On Friday, St. Petersburg indie-pop outfit The Jackettes released its sophomore album, The Jackettes Live the Endless Bummer, at hometown DIY spot Paper Crane. In the lead-up the the show, Jackettes principal J Davis let CL in on the process, purpose and inspiration for the effort.
Davis, 27, says that a third record — inspired in part by The Kinks and Cat Stevens — is already in the demo stages. Late-'60s singer Bettye Swann and George Harrison informed Bummer, and The Jackettes' debut, And Then He Found His Flubber Soul, owes a touch of its sound to Al Green and San Antonio singing group The Royal Jesters.
St. Petersburg indie-pop group The Jackettes make uncertainty feel safe on sophomore LP
"I tend to write a lot just in my head. I feel like if I were to sit at an instrument and just try to create something it would be boring," Davis told CL about the writing process. "There’s no rules in my noggin. I can play every instrument in there, which helps me imagine some fun albums. So I kind of just will slowly start to touch an instrument once I kind of already have a clue of where things need to go."
Read our Q&A — where Davis describes other influences like the relgious cult that raised them — and listen to a playlist featuring Jackettes songs and the artists that inspired them below.
You said, “finally” releasing new music, but you also mentioned possibly releasing two albums in a year. I know you went into this one not knowing what you were doing, but with a deep sense of purpose — is that sense of purpose what led to the influx of material? Does three years between And Then He Found His Flubber Soul really feel that long to you?
Yes and no. Endless Bummer is actually a pretty old album, it just kept getting delayed for various reasons which is why it feels like a “finally.” We actually had recorded part of it already and then scrapped it completely to start again when Alexander got some new gear that we wanted to use. “Five Star” and “On Poplar” were both on the first take of the Flubber Soul record, but I cut them because they just didn’t end up working with on the record. So a lot of the songs have been around for a while but just sort of sitting in storage.
The Jackettes release new album at St. Petersburg's Paper Crane with help from The Venus and Ari Chi
I started writing the next record sometime in the process of making Endless Bummer because I was going through a lot of changes in my life and it just sort of happened. Once EB was all done and kind of out of my hands I immediately started recording a demo version of the next one. I (and we) do feel a great sense of purpose and drive to create. I’m constantly writing stuff mentally or recording on my phone, but honestly for a while over the last year or two I have dealt with some dark mental states that have brought things to a snail's pace. So three years feels like an eternity — I don’t feel we are as productive as we should or could be, but at the same time it doesn’t matter. Things will happen when they do.
You regularly mention not wanting to add to the sameness or repeating things — how do you know when you’ve got a good Jackson Davis and the Jackettes song on your hands?
I don’t really know how well we accomplish that goal sometimes. I am definitely a lot more confident in my ability to construct a groove or progression than write lyrics, so when I have something in my head or can sit at a piano and play something that makes me want to be physical and move — that’s a good start — I’ll feel a lot more at ease with the lyric writing after that. These first two albums have kind of been about movement and groove, the next record is definitely the most lyric-driven and mellow Jackettes stuff yet.
You close Live the Endless Bummer with “23 Years,” a song that you’ve been playing since before the Flubber days, right? Why was it important to bring that one back?
That is correct. We had tried a few versions of it and it just never seemed quite right. We felt that it worked well with this album. Dallas suggested putting it at the end and that totally was the right call. I like it there 'cause it always feels kind of vulnerable but triumphant and also kind of final — and it does close the end of an era for the band… Phil Oliver’s last round recording with us.
Is everyone done with school now?
You’re a child of those Sun Society, and specifically The Happiness Machine, days — do you remember who you were, musically and personally, back then? How did that time playing music with friends shape both your relationship with home and what kind of music you wanted to make?
I barely can remember who I am now. It was great to have a group of friends at that age to be playing shows with and doing cool things with. I think I was just searching for all the wrong things back then and was just misinformed. I feel like I’m closer to the things I’ve desired to be now that I have given up on attaining them. When I was younger I was so set on saying, “This is who I am! this is what I do!” I faked intellect. I was just a scared kid who needed some structure. I don’t think I would like me then. I’d feel bad for them. I’m a lot dumber now and it’s so much better. A lot of the time it made me want to leave 'cause I would get fed up or get caught in the same circles and not feel like anything was moving, to be honest. I love the people I’ve shared creative moments with but I don’t miss it because it needed to change. I’m happy to be where I am at.
You played WMNF’s Todd Rundgren tribute. I know your sound is an ode to lots of things including old soul, psych-rock, AM pop and old American music — and I want to say Paul McCartney, Prince and Donnie Trumpet/Social Experiment type stuff — but what other artists specifically inform or inspire the sound?
