Catch up with Jackie Venson, watch the new video for "Fight", and look for much more to come from the guitarist/vocalist this year.
What have you been up to since we last talked?
Jackie: I've just been writing more and I've been hitting the road a lot and touring nonstop; I don't think I was touring when we were talking about the live album, maybe a little bit, but not nearly as much as I am now. It's just been really wild. I got an opportunity to go and perform with The Late Show band and I got to sit in with them for five shows in December of 2016 and then in 2017 I was on tour every month; I went on a 10-day stretch with Gary Clark Jr.. And I also released a new EP. It was pretty crazy.
Who are the artists who have been influencing your work lately?
I've been listening to a lot of hiphop and a lot of electronic, new age-y music, like neo-soul, because I kind of want to change the sound of my melodies and I want them to be a little different, so I've been listening to music I don't normally listen to. I listen to hiphop a lot, but I don't normally listen to a lot of neo-soul, so I've added that to my ear repertoire, I guess, so I can try it out for some new types of melodies.
Is there someone you'd say you're most looking forward to hearing more from in 2018?
I think OutKast is finally going to come out with something new, they've been touring again. I know they've been touring again so I think they might be releasing something; I've been hearing their name again for the first time in 10 years and that's kind of cool.
Could you tell us more about your inspirations behind "Fight" and the new video?
It's actually a live video performed in the studio and I'm performing it solo. I added a new instrument to my solo show, it's a drum machine. I used to do this loop for solo shows just with the guitar and I would make beats on the guitar and then I would loop bass line and loop the other parts and I would be able to solo over anything I looped; which was cool because, usually, if you're just solo guitar and nobody else, it's hard to play rhythm guitar solos because nobody is doing the rhythm part, but with the looper pedal, the looper pedal is doing the rhythm part. Since I added the drum machine, the solo show is completely transformed, because I used to make all the beats on the guitar but now I make beats on the drum machine and it's a different sound, it's not as muffled as the guitar. I can have different kinds of sounds, like I have handclaps - you can't really make handclaps with the guitar - and I can actually load anything I want onto the drum machine, so I even have background vocal parts and I don't have to hire background singers, so that's pretty fun. That's pretty much what I've been doing. I've just been in the woodshed writing new songs and with the influence of neo-soul and hiphop the songs are really loopy. There's a phrase that repeats over and over again and then they write the melodies and the raps or whatever it is over this repeated phrase and it's almost like they're using a loop pedal but I know they're not, so in that way it's all coming together. I've got this new drum machine, plus the drum machine has some of the sounds they use for percussion, so the whole direction is going in this interesting neo-soul, trippy, blues mixture and I'm pretty stoked about that. I'm still developing it though! It's going to be a while before I come out with that. There's going to be a preview of it in "Fight".
"Fight" is a song off my latest EP I came out with in September, but the EP version is the band - drum kit, bass, keyboards, and guitar - and this arrangement is just drum machine, guitar, and me. It sounds like a totally different sound but you'll get to hear that and the video is just me performing it live but it's really well shot so it's exciting; it kind of feels like you're in the room.
Is the music you released on Transcends indicative of the type of sound we'll hear on your singles this year?
Well, a couple of the singles are remixed songs from Transcends. For the next month it's going to be Transcends itself, but it's going to be with the keyboards, drums, and guitar, instead of guitar, bass, and drums, so it will be a little less rock-y. It's still really hard hitting like a rock song, but the keyboard sounds that we use make it a whole different vibe. And then, after that, I'm going to be releasing songs that are not recorded yet - some of them aren't even written yet! I'm finishing them up, I stayed up 'til like 5 in the morning last night finishing up some of these songs and they aren't going to really sound like the Transcends EP because some of them are going to use the drum machine and some of them are solo acoustic; I haven't done solo acoustic in a long time. And then a few of them are pop/rock almost. In that way, it will be kind of like the Transcends EP, but not that kind of pop/rock, more like original Coldplay pop/rock - not current Coldplay [laughs] - like "The Scientist" or A Rush of Blood to the Head Coldplay, one of the songs sounds like that. It's going to be interesting. One of them sounds like this Sade "Cherish the Day" kind of stoney, triphop-y type of song and that's going to be interesting... So it's really not anything like the Transcends EP [laughs] it goes to a whole other page because that's just what I do. With me you can't really fall in love with one thing. People are like "I really like the Rollin' On EP 'cause it was really bluesy" and I'm like, "that's cool. So whenever you want that just go listen to the Rollin' On EP, 'cause it's not going to happen again," [laughs]. I'm on a new chapter now so the Transcends EP was pop/rock and that's probably the pop-iest I'll get for a while, really.
