Music Q&A:
Jarrod Dickenson

The Texan country singer is heading to the UK. He plays Sheffield Leadmill, 5 Oct and Manchester Deaf Institute, 13 Oct

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Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences?
My influences are pretty varied. It all began by going through my father’s record collection as a kid, and discovering people like The Beatles, The Stones, Derek & The Dominos, Simon & Garfunkel, Dylan, Jim Croce, etc. From there I meandered into the blues, getting into guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, BB King, Ray Charles and others. It wasn’t really until I left Texas that I allowed myself to discover the great country songwriters. I think as a kid growing up in the south it was too close, too familiar, so I just wasn’t interested, but when I heard Guy Clark for the first time it completely changed the way I looked at writing songs and telling a story. Most recently I’ve been really into the great soul records of the 1960s – guys like Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding. There’s such a wealth of incredible music out there. I’m always discovering something new to obsess over.

How has your sound evolved over the years?

In the early stages, like many singer-songwriters, it was all pretty acoustic-driven. Half of the reason could be attributed to what I was listening to at the time: things like early Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, etc. The other half was out of necessity. I couldn’t afford to pay musicians to come out on the road with me, so I was playing hundreds of shows with just my voice and an acoustic guitar on the stage. I still love that intimate side of things, but I’m also really enjoying bringing a more fully realised sound to both my records and the live setting. When writing these songs I’m always hearing various other instruments in my head – a Hammond organ here, a dirty Tom Waits-ish guitar part there – so it’s nice to actually get that out of my head and onto the tape. This new record certainly shows that.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
My new album, Ready The Horses, will be released on 29 September on Decca Records. Shortly after that I’ll be traipsing across the UK on a three-week tour starting in early October, singing my songs to anyone who’ll listen.

What’s it like to operate in the music industry today?

It ain’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than digging ditches for a living.

How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
I try not to focus on things like “How can I stand out?” I think that’s a dangerous mindset to have for anyone trying to create any kind of art. Focus on your craft, keep trying to get better at what you do and let the chips fall where they may.

What informs your music and songwriting?

Songs are mysterious beasts. They come from everywhere – and from nowhere. I’m still trying to figure out where exactly to find them, and how to find them more frequently. When inspiration strikes I just try my best to ride the wave for as long as I can, and hope to God I don’t drown in the process.

What’s on your rider?
My rider is pretty simple. Water, a few local brews or a nice single malt, and I’m a happy man.

Tell us your most surreal experience.
In the summer of 2016 I had the great honour of supporting Bonnie Raitt for six shows across the UK and Denmark. I’ve been a fan of Bonnie’s music since I could walk, so simply being on the same bill was phenomenal. On the final two nights of the tour she invited me on stage to sing with her on the final encore song. This was both utterly terrifying and one of the biggest thrills of my professional life.

Tell us about your worst live show.
Several years ago I got a gig at a club in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is a three hour drive from Nashville, TN, where I was living at the time, so it was just close enough to not justify spending money on a hotel, and simply driving home after the gig. I arrived at the venue a couple hours early, loaded in my gear and had a pint. There were three acts on the bill that night, and I was the middle act. The act before me was this full-on thrash metal band, and the crowd was filled with metal-heads. As you can imagine, this was a less than ideal audience for a folk singer with an acoustic guitar and a big hat. As soon as I walked on stage, before even plugging in my guitar, 90 per cent of the crowd left the room. By the time I finished a quick soundcheck the only people left in the venue were paid staff. After I finished my 45 minute set, which I played to no one, the crowd wandered back in, and the third act walked on stage – another metal band. I packed up my things, and spent the next three hours driving home trying to figure out how on earth a booking agent in Louisville, Kentucky ever thought booking a solo acoustic singer-songwriter to play, sandwiched between two metal bands, would be a good idea.

What’s your worst lyric?
I take the craft of writing songs very seriously. If I feel a lyric isn’t strong enough I will continue to work on it until I feel it is right. With that in mind, my worst lyrics rightfully don’t see the light of day. I think every songwriter or artist of any description should share that attitude. If it isn’t right, keep working on it until it is.

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