that as you had Sister Rosetta Tharp and Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and Patsy Cline, the list is never ending!
Was there a particular sound or mood that you were trying to capture with this record?
Mostly it was just an organic thing but, that said, in writing these songs I think it certainly reflects what I’ve been listening to and what I was listening to at the time. At that particular time I was definitely kind of obsessed with all of the records that came out of Muscle Shoals in the 1960’s. The Wilson Pickett records and Saloman Burke and Aretha – all of these great soul artists – then of course Paul Simon was down there and The Rolling Stones were down there. I think it was just such a soulful atmosphere and I was enthralled by that and I think that was sort of what we were going for in the studio.
I understand that it was all recorded live to 2-inch tape. Why did you take that approach?
(Laughs) Yeah it’s just one of those things that kind of happened! A friend of mine had a friend who ran a studio in Eastbourne in East Sussex – the ‘sunshine coast’ as it’s known – and he had just gotten this old Atari 2 inch tape machine and said “hey, fancy coming in and doing a session to try it out?” which was great as I’d never worked on tape before. The Lonesome Traveller album was recorded in the same way in that it was all live with the whole band playing together and singing together but you kind of had the safety net of knowing that you were doing it on Pro Tools and things could be fixed if need be – not that they were! Knowing that safety net is gone kind of adds a sense of urgency and you feel like you have to give every take your all as you only have one shot at it. It’s a nice way to make a record.
Do you have any personal favourite songs from it yet? I guess this question is like asking if you have a favourite child!
Woah! (Laughs) Even if you do have one you’re not going to admit it! There are definitely some favourites and for different reasons. ‘Way Past Midnight’ was such a fun song to record and we were giving it our best shot at doing a Ray Charles kind of vibe on that one so having the horns in there and all of the percussion that one was just a blast to record. Songs like ‘Nothing More’ are always a favourite to sing at gigs and ‘Your Heart Belongs to Me’ which was a duet with my wife and is definitely special to us so… yeah… it’s impossible to choose!
It must be quite special recording with your wife and having that on the album?
Yeah it’s obviously something that not every husband and wife can say that they’re able to do together so it’s a lot of fun for us. Being able to travel and tour and be on stage together is a really lovely thing.
Let’s go back to your roots slightly. Who would you say have been your biggest influences as a songwriter and a musician?
Oh man how much time do you have! I guess in the earliest days it was me listening to my Dad’s records which would have been all of the greats from the sixties and early seventies which would have been The Beatles, The Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and then on the blues side of things guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan which led me to discover Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and BB King. This list could on all day!
I understand that you now live in Brooklyn. What made you want to make a move, which is essentially away from a more natural home of Americana music?
Yeah, you know, my move to New York, I certainly made excuses that it was gonna be good for the career but really I just wanted to live in New York! (laughs) I’d fallen in love with the city maybe six or seven years before I moved there and knew that was where I was going to end up. I lived in Austin for a long time, moved to Nashville, moved to LA but all the time knew that New York was where I was going to end up so finally said “I’m just gonna do it” and loved it! My wife and I actually moved back to Nashville just a few months a go and leaving New York was difficult! Then again paying half the rent and having double the space is hard to argue with!
You’ve spent a lot of time over here in the UK and Europe touring and playing. What first drew you over here? I know you mentioned that you were a fan of The Beatles and The Stones as a youngster; was it those kind of things that made you want to travel over?
I wish it were as romantic of an answer as that! Actually how it happened was that I entered a songwriting competition for the Belfast-Nashville Songwriters Festival which has been going for about thirteen or fourteen years at this point and the prize if you won the competition was a thousand dollars and the opportunity to come over and play the festival. For me I thought “oh man, to go over and play Ireland sounds amazing!” Not being overly humble I honestly don’t think many people entered this competition and so I ended up winning! I had to use the thousand dollars to buy a plane ticket to then come over and play the festival! That was it after that they invited me back to play the next year and I actually met my wife at that festival as she’s a Belfast native. A few years later after I’d moved to New York I met a guy named David Ford who’s a brilliant English singer-songwriter and he was doing a UK tour and I managed to bug him until he agreed to let me come over and open for him! That kind of set the stage from there and I kind of had the beginnings of a fan base. It’s been a really nice ride for me and a very welcoming place.
Do you find crowds to be much different to those back home when you’re performing over here?
It is very different! I think if you could put it down to one thing it’s that people over here (the UK) seem to be more open to different kinds of music that aren’t necessarily in the top forty or what is presented to them in the media. People are just eager to find new things and music that they like so, for artists like me, it’s a great thing because it is very difficult to stand out in the US when what we’re doing is a bit more familiar. Not to say that it’s a sheer novelty over here but it’s different!
You appeared at the Country 2 Country festival in London this year, which is a great introduction to a very varied crowd of country and Americana fans. How did you find that experience?
I thought it was great! It was a really well run event. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised with how broad the definition of country music is over here because it does mean that you get so many different artists and acts and you’re not put into a certain box where you feel like you can only do one thing. It’s a nice environment to be in!
I guess you could get someone who has attended the festival to see, say, Luke Bryan but may stumble upon you and have just as much time in the day to listen and enjoy the music…
Exactly and that just kind of comes back to what we were saying earlier where there’s an openness here that I don’t think that you find every and it’s a beautiful thing to find.
Your tour over here in October takes in more than ten different cities. How excited are you to head over for such a big tour?
Oh I can’t wait! It’s always great to be back playing more shows and we’re eager to get it going!
Will it be solo acoustic or are you bringing a band along?
This one will be a little more stripped down. We were over in March with the full band so this one will be just me and my wife on stage doing the songs from the record, as they were when they were written. Kind of the bare bones of the songs.
You’re obviously progressing towards playing larger and larger venues in the UK. Does it ever surprise you how much success you’re managing to have so far away from home?
It surprises me every time that I show up to a gig and people are there!
As someone who comes over here a lot is there something in particular, it could be completely trivial, that you look forward to whenever you’re on our shores?
That’s a tough one! I would have to say, and this would be a surprising one to most of the people back home, but over the years I’ve developed quite an affinity for the luke-warm bitter ales that you serve over here! I find that when I’m back in the States I’m missing them! It’s always nice to get back over and get a proper pint!
Jarrod will be on tour in the UK throughout October.