As someone who’s lived and traversed many a locale both nationally and internationally, it’s no surprise Americana country soul artist Jarrod Dickenson harnesses artistic inspirations from various ways of life.
From Waco, to Brooklyn, to Nashville, and many destinations in between, Dickenson has lived and played his songs in the all-night bars and concert halls all across America- but he’d be damned if he let a few sprawling seas stop his musical prowess.
Dickenson has a large European following, as he not only frequently toured the United Kingdom over the years, but happened to marry a native of The Emerald Isle. On a chance encounter at a songwriter’s festival in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Dickenson met his wife, then Claire Ward, and from that point on the two would work together musically as well. How’s that for a story for the grand kids?
Dickenson is riding high in the saddle of his latest album, Ready The Horses, which dropped May 22nd. The album features lauded singles of his including “Gold Rush”, “Way Past Midnight,” “Take It From Me,” and more. It’s no secret there’s something in that Texas water, as some of the finest storytelling songwriters have emerged from the Long Horn State, and Dickenson proudly carries on that noble tradition as we tumble through the third decade of the new millennium.
We had the chance to ask Dickenson some questions about the album, Nashville and Austin comparisons, advice he’d give his younger self, and much more.
As I write this, your latest album, Ready The Horses, is out and streaming. What might be the overall theme or inspiration behind this collection of songs?
The record is a journey, both thematically and musically speaking. It’s filled with movement and questions and discoveries. The characters in the songs are searching for something; be it love or a fresh start or financial gain at any cost.
On a personal level, I wanted this record to be a departure from my previous work. I wanted it to be a step forward, and I think it was. The record that preceded Ready The Horses, an album called The Lonesome Traveler, was very much a folk record. It featured largely acoustic instrumentation, and the songs are all based around the story being told through the lyrics. This record is still very much centered around storytelling, but I wanted it to be bigger, meaner, louder and more energetic. Most of these songs were written while I was living in a 250 square foot apartment in Brooklyn, NY, and I think the energy and electricity of the city certainly seeped into these songs.
What prompted you to record the album on the southeast coast of England?
The decision to record the album in England was really down to convenience and opportunity. The convenience side was that I was supporting a band called The Waterboys on a 21-date tour across the UK. I had a band made up of close friends on the road with me, and so there were five of us crammed into a small van driving around the UK, playing in gorgeous theaters nearly every night for a month. It was glorious!
The opportunity part was that a friend of a friend owned a fantastic, hidden gem of a studio in Eastbourne called Echo Zoo Studios, which is filled with vast amounts of incredible vintage analog gear, and he was willing to give us studio time at a very generous ‘mate’s rate’. So, the day after our month-long tour finished we all crowded into the studio, and spent the next four days tracking the album live straight to 2” tape.
What did you find to be the most challenging part of creating this album in particular?
To be honest, there wasn’t much about it that was difficult or challenging. It was a very natural and organic process with a group of friends making music together in the same room. We were all excited to be there, and excited to experiment with different sounds and ideas. The whole thing just flowed really nicely, and came together in a really satisfying way. It was a wonderful experience.
If there was any real obstacle, it was just that we didn’t have much time since I was paying for the record out of my own shallow pockets, so we had to move very quickly – but, of course, that can be a helpful thing in the studio at times as well. It forces you to make quick and firm decisions in the moment.
While it may be like picking a favorite child, which song or few songs are you most proud of or most excited for fans to hear?
Oh, man… there are several! “Way Past Midnight” was an absolute blast to record. It just came together so perfectly. I remember all of us being in the control room listening back to the take, and everyone just shouting, because we were so excited with what we had just laid down!
“Gold Rush” is another favorite of mine from the album. I wanted that to sound big and mean and menacing. We had one box filled with scrap metal, and another filled with chunks of wood which we were shaking on alternate beats. We had our drummer on the studio floor, beating a metal serving tray to oblivion with a hammer. We had big tubular bells, the dirtiest Hammond organ you’ve ever heard and just about anything else you can think of.
“In The Meantime” was another one. It was recorded in just a single take. It was almost just meant to be a ‘run-through’ with the band, but when we finished the take we all just kind of looked at each other and knew that was the one. There were so many memorable moments like that in the making of this record.
As someone who has lived in several different places and has toured the world, what would you say makes Nashville such a special place?
