Jonathan Jackson Interview: "Nashville" Star on Life in Music City and New EP with Band Enation
Image attributed to Jonathan Jackson
Five-time Emmy Award-winning actor Jonathan Jackson can currently be seen portraying Avery Barkley, an up and coming singer-songwriter trying to make it in Music City, on ABC’s musical drama Nashville. He is also known for playing Lucky Spencer on the daytime drama General Hospital.
Along with acting, Jackson is the lead singer, guitar player and songwriter for the alternative rock band Enation. The band consists of Jonathan, his brother Richard Lee Jackson and friend Daniel Sweatt, and their new EP, Blame-shifter, is released May 13, 2016. He is currently on tour with other cast members of Nashville, and Enation begins its tour on May 15 in Connecticut.
"Growing up in the acting world on television and doing films is not an easy thing all the time, especially when you’re going through those tormented years. Music was something that really helped me. It was a solace for me. I was always able to go to my guitar and write songs and write whatever I was going through. That really helped me keep some sort of balance during that time."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How’s the tour going, Jonathan?
Jonathan Jackson: The tour’s going great. It has been a blast. We’ve had great crowds and have been able to do a lot of songs. It’s been fun getting to hang out with the cast of Nashville in a different capacity. It’s been really cool.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s different musically with this new EP, Blame-shifter, as compared to the previous album, Radio Cinematic?
Jonathan Jackson: We were very happy with how Radio Cinematic turned out, and it was a positive experience. We loved working with Greg Archilla, so he came on board and co-produced this new EP with us as well. But we all felt that we wanted to make it a little bit edgier and have this new EP be more of an alt rock feeling of what it’s like when we play live. That was the starting point for us. We really wanted to capture the sort of visceral energy of what we play live.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): For these new songs, you decided to use your own label?
Jonathan Jackson: We did. We were independent the whole time we’ve been a band really. Radio Cinematic was the first album we ever did with a label. It was a great experience for us, but we’re also pretty comfortable doing it independently on our own label. It felt like the right thing to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I speak with many artists who have had great luck partnering with PledgeMusic for a pre-order campaign to allow the fans to be a part of the music-making process.
Jonathan Jackson: Yeah. That has been wonderful. It’s a pretty incredible thing, the support and the interaction that you get with fans. It’s an interesting dynamic. We always want to make the best music possible, but it certainly gives you an added motivation when you know that so many people are supporting the making of this album.
You really want to make something that they can take into their homes and into their lives and have it become something that means a lot to them. That was definitely a motivation for us.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is this EP part of a future album project?
Jonathan Jackson: That’s the plan. Yeah. We love the idea of an album having some kind of connection between all of the songs. Right now, for us, this is half the album. Hopefully, we’re going to record the second half of the album in the not too distant future. This was definitely the first half, and we’re excited to have people hear it before we finish the second half.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was choosing the songs a collaborative effort between the three of you?
Jonathan Jackson: We had a ton of songs that we were looking through, probably thirty or forty songs. It’s always a collaborative effort with the band in terms of looking for the right songs, what kind of a project we want to make and where we’re at creatively together. Then also arranging the music is a fully collaborative affair.
I usually come in with a batch of songs that I’ve written, just the basic words, chords and melodies. We come together as a band and try to see if these two dimensional things can come to life and have a heartbeat, so to speak. We all were in agreement that we wanted to make an alt rock record, that we wanted to push it a little bit away from some of the pop elements in Radio Cinematic and push it more toward the alt rock sound that we do live. That was a starting point for us.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your rendition of “Unchained Melody” performed at the Opry was one of the best versions I’ve ever heard.
Jonathan Jackson: Oh wow! Thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And I’m an Elvis fan.
Jonathan Jackson: (laughs) Me too.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did that come about?
Jonathan Jackson: They just invite the different members of the cast of Nashville to perform there. That’s been one of the many blessings of being a part of that show, to be invited to play at the Opry. Every so often, we go out there, and we perform. It’s a very special thing.
My dad is a huge Elvis fan, and he also recorded an album in Nashville when we were kids. I grew up listening to Elvis gospel music, Don Williams, Keith Whitley and all sorts of wonderful country artists. I would hear my dad sing this music.
It’s really in my DNA, so when I got to the Opry, the first song I ever sang was an Elvis gospel song called “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I dedicated it to my dad. That music, that gospel music, means a lot to me. Doing “Unchained Melody” was certainly coming from those same musical roots.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is “Unchained Melody” a difficult song to sing because of the vocal range?
Jonathan Jackson: They’re all difficult in some way or another. That is such a beautiful, beautiful song. Like I said, I heard that music so much as a young kid, I experienced it from the inside out as opposed to from the outside. It’s very personal for me, so when I’m performing it, I don’t really think about how many people have sung it and how popular it is because then it can be intimidating. I just really connect with it in a really internal place.
