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Music, Energy, Vision: Jared James Nichols Sets His Sights On The Top

Monday, 24 February 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

It’s by no means unreasonable to declare that any fan of great blues-rock who isn’t mesmerised by the firebrand axe work, and high voltage energy, of Jared James Nichols is either a complete charlatan or the victim of an undiagnosed hearing condition. As passionate about his own work as he is the wider world of classic blues-rock, this guitar god in the making is on a mission to bring his music to the people and make an asteroid-sized impression on the genre he worships.

Jared James Nichols bleeds for his music. Sometimes literally. As a young six-string disciple who didn’t want to be saddled with the usual Stevie Ray Vaughan comparisons, the man from Wisconsin knew he had to do something bold to forge his own sound. Ditching the plectrum and adopting a unique finger picking style, which resulted in him having to tape up his fingers to stop claret pouring from his shredded digits, Nichols’ commitment to authenticity is beyond question.

This 30-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist lives to perform and is one of the hardest touring musicians around. And thanks to both 2015’s ‘Old Glory And The Wild Revival’ and its follow up ‘Black Magic’, two impressive efforts that offer up a treasure trove of ‘70s powerhouse riffs, planet-flattening grooves and maniac-baiting hooks, Nichols has already made a strong impact by taking a classic form and setting it ablaze with smouldering contemporary flourishes.

You’re about to embark on your first full length UK tour as a headline act. What’s your experience of playing over here been like so far?

Honestly, man, I knew the first time we came to the UK something special was happening. I couldn’t put my finger on what. The first time we booked a show in Camden, at a place called the Black Heart, we only had about 15 people there, but they loved it and we could feel an energy right away. I said ‘We’ve got to keep coming back.’ So we went on a bunch of support tours with Glenn Hughes, Saxon, Living Colour and Zakk Wylde. Every time it would grow and grow and we just kept coming back. Now, three years later, to return on our first headline tour is exciting and a testament to keeping doing it, keeping pushing and putting the best foot forward.

Touring relentlessly, just as Joe Bonamassa did, is the best way for rock and blues acts to establish a solid and lasting foundation to build from these days.

Absolutely. Joe has been so good to me. I was with him the other day and he always says ‘You have to build the brand’. Obviously we have social media and can be online and do all that stuff, but the reality is the human connection. Getting out there, showing the world and just playing. That’s the way I’ve seen the most growth. You’ve got to bring it to the people and you’ve got to play.

Between heavy touring stints you’ve also been working hard on your new album. Can you tell me what stage you’re at with that right now?

We’ve just recorded some basics for a new single and have one ready to go my friend. It’s coming soon. We’re gonna do my headline tour and then I have to go, for the first time ever, to Australia. After that we’re gonna finish the record. Everything is basically written, I have a tonne of songs ready to roll, it’s literally taking the time to get into the studio and do it. We’re looking at producers right now and looking at recording in April and May. For anyone that dug my first record ‘Old Glory...’ or the second ‘Black Magic’, think of it as a marriage of those two that’s focused more on the songs and with a whole lot of blues-rock guitar.    

Back in the day a band’s third album was considered to be make or break. Do you feel any pressure to make it something extra special?

I don’t feel like ‘Oh man, I’ve gotta make this extra special.’ I almost feel like it’s more of a growth and development stage and with that will come something extra special. It’s hard because as musicians and artists we get very emotional over our music. We get very particular and every little thing counts.  On this record I want to focus on the songs and get to the core of what it is that I am and what I want to do. That being said, of course there’s always pressure, but it’s more of a fun pressure to say ‘Hey man, let’s look this in the eye and make the best record we can.’   

You believe modern blues rockers should take risks and have said that some bands are just playing it safe and not trying to push the envelope. How do you intend to do that on your next record and beyond?

The thing I always do, and sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t, is jump off the edge. I say to myself ‘I’m not gonna try and sound like my heroes or try and fit what people think it should sound like or what they think it should be.’  My big thing is always chasing the music and the energy and the vision.

A lot of people, when they go in the studio, they say, ‘OK, this is what we’re known for and what we need to do because it’s what people expect.’ I think about it the other way and say ‘OK, what can I do right now that is totally personal to me, but also make it something different and breathe some fresh air into what we’re already doing.’ I want to take risks. I want to write songs and let the music do the talking.  

There aren’t enough rock bands doing that these days. If you look at the difference between Led Zeppelin ‘II’ and ‘III’, for example, the latter was certainly a brave artistic move that must have surprised people when it was released.

