JARROD DICKENSON Discusses His Recently Released Album, ‘Ready The Horses,’ Touring With Bonnie Raitt and More!
Meet Waco native and now Nashville-based songwriter Jarrod Dickenson!
Known for his soulful vocals and ability to blend a variety of instruments and influences into one signature sound, Dickenson returned on May 22nd with the release of his new album Ready The Horses. Earlier this summer, American Songwriter premiered the first single, “Way Past Midnight,” and its accompanying animated music video, created by multi-faceted artist, director, and cinematographer Jefferson Elliott. As Dickenson’s personal album favorite, he describes the track’s dynamic layers as perfectly aligning in the studio.
“This was one of those magical moments in the studio where everything just came together. It’s equal parts gospel and grease. It’s about late nights in seedy dive bars. The possibilities, the thrill, the chase… and the comedic reality of how those nights tend to end up,” Dickenson explains, “Recording this tune was pure, unadulterated joy.”
Ready The Horses was recorded live, straight to 2” tape in a studio on the southeast coast of England. Inspired by the legendary music of Stax and Muscle Shoals in the ‘60s, Ready the Horses is layered with slide guitar, Hammond organ swells, punchy horns, and infectious melodies; but lyrically, the ten songs on Ready The Horses illustrate Dickenson’s honed writing skills and solidify his place as a truly charismatic Texas songwriter. From “Gold Rush”—a rowdy single that draws parallels between the greed in 1800s California and today’s Wall Street—to personal ballads about learning from your mistakes (“I Won’t Quit”) and a compelling duet with his wife (“Your Heart Belongs to Me”), Ready The Horses is dynamic enough to both make a statement and to make you dance.
Connect With Jarrod Dickenson Online Here: WEBSITE
Learn more about Jarrod Dickenson in the following All Access interview:
Thank you for your time. So given these unusual Covid-19 times, what does a typical day look like for you? How have you adjusted to these times?
The pandemic has certainly wreaked havoc on almost every person in every walk of life, but in a lot of ways I think musicians were, unknowingly, uniquely prepared for something like this. While it has absolutely been a struggle, and the long-term impact is still yet to be seen, the day-to-day activities aren’t all that different from a normal break from the road (albeit, a much lengthier break than any of us would like).
A typical day for me is up around 7:15am, make coffee, and then start working through emails or managing the various social media channels. My wife, Claire is usually up an hour or so later, at which time more coffee is consumed. After breakfast, I’ll either continue muddling through the computer side of things, or start working on music. After lunch it’s much the same – emails and social media maintenance, and then back to music. Depending on the day, we may be doing a live streamed show, which requires a fair bit of setup and prep work since our house is far too small to have a dedicated spot where we can leave everything set up. The main positive I’ve been able to take from having this forced time off the road is that I’ve had time to really focus on writing and making detailed demos of songs for the next record, which is something I haven’t really been able to do in the past.
What has been the hardest/most challenging part about being quarantined? Is Nashville starting to open up more now?
The hardest part for us, aside from the obvious career interruption and financial implications, has been the inability to see family and friends. Claire and I were quarantined at home here in Nashville for 3 solid months without really seeing anyone aside from people at the grocery store. We finally decided to make the 12 hour drive down to Texas to visit my parents a couple of weeks ago, trying our best to be safe on the way down (only stopping for gas, always wearing a mask and using plenty of hand sanitizer). It was great to see my family for a bit, but my wife is from Belfast, and her entire family is in the UK. In a normal year, we get over 3 to 4 times due to our touring schedule, which allows us several visits, but this year that hasn’t been possible. With flight restrictions and the continued rise of Covid cases we honestly don’t know when we will be able to get back over to see Claire’s family, which obviously isn’t a nice feeling.
Nashville is starting to open up, but to be honest it feels too soon to me. I know not everyone will agree with that, and I fully understand that the economy can’t stay closed forever, but with the number of new cases skyrocketing I’m not sure it’s the most responsible thing to be doing. So personally, Claire and I are still trying to adhere to lockdown and social distancing guidelines for the time being.
How have you been able to use social media during these unprecedented times? Are you finding that you use it even more to stay connected to fans and other musicians?
