Farmer Jason, an Emmy award-winning children’s entertainer, is the project of Jason Ringenberg, the principal singer and songwriter behind seminal country-punk band Jason and the Scorchers. Farmer Jason recently released a collection of holiday songs called Christmas On The Farm, to the delight of children everywhere. We chatted with Ringenberg about what inspires him to write, what he considers to be the perfect song, and more.
When did you first conceive of the character of Farmer Jason?
In 2002 I began to think about recording a children’s music album for my then pre-school daughters Addie and Camille. The idea blossomed into a full fledged character as I wrote the songs.
Farmer Jason still has a bit of a punk edge. Are you trying to ignite “Anarchy in the Pre-K”?
I am always trying to motivate kids to get active, get away from the TV, and go outside to experience nature.
What made you decide to record a Christmas album?
I absolutely love Christmas records and for years have noticed that children’s music Christmas albums are quite rare. I decided to jump in and fill that void.
So I understand you’re an actual farmer now?
Yes, I am a real farmer. On our home place in Tennessee we grow a lot of our own food. I also farm the old Ringenberg family farm in Illinois. Last year we grew non-gmo soybeans and had a very successful crop.
How do you go about writing songs as Farmer Jason? Is it the same approach you had when you were with Jason and the Scorchers?
I do write differently with Farmer Jason than I did with Jason Ringenberg or Jason and the Scorchers. With Farmer Jason, I try to make the songs as absolutely catchy as possible. That is the “prime directive” in children’s music. I also use much more repetition and incorporate educational concepts into the lyrics as well.
What is your general approach to writing lyrics?
With Farmer Jason I try to keep it simple as possible and always remember that I am writing for 5 year olds. It is a different ballgame altogether.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
I love to write about nature and farm animals. That is where I always seem to end up.
What’s a song on your album you’re particularly proud of and why?
I am most proud of “The Animals Sang”. I believe I succeeded in writing a Christmas song that adds something new to the wonderful body of that genre. The experience of writing it was quite intense, much like writing when I was younger. There was a real power behind it.
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
Like anything, the more you do it the better you get. I find it easier to write a bunch of songs than an occasional one off.
Are there any words you love or hate?
Interestingly I used to hate the word “Boogie” but now I love it and even wrote a song called “Bayou Boogie.” I usually avoid using cuss words, even in my non Farmer Jason music, except for hell and damn occasionally. I especially hate using bathroom oriented words in any format. For some reason I have often used the word “sand” in several of my songs. I love that word. I also love the word “change.”
The most annoying thing about songwriting is …
Whenever you first write a song, you naturally think it is your best ever. When you come down from the high it is quite disheartening, unless of course it REALLY IS your best song yet!
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
Yes I dabble in journalism and history a bit. I also write a monthly column in a Tennessee magazine called “Local Table.” In the column I answer questions from kids about farming and nature.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
I have three answers to that: Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, and Bob Dylan.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
Hugh Deneal from the Southern Illinois band “The Woodbox Gang” is my favorite post punk songwriter. Almost no one has heard of him.
What do you consider to be the perfect song (written by somebody else), and why?
I was listening to “American Pie” yesterday and marveled at how well written that was. But at the end of the day I have to go with “Mr. Tambourine Man” by Dylan. Every line takes you on a journey, lifts your spirits, and connects you to God. It is a very special song that has meant so much to so many, me included.