So we are here today on March 1, and it feel so good to be here. You can almost feel spring coming. Today we have a band from New Jersey, The Jackson Whites and they have a sound I need today. Before we chat with Robert Van Kull lets check on music news. First up, Sony Corporation and Blue Note Media Group – the sponsorship affiliate of Blue Note Entertainment Group, the organization that owns, operates, licenses, and/or programs 10 music venues worldwide including the iconic Blue Note Jazz Club – today announced a landmark strategic sponsorship agreement. As part of the sponsorship, Sony will collaborate with Blue Note to open “Sony Hall,” a new music venue in Manhattan, sponsor the annual Blue Note Jazz Festival each June in New York City, as well as other plans to be announced. In other news, Streaming service Spotify announced Wednesday its plan to go public. The company will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker name SPOT. According to the company, shares have traded as high as $132.50 on private markets, which would give the company a valuation over $23 billion based on ordinary shares outstanding as of February 22. So now lets get with The Jackson Whites as we talk about their new album – ‘Hard Luck Stories’, Jersey, gun control, and so much more!
Stoli: Where are we talking from today and are you excited as we get closer to spring on March 20th?
I am coming to you from the heart of New Jersey and yes, I’m very happy that Spring is around the corner. This is the time of year in N.J. when cabin fever starts to set in. I like to spend most of my time outdoors once the weather breaks.
Stoli: We are all horrified by the shooting in FL. Do you feel like we as a society can do anything to try and stop these acts and do you have any ideas?
Yeah, I think something has to be done. I don’t think there’s a Constitutional right to own assault weapons. The Second Amendment was conceived at a point in history when people were still jamming musket balls into rifles one at a time. Back then you had a lot of people living in the wilderness who needed guns to hunt for food and protect themselves. No such thing as supermarkets or calling 911. That’s not the world most Americans live in today…Do I have any suggestions for reducing gun violence? How about requiring all people who buy guns to purchase liability insurance just like they do when they buy a car? The bigger the gun the more expensive the policy.
Stoli: Offer us a brief history of how this group came to be and how did you decide on the name The Jackson Whites?
I don’t know if you can really call The JDub’s a “group”; to me, at this point in time it’s more like a loose confederation. At last count I think we’ve had about 25 different musicians and singers come in to lay down tracks, and once you do, you become a JW for life, like it or not. It’s kinda like becoming President of the United States…Years ago Benny and I had a discussion about whether there was such a thing as “the New Jersey sound”. Places like New Orleans, Memphis, Mississippi, Seattle…they all have “a sound”. So we decided to round up players from our own backyard who could do it justice. And we wanted to come up with a name that was unique to the place we come from. Our original inhabitants were The Lenape and The Ramapough and history tells us that they were abused by the Europeans from day one. They were driven up into the mountains and later had their lands poisoned with toxic waste. Somewhere along the way the locals began referring to them as “The Jackson Whites” which is a slang term that’s considered disrespectful. So we thought “let’s relieve them of this name and put it on ourselves”.
Stoli: How hard was it to assemble world class musicians from New Jersey and was that your initial intention?
It wasn’t hard because Benny is a member of that circle. In some ways the music industry has come full circle over the last century. In the 30’s and 40’s you had brilliant musicians roaming the country playing for drinks and tips. By the 70’s you had big time rock stars becoming millionaires. But for the most part it’s not like that anymore. Now you find some brilliant world class musicians struggling to make a living and playing in local bars again. Now don’t get me wrong, some of these guys are very successful, but most are underappreciated and underpaid. So we thought “why not gather up all these outrageously talented beasts under one roof and see if we can create something special”. Sometimes we have so many beasts on one track it feels like Noah’s ark.
Stoli: How long would you say that it took to develop the niche sound that The Jackson Whites play?
I think our sound reflects the musical influences and experiences we’ve been exposed to throughout our entire lives. I would say Benny is more of a rock-n roller and I’m a little more rootsy. He’s got the licks and the chops whereas I’m really just a feel player. Mix that shit together and sometimes you get your slinky/slunky JDub backbeat; other times you get something strangely pretty, like a girl with a crooked smile and slightly crossed eyes. It’s always an adventure.
Stoli: What would you say the relationship is like between Benny Harrison and Bob Zaleski and does it extend away from music as well?
We have so much fun doing our JDub thing that I couldn’t really put it into words. But it goes way beyond that. Music, life, friendship..it all blends together. Benny likes to say “serve the music”. That’s kind of our mantra. We haven’t made dollar one from The Jackson Whites and we may never make dollar one. But, so what? I don’t think we’ll ever quit it.
Stoli: Your album is here – ‘Hard Luck Stories’. How long did you write – record – master – distribute the collection?
The songs on this first record were written and recorded over the past 6 or 7 years. When I write new material I like to get in the studio and put the basic tracks down as soon as possible while the nuances are still fresh in my mind. Then I move on to the next song and completely forget the one I just wrote. Honestly, if you asked me to play a song from the record I’d probably have to go back and look at my notes because to me it’s ancient history. I only move forward…Our recording process is always the same. We do basic tracks and pre-production at Benny’s studio, then we bring in usual suspects and the guest assassins. Benny’s studio is small so we usually do the drums and bass and horns at Sound Spa in Edison…As to distribution, the CD is available through CD Baby, Amazon and the usual online vendors.
Stoli: 12 songs made the cut, how many did you choose from and how did you deicide on those 12 songs?
We chose 12 tracks we felt would go well together in the traditional album format. I’ve read where they may stop pressing CD’s altogether in a year or two because everyone downloads their music. I hope that doesn’t happen. I still love the album format; the lyrics, the credits, the artwork…We probably have another 25 songs recorded and the number grows from week to week.
Stoli: I love the song ‘Jealous Bone.’ What is that song about?
I had a friend who knew his girlfriend had another man on the side. Instead of freaking out over it he just enjoyed the extra free time and let it run its course without saying a word. I was blown away by his self-confidence and tranquility, more serene than a Buddha. It kinda made me feel inferior because I knew I would have acted like a jealous asshole like the guy in the song.
Stoli: Any plans to hit the road and play the album live to fans old and new?
If the opportunity to do a tour or play some big time venues presented itself I think we’d assemble the troops and do it. But I can’t imagine undertaking a task of that scope to play at Murphy’s Pub.
Stoli: These days playing music is not enough as you must also be on social media. How do you keep up with the tech times while engaging fans old & new?
I am essentially a technophobic computer-illiterate. I don’t even like having a cell phone; people keep calling and sending me messages. Whenever possible I don’t respond. We would really need to hire someone to address all that stuff. If we engage any new fans it will be in spite of me, not because of me.
Stoli: What is coming up for The Jackson Whites and where you @ online?
We should be ready to release the next cd before too long, but there’s really no rush. The working title is “Swamparty”. You can check us on the web out at http://www.thejacksonwhitesband.com and also at http://wwwjerseydeltarecords.com also on on YouTube where we have a video for our song Pagan Blues.