The record I'm coming out with after this whole singles thing this year - I'm coming out with another record next year - that's going to be like R&B Motown, so that's going to be interesting. If I write a song and I like the song but then it's like, "oh, well, it doesn't sound like this so, therefore, you can't release it 'cause people want to hear this and not that," I don't ever want to be an artist that does that. If I write a song and I think it's good, I don't care what genre it is, I want people to hear it and that's about it [laughs].
And one of the songs I'm coming out with this year is straight reggae, man. Not like, American Sublime reggae, like, actual reggae. It's going to be cool.
How would you describe your style of music?
I've been coasting on R&B/soul for a while, just because it's so broad. I don't like to say pop/rock because then people think I'm going to sound like Coldplay or Taylor Swift - I think that's what pop/rock is these days - so I don't like to tell people I'm pop/rock even though it really is sometimes. I just say R&B/soul because I think if you like R&B/soul you'll like my songs no matter where they go, but if you only like pop/rock, you might not like some of my reggae stuff, so I choose R&B/soul just because where all of my songs go, people who like R&B/soul like that and I don't feel that way about pop/rock; if you like pop/rock, you're probably not going to want to hear my jazz-y songs or my reggae songs, whereas if you like R&B/soul you're definitely going to be okay with hearing some jazz-y stuff. I've just been saying R&B/soul to cast a wide net.
Do you have a favorite song to perform live?
Yeah, "Transcends"! Man, that song is so lit [laughs]. It's crazy. We've been playing on really nice sound systems, finally, [laughs] we haven't been playing in too many dive bars which is really great, that's changed from 2016. This year was a change from the norm, we got to play in a lot of really nice venues outside of Austin whereas before, whenever we went outside of Austin, it was like, the first gig we could get we'd take. But, this year was awesome and every time we played "Transcends" live people always really flipped out. It's a toss up between "Transcends" and this song that I wrote a million years ago called "Rollin' On"; the live album version though, not the acoustic version. People always freak out during that song and we always have to place it in the set right when people are least expecting it because it's a standard blues that I wrote, like super standard blues - 12 bar, you know - but we play it in a way that builds the dynamics to where it gets to a crescendo for the second guitar solo: there's 2 guitar solos in it, one that's kind of quiet and subdued and one that's really loud and nuts. So if you place it in a set where people don't think they're going to hear blues, they freak out really hard. They freak out so hard it's like they're re-evaluating their life or something, [laughs] it's so weird. So we'll play "Flying", "Flying" is good, it's kind of a short guitar solo and a pop/rock song and then we'll probably play "Mysterious" - and "Mysterious" is the pop-iest song I've ever written - and it's slower and soft and then we'll play one more song, maybe a reggae song, and then we'll play that blues and people are just like "whaaaat?" [laughs] because they're just not expecting to hear old school 12 bar blues, they're just not. Then, on top of it all, it has so many dynamics: it starts quiet and gets so loud and people freak out at the dynamics the most, so that song ["Rollin' On"] always stops the show. But "Transcends" is the best closer song ever, so people have been on this wild ride of the set and then we hit them with "Transcends" and that's a really good one. It's kind of a toss up between those two.
You've touched on this throughout, but what more can we expect to hear from you in 2018?
I've got a reggae single coming out in March, I've got a pop/rock single coming out in April or May, and then I've got this Alicia Keys-esque pop/R&B song coming out in either April or June; I can't figure out when I'm going to release each single. And then I have this really raw, acoustic - solo acoustic, no looper pedal, no nothing, just me and the acoustic guitar - one of those coming out. I don't know when though! Some of them are done, some of them aren't [laughs]. When it comes down to the wire, I'll either release the blues-y song because I don't have the pop/rock song finished yet or the other way around. It also depends on the season, I think the pop/rock song should come out in the Spring, so I should probably get on that, finish it and record it [laughs], that's probably a good idea. And the blues-y song probably should come out in April, I think. And then I'll do the pop-y/rock-y song in May, but I'm figuring it out. I swear I'll figure it out though! [Laughs] I won't let you guys down!
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
Just the message to be yourself. And don't just be yourself, love yourself and love being yourself and don't let anybody sway you from that, don't let anybody treat you bad. Usually, people don't love themselves or don't wanna be themselves because maybe there's somebody in their life that makes them feel bad for being themselves and you've got to find those people and weed them out. Be yourself and don't let people poison your life. Get rid of toxic people.
Is there anything you want to add?