INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY JACKSON WARD
With more than 8,000 likes on their Facebook page and photographic proof of it, JACKSON WARD is not a cult or a religion; it is a family. And their family is only expected to grow larger since the Richmond-based country band released their debut EP Goodbye Trouble earlier in January 2015. The six-man band led by lead singer/guitarist Tony Jackson also includes guitarist Jeff Richardson, guitarist/vocalist Bob Breckenkamp, pedal steel player/vocalist Doug Walls. drummer Jon Ward, and bassist Bryan Mitchell. From their antics both on and off the stage, JACKSON WARD bring the party to the local country scene, but they have the raw energy and emotion to back it up.
Since you guys are originally from Richmond, I know that your name comes from one of the neighborhoods of the same name in that area. Is JACKSON WARD where you all are from?
Tony: No, actually it’s a coincidence. My last name is Jackson, and Jeff’s middle name is actually Ward. But we were talking through band names for something that would be sticky. I’m a veteran, and I went by Jackson all through the years in the Marine Corps. We were actually looking around town at spots we thought we might open a studio or base our operations, and the name JACKSON WARD just jumped out at us. We’re not from Jackson Ward [the neighborhood], and it really is just a coincidence.
The neighborhood JACKSON WARD has also been the called the “Harlem of the South.” How do you feel that a country band fits into the music scene there?
Jeff: Jackson Ward [the neighborhood] and all of Richmond City is an awesome area, [as well as] rich in history, but basically we spend all of our time and attention away from the downtown area. We spend most of our time focusing on the county areas outside of Richmond. So as far as the music scene goes in Richmond, it’s a really nice music scene, and one part of that scene is country music. We seem to fit in right well.
Tony: We’re very new as a band. We’ve been playing together for about a year and a half now. Because of the genre we play and the fortune we’ve had of playing the shows we’ve had, most of them have been in the summertime in outdoors type of environments. We’ve been playing at campgrounds, next to the bay, and summer series on the West End of town. Going into our first real winter as an established band, we are looking forward to opportunities to play in the city since a lot of people who are fans of ours, or would be fans of ours based on the type of music we play, have moved back into the city so we can bring them a taste of where they came from in the suburbs or out in the counties of the country.
On January 12, your band released your debut album, Goodbye Trouble. Why did you choose this album title?
Tony: The lead song on the album is “Goodbye Trouble (Drink by Drink),” and the subject matter of the song is one of the standard, “Here are my life’s troubles,” that a middle-aged person might talk about person-to-person. We really wanted to frame it now as a “life sucks, hand me a beer” song, but if you take the opportunity and raise your beer in the air to be thankful just to be alive, and you make the choice to be happy about it [then things will be okay].
What are some of your personal favorite songs on the new album?
Jon: One of my personal favorites is “A Little While.” I think it’s the perfect crossover tune, but at the same time, it could be slated as a great summer anthem.
Bob: I’d agree 100 percent. I love that song.
Have you guys seen that post circulating around the Internet about the musician that layered six country songs on top of each other to prove they’re all the same? If so, what are your thoughts on that?
Tony: I have heard it and seen it. I feel that there was a point in time when your only outlet to hear music was on FM radio commercially, so you were at the mercy of what the program director decided was best for you to listen to. But today in 2015, from my perspective, the reality is you can hear what you want to hear in many different formats: FM radio, Internet radio, Spotify, CDs, and you can go on YouTube. One of the things with the digital age is you can find what you like, and for the people who choose to measure artists by some standard … as “cookie cutter,” … I would never take a shot at those people for doing what they do and the reasons they do it. It’s music — take it or leave it. You have the option to consume it or not. So I wasn’t a fan of that to marginalize or reduce the achievements they have made in music.
That being said, how does your music stand apart from other country bands currently in the local and/or national music scene?
Tony: In this band, we play some of the popular tunes, but what we really like to do is to mix it up. … Our album fits a theme that I think fits within our age range and our life experiences, but it does give you some variety. Up to this point, we have taken a bit of a different approach. We don’t spend a lot of time focusing on what our peers are doing, and it’s not out of arrogance or a desire to be different just to be different. We really have focused a lot on the people that have come out to support us and what they’ve asked us for, [as well as] what we observe them reacting to. From a musicians perspective, you get a lot of feedback from other musicians, but people that would spend their Friday or Saturday coming out to see you and hang out with you are really who we listen to. If we cover a song another band might cover, the reactions we get are different based on us tailoring our show to our crowd.
Bob: I would say we also take a lot of songs and put our own flavor on them. There are several songs that might almost be unrecognizable if you hadn’t heard it before. The way we put a spin on it, or our flavor, we’ve had some great success with that morphing songs into basically our own.
What are some ways that you “add your own flavor” to your songs?
Jeff: On e of the main things, as far as our original music that stands out that may be a little different from the local or national scene, is some of the older style instruments that we brought to the table — reintroducing the pedal steel, which you don’t hear a lot anymore. On the album, you’ll hear some fiddle and banjo, and those are being layered on top of more mainstream type music.
Tony: We have the best pedal steel player in the world, Doug Walls. We’ve been very fortunate.
You guys seem to have a huge following, as evidenced by photos of your shows and your social media pages. How do you like to keep your audience engaged before, during, and after your performances?
Bryan: We call Jeff our hype man.
But what does Jeff do to keep the audience hyped?
Bryan: You just have to go to a show to experience Jeff (laughs).
Tony: Jeff really does get fully into the performance. He has a lot of fun on stage. It’s authentic, and it’s genuine. He’s not acting out.
Bryan: That man has the time of his life.
Tony: He enjoys playing music, and people really connect with him who are out there to party and have fun themselves.
Doug: He actually likes to go down into the crowd with his guitar, and they love that.
Jeff: I guess I’ll agree with those guys (laughs). One of the things we’ve said from the beginning is that we don’t have fans. We like to keep that word out of our vocabulary. That makes us something we’re not and separates us. We like to use the word “family,” and I like to think that every show that we do, no matter how many thousands of people are there, these are the same people that are in your living room and you’re having a family show. We like to have fun and keep them engaged, and keep everybody close. We’ve got a mindset to do that as a band, and it’s worked really well for us.
Do you have any plans yet to tour in 2015?
Jeff: We definitely have a bunch of plans for 2015. We’ve got 30 shows on the books right now; we’re in the process of possibly doubling that for next year. I would tell everybody to keep focused on the website and our Facebook page, and you can catch all of our dates that are happening on there.