Well, the cost of living is about half of what it is in Brooklyn for one! That was the main reason my wife and I moved down to Nashville three years ago. We both loved Brooklyn, and miss it quite a bit, but if we were going to keep touring together we needed our overhead to be significantly lower, so we started looking at other options. Nashville made sense for a few reasons… I had lived here once before for a little over a year before moving to New York. Several of our other New York friends were moving down around the same time. Geographically speaking, it’s a great base for touring. So, we decided to make the move. We’ve since found a nice community here with other like-minded artists, and we’re meeting lots of new and wonderful people here all the time. There are certainly things that we miss about New York, but Nashville has been a really good place for us these last few years.
As a Texas native and someone who has lived in Austin, how would you compare it to Nashville from a music standpoint?
They are both great cities, and I’ve often heard people comparing the two, but I personally find them to be fairly different from a music standpoint. Austin is the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World”, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Just about every doorway is another music venue in Austin. There are a seemingly endless number of places to play and cut your teeth and hone your craft in Austin, and you get a pretty wide variety of music in those venues every night. Austin obviously has very deep roots in blues, and that forms the foundation for a lot of the music being made down there, but you can find just about everything else as well without having to search too hard.
Nashville, while there are certainly plenty of venues, is just a different place for live music in my opinion. Aside from a few local mainstays, the live scene here caters more to things like songwriter showcases and “in-the-rounds”, or of course, the country cover acts on Broadway. There are obvious exceptions, but for the most part I don’t think there are as many small clubs in Nashville that have original live music, spanning all genres, night after night as you’d find in Austin.
Now, Nashville certainly has more of the industry side of things going on. There are plenty of labels, management companies, booking agencies and everything else that makes the music business function that are based here in Nashville. So I see Nashville as being more the business side of music, whereas Austin is much more focused on the live aspect. I don’t mean that in a negative way for either city. Obviously it takes both sides of it to make this big wheel turn!
Do you have a specific atmosphere or pastime that aides in your songwriting process, or does it come more sporadically?
Well, this year being the obvious exception, I generally spend most of my time on the road touring. I’ve found that most of my writing tends to take place once I have at least a semi-extended break between tours. I think I pick up ideas and thoughts while on the road, but touring is a totally different beast than writing. There’s very little usable downtime when you’re on the road, so for me anyway, I need a little time to decompress from that side of things, and let all of the ideas and melodies and snippets of lyrics percolate. I try not to force the process, but there’s also a fine line between waiting on the muse and just being lazy!
What have been some pinnacle moments or milestones in your music career thus far would you say?
There have been many ‘milestones’ so to speak, but one of the biggest highlights was touring with Bonnie Raitt. She’s been a musical hero of mine for a very long time, and to get to meet her and open shows for her was a dream come true. She even brought me up on stage to sing the encore with her on the final two nights of the tour, which was both incredible and absolutely terrifying! Not only does she still put on one hell of a show every night, she was also one of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve met in this business. She’s a real inspiration, and a true role model for how to carry oneself.
Knowing what you know now, what advice might you give to a young Jarrod Dickenson trying to find his musical path?
That’s a tough one. I think one of the biggest things I’d like to tell younger me is to take a breath and just enjoy the ride more often. I’m a pretty driven person, and I’m always looking ahead at what’s next, what I need to be working on, where I should be focusing my energy… and I think that drive is necessary to have a real shot at building a sustainable career in this business, particularly as an independent artist. That said, when you are constantly focused on what’s next it’s very easy to miss what’s right in front of you. I think it’s important to remember that the journey is “it”. There’s no other destination to be reached somewhere in the distance where you’ll say “Okay, now I can relax and enjoy it”. You may get to different points in your career, and if you’re lucky you’ll find that your audience continues to grow as you go along, but I think it’s important to try to enjoy and appreciate what’s in front of you, rather than always looking ahead to what’s next.
What Nashville establishments are you eager to frequent again once it’s deemed acceptable and safe to do so?
Plenty! I think we’re all eager to hang with our friends in person again, instead of over a Zoom or Skype chat, and it will be a beautiful day when we’re all able to go to the pub or a restaurant or a venue together in a safe and responsible way. I think $2 Tuesday at The 5 Spot will likely be one of the first places we hit when all of this blows over.
Are you already planning what’s next, or are you going to sit back and relish in this album and maybe take a load off for a bit?
I’m not really the “sit back and relish” type! I’m most definitely planning the next record. I’ve been writing and making demos of new tunes throughout the lockdown period. I think I’ve demoed 12 songs so far, and I’ve got a few other tunes in various stages of completion. Obviously there are still lots of question marks surrounding when we’ll all be able to return to normal activities, but if at all possible I’d love to get back into the studio later this year and make the next album.
Photos by Josh Wool