One on One with Paul Jackson – Blackberry Smoke

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Paul Jackson, guitarist for Blackberry Smoke, sat down with Maine Music News, and friends, on March 26th, 2015, a bit before the Portland, Maine show at the State Theatre.  When we get a chance to sit down and chat with an artist, we usually have a plan for the big questions, but everything else just gets to flow naturally.  We know how lucky we are to have a busy artist spend time with us, and we know fans would love to have the same opportunity so we’ve left the laughs, the inside information, and the marriage advice that was part of this conversation intact.  Our special thanks to Paul for his generosity and candor and sense of humor.

MMN – (When given the chance, we have a lot of seemingly simple questions to ask musicians about being on the road and how things actually work in the music industry.  Before our interview with Paul Jackson started officially and the mic was set up, we were already knee deep in those sort of questions.  Smoke fans already know the band travels in a brown bus towing a trailer.  Our question was simple – How?  Paul assured us that everything the bands needs for their stage show is in the trailer, stacked up, as he said, like a game of Tetris, and in the bus?  Ten people, all nice and happy and rolling from show to show.)

Jackson – In the beginning we had a van and a small trailer, we didn’t have that much gear.  We have had this bus since 09. I would do it all over again, I would do it again twice.

MMN – Why?

Jackson – It is fun.

MMN – But a lot of people bitch about being out on the road.  You guys apparently have a decent formula.

Jackson – Too bad for them if they bitch about it. I mean, you do miss your family and your kids.

MMN – Is there any new news that the band needs to put out there for the fans?

Jackson – Touring, touring, and more touring.  They sent me something through email.  We have a new video, I think, that will be in the works for “Living in the Song.”

MMN – The video for “Too High” is quite something to watch once you realize the story behind the song, and I know that Blackberry Smoke has been interviewed about that before.  That seems to be a similar story across the country.  Are people talking to you folks about the song and are they mentioning any of that?

Jackson – No, not really.

MMN – We are originally from Northern Maine, and meth labs and that sort of tragedy are everywhere.

Jackson – It is everywhere.  It is ridiculous.   There are way better drugs to do than that.

MMN – You are sitting in a city where recreational marijuana is legal.

Jackson – Wait, what?  You mean you can just roll out some joints?

MMN – Sure, but not in public.

Jackson – Not in Georgia.  Get your shit together, Georgia!

MMN – Speaking of Georgia – This is your current tour (Ann shows him a print out of this current run where a lot of the Southern and Mid-Western states are not covered) and a lot of states aren’t included.

Jackson – This run.  The next run we will fill in the other states we missed on this run.  This is not the end, we never stop.  After these dates wrap up in May, we go to Europe.  We are doing the Sweden Rock Festival in early June and then Download Festival right after that.  I’m calling it Donington because I wanted to go to Donington and never got the chance to go.  So now, I get to play Download.  We did Sweden Rock Festival in ‘09 and that was awesome.  We went on right after Death Angel, and I was like uh-oh. I was kind of scared to go out there.  We went out, and people were coming over the hill with Rebel flags in the air.  It was just an onslaught of people.  It was nuts.  Could not believe it!

MMN – What does it feel like when you are on stage overseas and that happens?

Jackson – That?  Awesome.  It’s like you are not even walking on the ground, you are floating on air.

MMN – You have done a few tours of Europe.

Jackson – Yes, that was in ’09, and we have done three or four tours over there now.

MMN – European crowds are different than American crowds, but how so?

Jackson – Here it is more of a party, which I am down for, and over there they are having a good time as well. It’s all good.  But they pay attention to every note.

MMN – So they are paying attention to different things.

Jackson – Yes, more like, wait, where was that part?

MMN – That is interesting.  They really notice when you change things up.

Jackson – They are great folks, man.  The band that is opening up for us right now, The Temperance Movement, they are our label mates over in the UK, and they came over to do this run with us.  They are great.

MMN – So that is how you hooked up with them, you are label mates?

Jackson – We met them at the Classic Rock Awards.  They won an award, which was super cool.

MMN – Did you guys win anything?

Jackson – No, we didn’t enter.  I think this year they are entering us.

MMN – It’s an honor just to be nominated. (laughs)

Jackson – Dude, I was in the same room as Ozzy, Tony Iomi, Geezer Butler, Zakk Wylde, and Alex Lifeson from Rush.   Man, that shit was weird!

MMN – Holding All the Roses was just released in February and Blackberry Smoke just flew to the top of the charts with this one.

