It’s over seven years since he played his first shows in the UK. Since that time JARROD DICKENSON has become a regular and welcome visitor to these shores, steadily building up a fan base through his live appearances which showcase not only the talent so evident on his studio releases, but also present the personality of the man who writes and performs the rich stories crafted into song. Neil Hallam met up with him ahead of the Manchester date on Jarrod’s “Unplugged and Distilled” tour.
Hi Jarrod, welcome back to Manchester!
Thank you very much, it feels good to be back.
It’s a little warmer than when you were last here in January….
Yeah, it’s creeping that direction but it’s still very comfortable out there.
Now, when we last spoke, in January, you were just on the cusp of releasing your EP, Under A Texas Sky. That’s been out for a little while now, how have you found the response to the EP?
Yeah, the people that heard it, anyway, they all seemed to enjoy it. I don’t think it got too far past my own existing fans, but that’s kinda who we made it for anyway. Everybody seemed to really latch on to it and like what we did with the songs that the knew, and seemed to enjoy the ones that they maybe weren’t as familiar with – which was kind of the whole point. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
You suggested that it would be the first of an occasional series. Was there enough encouragement for that?
I’d still like it to be, yeah. I think the next thing will be another record of my own but yeah, I can see certainly doing another installment after that album comes out.
Have you had any ideas about which artists or specific songs you might want to include on vol. 2?
Yeah, again, there are many many to choose from, you know? We didn’t do either of the Vaughn brothers, Stevie Ray or Jimmie, we didn’t do Lightnin’ Hopkins, or, you know, Don Henley is from Texas, Billy Preston… So many people, so there’s still a lot to choose from, a lot to draw from.
That’s all still up in the air then? Nothing that you’ve thought, “I must include that on the next EP!”
Oh yeah, we’re not there yet. There are things that I’m thinking about, but nothing that’s a definite yet.
So, the plan was for the EP’s to alternate with your own album releases. Ready The Horses was released in 2017. Do you have plans for the follow-up?
Certainly have plans. The record’s written, it’s just a matter of finding some cash and going into the studio. But we’re certainly itching to get in there and record and put out another record. That’s certainly the plan. Hopefully in 2020 we’re going to be in the studio.
I guess there are songs that you’ve been trailing in your live sets?
Quite a few of them. I’d say at least half, or maybe a little over half, we’ve been playing live. We’ll play maybe three or four new ones tonight, and there’s a few we haven’t played out yet, just because we haven’t had the opportunity really.
Ready The Horses was really well received, critically and publicly. Is there a pressure then to try to replicate that and produce Ready The Horses 2? Or is there more of an opposite pressure to deliberately steer in a different direction?
Not really… Or if there is a pressure I don’t really feel it. Kind of the one really nice thing about not necessarily having a hit is that you don’t have to follow anything up, you know? So I’m completely free to go into the studio, just like I did on Ready The Horses, and make whatever record I feel like making. You know, it’s not gonna be vastly different but it’s certainly going to evolve, just like Ready The Horses was a departure from The Lonesome Traveler. The next record is certainly going to be different but I’d like to think that there will be a thread that my current fans can certainly follow, and see how we’ve gotten to where we’ll be.
I remember you saying that Ready The Horses was influenced by some of the music you were listening to at the time, particularly the Muscle Shoals output during the 1960’s. So what have you been listening to lately, and does that give us a bit of a sneak peak into the next album?
Well, a lot of the same stuff really. Right after I released Ready The Horses, when Tom Petty passed away, it was actually right before that tour that he passed away. I’ve been a big Tom Petty fan for as long as I can remember. Obviously that…that…occurrence made me want to dig back into it. So I’ve been on a pretty big Petty kick for the last couple of years, and I do think that’s probably influenced a couple of the songs. In general, he’s always been a big influence on me in the way that he approached his craft, and also the way that he approached the industry, you know? He wasn’t gonna lay down to the machine and the Big Man, and he always kind of fought for the artists that didn’t have anyone in their corner. I found myself in a not-too-dissimilar situation with the label that I worked with, and fought pretty hard to get out of that contract and get out with my record, and I’d say he was a pretty big influence on that tool. So yeah, there’s gonna be hints of that. You know, story telling is always gonna be at the heart of it for me. So all of the songs, regardless of what genre they sort of “dip their toe” into are all story songs.
So you don’t have your label deal with Decca then? I’d noticed that the EP was released independently…
No, no, thankfully we are 100% divorced. You know, it’s an old story, it’s happened to a lot of people, but it was definitely not a good fit. We very nearly self-released that album, Ready The Horses, and then Decca came along and… You know, it’s one of those things, you’ve gotta try it out. But I just don’t think they knew what to do with a kind of rootsy Americana artist, and as a result they did nothing. Complete inaction was their route. So, you know, it’s fine. We’re happily moving forward as an independent entity once again.
Let’s talk about the current tour. It’s set up as “Unplugged and Distilled – An Intimate Evening of Songs and Spirits”. Where did the concept come from?
The concept came kind of in two stages. Claire and I, we knew we wanted to do another tour this year, we knew we wanted it to be different than any tour we had done previously. And so we had the idea of doing a completely unplugged thing, which we touched on on the last tour where we unplugged everything, crowded around this one mic and did about three songs; and we thought it’d be interesting to do an entire set that way, see what songs work in that fashion, can we rearrange some old songs to fit that aesthetic. So that was the first part of it.
