Jackson Watson’s Concept Album and Outlook – Q&A

The idea of a “concept” album was first adopted, as far as I can tell, with The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and The Who’s “Tommy”– which might be more in the “rock opera” vein– but that’s neither here nor there. Indeed, at the time it was “dramatic” for an LP to dare reprise themes or ideas throughout the entire work. Even though later Lennon would scoff at times of “Pepper” being some sort of firm, glued together “concept,” it still encompassed what I think we call a “vibe” nowadays. A vibe that was unique to that record and moment in time more so than any other of their records. Where am I going with this? Jackson Watson of Montgomery, Alabama had recently released an album entitled, “Numb,” and it is described as a concept album. I wrote a piece for #LT1KF deep diving into each track, tying together all the conceptual pieces as I listened to and reviewed it. To me, that is the fun of releasing an album these days. Whereas most people, with perhaps less struggles with ADHD than yours truly, would opt to sit for a couple hours and take in a movie, I have always found that sitting back listening to an entire album, letting my mind wander, and interpreting a work in it’s entirety to be a cathartic experience. I certainly did with Watson’s latest album.

You might have noticed that a lot of artists stray away from albums these days, and from a business standpoint, it’s for logical reason. There are algorithmic pressures from the streaming services, a daily flooding of new music from nearly 100,000 artists every day, etc. Even those who eventually pool the singles together into an album implementing various “waterfall” strategies, etc. This presents a bit of a paradigm, in my opinion. Prior to the “concept” album, an artist (or label, or whoever was packaging it) looked at the project in a very mechanical, “in the box” manner. This album needs “the hit,” it needs “the love song,” it needs the “you fill in the blank,” and often times filler was added to round it out to a number the industry deemed standard practice back then. Prior to artists like The Beatles, it was even unconventional for an artist to write their own songs for most of an album. I mean after all, what would they know about writing a “hit,” they were “just artists.” Silly notion nowadays in retrospect, isn’t it?

So in my mind, I almost feel like every album is a “concept” album to some degree. Ever since the “concept” of a “concept” was adopted. It represents a snapshot in time of where that writer was, how they were processing things, and what they were thinking at the time. Especially in today’s music industry. If an artist were to take the time to pen an assortment of tracks to be released all at one time, I would venture to say that there are probably recurring themes in that collection, intended or not, just because of the headspace they were in at the time of inspiration. Such is the case with Jackson Watson’s “Numb,” albeit by all accounts there is certainly an intention or at least realization of the recurring theme in it about the vicious cycle that takes place during the throws of love.

And what a concept to document, no? You have ups, downs, insatiable desires, dilemma, heartache, and in many cases long term damage (*laughs*). All the makings for a “rock opera” right there. Jackson Watson’s “Numb” delves into all of it. Moreover, because the idea itself is so personal in nature, not only does the work have the listener reflect on their own personal experiences, but it also leaves them (and at least certainly for me, one who writes about music) left pondering some questions. Curiosity, if you will, about the art, the artist, the sources of inspiration, and my guy, whether you are doing okay (*laughs*). I reached out to Jackson to see if he could share some artistic insight on the album with me, and to my delight, he was gracious enough to do a Q&A with the blog.

AMS Radio: Jackson, thanks so much for taking the time for my questions. Kicking it off with the 3 standard ones I ask everyone: What inspires you to create music? Who would you say are your biggest influences? I’m aware of the MJ influence from the LT1KF piece, but me personally, I hear some Bruno Mars, any truth in that?

JW: Ooo, yeah I love Bruno! Funny thing is that people have called me Bruno as a nickname…mainly for the physical similarities but I do love his music. I absolutely loved the “24K Magic” album and some tracks on that inspired some of my album. “Calling All My Lovelies” and “Too Good to Say Goodbye” inspired “All Your Love” and “Silver”, respectively. In addition, when the Silk Sonic album came out in late 2021, I was producing “Numb” and a lot of inspiration from that bled into songs like “Things We Can Do” and “Dragonfruit.

AMS Radio: Absolutely, I love him too!

Tell me a little bit about your creative/writing process, how does the music make it from concept to final product?

JW: Most of this album came to me in melody first. For songs like “Let’s Surf” and “Get Better,” I heard the melodies in my head before I had any lyrics down. The opposing side to this, however, is for a song like “Chameleon.” I had a melody for this when I first wrote it in May of 2021 but when it came time to produce the song, I hated how boring it was. I was writing a completely different song on piano in November 2021 and suddenly it clicked…let’s not use this melody for a new song but instead let’s use it to fix the structure and sound of “Chameleon.” After this, the Motown soul inspired jam was reborn

AMS Radio: So funny how that works. I’ve had songs like that too that actually don’t fully become what they are until sometimes years later. It’s crazy.

Tell me about the music scene where you are from. What’s popular, what do you like or dislike about it, and what interesting things are happening?