That night, I dedicated it to my wife, so I was really just singing it for her. It was an honor to play with the Opry band, too, because they’re such incredible musicians, and they’re able to bring these songs to life with basically one rehearsal backstage. That’s all you get. Then you go out there and you just do it. It’s a pretty amazing thing that they do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was your first love music or acting?
Jonathan Jackson: Music came a little bit before acting, but they both came out very young. I started playing guitar when I was eight years old, and I started doing acting classes a year or two later. We moved to Los Angeles when I was about eleven years old, and I started working on General Hospital at that age. Around that same time is when I started writing my own songs.
Growing up in the acting world on television and doing films is not an easy thing all the time, especially when you’re going through those tormented years. Music was something that really helped me. It was a solace for me. I was always able to go to my guitar and write songs and write whatever I was going through. That really helped me keep some sort of balance during that time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were playing at the famous Whisky a Go Go at the age of 14?
Jonathan Jackson: Yes, that’s right. I was decked out in leather pants, a leather jacket and playing “Bullet the Blue Sky,” and my brother played drums. My dad and uncle were in the band also back then. It was two generations of brothers rocking it out at the Whisky. We were too young to even order a beer at the time, but they let us in to play (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you living full-time in Nashville?
Jonathan Jackson: Yes. We’ve been here for about four years now. It has been wonderful.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When we think of Nashville, we automatically think of country music. But Enation is not a country band, and I read that the band played something called Euro rock. For the layperson, what is Euro rock?
Jonathan Jackson: (laughs) We don’t even know really, to be honest. Genres are so difficult, especially these days. Even when you talk about country music, half of country music out there is really just rock and roll and pop music. But Euro rock, I guess, is European. A lot of our influences like Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Muse and U2, tend to be from overseas.
One of the interesting things about this EP was that we set out to make an alt rock record. I think we did, but we also ended up having some songs in there that connect to the Nashville influence, songs like “Alleluia,” “Wasteland,” and then obviously, “Unchained Melody” at the Opry. We grew up in the Northwest in Washington state where bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana were doing the alt rock thing, so we grew up around that.
We also grew up with our dad with the country music and Elvis gospel. Now we live in Nashville, so this EP became this blending of living in Washington state and also living in Nashville and experiencing both of those musical worlds.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you recently open a restaurant in Nashville?
Jonathan Jackson: Yeah, we did, actually. It’s called Jack and Jameson’s Smokehouse. It’s a music venue as well. It’s been going great. The community here in Franklin’s been very supportive, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Specialty?
Jonathan Jackson: It’s barbecue, so the brisket is high on my list. But there’s so much of it that’s good. It’s wonderful barbecue food. We have some healthier options for families and people that need that. My wife’s parents ran a fine dining Italian restaurant in Vancouver, BC for many years, so she grew up around the restaurant business. She really wanted to make sure that we had those healthy options for people that need it. It’s just a cool place, and it’s a lot of fun. We’ve done a few concerts there already. It’s been really awesome.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you juggle the music and acting world with the restaurant and still find family time?
Jonathan Jackson: It can get a little tricky sometimes, but when I’m filming Nashville, it keeps me in town nine or ten months out of the year. I get to see my family a lot during that time. I see them a little less when I’m touring. In terms of the restaurant, I have incredible people that I’ve partnered with in this venture, longtime friend, Steve Burton, who was on General Hospital for over twenty years. He lives in Tennessee.
The real restaurateur who owns and manages it, Rick Shannon, is just amazing. He does the heavy lifting, and I get to be a a part of it from the musical standpoint. It’s really just finding the right people to partner with and all having a similar vision. Thankfully, that came together.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What can you say about the rest of the season on Nashville?
Jonathan Jackson: Well, that’s always tricky (laughs). My character, Avery, is at the point of trying to move on from Juliette because, as much as he loves her, their relationship is relatively destructive for him. With Layla, Avery feels like he’s found someone who’s unselfish and very supportive.
The audience is privy to the fact that there might be some manipulation going on there. But Avery’s not really privy to that, so from his perspective, Layla’s just a really good friend who is being very supportive. Where it’s going to go from here, I can’t really say. But it’s definitely that dynamic of Avery still being in love with Juliette, but not being able to trust her and really just trying to move on as a single dad.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And while Avery’s dealing with female issues on Nashville, will Lucky (Spencer) return to General Hospital and to nurse Elizabeth Webber?
Jonathan Jackson: (laughs) You know, there are no immediate plans for that. I was really happy to come back for a few episodes when Tony Geary was leaving last year. That was really special, and I was grateful to get to do that. I have a lot of love and appreciation for everybody there. But who knows about the future?
I guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks whether there’s going to be a season five of Nashville, and that will determine a little bit of my schedule. Right now, I’ll keep doing the music thing.
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