It’s not often that a band we interview names ‘collecting experiences’ as one of its aims and ambitions, but Keith Porter, co-founder of Essex-based band The Jackson Line says that’s just the way they like it. The history of the band goes back some 20+ years, gradually evolving from cover songs and pop rock into today’s modern country vibe with storytelling, harmonies and guitars at its heart. As one of two lead singers, pianist Keith shares the vocal spotlight with guitarist Jamie Cook, alongside fellow guitar player Jim Cross.
In May, the band released a stripped-back acoustic version of its song Solutions, from the debut EP Don’t Wait. Keith talks to Six Shooter Country about the life of a UK country band, its highlights so far and what’s on the band’s wish list. Alison Dewar reports.
Let’s kick off with a little bit of history, you’ve been together a long time.
We go back just over 20 years, Jamie was in a band at a holiday camp and I was the singer, singing all sorts of show tunes and we just hit it off – we made each other laugh.
Over the years Jamie stayed in his band and I went to university, but we stayed in touch and around 2003/4 we started a little act that played in pubs and a few other venues around Essex, more mainstream pop rock like Matchbox Twenty and Train, Hootie and the Blowfish.
Jamie then joined 60s tribute act The Overtures and when we auditioned for someone new, Jim joined the band.
Fast forward to 2014 when The Jackson Line was born.
Jim had moved to London and didn’t have time for the band, but we stayed in touch and by 2009 started writing and recording together. We were starting to play country, listening to Bob Harris, he introduced us to new music and particularly The Band of Heathens, who we both adored.
We decided we’d like to start playing again, so we recorded a few covers of Brad Paisley and Brett Eldredge songs, and put a shout-out for someone to join us – Jamie had fallen in love with the Zac Brown Band by then and said if you’re going to be doing country, I want to be involved. I think he is one of the best live guitarists around and it was then we realised we might have something.
Where does the band name come from?
The first song we heard from The Band of Heathens was called Jackson Station and another song of theirs was The Second Line, so we put those together – not that they will ever know or care, but it’s a tribute to the band who got us interested in switching genres.
What lessons have you learned over the years?
In the days before Facebook and Twitter, people would see us live and ask us where we were playing next, if they could buy a CD, if we had a website and we’d always say no. We literally had nothing to follow up with people, so we learned from that and decided to record an EP.
Once we had six songs written, we chose five and set about recording. It was mastered at Abbey Road and we tried to make it as good a quality as we possibly could. I think that’s what has made the difference this time around – now you can buy our CD, find us on Spotify or Apple Music.
You even have a Nashville musician playing on it.
This is the world we live in now, we wanted someone in Nashville, so Jim googled and we found him. We sent him our tracks, he said ‘yeah, I’ll have it back to you in four days’. He’s played on Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift tracks and even right back to Johnny Cash and we can access him just by asking him to record. Sometimes it blows my mind.
The EP had a great response.
We’re a very modest band, we were aiming for 1,000 streams, we thought if people listened to our songs 1,000 times that’s amazing. Our latest figures are just under 200,000 streams – it’s incredible for an amateur band to get that kind of listenership.
And it helped you get on the inaugural Dixie Fields Festival line-up, which of course was local to you
Yes, that was a good lesson to live by – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I spotted on a Facebook page that there was a permit granted for a country music festival to operate near our home town of Chelmsford and organiser Georgie Thorogood was talking about having American artists and supporting local bands. I found Georgie on Facebook, sent her a message and a link to our EP and we got chatting. She loved our EP and we were booked to play.
What are your aims and ambitions?
If this was 20 years ago, I would be answering the question very differently, I would want some kind of recognition, stardom or celebrity perhaps.
But now, I think what the way we describe it is we’re looking to collect experiences. Dixie Fields, playing at a big outdoor festival with some fantastic UK and American acts – that was an amazing experience and it is things like that. We came up with a list when we first started, it was:
- Get played by Bob Harris
- Play a big festival
- Get on the bill at C2C
- Be playlisted by Spotify or Apple Music
They’re not about stardom or making a living, it’s just things that we can be ‘wow, we did that’ and some of those have happened – we’ve been playlisted by Spotify and Apple Music, we played Dixie Fields. There’s been no C2C or Bob Harris yet, so we’ve still got more experiences to collect.
Do you mainly play the local circuit or do you look to go further afield?
We applied to Buckle & Boots but we were unsuccessful, I think that’s one of the dark arts of the country music scene in the UK – how do you get on those festival bills? I think that’s for me to learn, because it feels if you go through the regular artists submissions, you’re one out of many hundreds or thousands…there are some things to discover still.
Has it been harder for a country group to get on the radar rather than if you just stayed being a covers band?
It’s changed, from C2C starting I feel the turnaround has been extraordinary. For me, UK country is still undefined. It’s very personal what country music is to you, if you’re trying to sound like a Nashville artist, I just don’t think we can do that with authenticity.
So many people say ‘that’s not country’ but my opinion and the reason I love country so much is because it’s welcoming of so many different styles. For every person doing a Thomas Rhett or Maren Morris and pushing the boundaries towards pop, there’s someone like Margo Price who is taking it really traditional.
Is it harder to be country? I would say it’s been a real benefit because I think people are surprised by our music being defined as country, we are playing modern country and that’s not what people think it is any more.
What have you been doing in lockdown?
We played Live In the Living Room with Emily Faye, Emily Lockett and Molly-Anne, which was stunning, and I did a virtual writers round with them, which led to more conversations about future songwriting. I think the online process can lead to some nice interactions and connections.
We’re also getting ready to play the Dixie Fields Virtual Festival on July 11, which we’re looking forward to.
Are you the main songwriter?
I come up with an idea – a tune or some lyrics or both – then Jamie comes round (or he did pre-lockdown) and I play it to him on the piano. Because we’ve played together so long, he immediately just gets the feel of the song I was going for, then we work out the next steps– where is the song going to go, what will make it interesting.
We record a little demo and it goes to Jim who’s the quality control and comes back with a whole load of questions and suggestions. That’s been the process for 90% of the time with the 12 or 13 songs that we have really polished and I really like the way that works.
Will there be a time when you think ‘goodness I remember this time last year’ and write a song about being in lockdown?
Yes, absolutely. I think that will definitely happen, but right now I don’t feel that inspiration. Everyone is experiencing and trying to manage it differently so I think it will make for a really rich topic to cover. Megan O’Neill asked if anyone else is finding it really hard to be creative right now and for me, my mind hasn’t really been free to be able to write with emotion.
So we won’t see a Luke Combs-style Six Feet Apart from The Jackson Line?
Keith – thank you for your time and we look forward to catching up with you again before too long.
Solutions (Acoustic Version) is available across multiple digital music platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play.