Jackson – It’s awesome. I was not expecting it and was all WOW when it hit the country charts no less.  It’s crazy. We don’t really, as Charlie would say ‘hang our hat on that stuff.’  It’s just crazy.  Thank God someone else did not put an album out that week!

MMN – You guys did a ton of pre-release work for Holding All the Roses.  Blackberry Smoke covered social media, online interviews, streaming, all of that.

Jackson – Yes, that is our record company in the US, Rounder, and our management.  They get on it.  We work so hard on our end, and they just take care of all of the other things for us. I would go out on the Internet and see the latest news or promotion for the album and be like, ‘hey, that’s neat.”  When I am home, I’m not sitting in front of the computer looking to see what is being said about us, but I try to keep up with social media, I do the best I can.  I do try to answer everything I get, it may take me a week, two weeks, or a month, but eventually I will get to it.

MMN – You seem to make yourselves accessible for the fans.

Jackson – It’s the Internet.  Back in the day, when I was growing up playing music, I could not wait to get on a tour bus and not be found, but now, they know where we are.  Back in the day, there were no phones on the bus, no cameras.  Now, if someone comes on the bus, we don’t allow pictures on the bus anymore.  A picture with my arm around you could look super suspicious, especially if you are on a tour bus.  We are a bunch of old men.

MMN – And it is your home.

Jackson – Yes, it is.  You know, it is what it is, and tour buses are all the same.  Every Nighttrain bus has the same layout, just a different paint job.  But I got a new DVD player in my bunk, so that’s how I roll.

MMN – What are the fans telling you about the new music?

Jackson – They are digging it.  I was so excited for them to get it.  We were all chomping at the bit. Now that it’s out there, the people that have listened to it, get it.  Nobody has walked up to me yet and said this album sucks. (Paul knocked on wood as he said this.)   And, if they do, that’s fine.  There were some comments on the Internet, but we let everyone hash it out themselves.

MMN – It sounds, and feels, substantially different from earlier material.

Jackson – It is a much heavier record.  We did not go in with the idea that we were going to make a heavy record.  We just went in and sat in a room and played music and it came out that way.

MMN –I read yesterday that The Whippoorwill was recorded with all of you in the studio live.  Was it the same with the new release?

Jackson – Yes, so was this one, and we did this one in eight days.

MMN – Is that time frame pretty typical?

Jackson – Once again, back in the day when record companies had millions of dollars, you would read about artists taking six months to record an album.  Well, that is because the dumbasses didn’t have the songs written when they went in.  They were writing songs while they were there.  They didn’t sit and record for half a year.  That is ridiculous.  Charlie sits in a chair at his house and writes and they come out.

MMN – What part do you have in the writing?

Jackson – Charlie mainly wrote this record.  We come and put our seasoning on it.  If he said something that I wasn’t into, I would say something, but I really like it.  I’m not one of those people, and I don’t think any of us are the type that would want to just add something just to have something added.

MMN – So no egos get in the way.

Jackson – No, that’s just silly.  If we were 15 or 20 years old, maybe, but we like it.  I like his writing, I was like ‘shit ya!’

MMN – Charlie sure has a way with lyrics.  He doesn’t use language that is particularly out of the ordinary, but he somehow illuminates ideas in unique ways.  Listening to the cd, I said there’s another one of Charlie’s ‘fuck off and leave me alone’ sort of songs. I love those.  I know you can’t speak for him, but any idea where those songs come from?

Jackson – He is just writing the tunes the way he writes them.  He’s not writing this one song just to piss someone off, nothing like that.  I do particularly like, “Let Me Help You (Find the Door).”  Whenever he sings it, I’m thinking ‘Yeah, Yeah.’

MMN – Well, you have that one and “Wish in One Hand” and “Payback’s a Bitch.”

PJ – Ya, it’s brilliant.

MMN – A friend of ours is a guitar player and a great photographer as well.  He wanted me to ask about your pedal board and what you use.

Jackson – Now I’m using a Leslie pedal for “Woman in the Moon.”  I’m also using a phaser and then 3 boosts for leads and that’s it.  I play through my amp, not the pedals.  I get the sound from my head and then add a little spice and then turn it off.

MMN – I am hearing lot of fiddle on this new album.  That was new for me, I don’t think of Blackberry Smoke as having much fiddle in the music.

Jackson – It was.  If the instrument has a good feel to it, heck, I’d put a chopping block in there.   Instead of Charlie and I going in and hashing out the guitar parts, solos and stuff, we figured let’s get a fiddle to do this.  On stage, Brandon and I play the fiddle parts.

