Kicking off their Radio Cinematic Tour this past week, Jonathan Jackson + Enation will be making their way to the Westcott Theater, on June 1 for their first time performance in Syracuse. Although it’s their first time playing in this area, this trio of musicians although new to some of us, have certainly earned their stripes in the entertainment business in both film and music.
Jonathan Jackson + Enation consists of brothers Jonathan and Richard Lee Jackson together with long time friend and musician Daniel Sweatt. Many of you may already know Jonathan from his current role on ABC’s hit series, Nashville as Avery Barkley. You may recognize Richard in his roles in both film and television. These two brothers together with musician and friend Sweatt, have taken the country by storm with their recent release, Radio Cinematic, their fourth album to date. This album, really showcases their essence of sound and personalities in their music.
Richard took a moment out of his really hectic schedule prior to the start of the tour to speak with NYSMusic about their musical careers, making of the new album, and life in Nashville.
Kathy Stockbridge (KS): Hi Richard, so nice to talk with you and thank you so much for agreeing to speak with our readers. We’re really looking forward to having you up this way to the Westcott Theater in Syracuse. Have you played up this way before?
Richard Lee Jackson (RJ): The closest we’ve played in Upstate, NY would be Rochester. So we haven’t actually played yet in Syracuse.
KS: I feel like I’m late to this party. You guys have been making music now for quite a few years and I’m just now discovering you. I love your sound by the way. It’s really unique and cool. You and your brother started playing music together at a young age. Talk to me a little about how that came about. Was it something your family fostered, or was it something you just picked up?
RJ: Well my brother and I started music when we were pretty young. I started playing drums when I was in first grade, and Jonathan started guitar when he was 8-years-old. So we were both very young. Our family is very musical. My dad was a country music singer for a while, kinda semi-professional. So we would play with him in concerts, and be his special guests. So we grew up around music in that sense. But we really didn’t know we were going to do it as a band until we got to be teenagers. We lived in Los Angeles at the time, and we started playing at clubs on the Sunset Strip, like The Whisky A Go Go, The Roxy Theater, and The Viper Room.
KS: Wow, those are great venues to start playing in.
RJ: Yeah, they were great. We were so young, Jonathan I think was 14 and I was 17 when we started doing that. So we couldn’t drink as we were too young, but we had a great time. The band, Enation formed not long after that when we met up with Dan (Sweatt) our bass player, and we started playing together.
KS: Now was Dan a family friend or how did you come to find Dan?
RJ: Our friendship revolved around music as we were in the same group of friends. We found out that he was a guitar player, so he originally started playing guitar for us, but moved to bass a couple of years after. We just started playing together, and there was this chemistry between the three of us, from the bands we listened to and the music that we liked, it was kind of natural communication and friendship that developed around it. It’s been really strong, and really fun. We’ve been doing this now independently for about eight to 10 years, but then this last year we finally got signed and took it to another level.
KS: Yeah I see that as I was researching that you have been doing this now for years; this isn’t your first album. So do you find that your father’s influence and musical taste influenced the direction you guys went, or did you develop your own direction based on those influences and musical likes you had at the time growing up?
RJ: I think we were more influenced by the music we listened to. Back in the early ’90s and the mid ’90s we were all very much in to the alt rock scene. I guess U2 and REM are not quite alt rock, but Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead kinda met with U2, REM, and Peter Gabriel and somewhere in this anthemic rock we had an emotional experience attached to the music and it sort of infiltrated our perspective. Our dad sang a lot of country, but he and his brother grew up listening to a lot of rock and roll and southern rock. So we grew up around Led Zepplin and that type of music as well, and that also has a place in our music as well.
KS: A lot of times when writing about a style of music and describing it to our readers I tend to categorize the sound and I give examples of artists they may sound like. With your music though I can’t pinpoint it to a specific sound because it’s so unique. You have a distinct unique sound, an awesome sound. And it’s one of those things that people will say they sound like “you” we sound like Enation.
RJ: Thank you. That’s a huge compliment. That’s great of you to say.