Then Claire actually had the idea of seeing if we could get a whiskey partnership to come in, ‘cos I’m a big whiskey fan and it seemed to sort of fit the night really. So I immediately thought of Balcones Whiskey, which is from my home town of Waco. They started about eleven years ago, so well after I’d left town – maybe a good thing, if they’d been around I probably never would have left Waco (laughs). But we called them up and asked if they would be interested, fully expecting either a very quick “No”, or just no reply at all. And to our surprise and delight they were very quick to say, “Yeah, we’d love to do that”. So they’ve agreed to come along to every show and are offering a free whiskey tasting to everyone who comes in. So the idea just kinda stemmed from there. “Unplugged and Distilled” had a nice ring to it and summed up the evening.
I like a little whiskey myself but Balcones is not a name I was previously aware of. I have seen more of the name since your tour was announced, so I guess they’re looking to expand on their presence in the UK market?
They are, yeah. They’ve only been around for around 11 years but they’ve been winning all sorts of whiskey awards in that short time frame. In my opinion, they’re making some of the most interesting whiskeys out there. They certainly tip their hat to the traditional, but they’re not afraid to try new things either and the result in almost every case is something really, really nice.
Looking at the tour itinerary, you’re playing a few towns that are off the regular track -certainly as far as Country and Americana artists from the US are concerned. Places like Shrewsbury, Broadhemptson, Halifax were among the earlier venues to sell out, too. When you play those sorts of towns, can you sense the enthusiasm or the “thirst” from the crowd?
Yeah, well Shrewsbury for one, we’ve played there a couple of times in the past, in the Henry Tudor House which is a stunning venue. It was actually one of the first venues we knew we wanted to do when this concept sort of started to take shape. We’d done it before and it really lends itself to an acoustic setting. The people that come out to the shows there are very knowledgeable, music loving audiences, for sure. They know the history of the kind of music we’re playing, so it was a very natural fit. Broadhemptson was a new one for me, but it was a brilliant show. The setting was stunning, this old church from I think the 12th century with just beautiful acoustics and obviously a very impressive structure in itself. And that was a really lovely evening. It was the second night of the tour, the people that came out again were very attentive, very appreciative. We’re not afraid to get off the beaten path, it doesn’t have to be the big cities. In fact, a lot of the time those are the most appreciative audiences, the ones that aren’t always on people’s tours.
Do you look for those “dry spots”, for want of a better phrase, when you’re planning a tour?
When we can, yeah. Playing London is great, playing New York is great. But a lot of the times whenever you get out of the city and go to a place that maybe doesn’t have, you know, 15 different acts playing in the same night people are up for it, they’re ready for it. They’re very appreciative that anyone came to their town. As a result, it makes for a great night.
In three day’s time, you’re playing Norwich. It’s Thanksgiving. Anything special planned?
You know, we’ve only just started talking about that, because we do have two Americans traveling around together. Claire obviously lives in the States now as well. We don’t have any particular plans, but I think we’re gonna try to have a family meal somewhere before the gig. It’s not my first Thanksgiving here, I’ve spent a few over here. Maybe four or five years ago, we were in London. We got a bunch of our British friends together and we hired out a place in the middle of London and cooked a big meal. Everybody brought stuff, there were maybe twenty of us there. One guy came dressed as a turkey. He said, “This is what you do, right?”. Well, you’re kind of mixing two different holidays but sure, we’ll go with that.
You’ve had a very busy year, as you tend to do anyway. As we rapidly approach the end of 2019, what have been your highlights as you look back over the year?
Well, both of the headline tours. The one that we’re currently on is a lot of fun, and to be a complete sell-out is really special. We’ve sold out shows before, but not an entire tour, so that’s really nice and we’re very appreciative of that. The tour in January was a lot of fun. It was great to have J.P. (Ruggieri) opening up and playing with us. Cambridge Folk Festival this year, it was my first time to play that, it was a really incredible experience. You know, a lot of festivals are good but that one, the audience there is absolutely 100% there for the music. It’s not just a party in a field. The tent that we were playing in, you literally couldn’t fit another person in – which I’ve not experienced. Usually it’s a half-full tent, or something like that, but it was absolutely rammed and everybody was hanging on every word which was really, really special. So I’d say those were the highlights from this year.
Last question – You’re a busy, hard working musician, you’re continuing to build an international fan base through your own headline tours and appearences at major music festivals. You’ve produced critically acclaimed studio recordings. Are you successful? What does success look like to you?
Well, it depends who’s asking I guess. For me, the only thing that matters is doing what I love to do, and that’s writing songs, recording them and going around playing them for people. Are we making money? No! (laughs) But to be honest, I don’t know many musicians these days that are. I know it may kind of kill it for some people to know, but I have side jobs that I do when I’m off the road as does every other musician that I know, because we’re not able to pay bills. That’s just the reality of the music business right now for most people. So yeah… are we successful? I don’t know if that’s for me to decide. I know that I’m not gonna stop, and if it never gets past this point I’m not gonna stop. So I suppose there is a level of success in that.
I don’t really think about it. It’s a funny word, success. You know, a lot of people will that that if you’re not playing sold out theatres and you’re not being played on the radio, and you’re not getting written about in Uncut and Rolling Stone then you’re not a success. To me, if you’re getting to do what you love even if you’re having to bust your ass and do other things when you’re not on the road, that’s all that really matters, you know? And I think it’s important that other musicians know that, because I know from experience that when we’re not on the road, and I am working odd day jobs, it can get you down, you know? You start to feel like that’s what you do, and you’re not a musician – and that’s not true. I think it’s important that other people know that it’s ok, and it’s a struggle, and keep at it, keep doing it .
As Jarrod continues on his current sell-out tour, he’s also released a new song to add to your Christmas playlists – “Shopping Mall Santa’s Lament”, available on your favourite streaming service.