Concert Preview: Jonathan Jackson + Enation
Emmy Award-winning actor Jonathan Jackson and his band Enation will support their new EP "Blame-shifter" with a show on Friday night at A&R Music Bar
Indie rock outfit Jonathan Jackson + Enation will make a stop at A & R Music Bar on Friday night as one of six confirmed national dates they’ll play in support of their freshly-released EP, Blame-shifter. The set arrived last Friday on their own label, Hilasterion Records. Five of the EP’s brand new tracks were recorded while Jackson was on a filming break of the weekly ABC prime-time drama, Nashville, in which he appears in the role of singer-songwriter Avery Barkley. The sixth track – a live recording of Jackson’s Grand Ole Opry performance of the Righteous Brothers’ iconic 1965 hit, “Unchained Melody” – rounds out the set, which is a prelude to full-length album that is expected to be released later in the year.
Blame-shifter is a tight set, escalated by Jackson’s urgent, Bono-esque vocal. “Ascending”, “Blame-shifter” and “Let The Beauty Out” show the band’s capable up-tempo rock chops, while “Alleluia” and “Wasteland” are well crafted – if not a little melancholic – ballads. Jackson’s solo turn on “Unchained Melody” is fairly faithful to Bobby Hatfield’s definitive reading – perhaps a little more country than blue-eyed soul. The new material should hold up well on stage and easily convert those who have yet to discover their catalog.
Jackson, his brother and drummer Richard Lee Jackson, and bassist Daniel Sweatt have been playing together for almost fourteen years, forming their musical relationship as the grew up in Battle Ground, Washington. Their first album, the independently released Identity Theft, in 2004.
Jonathan and Richard Lee recently spoke with me about some of the major dynamics that brought Blame-shifter to life, and what it will lead to in the near future.
Enation has been a band in some form since about 2002. How did you all first come together?
Richard Lee: We got to know each other in the Northwest, going to the same church and hanging out with a group of friends. We each played music, and Jonathan and I had been playing together for several years already. One day we were hanging out in a basement and our music equipment was set up, and we just started jamming together. Somehow it felt like there was an immediate chemistry and understanding musically together. We started playing gigs together locally and in Los Angeles, and formed Enation not long after.
You all got your start musically living in southern Washington – in and around the Vancouver/Portland area. Were there any specific bands or musicians that really inspired you to evolve?
Jonathan: There were a lot of bands that inspired us. U2’s ZooTV Tour blew us away, as did Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live. The musical sensibilities are different for each of us based on our upbringing. Richard and I grew up listening to gospel, country, and classic rock that our Dad listened to like Elvis, Don Williams, and Led Zeppelin. Daniel listened to more metal music growing up. The common thread for the three of us is that we each grew up in the Northwest in the midst of the alt-rock scene in the early 90s with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and other bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead.
In a recent interview, you mentioned that you purposely pursued a harder, edgier sound as you recorded Blame-shifter. What was the impetus for taking that route?
Jonathan: We’ve always wanted to capture the visceral energy of our concerts. We came off of our summer tour last year and began working on the new songs for the EP. As we were going through the process, we actually wrote out on our notes, ‘this is an alt record.’ We were determined not to turn away from that objective to capture the raw energy of our live shows.
One of the tracks on the album is a live version of Jonathan singing “Unchained Melody” that was recorded at the Grand Ole Opry. That’s quite a song – and that’s quite the place in which to sing it. What was that experience like and why specifically did you choose to feature that particular performance on the EP?
Jonathan: Playing at the Opry is incredible. The atmosphere is amazing. It really is hollowed ground for music. When the Opry put up the live performance as a video, people began asking us how they could get a download of it. We wanted the EP to be an alt record, along with exploring more roots influences as well. We were thrilled to be able to make the song available on the EP for those reasons.
Jonathan, you’ve said that your musical experience has been helpful as you’ve played Avery on Nashville. Besides your own personal performances, have you been able to have input or creativity in other aspects of the show?
Jonathan: It’s a collaborative effort to make the show as realistic as possible. They pay a lot of attention to detail when it comes to every aspect of performing and the music industry in general. It was a surreal experience to begin filming the show because I had been living these kinds of moments with my own band for several years.
You’ve made the decision to release this new EP independently of a record label. Why?
Richard Lee: Our last record, Radio Cinematic was made with Loud & Proud Records, and it was a great experience. But we have been independent for all of our other records, and it feels more natural for us. It also gives the artist to fan connection an even more vital part of the entire process, because as an independent band they become a big part of fueling the music.
Allegedly, this shorter collection of songs is the start of a future full-length album. How are these songs going to create that bridge to other new material, and what can you tell me about that upcoming project?
Jonathan: We looked at this EP as the first part of a full length album. We already have some of the back half of the record recorded, and we’re really excited about the new songs. It will continue in the direction of the EP in terms of it being an alt album.
I was listening to the song “Alleluia” and I made note of the lyric “a generation’s plight; we’re losing all connection”. Can you comment a bit on the meaning of that song?
Jonathan: Our society is more connected in many ways in terms of technology, but people are feeling less and less actually connected with each other because of it.
Greg Archilla produced this project, and I know he’s worked with some rather influential bands previously. What did you learn from him and how did he guide you in making a record that was a bit of a departure from your last?
Jonathan: Greg is an amazing producer. We loved working on our last record with him, and we knew going in we wanted him to produce this new album with us. He’s also been at many of our live shows, and he really got the idea of helping us capture the visceral energy of our live show. There’s a short hand with him now because of those experiences together. Greg has an amazing ear, and he was really focused on capturing our sound, rather than trying to make us sound like something else.
Jonathan Jackson + Enation will play Friday, May 20, 7:00 pm at A&R Music Bar, 391 Neil Avenue in the Arena District. Tickets are $15.00 (plus taxes and fees) and are available via Ticketmaster.
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