Almost 15 years ago, brothers Jonathan and Richard Lee Jackson, along with their friend Daniel Sweatt, formed their Alt-Rock Band Enation. Jonathan sings lead vocals and plays the guitar, along with doing most of the songwriting. His brother Richard plays the drums and Daniel rounds out their 3 piece band on the bass.
You may recognize Jonathan from television and film, as he is a very well known, established actor. He is most notably known for his roles as Lucky Spencer from the day time soap opera, General Hospital and most recently as Avery Barkley from the just canceled ABC music centered country drama, Nashville.
Jonathan has won five Emmys for his role as Lucky Spencer on General Hospital and is an extremely talented actor in his own right, but it is apparent that his heart, soul and life are poured into his music which is something that started at a very young age for him. The musicianship that was exhibited on stage was astonishing and the passion was more than evident. With very intriguing and thoughtful lyrics, Enation has a very refreshing Alt- Rock sound and I personally cannot wait to see what the rest of their newly released EP, Blameshifter, brings to the table.
ME: Congratulations on the release of the Blameshifter. Jonathan, you write most of the songs, correct? Where do these songs come from?
Jonathan: Yes. They kind of come from all over. This EP is interesting because two of the songs on there, are songs that we had for probably a decade and we’ve played them live a lot; “Ascending” and “Let The Beauty Out”. We’ve recorded a couple of other versions of them and never really felt like we captured the feeling that we have when we play them live. And then also over the years, I added lyrics and changed the title to “Ascending”, which is what it is now. The chorus, “Your beauty is ascending, you’re something worth defending”, wasn’t in the original song. Greg Archilla who co-produced the EP with us has come out to quite a few of our gigs and mixed us when we play live and that’s what we were really going for, was to try and get that live energy.
ME: Speaking of “Let The Beauty Out”, that is one of my favorites on the EP. To me, it’s about someone maybe going through a tough time, maybe giving up on a dream. Can you elaborate on that song? Is this about a personal struggle for you?
Jonathan: That song was written for some friends of mine that were going through a really tough time in their marriage and that was the initial inspiration. Most songs have an initial inspiration and then they kind of take on a life of their own. Maybe become more universal and can be applied to different things. That interpretation of giving up on a dream certainly fits as well but it did come from a sense of seeing the tension of something that was potentially going to fall apart and just a cry saying “do whatever you can do to hold on”. So that’s where that song came from.
ME: Definitely a powerful song. You guys have been in Nashville for about 4 years now and being on the show, of course, I’m sure you’ve had an opportunity to work with some of Music City’s finest. Has that influenced or helped you grow as far as your songwriting or within the music industry as a whole?
Jonathan: Yes, absolutely. For me, working with T Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller on the show has been incredible. Another amazing thing has been working with Colin Linden who’s in Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. He plays a lot of the guitars that you hear on Nashville and he has actually come out and played with us on some of our gigs. Just playing with musicians like that is sort of indescribable because it lifts you up, in a way, and inspires you. So I feel like it’s affected us more by osmosis rather than specifically sitting down and saying “let’s become more like this”. But certainly being in the room with T Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller, there is a sort of an energy in the room that rubs off and you just get inspired. You just want to pursue what you’re doing and be the best that you can be.
Richard: The only addition to that is that it’s kind of brought us back to the music that our dad listened to a lot. When we were growing up, it was a lot of country, gospel, and some classic rock in there as well. Led Zepplin kind of stuff but we were also listening to everything from Elvis to Don Williams, so being in Nashville and being surrounded by some of these incredible Americana legends, kind of brought us back, musically, to some of those roots. So we got inspired more about that foundation of music that we hadn’t thought about in a while.
ME: It’s just the three of you guys up there and the sound you create is phenomenal. You’ve been together almost 15 years now. How would you say your music has evolved since the release of “Identity Theft” to now, with “Blameshifter”? How have you grown as a band?
Jonathan: Leaps and bounds!
Daniel: That long, working together, you develop this unspoken language when it comes to what we do together. You can communicate things without having to think of the words to really explain it. You just kind of know what the other is thinking. In that regard we’ve been able to explore different things and move quicker on certain things. Sometimes when you’re working on a song together and you don’t know how to explain what you’re hearing in your head… it can take a lot of time or sometimes you don’t quite get there to what you’re trying to have happen, but playing together so long, we all just have this connection and that’s helped a lot.
Jonathan: We’re naturally all going after the same goal. Which sometimes even in that, you might have different ways of trying to get there.Ultimately we’re after the same thing, which is to make the song, or whatever project it is at the time, as good as it can be. I would say when I look back on “Identity Theft”, in some ways we’re really different and in some ways we’re exactly the same; especially with that album. That was an alt-rock record really more than any of the other ones until Blameshifter, so in some ways we have come full circle with the 12 to 15 years of musicianship, experience, and friendship. And also becoming a three piece over the last four to five years; that was, musically, a really important moment for us. You throw yourselves out there and you live or die by what’s happening and so everything that happens on the drums, the bass, and the guitar is vital.
