After signing to Sony Nashville Jace Everett released one self-titled album on Epic in 2006 before parting company with the label. Since then he has released independently, the live album, Old New Borrowed Blues and three albums through Humphead in the UK; Red Revelations, Mr Good Times and his current critically acclaimed album, Terra Rosa. Jace was touring Europe to back up the launch of his latest album.
We started our conversation talking about artists who, early on in their careers may have made a country orientated album, but are then, for the remainder of their career often found in the country section. kd lang would be a prime example. As Everett remarked “I haven’t called myself a country artist for ten years. I’ve made three rock records in a row and there are elements of country in them and that includes my voice.” He is mostly still to be found lurking in the country section of record stores. Indeed, to emphasise that, Wikipedia has his genre listed as country.
Country music is now a hugely expanded category that takes in a wide range of music. What is now generally accepted as mainstream country is a pop-orientated confection that is aimed at a young audience. This is nothing that hasn’t happened in the past though. “You can go back to the past when everyone talks about there being good country music, but it’s just like everything else; it was mostly crap with a little bit of really good stuff and as time passes you remember the really good stuff. That whole countrypolitan sound that Chet Atkins made famous in the 60s that wasn’t country either. You had a hillbilly singer with some songs about drinking and domestic life and they made a pop record around it. That’s just the same thing.”
I remark that it was said to me by a musician that much of what they hear in roots rock tends to sound not unlike Rockpile; a blend of good rock and roots elements. Everett agrees. “Steve Earle is the perfect example. On Guitar Town he sounds like he’s a rock ’n’ roller.” We talk about the rock influence that there is now, which is quite different from the harder edged music that emerged earlier as cow-punk with bands like Jason and The Scorchers. Everett’s take on that is that is that ”the songwriters in Nashville now, there’s about fifteen guys who write all the songs for all the artists and those guys grew up digging Bon Jovi, Poison and Ratt music that was crap then and it’s crap now! Those bands, God bless ‘em, they had their niche. They were faux metal. There was the real metal and then those guys with a pretty lead singer or guitar player and they wrote songs that Bobby Darin would be doing but with screaming guitar and screaming vocals. It’s the same thing as that. It wasn’t real rock.
He further elaborates on the situation by saying “there’s some stuff like the new Jason Isbell album (Southwestern) which is phenomenal, it’s killing me. He’s set the bar so high. To me it’s really fantastic and it’s more country than whats on country radio. Both sonically and lyrically, to me, that’s what country music could be. He’s just sold out three nights at the Ryman. Here’s a guy with 55,000 Twitter followers and they booked out the show so that had to add a second and a third. You know why? Because people know that he’s real. They trust him and he puts on a great show and has a catalogue of great songs. He doesn’t have handlers, he does his own tweeting. To me that is authenticity, not the sound of the music you make, but the spirit of the music.”
As an Indiana born, Texas bred, Nashville based artist there is a natural flavouring of country music in Jace’s make-up which he accepts: “I write some country songs and sing some country songs but I also write rock and all sorts of other songs. But marketing wise, as the old marketing shtick says, you have to have a label to put on something to say that ‘this is what this is’ and we’re going to market it that way. They decode to mix it a certain way to put him in this kind of shirt, and make this kind of video, and make it this kind of thing. In your iTunes list you have rock, punk, jazz - you have it all and so does everyone else but they need to ghetto-ise it before you buy it. They don’t want to think for themselves. I’m hopeful that in the next ten years, if people aren’t lazy, then the internet will empower people to be more energetic and search, but it seems to have the opposite effect.”
Downloading seems to be the normal route for a lot of fans now, often as they can’t get what they want any other way. How, I asked, was the physical product he had for sale faring? “It’s doing well physically, especially with the vinyl. But I think that it’s 2014 and I’ve basically made a concept album about biblical themes and not stuck with a specific genre of music (which) means that it’s really hard to sell (laughs). But there’re people out there and that’s why they love it. They want to listen to all eleven tracks; they don’t want to go to just the song that they might have heard on this or that TV show. I don’t know and really I don’t care. I have to make the records I have to make. It’s a slower growth and it’s harder work.”
We talked about the way marketing at major labels (and some smaller ones) tend to want to package an artist as a brand and I argued that every band (or artist), to a degree, is a brand. It depends on how and why you market it. If some of the acts I admire got the same kind of attention as major label acts get, like heavy rotation at radio, they would stand a good chance of having a hit. Everett makes a point that that is not always the case and cites his own experience. “Bad Things is proof positive. That song, which is known globally, when we first put that out to country radio it didn’t break the Top 50 in the United States. We played it on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and it didn’t make a blip on sales. We had it as an iTunes download of the week and it had 220,000 downloads but that didn’t translate to anything. But then it went into a TV show and now people who don’t give a rat’s tail about Jace Everett love that song. I think that perhaps 2% of the people who love Bad Things in True Blood have gone out and listened to Jace Everett. If they don’t hear five more songs that sound like Bad Things they walk. I don’t know if I have five more songs like that! (laughs) I think I may have three. If I was really in it for the money I’d try and make an album of Bad Things x 12. There was some of that on Red Revelations, but it was natural and organic. It was what I felt at the time.”
