Weekly Discovery: Jade Jackson

Photo by Xina Hamari Ness

Jade Jackson doesn’t have many of the traditional trappings of a country artist. A California native, she counts Mazzy Star as an influence and was discovered and eventually mentored by a member of the iconic punk band Social Distortion. On her forthcoming album Gilded (out via –ANTI on May 19), though, she proves that great country music can come from just about anywhere.

The album, produced by Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, imbues the sunny California country of Jackson’s youth with edgy noir, with tracks like “Motorcycle” and “Good Time Gone” sounding something like cuts from a jukebox at a dystopian honky-tonk.

Jackson spoke with American Songwriter about growing up in central California, working with Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, and how Gilded came together.

When did you first start writing material for your debut album, Gilded? Was there one song that jumpstarted the process for you?

Gilded is a collection of songs that I’ve written over the past four years, with the exception of “Troubled End.” When I was 15, I was in a rockabilly band called the Royal Wreckers and “Troubled End” was originally called “Troubles End.” Mike [Ness] heard it, thought it had some potential, and together we re-wrote it for the record. I never wrote songs with the intention of an album in mind; I just wrote them the same way that I always have and Mike hand-selected the ones he felt best fit the album.

Do you have a writing process that you typically follow? If so, what is it like?

I usually just get a feeling and find the closest thing to write with and write on. A lot of my lyrics are written on napkins, envelopes and other random things.

A lot of the songs on the album have a deeply personal bent. How closely do these songs resemble your own life?

I feel like I take on the form of whoever or whatever I’m writing about. Mostly, I find my songs resemble more of a feeling I had than something that’s actually happened to me. Real life and daydreaming often blend together in my art; rarely are they separate.

How did producer Mike Ness [Social Distortion] affect the finished album as a whole?

Mike has helped on every layer of this record; his belief in my songs led the campaign behind the entire project. The process of this album started more than three years ago when he first heard my music and asked me to meet him at his studio. We talked music, played songs and he offered me golden advice about the career I’ve always wanted. Leaving later that afternoon, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have been able to meet him, and then later I found out he wanted to be my producer. From there, he had me audition a band, showed my music to his label (which helped get me signed), and also introduced me to his manager, who is now managing me. Mike helped surround me with an incredible team that made this album possible and changed my life. I feel incredibly honored to have him in my corner. Without Mike, this album would not exist.

What was it like opening for Social Distortion?

Being on tour with Social Distortion was the closest thing to any dream I’ve ever had coming true. My band and I learned so much from watching them both on and off stage. We would try to arrive at the venues early to see their soundcheck and watch their show each night because we realized what an incredible learning opportunity it was for us to be able to observe the masters at work. The tour had many perks that still seem surreal to me. Mike would come to every soundcheck we had, watch our entire performance each night from the wings and offer critiques and suggestions to us afterwards. Dave Kalish played organ on a few songs during our set and would also be at our soundcheck helping each day. I couldn’t tell you how much these things meant to me. I kept pinching myself because I’ve been a fan of Social Distortion ever since I was a little kid! It was like getting to meet your heroes and finding out they’re even more wonderful than you’ve imagined. I’m still pinching myself.

Your music isn’t limited to one genre or set of sounds. Who do you consider some of your biggest songwriting influences?

The top 10 artists off the top of my head are Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Mazzy Star, the Smiths, Neko Case, the Cowboy Junkies, George Jones, the Gun Club and Bauhaus. These were some of the artists my dad got me hooked on and played all of the time at home. Somebody told me once, “You know, you’ve got your mother’s eyes and your daddy’s taste in music,” which I took as a huge compliment.

How did growing up in central California shape you as an artist? Did you grow up listening to California country artists? 

The Central Coast provided me with beautiful backdrops that inspired my imagination. I was always encouraged to be outside when I was a kid. Playing in the dirt, running in the hills and looking up from under the trees at the stars shaped me more that I can begin to imagine. At home, my dad played a lot of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Which of these new songs do you look forward to playing live in upcoming shows?

Every song channels a different energy. When I’m sad, singing a sad song helps relieve me of my own sadness. For that reason, I look forward to playing “Bridges” on the nights when I’m weighed down with darkness.