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Jade Jackson: “I listened to the same Hank Williams songs, but now I actually understood the pain in a different way”

(Image credit: Scott Dudelson / Getty)

Jade Jackson is brought to you today by coffee, lots of coffee. The Californian country singer is sitting in the très chic Hoi Polloi brasserie that sits under London’s painfully hip Ace Hotel. 

She’s holding a napkin and an ice cube, trying to remove some chewing gum off her trousers, and is right now having a glass of water to restore equilibrium. Disorientation and caffeine dependence is what becomes of you if you straddle too many time zones, and Jackson has arrived in town via mainland Europe to talk about Wilderness, an album that in many respects speaks for itself. 

Jackson puts a vibrant rock spin on her sound but she is a storyteller in the great country tradition, most comfortable when exploring the unclaimed territory between all that’s bittersweet and the importance of being resolute.

I get off the tour van and have to put my apron back on and waitress, ‘cos I have to work, and that’ll pay for my phone bill and my insurance

Jackson knows all about both. You don’t get anywhere in this business if you’re not resolute. When her lead guitarist and childhood friend Andrew Rebel left her band she was distraught. 

“It was worse than any breakup, ever,” she says. “He was my favourite guitar player. I knew him since I was a kid. It was heartbreaking.” Her bassist, Jake Vukovich, followed not long after. “I wanted them to be my band for the next 40 years.”

But Jackson was under no illusions that this would be anything other than a hard gig; long hours, not much pay, certainly not enough to pay the rent, to move out of her parents’ house and quit her job waiting tables at their restaurant.

“I feel like there’s this misconception people have. ‘Oh, I see you are on Spotify, and this and this, you must be, like, you’ve made it!’” she laughs. “But no. I get off the tour van and have to put my apron back on and waitress, ‘cos I have to work, and that’ll pay for my phone bill and my insurance, and my own life stuff.”

Wilder Ness

This, surely, is all going to change. Jackson has got a new line-up, and with her producer/mentor Mike Ness’ son, Julian, taking Rebel’s spot on lead guitar, she believes her sound is complete. 

“He’s amazing,” she says. “He has perfect ear for tone. I play better with him than I did before. We just match better. I thought, ‘Okay, that was meant to happen even though it hurt’. Right?

“I had this feeling about Mike’s son at the back of my head. I knew he was really talented. I just knew he was in a good job and I didn’t want to fuck that up. ‘Cos we’re not makin’ any money! Yeah, I was hesitant; I didn’t want to ruin his life.” 

The only thing she could promise Ness was that collaboration in the band is welcome, it’s an equal split of the pie, and that she’d never quit. Ever.

All of a sudden I could relate to these characters I was infatuated with, and characters that I had written about

That’s a recurring theme. Wilderness opens to a track titled Bottle It Up. Breezy, upbeat, insistent, the press release says it’s set to the tempo of Jackson running. “Just so you know, Mike upped the tempo on it,” confesses Jackson. “It wasn’t that fast!” But she assures us it was written while she was running.

The chorus came first, six miles in. “By the time mile eight had come up I had the whole song written in my head, a cappella,” says Jackson. Sure, that’s a cool story how the track came together, but it’s something more. In 2012, Jackson suffered a horrific accident in a fall while out hiking. She was told she would never walk again. That Wilderness opens with a song, written while running, is an instance of cathartic irony bordering on the poetic.

Nonetheless, the accident was a life-changing moment. Its radioactive emotional fallout nearly broke Jackson, but it has afforded a new perspective on life and on music. Jackson says she has always gravitated towards the darkness in Hank Williams, or in Bauhaus, the Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Johnny Cash, but it was only after her accident that she really understood it. 

“All of a sudden I could relate to these characters I was infatuated with, and characters that I had written about,” she says. “I listened to the same Hank Williams songs I listened to as a kid and loved, but now I actually understood the pain in a different way.”

This understanding periodically colours Wilderness with a stripe of melancholy on tracks such as Shiver and Long Way Home. Some will be drawn to it, as Jackson was. Others will truly understand it. Songs often make more sense the more living you do. “I feel like older songwriting and old country really have good imagery,” says Jackson. “You can see it when you are small. When you are older you can relate to the feeling. They are all stories.”

Untamed melodies

A pre-war Martin, 52 Tele and Dave Grohl’s studio - how Jackson tracked Wilderness

“We recorded the guitars and vocals at Big Bad Sound in Silverlake. We did the drums and bass at Studio 606, the Foo Fighters’ personal studio. They have a great drum room. One of the best improvements on this new record is how good the drums sound. My drummer has been working his ass off. The acoustic guitar we played throughout the record was my producer Mike Ness’ 1939 Martin D-18, I believe - I just know it costs more than my life! It sounded wonderful. And the electric guitar was a 1952 Fender Telecaster and we played that through a Satellite combo. Really cool sound.”

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