Since the age of 20, the Texas born-and-raised singer-songwriter Jarrod Dickenson has been performing the Americana music he loves to audiences worldwide. Jarrod spoke with Aaron Kavanagh ahead of his performance at The Black Box in Belfast this coming Saturday to discuss his musical influences, his beginnings as a performer, how performing in Ireland compares to some of the biggest musical cities in the world, meeting the love of his life in Belfast and plans for future releases.
If you were to describe your music to the uninitiated, how would you describe it?
JD: Oh, man! I would say that it falls under the vast umbrella that is currently being called “Americana,” you know, folk and blues, and rock n’ roll, and a little bit of everything.
Do you feel that now that everybody has such an eclectic music diet, that it’s never just enough to be within one genre, that people feel the need to have to experiment with as many genres as they can, or do you think there’s still room for people who are comfortable within the parameters of a single genre?
JD: I think there’s still plenty of room for that [playing within one genre]; I just think, in my own case, the records that I grew up listening to, every song was different on an album. You know, you listen to a Beatles record or a Paul Simon record or a Tom Waits record, there’s five, six different genres within an album, and my influences are certainly not tied to one specific thing. So, just as an artist and as a writer, in particular, I just feel like it keeps it more interesting for myself, if for no-one else [Laughs] to just keep trying different things, you know? And, I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my own case, I don’t necessarily set out to write a blues tune or a country song or a folk song; I just start writing and then it sort of becomes clear what that song wants to be, you know, as far as the general vibe and what kind of production you might throw at it, as well. I enjoy that. I like dipping my toe into a bunch of different ponds.
Do you think your own music diet is eclectic? Because you mentioned some of your influences there – a lot of them are from the ’60s and ’70s – do you think your musical influences go beyond a wide array [of time], or do you think it’s within that time period?
JD: I mean, it’s definitely not as eclectic as some, I’m sure, but I definitely listen to a lot of different things. A lot of it is older. I grew up with an old hippy as a father, and so my musical education was his record collection that he grew up listening to. So, I grew up on The Beatles and the Stones and The Who, and then songwriters like Jim Croce and Paul Simon and Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and then, from there, I discovered the blues; guys like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, you know, all of the kings. So that’s kind of the foundation of it all for me, and obviously, it’s branched out into different avenues from there, but that would at least be the foundation.
You’re playing Belfast this Saturday at the time of recording. You have a personal connection there: you met your wife at a festival in Belfast. Was that your first time playing in Ireland when you met her?
JD: That was actually my second trip. My first time over was [in] 2011, to play the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. I had a brilliant time, got invited back to come the next year, and it was that year – 2012 – that Claire was volunteering at the festival. She was working in the advertising world at the time and just decided to volunteer – I think, maybe, a friend of hers had sort of urged her to do it – and we just happened to meet. She was taking tickets at the door for the gig before mine at the Crescent Arts Centre, and we just struck up a conversation and then saw each other again at the end of the night at an afterparty that they had for all the volunteers and all the artists, and that was it. We hung out, you know, all day that day, all day the next day, and then it was set [Laughs]. We were kind of immediately in a long-distance relationship, which lasted for three-and-a-half years; I was in New York, and she was still in Belfast, and now we’ve been married, coming up on seven years.
Whereabouts are you based now?
JD: We’re in Nashville, Tennessee. We lived in Brooklyn for a good few years and then, about five years ago, decided to move down to Nashville. Not necessarily in search of greener pastures, but cheaper ones.
Nashville is obviously a huge epicentre for music. It seems like a place that would potentially even be intimidating to play because there are so many options there, and people know good music there that you wouldn’t go there unless you had confidence in what you were doing. Is that fair to say?
JD: Yeah, yeah. I will say there are just an absurd amount of really, really talented musicians and artists. So, yeah, the person who’s making your coffee at the coffee shop in the morning could probably play you under the table, and you have to be at peace with that. That said, it’s a very welcoming community and, at least from what I’ve experienced, there’s not a lot of cutthroat mentality; it’s a very welcoming, open, collaborative community.
You began playing music quite late in life. 18 was when you started playing the guitar, I believe, but by the time you were 20, you were already playing gigs in Austin. Was there just an immediate zest to start playing live because that’s quite a quick turnaround from just learning to play to doing live performances?
JD: Yeah, it definitely took over very quickly [Laughs]. I grew up in Texas, and like any good Texan, I spent most of my time outdoors, playing various sports growing up, and music was always there. Both of my parents are big music fans, and, then, like I said earlier, my dad’s record collection was kind of what I grew up with, and so it was always very important in the house. But, yeah, it wasn’t until I was 18 that I decided to pick up a guitar.
Not with any real career aspirations, but just to see if I could make anything come out of it, but I was hooked very quickly. And then like a lot of people, particularly in the south of the United States, my earliest performances were in the church, and I still think it was absolutely insane of them to suggest it [Laughs], but weeks after I had started playing the guitar, I was invited to kind of join the church band, which was mental, because I couldn’t play. I knew a handful of chords, but that was all you really needed to know, but that got me up on stage and in front of people and kind of all of that together…Yeah, it just made an impact, and almost immediately, I started trying to write songs with an emphasis on “trying.” I moved down to Austin shortly after that and started playing in coffee shops and bars, and it just snowballed, and before too much time had passed, I knew that I wanted to give a real go at this thing and just haven’t stopped.
Austin, Brooklyn, Nashville: these are some really big musical epicentres. How does playing in Ireland compare?
JD: Oh, man. Playing in Ireland is a different ballgame than a lot of places in the States, and in a really great way, because there are. I mean, everyone over here is musical, and they appreciate music. They’re knowledgeable, and so it’s like a breath of fresh air – coming and playing – because you’ve got people who not only understand what it is you’re trying to do, but they feel it, and they are ready for it, you know, and the gigs over here – at least in my experience – have been some of my favourite on the planet for that very reason. The fans are just up for it. They’re ready not only for a night out but for a night of enjoying and intently listening to music.
Your show this Saturday at the Black Box: what can fans expect if they straggle along?
JD: Yeah. I’m excited to get back to Black Box – I haven’t played there in maybe six or seven years, but it’s a lovely venue. It’s going to be a duo show with myself and Claire, my wife. We’ll be playing tunes from the last few records, as well as a handful that are on an upcoming record that we’ve just finished making. And then our buddy Nathan O’Regan is opening the show, who’s just a tremendously talented artist with an absurdly good voice. It’s kind of annoying how great of a singer he is [Laughs]. So, we’re really looking forward to it. The Belfast show is always a highlight; you know, it’s kind of a homecoming show, not only for Claire but for me now too, with all the family we have here. It’s going to be a blast.
Final question: What can fans expect from your upcoming release?
JD: Yeah, well, hopefully, it’s going to happen a little later this year. That’s the plan if everything goes according to plan. It’s going to be a little different than every previous record, as each record has been when I put them out. This one’s going to be a bit more rockin’. You know, there’s going to be a common thread that fans who have liked my earlier stuff are going to be able to latch onto, but it’s definitely a rock n’ roll record, and I’m excited to get it out there.
Thanks for your time.
JD: Cheers. Thanks for having me.
Jarrod plays The Black Box in Belfast this Saturday, the 26th of February. Tickets can be purchased here.
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