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Jonathan Jackson Interview: Emmy Award-Winning Actor Talks Enation Music, "Nashville" and "General Hospital"

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Image attributed to Travis Shinn

Jonathan Jackson

Five-time Emmy Award-winning actor, author and musician, Jonathan Jackson is known for playing the character of Lucky Spencer on the ABC daytime drama General Hospital from 1993 until 1999 and again in 2009-2011. He can currently be seen on ABC’s musical drama series Nashville as Avery Barkley, an up and coming singer-songwriter trying to make it in Music City.

Jackson has worked with Academy Award winning/nominated actors in films like Deep End of the Ocean with Michelle Pfieffer, Disney’s Tuck Everlasting with Sir Ben Kingsley and William Hurt, Insomnia with Al Pacino directed by Christopher Nolan and Riding the Bullet with Cliff Robertson and Barbara Hershey.

“Instead of doing a scene once or twice like you do on General Hospital, you’ll have maybe three scenes in a day on Nashville, but you’ll do each scene twenty takes or more. Then the music element on Nashville, which I love, also adds a whole other dynamic to learning the songs, recording them and learning the guitar parts. That certainly makes the schedule pretty full.”

Along with acting, Jackson is also the lead singer, guitar player and songwriter for the rock band Jonathan Jackson + Enation, which CD Baby calls “one of Indie’s premiere rock bands.” Enation will bring their Radio Cinematic tour across the United States to celebrate the release of their fourth studio album of the same name. Tour dates will begin May 22, 2015, in Nashville, Tennessee, and end on July 25 in Chicago, Illinois.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jonathan, thanks for taking the time, and Happy Birthday!

Jonathan Jackson: Oh well, thank you. I’m having a good day.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hopefully you’ll be able to celebrate later in the day.

Jonathan Jackson: Yeah. I’ll have plenty of time for that, I’m sure.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Great. Are you guys preparing for the tour?

Jonathan Jackson: We have been doing that for quite a while, just trying to get everything ready. We’re really excited and looking forward to getting out there.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m definitely a fan of Radio Cinematic.

Jonathan Jackson: Awesome. Thank you.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you an optimistic guy? That seems to be the running theme throughout the record.

Jonathan Jackson: I guess so. It’s interesting. I don’t tend to think in terms of optimism and pessimism. I usually think in terms of an artist in whatever I’m doing. But yeah, there tends to be some hope mixed in all the difficulties and the darkness we go through in life. I try to infuse some hope in these songs.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): “Everything is Possible” is a beautiful song. Is that your mantra?

Jonathan Jackson: It’s definitely one of them, and it’s funny because, you know, a song like that which has a very “optimistic” feeling in it really was written in a lot of despair, and it was written sort of in the dead of the night. That is usually when songs like “Everything is Possible” happens. It’s usually not because I’m feeling great, and I just feel like I can conquer the world, and I just feel like saying, “Everything is possible.” It’s usually when I’m feeling the opposite. I’m singing for myself as much as anyone else and trying to rouse that hope within myself to just keep pushing forward and keep believing, so that’s where that comes from.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Since 2004, how has the band and the music evolved to get to this place?

Jonathan Jackson: It’s sort of a paradox because we’ve grown so much since we first started playing as a band. Our first album came out in 2004, but we were already playing together a few years before that, before any of us were married, had children or anything like that. So we’ve grown as people over the last decade. But musically, we’ve grown as well.

I guess the paradox is that so much has changed, and at the same time, just recently I started going back to our first record and re-learning some of the songs and remembering what it was like to perform them. In some sense, we’re still the same people and the same group we were ten years ago. In other ways, we’re just completely different.

It has been the same three people in the band from the very beginning. We had a couple of other friends over the early years in the band that were playing with us as well who have gone on to do other things, but Daniel Sweatt, Richard Lee Jackson (my brother) and myself have been the core of the band from the very beginning. It has been a really special thing to grow with the same bandmates who have remained together all these years.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine); Is the creative input split three ways?

Jonathan Jackson: I tend to do most of the songwriting. In terms of how the songs actually become what they become, that’s a very democratic process. I usually come in with some sort of music and lyrics, and then as a band we work on it, arrange stuff. Often times the band will dismantle songs where something I think is a ballad becomes a hard rock song or vice versa. We like to work through stuff and really experiment. If I didn’t have the band, the songs would be mostly piano vocals and guitar vocals, so I appreciate the opportunity to bring music alive with this band.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you and Richard have that typical love/hate sibling relationship?

Jonathan Jackson: (laughs) It’s funny because when we were kids, we fought a ton. It was pretty brutal. We had physical fights and the whole deal. Music was actually one of the things that helped us get over that and start working together. I can’t drum at all. I’m just terrible, so I need him on the drums. We all have our thing that we bring to the table, and I think that helps us. There’s a healthy codependency musically with what we do.

We all like the same music for the most part. We’ve been doing this for so long together that there’s a lot of mutual respect there, listening to each other’s opinions and trying to figure out stuff. Our whole goal is making the songs the best they can be, and Richard and Dan are incredible with that. If it’s better for the song to not have drums, it’s not an issue, or if it’s better for the bass part to be extremely simple, that’s not an issue. They’re not in it to make their part stand out. They’re in it to make the songs incredible songs.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, music is definitely a family affair since your father was a country musician.

Jonathan Jackson: Yes. The first time that I ever performed in front of people, I was eight or nine years old, and it was at one of my dad’s country music concerts. I definitely grew up around the love of music.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were interested in music first before acting?