Could he define why the song has taken off in such a way other than being in the context of a successful TV series? "I think it’s the hook 'I want to do bad things to you'. That’s the cute country hook. Musically it sounds like twenty other songs, so you’ve heard it a hundred times already. It’s John Lee Hooker, it’s the Rolling Stones, it’s ZZ Top, it’s Chris Isaak. You’ve heard the riff and the groove so that’s comforting.” I wondered if there was any confusion between the Isaak song and Jace’s? “Yeah, he’s got Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing and people confuse the two songs all the time even though they’re really not that much alike except for the words “bad thing”. I tell that story because I ripped Bad Things off from Steve Earle. There’s a song on his I Feel Alright that if you go listen to Poor Boy Blues next to Bad Things and it’s the same chord progression but minor instead of major. I told Steve this when we did a gig together and he just looked at me like I was an asshole. We did a gig together back in Nashville at Christmas. There’s a band called the Long Players and they play a classic rock record from top to bottom and they do then greatest hits. Steve and myself and a few other guys were there doing Blood on The Tracks. It seemed appropriate to my situation at the time.”
Most artists at least have an idea of where they may go next with their music yet Everett has no firm plans, but ideas were forming. “I’ve got some ideas and Dan (Cohen), my partner in crime who plays guitar with me on all my records and who is my co-publisher and is touring with me, has a new record just come out called Bluebird and that is very different from Terra Rosa. He sings and writes and plays and it’s a whole different kind of animal, (but) there’s a juxtaposition between what we do together and when we’re apart. But I feel that the next record will be a more stripped down approach like Beyond the Wall and Love Cut Me Down on Terra Rosa. They’re much more live in approach, one take. So I think the next record may be that. I think every single song will be boy/girl situation. That’s what’s resonating with me as a writer right now. I’m pretty confident that I will work with Brad Jones as my co-producer again. Dan will definitely be on guitar (with) Derek Mixon on drums and James Cook on bass. Those guys have been pretty good to me so far.” It’s important, in that situation, to have the right players around you, the ones who understand the songs and who know what you’re trying to get out of the songs and the sonic environment. At least that’s what I have often found in the past. Everett concurs “You have four or five guys in a room who really are great players and me. My guitar is mixed quietly as I’m not really a great player, but I’m a good singer. They listen to me and I listen to them and we actually do the thing. Like the rock musicians of old without getting into Pro-tools.” Something that the Sound City documentary directed by Dave Grohl shows very well; the interaction of doing it for real, in real time. It’s not the way that everyone works or even the current way of building a track from the ground up. But if you want feel, this is the way to approach it.
On the other hand good results can come from other working processes as Everett explains. “The song No Place to Hide has been in four TV shows now. I did that whole thing, just me in a room. There’re just two real guitars on it, everything else I played in the computer, so there’s no formula for me (as) to what works. I think what’s authentic for me is to serve the song. Whatever the song requires, whether it’s a drum machine or a marching band, you make that happen.”
Would he consider making a straight country album, given that country music now means quite a different thing from when he signed to Sony Nashville? Jace gave me this answer: “I haven’t honestly and here’s why. Country in the States is a different thing than it is here. If I did one, it would be very Americana. Actually the record I’m thinking of doing is that kind of direction, but it won’t be considered country in the United States. A male country artist is a demographic thing. You’re writing songs for people, and I’ve nothing against them, who vote republican, who are white, people who do most of their shopping at Wal-Mart and who like to hunt, fish and watch sports. I’m white but none of those other things are true of me (laughs). Actually, I’m more pink, but … that’s not really who I am, so I can’t be disingenuous and try and play into that. For better or for worse I enjoy being able to be me.” He further elaborates on his time within the belly of the beast. ”When I did the Sony album, I wasn’t in love with it. I loved various tracks and there’re songs on that record that I have never played. Now the only track I play off that album is Bad Things. That pisses some people off, but I’m ok with that. I don’t mind pissing some people off! If I felt compelled to play a track from that album tonight I would but I don’t. It was a record that was made by committee. I made compromises and that’s fine, as it is what it is and I agreed at the time. I didn’t get bullied.”
Jace’s set consists of original material, but does he ever throw a cover tune in to the mix? It is often used as a way for an audience to relate to what an artist is, by comparing how they treat the cover song compared to the original. “I don’t do many covers, mostly out of laziness. I used to be to be in a covers band for ten years playing classic songs and top of the chart stuff. That’s how I ate, making 200 bucks a night. Since I don’t have to do that anymore I don’t want to do that anymore. I may have to do it again at some point but, in truth, I don’t think I would. I’d rather go back to waiting tables or driving a truck.” But was the point about making a song your own a valid one? “Yes, U2 did songs like Fortunate Son on their b-sides and they explored the sound they were working with and I think that’s hip. It’s cool. I did that Howling Wolf song Evil with CC Adcock and with Dan and we made that our own. I’ve done some Buddy Holly. I’ve done some Cash and I’ve done some Waylon on stage, but I don’t feel compelled to do a bunch of covers. Everett then tells me about his first encounter with Adcock. “His first words to me were “Hey man, fuck you”. And I said ‘and you are?’ I’m not actually fazed by that kind of introduction. I think ‘have you heard about me or have we met before’ (laughs).” It turned out one of CC Adcock’s songs was also up for the opening credits on True Blood. “That’s how we met, at the premier of True Blood.” It must have turned out ok as they worked together on the aforementioned song Evil by bringing the best of their respective abilities to the song.
Jace Everett is a powerful performer especially with Dan Cohen and they should be seen live at every opportunity. After Dublin they were off to Europe to do some full band dates before reverting to a duo again at the end of the tour. Everett is honest and humorous and not the least cautious in his responses. I muse that the media training didn’t pay off, something as well as his music that we can be thankful for.
Interview by Stephen Rapid Edited by Sandy Harsch Photography by Ronnie Norton