KS: I must add also, I cover a lot of shows and I notice that music tends to be categorized in a specific genre of a sound. Then there’s those break out artists that go out on their own and develop a new sound, like the hair bands of the ’80s or grunge sound of the ’90s. I find your sound is distinctive and pleasing, and I can see it as a break out sound to be emulated by others.
RJ: I don’t know how that comes to be, but for a long time we’ve been searching to be genuine and authentic and who we are. I think when you are a young band you have to imitate in some ways, because you’ve never done it before. But pretty soon we started to realize that imitation isn’t that great. So we are always trying to find that sound and feel that is most genuine to us. So maybe that’s part of where it comes from.
KS: Exactly. You’ve been in the business for a long time now, not just with music, but with acting as well. Talk to me a little about that journey and do you feel that one calls to you more than the other? Or does it satiate your soul by being able to do both and pursue both avenues?
RJ: I think that being in the acting and film making world has helped us in some ways as artists. It gives you kind of an idea of building an emotional story and relating to an audience on an emotional level, because a lot of what you’re doing as an actor is trying to communicate something in that story that touches people and communicates emotionally. Especially Jonathan as the front man of the band, he is a very fine actor, he has a real strong sense of how to relate something from that emotional place and how to experience something like music, concerts, the album. So it’s not enough for us to just play our music we’re always trying to figure out, is there an emotional moment that we can pinpoint that might take this music to the next level. It could be visual, it could be a song, a theme, lyrics… So from an artistic standpoint I think it’s very complimentary. From a business standpoint, logistically you have to gauge where your going to put your time and energy. So for us right now, Jonathan is working on the tv show for about nine months out of the year. So that creates some logistical complications, but it also gives us an audience to communicate with. So there are pluses and minuses at being in both worlds. Ultimately though, we look at it as something that complimentary.
KS: You just recently moved to the Nashville area. This must give you more time in the studio, as you are right there all together at the same time now. Is that what drew you towards Nashville, or is it that Nashville is just a really cool musical scene right now that you just wanted to be out there?
RJ: Nashville is a great city in and of itself for sure, but the main draw for the band to relocate here is because this is sort of where the center of our music team is. Our management is here. A lot of the meetings that we have are here. Of course Jonathan’s working here right now on the tv show. But the studios, and the producers, and just kind of the whole atmosphere is so exciting and makes life a lot easier to be in one place. You know, we lived in LA for a long time, and of course there’s a great artistic community there, but there is something unique about Nashville that it just seems very communal. Very community oriented. You’re not afraid to really reach out and develop relationships and often times people are real friends, they’re just not business acquaintances.
KS: It’s that southern hospitality.
RJ: It is. It definitely is.
KS: For most of those coming to the show that may never have heard your music before, they may assume it’s country. What would you categorize your music as. Indie, New Rock?
RJ: Well, when I’m explaining it to people I usually say it’s like U2, Pearl Jam, and Bob Dylan adopted a baby boy and left it to fend for itself. In terms of a genre I like to say it’s alt/rock/pop because it’s really all three of those things. If someone wants to call us indie, then that’s totally fine. On iTunes we’re just under rock or alternative. But iTunes has big umbrellas so if I was going to have an expression of our music it’s a little bit nuance, I would probably say alt/rock/pop. If I was to have a blanket statement I would say indie or alternative.
KS: You’re touring right now for Radio Cinematic, your fourth album released back last November. Talk to me a little about this album, making it, some things you want our readers to take away after listening to the album.
RJ: We made the record with our co-producer Greg Archilla who worked on Matchbox 20 and some Collective Soul stuff. He’s someone we met in town, and he got really excited about working with us after seeing our live show. One of the goals we have in making Radio Cinematic was trying to capture the sense of what our band is like live. And it’s a difficult thing to do, transitioning from one type of outreach of music to the other. But we felt that Greg really got that after coming to our show. So we were really excited to work with him. We demoed about thirty to forty songs over the course of two years and then narrowed down to the final twelve songs on the record.