Yeah, can you imagine picking up Led Zeppelin ‘III’ for the first time and going ‘What the hell is this?’ That’s so beautiful because now we look back on it and think what a great record that was. You have to chase it, man. You have to be bold and sometimes, as funny as that is, you have to let go of what you think you need to do and just let it come out.    

Can you talk me through your writing process?

On the first record I was lucky enough to work with Eddie Kramer and the first thing he ever said to me was ‘Jared, a guy like you, it’s all about the riff.  That’s what you need to focus on.  Play from your gut.’ I used to sit down with a pad and pen, write down ideas and think of a melody, almost as if I were working a nine to five job, and say ‘OK, now it’s time to write. I got to clock in.’ And I would never be inspired.  I’d never get the results I wanted. 

So what I try and do is let it come when it comes. A lot of times I’ll write things at soundcheck or rehearsal. We’ll be messing around and all of a sudden I’ll come up with a little riff and Dennis, the drummer, he’ll start playing along to it. The next thing you know we’ve got this little groove going and we say ‘What is this? Let’s work on it.’ I’ve always been from the school of playing it off the cuff and I think about songwriting the same way.

That isn’t to say things aren’t emotional and don’t mean anything. When it comes down to it, the core of my ideas come from being in the moment, playing with the band or something comes into my head. It’s a very simple process and then I almost take it, like a big rock, and start chipping away and refining it. I give it a shape and think ‘This is the vibe, this is the whole feel of where I want to go. Now I need to take this and make it the best rollercoaster ride I can.’

Most guitarists burst onto the scene as masters of their instrument, but it often takes time for their songwriting and singing to catch up. How much work have you put into developing your all round skill set?

What you said perfectly describes me. When I started my trio, the initial vision was just three guys in a room and I was the guitar player. We started playing some gigs and I started writing these songs but I wasn’t there yet.  That first record was my first time in a studio crafting songs. I listen to it now and hear exactly where I was at that point. I never thought about singing, especially in my teenage years. I was just chasing guitar sounds. I’d listen to Cream and obsess over the nuances in [Eric] Clapton’s playing or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s. Then, when I was the one playing, I started to think, ‘OK, who’s gonna sing? Uh-oh...I guess I’m gonna sing! I need to figure this out. What am I gonna sound like?’  

You start at a certain level, like with the guitar, and go through all the stepping blocks to get somewhere. I had to do that with my voice and songwriting. I’m very happy with the progress and everyday I work at it,  which is a beautiful thing because becoming a better singer and songwriter makes the wheel go round. It brings a lot of depth, not only to my guitar playing. I think of it now as if everything is all and the same. Crafting a great guitar solo, like [Pink Floyd’s] David Gilmour, is just as important as the vocals. It all comes down to the artistry of the music.              

Is it possible for classic or blues-rock to break back into the mainstream?

I definitely think it’s possible because so many people love and appreciate it.  What it’s gonna take is people going back to seeing bands playing when they’re on tour and it has to be more of a collective and community base. I know there were mixed emotions for a band like Greta Van Fleet and I totally understand, but to me they’re helping push the door open to kick that sound back into the mainstream. Bands putting their best foot forward, trying to push that sound back to the masses, that’s what it’s gonna take. And also not stopping. Being 100% on the gas, pumping that sound out and bringing it to the people, whether that’s on the road, big festivals, releasing new music, it all adds up. 

How close are you to getting where you want to be and what do you need to happen to take the next step up the ladder?

I’m really passionate. Everyone would say they’re very passionate but last year I was on the road for 308 days straight. I did Canada three times and the States four times, went to the UK three times. I’m not afraid to work hard.  Also, what it comes down to is getting a leg up on the promotion stuff and that’s something we’re working on for the next record. I’m one of those people that’s like, if the door doesn’t open, I’m just gonna kick it open. Every day I wake up and think of it, especially when I’m on tour, as a new day to conquer and bring the music to the people.  

That’s what it’s all about for me and I don’t think you could make me stop.  Even if someone said, ‘Jared, this is as big as you will ever be as an artist’, I would still do it because I love the music that much. It really is about playing the stuff we love and making that genuine connection. It’s true passion that pushes forwards so I try and have that lead me everyday.

Jared James Nichols Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 25 2020 - BILSTON Robin 2
Wed February 26 2020 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Thu February 27 2020 - GRIMSBY Yardbirds
Fri February 28 2020 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Think Tank?
Sat February 29 2020 - GLASGOW G2
Sun March 01 2020 - MILTON KEYNES Craufurd Arms
Fri March 27 2020 - MANCHESTER Soup Kitchen
Sat March 28 2020 - LONDON Dome
Sun March 29 2020 - BRISTOL Exchange Bristol

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