We’ve been doing weekly live streams every Thursday on both Facebook and Instagram almost since the beginning of quarantine, which has been great in a lot of ways. It has allowed us to stay connected to our fans, and also given us a chance to sing songs and stay sharp while the road is closed. I do think we are all leaning on social media even more heavily right now than we already did before, which is both good in some ways, and troublesome in others! As far as staying connected to your fans and fellow musicians, it’s been a great and very useful tool throughout this period.
What has it been like having to reschedule so many of your spring, summer and most likely fall shows? What shows in 2021 are you already excited for?
It’s been tough. Like every musician, months and months of touring has been wiped off the board. We’ve had tours that were postponed very early on in the lockdown period, pushed to dates 5 months down the road, and now those rescheduled dates are being pushed again. As a touring musician, you are always planning 4, 5, 6 months ahead, but of course that’s impossible to do at the minute. No one knows how long this will last, and the truth is live music was the very first thing to be canceled, and it will almost certainly be the last to be reinstated, given that the entire structure is based around gathering large groups of people into small, confined spaces.
2021 is going to be an interesting year as well, because everything that was supposed to happen in 2020 is just being kicked to next year. So, I suspect that festival bills, support tours and other gigs are going to be even tougher than normal to get on, as most will just be carrying over their 2020 lineups as much as they can. We have a few things lined up for 2021 currently, but I’m almost afraid to say that I’m excited about them for fear of those getting canceled as well!
Since we are all desperately missing live music, can you recall a favorite show of yours from the past? What do you think ultimately makes for a great show for you?
One of the more memorable recent shows of ours was the final show of my UK tour this past December. My wife and I did an intimate 13 date tour called “Unplugged & Distilled”, where the two of us sang stripped down acoustic versions of my songs, completely unplugged around a single microphone. We also had Balcones, a whisky distillery from my hometown of Waco, Texas join us on the tour, and every attendee got to have a whisky tasting at the gig. The shows were an absolute blast, and the entire tour was completely sold out.
The final night of the tour was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which is Claire’s hometown. We had so many family and friends at the show, and Belfast crowds are always up for a good time anyway, so it was a special way to end what had been a wonderful tour.
As for what makes a great show? Obviously, the music plays a pretty large role, but for me truly great shows are more than just the artist playing the songs. They need to really connect with the audience – make it feel like a moment that is being shared by everyone in the room. When the whole crowd is ebbing and flowing together there’s an energy that is palpable. To me, that’s what makes a show go from good to great.
As a Bonnie Raitt fan, I have to ask you about touring with her! What was that experience like for you? What did you learn from her on that tour?
Touring with Bonnie was literally a dream come true. I have been a fan of her music since I could walk, so to get the chance to open for her was truly special. Not only does she still put on one hell of a show every night, but she’s also one of the kindest, most genuine and welcoming people I’ve met in this business. From the moment my wife and I met her backstage before the first show she was nothing but sweet and supportive, and obviously cool as can be! Every night of the tour she brought me and Claire up on stage to take a bow with her and the band after the encore, which very few artists of her caliber would be willing to do for their openers. The final two nights of the tour she even brought me up to sing the encore song with her, which was both absolutely incredible, and absolutely terrifying!
I learned a lot from her and her band on that tour. The way she carries herself, and the way she interacts with the entire crew was great to see. Everyone on her team was kind and welcoming to us, and seemed genuinely happy to be there. That doesn’t just happen. That comes from everyone being treated with kindness and respect, and that starts at the top. She also seemed to still truly love being on stage singing for people. She and her band really brought it every night. They weren’t just phoning it in. It was inspiring to see an artist who has had such a long and fruitful career still get excited to play music. She’s most definitely a role model for us all, and I feel very fortunate to have met her and gotten to share a stage with her.
Let’s talk about your brand new album that was released in May called “Ready The Horses.” What was it like creating this collection? Did anything surprise you about the overall process? Any unexpected challenges? Why did you decide to record it in England and not in your city of Nashville?
The making of Ready The Horses was the most fun I’ve ever had in the studio. It was pure joy. As you mentioned, it was recorded in a studio called Echo Zoo Studios on the southeast coast of England. I was still living in New York at the time, but I was doing a 21-date tour supporting The Waterboys all across the UK. I had a band made up of a bunch of friends, and we were all packed into a tiny van, having the time of our lives. One of my good friends who was joining us on that tour is an English guy called David Ford, who is a phenomenal songwriter and performer. Ford is good friends with the owner of Echo Zoo, Dave Lynch, and he was willing to give us a “mate’s rate”, so to speak, which was a big deal since I was paying for the record out of my own pocket. So, the day after the tour finished, we all piled into the studio, and made the record. The studio itself is a hidden gem, filled with incredible vintage analog recording gear, and Dave Lynch is a fantastic engineer.