You never know exactly what’s going to happen when we go in, but as the canvas formed and the paint started to get thrown on we kinda started seeing this picture of wanting to explore music as something cinematic. So juxtaposition of radio cinematic has to do with a combining of the audio and visual of an artistic expression, and wanting to tell a story in a way that really brings out an emotion in our story. In terms of a theme of the record, I would say that it kind of comes down to of a sense of ..we’re born and we live in a sense of wonder as children and along the way we sort of lose that as we get older. And so one of the songs leads off with how do we get back to that. The record sort of explores these ups and downs of our emotional journeys from childhood to adulthood, and how do we find that sense of joy again in life. Maybe it’s a fact that we’ve been a band for a while but whether it’s a band, or a friendship, or a marriage, or even a business partnership, you sometimes loose that lust for life. And we explore those themes in our songs on how do you renew and refresh and get back that sense of wonder in life.
KS: I can’t wait to see you live. I loved what I’ve heard. Now do you all write and add to the songs? Is it a group collective process?
RJ: It’s a very collaborative process with us. Jonathan is the lyricist, I’ve written a couple of songs with him, one on this album. But Jonathan has 99% of the songs structured already when he brings them to us. So he has the basic structure, and then the band will get together and sometimes the songs will take on a completely different life when we’re playing them, and sometimes our aim is to execute something that Jonathan’s already brought. But it’s a very collaborate process. That’s why we put that this album was co-produced by us because every piece of it was all of us “all hands on deck” to figure out how best to tell the story.
KS: One of the things I came across when preparing for our interview was you recently accomplished a 1/2 marathon. That is quite an accomplishment as I am a runner, okay a brisk walker, and I really want to congratulate you on that accomplishment. You raised a lot of money for St. Jude Research as well. How did you get involved with this, especially with your hectic schedule, how did you fit something like training for something like that in there?
RJ: I’ve always been a little bit of a runner in that I ran a few miles here and there but never more than three or five miles. I was inspired by a couple of my friends who run like that, and I thought if they can do it, I can do it. It’s fun to set goals, and I thought a little bit about wanting to be in great shape before the tour. Then while signing up I realized that St. Jude Research was involved so I was really happy about that, that I was able to put a little bit of a buzz out there to help them out. I can’t believe that the race that day helped them raise over two-million dollars. That was an amazing thing. Yeah, the hectic schedule is definitely there, but you kind of have to make it priority and once you do, you do your best to stick with it and hope everything goes well on the race day.
KS: Well congratulations on the race, on the tour, and we can’t wait to see you here in Central New York.
As I hung up from my interview with Richard, I couldn’t help but think how down to earth this young man was and how creative this band is in their interpretation of music. He nailed it with his description of the love child of U2, REM, and Peter Gabrielle. Their sound is a mixture of all my favorite sounds from several ’80s, ’90s, and millennium bands that blend so perfectly to make their own unique sound. Like I was saying to Richard, I try to give a description to readers so they know what they can expect, however with ENation, it’s something you must listen to, to appreciate. Trust me that this not a country band by any means. Although I love Jonathan’s character and musical renditions on the show, Nashville, it’s a pleasant surprise to see him in a new context that showcases his musical abilities and creativity of the band. If their album is anything close to their live show, I will guarantee you will not be disappointed. Hope to see you there. Tickets can be purchased online.
5/22 – 3rd & Lindsley – Nashville, TN
5/23 – Vinyl Room – Atlanta, GA
5/24 – Double Door Inn – Charlotte, NC
5/28 – Madison Live – Covington, KY
5/29 – A&R Music Bar – Columbus, OH
5/30 – The Broadberry – Richmond, VA
5/31 – Hard Rock Café – Pittsburgh, PA
6/1 – The Westcott Theater – Syracuse, NY
6/11 – Expo Five – Louisville, KY
6/18 – The Nick – Birmingham, AL
6/19 – George’s Majestic Lounge – Fayetteville, AR
6/20 – Outland Ballroom – Springfield, MO
6/21 – Atomic Cowboy – St. Louis, MO
6/22 – Knuckleheads – Kansas City, MO
6/24 – McGonigel’s Mucky Duck – Houston, TX
6/25 – Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill – Dallas, TX
7/1 – The Hi-Fi – Indianapolis, IN
7/2 – M.I.K.E Stage on the Green Space – Sheboygan, WI
7/25 – Jefferson Park – Chicago, IL