JW: Here in Montgomery, the music scene is pretty static. The big ‘thing’ around town for local artists is rap and trap. There is little to no room for pop artists. Sure, there are a handful of R&B artists that’ll get their moment to shine but nobody really focuses on them either. Let’s switch the POV for a second…people I graduated with don’t support their classmate musicians/“friends” unless it’s rap or trap music. That’s something I don’t like about being in this town—music wise. Nobody gives mainstream-sounding music a chance like they used to and that’s something I want to change in the long run. I want to prove that good pop/R&B can still come from a place that is dominated by rap and trap music.

AMS Radio: Always interesting to hear the culture from other places. Similar to my home town, on an indie scale it feels almost “taboo” to sound too commercial sometimes.

You’ve stated before that the “concept” eventually turns to the healthier aspect of self-love and self-dependence. I kind of saw that as the old “you have to be able to love yourself, in order to love someone else properly” type of philosophy. However, in the last track, there are some lyrics that leave me wondering if the protagonist is in fact okay. The journey starts to take a more positive, strengthening direction, but ends a bit more somber than triumphant (even though the last track is a very “epic” piece). Could you enlighten me a bit on how the end of the album is to be interpreted?

JW: “Silver” is an extremely autobiographical song. There was once a moment in my life where everything felt at a low and I was unsure if I’d make it through. There were things I knew I shouldn’t be doing to hopefully wake myself up to the reality that I wasn’t okay at the time. I was forcing these habits on myself as a distraction for what I was feeling. There came a moment where I realized that if I kept up with this, it’ll no longer be a distraction—it’ll just become my livelihood. I began to let the loneliness absorb and take over me. So, I took a step back and said to myself that if for just a second, I could feel a sense of love again, then maybe I’d be alright. I knew then that it wasn’t love from just anybody I needed, it had to start from within. By the end of the song, I see the light, I hear the music, and I can feel true emotion again. I finally realize that I’m “no longer numb” to who I thought I was or could be. By the end, I embrace the self-love and it ultimately sets up where the next project will land.

AMS Radio: Good to know! I’m glad we can interpret the close as a positive note instead of the dystopian cliffhanger I initially speculated about (*laughs*)

Why is it that every time I hear something that I could envision being played at my high school prom, I feel like I’m about to hit a tragedy in the story or one of the sadder parts of it (*laughs*) was that intentional, or am I just projecting my own crazy to it when I’m listening?

JW: Hahaha, that’s the beauty in it, I believe. When you feel at your best or when you’re happiest, that’s when the unexpected happens. Things start to shift when you’re living your best life and not focusing on what could be or what wasn’t. “Sweet Talk” was actually written about my prom night and was written just days after it happened. It’s funny to me that you say that.

AMS Radio: If you were meeting someone for the first time, explaining that you play music, which is the first song from your catalog that you would share with them to introduce yourself an artist? Why?

JW: Great question! I’d choose “Chameleon.” It’s one of my favorites I’ve ever done and it stands for so much. It’s another autobiographical song that has so much hidden meaning within the lyrics. If someone were to hear anything from me for the first time, I’d want them to be hit with this one because of its lyrical content. I feel a lot of it has run over the heads of the listeners but it’s quite obvious when you really dive into it. I even reference it in “Blood of the Summer.” I feel “Chameleon”, sonically, is also easy to groove to. The cool thing about it is that even though it is five minutes, you find yourself lost in the melody, making it feel a little shorter than it is. It’s captivating.

AMS Radio: What’s next? Any plans for shows, tours, or upcoming releases in the works?

JW: I’m really interested in taking this album to the stage. I have nothing set as of now but I will definitely be rehearsing for when the moment comes. I have this craving and vision on getting a crowd involved in singing “Sweet Talk” and “Get Better.” I feel when the moment happens, it’s going to be magical. I’ll also be working toward making “Numb” a visual album. This has been a last minute decision, but I think I’m gonna do it. I have a lot of ideas and the video for “Things We Can Do” is doing better than I anticipated, so why not?

AMS Radio: The album is conceptual, but how conceptual is the artist? What does Jackson Watson stand for as an artist? Is there any kind of ethos or spirit behind your inspirations?

JW: As an artist, I stand for those of us who just want to be heard. That’s why I’m a musician and where my passion comes from. I have never felt heard by the people around me. Each time I have something exciting news or even saddening news, I feel nobody cares and nobody listens. Better yet, no one ever matches my energy. In addition, people make you feel bad for feeling things. For “Dragonfruit,” the person it’s about said to me “if you think this is gonna be something more, you can walk right out right now.” It made me laugh in the moment but later I was kinda hurt by it. So, I make this music to hopefully reach someone out there who feels what I do or at least something similar and isn’t ashamed of their feelings. There’s seven billion people in the world, right? Someone’s gotta have similar experiences and also love to groove! I just wanna be the guy people can come to when they want to feel seen or heard. I’d love to build a community or safe space for people like that. There’s beauty in that, too.

AMS Radio: There most certainly is, and I think a lot of artists can relate and echo that sentiment. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat me with me Jackson!

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