MMN – Speaking of Brandon, I did not hear keyboards very much in this album.

Jackson – Well, Brendan (O’Brien, producer of Holding All the Roses) is particular about certain things.  He told us stories of recording with Springsteen and 85 people.  Sometimes they would play and other times they would not.  Sometimes the guitar player would stop in the middle of the song and that was how they added their taste to it.  If you go back and listen to other songs, you will notice, oh shit, there is no guitar there or the bass is not there.  He liked that Brandon would come in touch things here and then back out.  Brandon does that anyway.   We had a blast doing that record dude, it was so much fun!  The band recorded everything for this album live, and then Charlie and I flew out to Brendan’s studio at Jim Henson’s studio.

MMN – Where the Muppets there?

Jackson– No, they weren’t there.  I didn’t realize that was the same studio.  It would have been cool if there were.

MMN – They say you just forget they are Muppets and talk to them.

Jackson – Right, we all grew up with the characters just like they were real.  We might be like ‘hey, oh, who is that dude up your butt?’  You totally don’t care about the person on the floor. (lots of laughs)  I bet those Muppets get a lot of hugs while people stare at the dude on the floor.

Anyway, Charlie and I went out there for three days and cut the vocals.  That was a blast, too.  We did a couple of guitar things just to touch a few things up.  Charlie flew back out to be there while they were engineering it.  It’s always good to have somebody in the band on hand for that.  When I heard Charlie was going, I was all -Thank God, I can go home!

MMN – I’m sure, it must be a challenge listening to it over and over.

Jackson – There are always certain things on records that I wish I could go back and change, where I should have done this or should have done that.  Fortunately, I have not had that happen yet for this record.  I’m happy with every little thing that was done with it.  The vocals are really in there.  It just makes me giggle.

MMN – You do backing vocals.

Jackson – Harmony and stuff like that.

MMN – Do you do any of your own material?

Jackson – You mean my stuff?   I do write, I have stuff.  I write when I am home, but it doesn’t particularly look or sound like Blackberry Smoke.  I don’t want to write Blackberry Smoke as that is what we do, not what I do.  So, I just do that stuff at home.

MMN – Do you ever perform it?

Jackson – No, I mean, I can if I want at home, but I’m just so busy doing this.  Plus, when I get home, because we are gone so much, the family needs me around.  Sometimes I wonder how good a musician I would be if I didn’t have kids or a wife, where I would just sit around and practice all day.  But that does not happen, and that is just fine with me.

MMN – Do you have any aspirations of going out and doing your own thing?

Jackson – You mean me doing my own work?  I will eventually do that.  Eventually.  But right now, this, Blackberry Smoke, is my life.  I would not do anything to get in the way of Blackberry Smoke.  I love this so much.

MMN – It seems like venue sizes are increasing for the band.  That’s a good thing, right?

Jackson – Sure it is, but different venues, different towns, can be sort of strange.  Some nights we might be at a 1000 capacity venue with 900 tickets purchased, and people don’t come.  It’s weird.   Then other times you look on the day sheet and the sales are lower, but those are the shows where a shit load of people show up.  It’s just weird.

We are seeing the sizes of the venues growing, and to be honest, I am freaking the fuck out that people want to come see us play.  It just blows my mind!

MMN – Blackberry Smoke is a lifestyle for your fans

Jackson – Good, because it is a lifestyle for us, I am glad they get it.

MMN – Blackberry Smoke fans are hard core. It must be the band’s openness and attitude that just works and allows you all to be as accessible as you are.

Jackson – I love it!  I love it when the fans voice their opinions.  Everybody has something they want to say then by God, say it.  It does not hurt my feelings if anything we play kind of weirds out someone in a different way.  It may grow on them, or it may not.

MMN – This brings me to this question, and no offense, but I have to ask.  Blackberry Smoke has this vintage, retro look.  Is that really just who the five of you are or was that a marketing thing where someone decided to package you guys?

Jackson – No, it’s just us.  The long hair is just me, Richard walks around all the time with his poncho on.  Now, don’t get me wrong, when I am home, Amanda tries to get me to dress a little differently.  I’m always in black t-shirts and jeans.

MMN – Amanda is your wife, yes?

Jackson – Now, technically we are not married, but we have been together for seven years and have a child together.  I don’t believe I need to go pay money for a fucking piece of paper. I tell her everyday let’s go to the court house, let’s do it, let’s go, but she wants a wedding.  Wedding or a ring?

MMN – Maybe she wants the celebration, the party?