Daniel: It honed us all in and focused the beam for all of us.
ME: For you, Jonathan, being a well known, established actor first, have you encountered any adversity within the music industry?
Jonathan: In some ways we’ve tried to stay away from the music industry. We’ve been independent for so long and it’s something that we’ve always felt an instinct to not “give it away” in terms of what we’re doing. There is a natural bias that’s out there and the ironic thing is that I think I probably share that bias. If I see ‘so and so’ as an actor making music, I have that bias. I have to be honest with myself and admit that and there’s a reason for that. There are a lot of actors that do music and it’s just a hobby and it’s not really EVERYTHING to them. For me, ever since a very young age, music has been something that I’ve really poured my heart and soul and life into. I think what it’s done for us, at least for me, and maybe for the guys as well, is it puts a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because I always feel like I want the music to live or die by IT and not by the fact that somebody might know me from a film.
Richard: Somebody said “you have to be good enough to make them forget” and we kind of like that. It’s a good challenge.
ME: I like that. That’s good! On being independent; your last release in 2014, Radio Cinematic, was in partnership with Loud and Proud Records, but you have gone fully independent with Blameshifter. Why did you decide to go that route again?
Jonathan: The experience with Loud and Proud was really great and I’m glad we did it.
Daniel: It was something we were always on the fence about… should we try to get any sort of deal or partner with a record label. We kind of just said “let’s try it out”. I would say it was an experiment of the sorts.
Jonathan: It was. Loud and Proud was the kind of label that IF we were going to sign with a label, THIS was the kind of label we would sign with because they do have that respect for artists. It was a good experience but we just felt like…we learned a lot…and at the end of the day, where we are right now, being independent, makes a lot of sense. And the other thing for us is that it allowed us to have that one on one engagement with the fans like with the Pledge Music campaign. That was really amazing for us to be able to do that and it inspired us to not only make the best EP that we could make but also we have our live DVD and album that was connected with the fans and being able to get that through the Pledge campaign. There are so many reasons, but it definitely just feels right.
Richard: In the same way that the three piece kind of makes you live and die, being independent makes you live and die by that same connection. Without it, you don’t have a label that’s going to pick up any of the pieces.
ME: The Pledge Music Campaigns do really seem to bring fans into the whole process and you really do have a very loyal fan base with a lot of people even traveling many miles for your shows. Was this the first time you’ve ever done anything like that to support an album?
All Three: Yes! They’re AMAZING! (Referring to the fans).
Jonathan: This was the first real campaign that we ever tried.
ME: Did it take long to get your goal?
Jonathan: We got it right at the end.
Richard: Right at the last day.
Jonathan: It means so much to us.
ME: It’s pretty neat for fans to be able to do that and support the artists that they love. Especially with the value that’s placed on music, itself, today… with streaming and all of that.
Richard: I KNOW!
ME: I read somewhere that somebody had over three million plays on Spotify and got a check for $17!
Richard: It’s unbelievable.
Daniel: It’s like .00001 cent per play or something crazy.
Jonathan: There is something fundamentally wrong about all of that. It is an interesting dichotomy where people stream music and they’re not paying for it and yet when you have the direct fan interaction, they’re willing, and that means so much to us because we really do put our heart and soul and our lives into it. So it’s great.
ME: Are you going to continue with Pledge Music to fund the back half of Blameshifter?
Jonathan: We haven’t really decided.
Richard: We’re not sure.
Jonathan: We kind of wanted to take it one step at a time. Get the EP out and tour. One way or another, we are hoping to finish the back half of the album by the end of the year.
ME: So you have started work on that? Are we going to hear any new songs tonight?
Jonathan: No (Laughs). But over the next month we’re going to start…the songs are written but we haven’t had the time to actually sit and arrange them. There is one on the back half that’s finished.
ME: So there’s no official release date as of yet?
Richard: No official release date.
Jonathan: It may be next Spring. That would be my guess.
ME: What image do you hope Blameshifter conveys?
Jonathan: I love the artwork on the cover. Richard has been doing a lot of our artwork for that and the live album, which has been great. To me, it conveys a lot of things but it was one of those band things you hear about…it was a conscious decision to not put ourselves on the cover. (Everyone laughs). Just authenticity.
Richard: I looked at it as the complexity of learning to be humble. There are all of these gears and things in there…the mechanical process that people go through just to simply say “I’ll take the blame for that”. It’s hard in life to get to that place of simplicity to just say “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake” or “I’m not going to make you take the blame for that, I’ll take that one” , so in my mind it’s kind of the process of that complex thing to get to that place of simplicity.
ME: Any final comments or anything you want to say to your fans?
Jonathan: Just thank you. Thank you for all of the support.
Richard: Yes. Definitely. And we’re going to be touring this summer and playing shows here and there.
ME: Just the US through the summer, correct? Do you have plans to go outside of the US?
Richard: We’re talking to people overseas. We’re planning something over there but we don’t have anything locked down yet.
Jonathan: We’re trying to get over there.
ME: Well thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I am excited to see the show tonight!