Banjo-wielding troubadour Jameson is back on UK shores this week, again supporting the mighty Rival Sons. Having just released his new EP ‘Carnivore’, we were very excited when we were invited to interview the man himself to learn more.
I sat down with Jameson to talk about his early years with music. From the noisy neighbours that ignited his passion for his craft to his first steps on to a stage and where we find him now, touring with Rival Sons across the UK and Europe. It’s been a wild ride so far and it’s only just beginning.
Charlotte, Bitter Sweet Symphonies: Firstly I have to ask, is Bourbon really a big influence for you?
Jameson: “It’s certainly a late-night fuel that has propelled my mind down certain creative avenues, and a substance that gives me a little energy kick when I need it in the studio. The creative mind is a fragile thing, and I’ve found that a little whiskey can help to quiet the part of the mind that can be inhibiting to the creative process. When I’m writing it’s part of the recipe. That being said, I wouldn’t put it on the same level influence wise as actual life and relationship experiences.”
Now we’ve got that out of the way. I wanted to learn more about your early days as a musician. Who was the first person to inspire you to pick up an instrument and play?
“My father plays guitar and was always offering to teach me as a young boy. I was more interested in skateboarding and going to the beach. But these two brothers my same age moved into the neighborhood when I was 12. They were musicians and had a band and played in the spare bedroom at their parents’ house; the noise was intense and brutal and powerful, and that’s what made me want to start. At that point I approached my father about learning guitar.”
What was the first instrument you learned to play?
“I started with acoustic guitar. I wanted to play electric more than anything but my parents had me put a year in on acoustic, which is a bit more challenging, before I could graduate. It was a smart choice by them. At the same time I was picking up guitar I was in a band with those two brothers, the younger of which was a drummer, and I was picking up whatever I could from him along the way. So I basically started on guitar and drums at the same time…although I gave guitar most of my attention.”
When did you realise that music was your passion and you had to pursue it?
“I played in the sixth grade talent show in front of all my schoolmates. I had no idea what I was doing on guitar yet, but I got the taste for performance for sure. That was it.”
Where did you play your first gig?
“Well, I played that talent show when I was 12! I started playing bars when I was about 15 I guess. I wasn’t singing yet, just playing these instrumental guitar tunes I had written accompanied by bass and drums, and playing cover songs too but I would do all the melodies on guitar. When I was 17 I started singing, kept doing those bar gigs but getting my voice involved.”
So is music the day job now?
“Music has been the job for years, even before it was the job. In the last several years I’ve held down a lot of day jobs, but I always looked at music and writing and recording as my purpose and primary focus. I was a delivery man, a strawberry salesman, a driver – lots of things to make ends meet – but I always budgeted my time and energy to make music my real job. I’m getting more work in music now so I don’t have to sell strawberries, which is nice. But regardless, you have to make the thing you love your job, I felt like I had to make that choice, whether there was money in it or not at the time.”
How do you feel about being personally asked twice in a row to support Rival Sons?
“I feel extremely fortunate. I’m deeply grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to tour with them and play in front of such great crowds every night. Their audience is really there for the music, you can feel it in the air at these shows. They really listen. So I’m very thankful to be here. Besides that, they’re my pals, and they’re just good people, so it makes it easier to do the job every day when you’re surrounded by people you get along so well with. They’ve stuck their necks out for me – I appreciate it very much.”
How does a Rival Sons audience differ to a crowd at a Jameson show?
“You definitely feel that the Rival Sons audience is there for rock and roll. And I don’t mean the genre, I mean the energy. They are there wanting that particular energetic output I think – that sweaty, loud, beautifully rowdy energy of rock and roll. I like that expectation because it makes me rise to a level energy-wise that maybe I wouldn’t naturally go to at a more intimate show or an indie show. As Jay told me a long time ago, they want blood, and you’ve got to give it to them.”
What is it like touring with Rival Sons?
“Fantastic. We’re travelling all over Europe and the UK together, playing music for packed houses, seeing the most beautiful cities in the world, doing what we love to do most – play and sing. I can’t complain! Very thankful to be here with these gentlemen.”
What’s one surprising fact about the making of ‘Carnivore’?
“I wrote the whole thing while sat in a roadside strawberry stand. I had just got the banjo and didn’t know what I was doing on it, but those songs just came pouring out. Also, at the time I originally envisioned recording the whole album live and outdoors. I ended up thinking better about that.”
How long did you work on ‘Carnivore’ for – from conception to completion? Because after all ‘Surprise’ and ‘Everything Is Changed’ were both on the ‘Pronto’ EP.
“This album took about a year to make, but we recorded 12 tracks actually. We’ve released these 5 as an EP. The album has been done for a year or so, but we held onto it for a bit, waiting for the right time to release it. In that space of time I recorded and released the “Pronto” EP, which had a couple of these same tunes on it.”
What’s the meaning behind the artwork for ‘Carnivore’?
” “Carnivore” the album is about a certain mindset, or a critique or observation of a certain mindset. It’s about the Taker. Take what you want and figure out the consequences later. Wake up later, don’t worry now. We’re all that person at some point I think, myself included. So the album is about that and also about the waking-up from that. The cover possibly reflects some piece of that, maybe. I’d be more interested to hear your interpretation though!”
For you, what has been the definitive record that has made the most impact on your life so far?
“That’s a very big question! Can’t say I can boil it down to one. But Bjork’s “Homogenic” is about as close to perfect as it gets for me. But there’s lots of others that are right up there. I remember listening to Billy Joel “52nd Street” as a kid in the car with my Dad. I don’t put that record in the same ballpark as Bjork’s, but still, every time I hear the song ‘Zanzibar’ I go crazy.”
Growing up in California, do you feel like it has in any way informed the music you make?
“Yes indeed. Songwriting is processing life experiences, taking it all in, grinding and blending and mashing it together and then funnelling all that input through the creative filter, and at the end you get songs and music. So everything that goes in ends up being part of the work, part of the song, part of the sound. The sunlight was important. The sea was important. The urban sprawl of Los Angeles has been important. Sometimes you just don’t realize it until it’s in a song.”