We cut the entire album live, straight to 2″ tape, and Dave mixed it down to 1/4″ tape. It was a very organic, raw and honest way of making a record. There were no edits, no fixes, no bullshit. What you hear on the record is what we were doing in the room. The whole thing took about 4 days, and like I said, it was the most fun I’ve ever had making a record.
Can you pick out a few of your favorite songs on this album? How did they get written and come to be part of this collection? What was the inspiration for them?
It’s always tough to single out just a few songs on a record, but there were some pretty special moments in the studio that stand out…
‘Way Past Midnight’ was one of those moments where everything just seemed to click and fall into place. I wanted that song to be a bluesy, grooving, gospel singalong about the late-night possibilities of a night on the town. The vibe we were able to create was infectious, and I remember all of us laughing and shouting in the control room as we listened back to the take, because we were so excited with what we’d just laid down.
‘Gold Rush’ was another one that stands out. I wanted it to sound big and mean and menacing. Our mantra on that song was “What would Tom Waits do?” – the weirder, the better. We had loud guitars, a dirty Hammond organ, tubular bells, a box filled with scrap metal and another filled with wood. At one point we had our drummer on the studio floor, beating a metal serving tray to oblivion with a hammer. It was a raucous affair.
‘In The Meantime’ was a pretty special moment as well. The recording that you hear on the album was the first and only take we did of that song. We were almost just running through the tune with the band, fully intending on doing “the real take” next, but by the time we hit the last chord we all just looked at each other and smiled. It was magic. We knew that was the take.
How would you say that this album shows how you have grown as a musician since you first started writing songs and performing? How does it show how you have stayed true to who you are as a musician?
Ready The Horses is definitely a bit of a departure from my previous work. Where my earlier records were very much “Folk” albums, with largely acoustic instrumentation, this album is bigger, louder and more rockin’. I let my blues, r&b and rock and roll influences seep into the writing and production more than I have in the past. I think the common thread is still the storytelling aspect. Every song, regardless of its style or genre, starts with the story for me. I always want my songs to be like 3 to 4 minute movies that play in your head as you hear the song. I want the listener to be able to visualize the scene that I’m laying out.
How do you think future music is going to be influenced by this incredible and absolutely necessary Black Lives Matter movement that the US and even the world is going through now? Is it inspiring you and your music today at all?
I think the Black Lives Matter movement is important and necessary and long-overdue. When I say it’s “overdue”, I mean people like me, white people, are embarrassingly late in turning our attention to the issue. It’s always been there, but quite frankly, it’s been easy to ignore and push aside, because it hasn’t affected us personally. It’s been too easy to say “Well, I’m not racist, and I don’t hurt anyone, so what does it have to do with me?”, when the reality is that it’s up to all of us to fight for true equality.
It has been inspiring to watch this movement on a human level, and I think it is inevitable that it will start showing up in our music. Art is at its best when it takes what is going on in our society, and frames it in a way that causes people to think and consider and yearn for something better. It has certainly made me reexamine how I use my own voice, and what I can do to lend a hand.
If you could get into the studio with any artist today and collaborate on a new song, who would it be and why?
Oh boy, there are loads of artists that I would love the opportunity to work alongside…
If I had to choose one, I think it would be Paul Simon. In my opinion, he’s one of the absolute master songwriters, and to get the opportunity to pick his brain about the craft and learn from him would be incredible.
What would your dream music video look like right now?
I’ve actually really been into animated music videos lately. Not necessarily overly-cartoonish videos, but I think there are times when an animation or illustration can be more impactful and visually striking than a video with real people. If there are any artists out there that would like to create a video to one of my songs, hit me up!
Would you like to share anything else about yourself or your music with our readers?
I’d just like to thank anyone who has taken the time to listen to my music, share it with their friends, watch our live streams (or attend actual concerts when that was a safe thing to do). Making music is a wonderful way to spend your life, and I’ll continue to do it regardless of my career path, but it’s a lot more fun when I get to share it with others. So thanks for listening!