Jonathan Jackson: Music was first, but I was so young when I got into acting, it’s kind of hard to … there’s not much of a difference. I started acting when I was nine or ten years old, and I started learning guitar when I was eight and writing songs around the same time. It was pretty much the same time for each.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand you are pretty open in talking about your Christian faith.

Jonathan Jackson: Sure. It’s something that means a lot to me and has since I was pretty young. I’ve never really identified with the approach that some people have with faith where it can feel kind of pushy or judgmental toward people. I’ve never really looked at it like that. I’m very comfortable talking about it, but I don’t really feel an anxiety to try to convince people. I think the first job is to not judge anyone and to love people and then just try to be as authentic as possible. That’s my approach.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Congratulations, by the way, on Nashville being renewed for a fourth season!

Jonathan Jackson: Thank you.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Nashville has such a large fan following. To what do you attribute its success?

Jonathan Jackson: It started with a great idea. Callie Khouri just had an incredible idea. It’s one of those shows that you say, “I can’t believe nobody’s done this yet.” I think it connected with an audience, a huge audience that’s out there that really didn’t have any other show that was doing what Nashville was doing. So I think it starts with a great idea, and then Callie created really great, complex characters that people could identify with and be drawn into, and then add to that the incredible music, songwriters and crew.

I think that it’s doing so well because all the different pieces come together as a cohesive thing all the way from the set design to wardrobe and hair and makeup. Everybody does such a great job, and it’s just fun to be a part of it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Usually when I ask this next question, the answer I frequently receive is, “Not much.” How much can you tell us about the season finale?

Jonathan Jackson: (laughs) Not much (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) But I always have to ask …

Jonathan Jackson: I know. I know. Of course.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It seems that Juliette apparently has a violent outburst and gets frustrated with Avery.

Jonathan Jackson: Well, things have been building toward that. Juliette’s been struggling with postpartum depression and trying to get a career kick-started again. Avery’s been trying to sort of fill in the gap a little bit with their daughter, but it’s causing a pretty huge strain, so the finale revolves around that whole conflict and that whole drama.

They obviously love each other a lot, but she’s having some huge difficulties with the transition, which is, I think, a rather common thing that people go through and is perhaps talked about with postpartum. I think it’s cool they’re doing a story that reveals it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It certainly makes for good drama for Juliette and Avery to have their difficulties.

Jonathan Jackson: Exactly.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Anthony Geary, who played your character’s dad on General Hospital, is leaving the show after almost thirty years.

Jonathan Jackson: Right.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you two keep in contact?

Jonathan Jackson: I do keep in touch. We’re really good friends. He means so much to me and to my journey in life. I started acting on General Hospital when I was eleven years old, so I really grew up under his care along with Genie Francis. They shaped me as a young artist and provided the atmosphere for me to learn from them in a way that was just so free. They never really treated me like a kid.

They always treated me like a co-worker, and yet at the same time they protected me as much as they could. I have so much love and respect for Tony. I’m really happy for him that he’s going on to the next chapter in his life. He’s just an incredible person and a phenomenal artist. I’ve been able to see some theater productions that he’s done that are absolutely just mind blowing. Tony has given so much to General Hospital and for that character on the show. I’m excited for him if he feels like its time for the next thing.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any chance of Lucky returning to Port Charles in the near future?

Jonathan Jackson: Well, last I heard he was wandering around the hills of Ireland, so I don’t know (laughs). At least they didn’t kill him off, although that hasn’t necessarily stopped people from returning before. But, yeah, it’s always a schedule thing. I’ve always tried and wanted to be able to do that from time to time.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is primetime a bit more laidback in terms of less lines and more rehearsal time than daytime?

Jonathan Jackson: It is and it isn’t. Instead of doing a scene once or twice like you do on General Hospital, you’ll have maybe three scenes in a day on Nashville, but you’ll do each scene twenty takes or more. Then the music element on Nashville, which I love, also adds a whole other dynamic to learning the songs, recording them and learning the guitar parts. That certainly makes the schedule pretty full.

In some ways they are very different, but I’m grateful that I’m not having to memorize thirty pages in a day on General Hospital (laughs). That’s such a grind, and I’m sure Tony may be tired of doing that for so many years. It’s an incredible thing. I have so much respect for the actors and actresses that do that year in and year out. It’s just an incredible load.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): With the tour and a successful album and TV series and other projects, it certainly must keep you incredibly busy. Do you think at some point, something may have to go?

Jonathan Jackson: You know, it’s a good question. It is a very tricky thing schedule wise to do the show and the music that I do with Enation. So far it’s working. I still thankfully get to spend a lot of time with my family because I’m filming throughout the year, which keeps me rooted at home which is really nice. I just try to take it a day at a time really. If I think about it too much, then it all gets overwhelming, but I just try to take it a day at a time, and so far it’s working.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s coming up after the tour?

Jonathan Jackson: Well, writing is a year round thing for me. We already have more than enough material to go in and make the next record, but we don’t know when that’s going to be. We’re very proud of Radio Cinematic, and we want to try and get as many of those songs out there and heard as we can. At the same time, we’re always coming up with new songs.

When that time comes, we’ll be extremely excited to go in and come up with the next vision whatever that will be. Pretty soon after the tour ends, I’ll be filming season four of Nashville and then probably flying on weekends and doing some shows. I don’t know what I can do while we’re filming, but yeah, it’ll be good (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Makes me tired just thinking about it (laughs).

Jonathan Jackson: Yeah (laughs).

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