Jackson – Oh hell, we can throw a party, I can throw a party in my back yard.

MMN – Ann responds – Honey, it’s not about you, it’s about what she wants. (the room erupts in laughter)

MMN – That’s enough marriage advice.  Let’s get back to the vintage – you mentioned in a previous interview that you had a friend age a Gibson guitar for you.  Because shiny and new didn’t work?

Jackson– There was just something about the guitar – it was REALLY shiny, and I just wanted it to be worn down a bit.

MMN – So you sent it off to a friend, right?

Jackson – My buddy, Martin Moore, he built my Tele and my Strat, and I asked if he could do something with the really shiny and he took it and aged it.  My other Les Paul is old as hell anyway.  Now, I have that new Firebird that Gibson gave me, and it’s pretty shiny as well, but it’s too new and I don’t want to part with it quite yet to let him do stuff to it.

MMN – Pretty soon, the band will play at the Ryman Auditorium.  Have you played at the Ryman before?

Jackson – Yes, with ZZ Top and I was a nervous wreck!

MMN – So you are on the road all the time, 10 of you on the bus.  What do you do in your down time to stay sane?

Jackson – I usually hide in my bunk.  I get in there, it’s my room.  Most of the guys are sitting up front.  I just usually go in my room.  I have it tricked out, I have little lights in it.  Thank God for suction cup hooks man.  I have soap dish holders to hold phones and remote controls.  I make it look neat because I am a bit uptight about that stuff.

MMN – Sounds a little OCD to me

Jackson – It is. I didn’t fold my blanket today, and it has been bugging me all day. (everyone laughs)  I’m about to go take a nap, so it’s ok.  I was up late last night playing video games.  That is my new thing.  I found this arcade bar with the games like we had when we were kids.  It was amazing!

MMN – If you are in to vinyl, there are some great record stores around here as well.

Jackson– Man, I bought a ton of vinyl today.

MMN – When you guys are in the bus, just hanging out and thinking about where you are going to go next, what comes up in the conversation?

Jackson– We are always thinking about what we can do as far as a game changer, but we are not one of those bands that wants to get sucked into any corporate machine.  I heard something the other day, it was like 5 country songs laid out on top of each other.  I was blown away.  Why didn’t they all just get together and do that one song to begin with?  That would have been awesome.  It’s weird, we never sat down to write a song just to get it on the radio. I never have heard that come out of any of our guys.

MMN – But you are getting more air play.  Our local rock station in Bangor, Maine, WKIT-100.3 Stephen King’s Rock and Roll station has you on pretty heavy rotation.

Jackson – Really?  Nice!

MMN – You don’t really pay much attention to radio rotation and stuff like that?

Jackson – I don’t.  It is best that you don’t.  You pay people to do that so you don’t worry yourself sick about it.  In the end, to me the most important thing is to be able to get out and play for our fans.  That is why we do these records.

MMN – It’s working.  This is our third time seeing you in the past year.  Now we need to figure out where you are going to come back and play next time, perhaps on the Waterfront in Bangor.

Jackson – I don’t think anyone realizes just how fucking cold it is up here!

MMN – Man, we had over 131 inches of snow this past winter.

Jackson – Ok, so after repeating that to yourself a few hundred times – it still has not sunk in to move your asses to the South?

MMN – Every year right around February!

MMN – One last question – special friend of MMN, Hope Estey, wants to know about your cover of Led Zepplin’s “The Rover.”

Jackson – That’s crazy right?  Jimmy Page actually put together the re-release of Physical Graffiti, and we were asked to pick a song.  We picked one, but it ended up being picked by someone else so “The Rover” came about and we went and did it.  I think we cut it in the studio in something like 3 hours.  We did the vocals that day as well.  I didn’t have to sing on it, thank God. (laughs)

MMN – It seems to be going over quite big with the fans.

Jackson – Neato.  I have not heard much about it from people.

MMN – I have to ask, “Fairies Wear Boots” live?  Really?

Jackson – Ya man, but I don’t think we are doing it tonight.  I had no idea people were digging that tune. Charlie actually creates the setlist each day, and I love it.  I look it over to see what guitars I am going to use.  He is really thorough about this; he keeps track of what we played last time we were here so we don’t end up repeating, it’s great.  He has to do the singing and he knows what he can sing for the show, so he makes those decisions.  That is the way it should be.

MMN – Eventually, after turning off the recorder and having a few more stories and laughs, Paul did head back to the bus for a nap before the show, and a great show it was.  We hope that fans of Blackberry Smoke enjoyed this conversation, we surely did!

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