That’s always a different answer for me when it comes to group or artists. I definitely have a soft spot for modern groups who play stuff that sounds old but also unlike anything that's being done currently. I am very conscious of not turning into just some throwback band. The next album was definitely influenced by Patti Smith/Cat Stevens — Mona Bone Jakon/The Kinks — Muswell Hillbillies. I’m interested to see how Evan and Dallas influence it in either recording or performing with their feelings…
I like that you mentioned how the current lineup — Jackson Davis, Dallas Eubanks, Phil Oliver, and Evan Eubanks — may not be one that folks have seen in the past. You also mentioned that the show will rotate people who’ve been in the band. Does always revolving members bother you or do you think it serves the band to always have fresh energy in it? I feel like you’ve said that you want to be a band with different eras and lineups.
It started out as a fun way to get involved with a bunch of people I was inspired by artistically or just liked in general. I’ve always wanted to have a collective of artists that could create all kinds of things together. Having The Jackettes has sort of scratched that itch for me. As we developed and were playing more shows it definitely became an area of anxiety for me — not being great at communicating and having to teach people parts and arrange practice. So we kept it simple for a while, but we felt like for the release show was a good time to get some people involved again. Even though it has been difficult at times, I absolutely love that we have had so many phases and that every person who has played with us has played things their own way. It causes us all to adjust and be different. I love to keep the identity fluid, everything about that feels right to me. I definitely would love to see The Jackettes go through some different eras in the future. I see The Jackettes as more of an attitude, or spirit rather than a genre of music. That spirit is inclusion, vulnerability, and letting our inexperience or shortcomings fuel our creativity — so as long as a that spirit is still there, I’m all for it.
How does the songwriting process, from inception to demo and then recording, work for you?
I tend to write a lot just in my head. I feel like if I were to sit at an instrument and just try to create something it would be boring. There’s no rules in my noggin. I can play every instrument in there, which helps me imagine some fun albums. So I kind of just will slowly start to touch an instrument once I kind of already have a clue of where things need to go. It’s more so just me trying to learn how to play the songs at that point. I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about demoing because I definitely can get too attached to demos. Recording is difficult because I have found that I have a hard time communicating the albums in my head to people so I just default to wanting to do everything myself. There are so many talented people in my life though that I want to be working with, I’m trying to get better at letting go and loving what happens when I can do that.
You mentioned that Flubber was a cry for help — what does Live the Endless Bummer represent in relation to that?
Yeah, I mean Flubber was kind of the documentation of a brief period where I felt like I just was losing my mind and it was great and exciting but at the same time I was kind of freaking out and trying to warn people “keep an eye on me, I don’t know where this trip is taking me!” Flubber Soul was the excitement of a period of enlightenment and Endless Bummer is the come down and learning how to use the previous experience as it exists presently to you. It is realizing that things are temporary and you have to keep moving and learning, you’ve never arrived. You never know all the answers.
And what about these “lies we've been told about what really matters” — what do you mean by that?
Well that particularly has to do with me being raised in a Christian cult. I reached a point of finally breaking free from that world and everything was upside down. The things I was told to value became unimportant and the aspects of life I was told to ignore became the only things that mattered. It’s a pretty crazy experience to basically begin authentic life in your mid-20s. So much emphasis is put on productivity and status even outside of the christian world and its just so exhausting and useless. The world in general seems pretty distorted. I got so sucked in to worrying about perfection with my art and capturing everything that I stopped making anything. I could go on forever so I should probably cool it for right now.
You’ve said, “Who can really say,” but I would love a little more insight on what “We've been feeling so many things. We've been feeling not so many things. Sometimes we try to escape all things, but wherever we go, there we are” means for you — what’s bothering you, what feels right in the world?
I think that was just me trying to describe my day-to-day experience that comes and goes as an effect of being alive and witnessing humans. Sometimes I feel feelings of love and happiness so strongly and a lot of the time I wonder if I am dead inside. I’ve considered leaving my body, but where else could I go? Sometimes I’m pumped on something I’ve made, and sometimes I think what could I possibly have to offer? Sometimes I like who I am sometimes I really don’t. I’m stuck in here though. I’m just trying to sit in between all those sides of the spectrum and love that feeling.
Self-worth doesn’t fluctuate, even though it feels that way in my head. Does what I say make sense? I want to settle in to the unknowing. I’m not saying anything new or groundbreaking, I have no answers for anyone. I’m mostly just reassuring myself right now. Fluidity feels right. Queerness feels right. Listening feels right. I want to dedicate everything I create for forever to anyone dismantling straight (or any really...) structures and hierarchies with their existence. What bothers me is that even good loving people can be so cruel without even knowing it. The most bizarre and uninteresting people on earth are the ones who are defining what is normal and good. I want everyone to be liberated and be able to feel comfortable in their skin and I want them to shake their booties to The Jackettes while they’re gettin’ it — or not. That feels right.
Could you talk about what recording at Yoko Phono (presumably with Alexander) did for the album that you may not have been able to do on your own?
It was really good to work with Alex on something because he has been someone I’ve respected and looked up to for a while now. I trust his opinion and he’s real easy to work with. Things were definitely done more technically right than if I was at the helm. I feel like things definitely didn’t turn out the way I expected or envisioned, but I learned a lot about what I need to work and how I need to communicate. I think working with him helped us evolve our sound a little so things weren’t just like Flubber Soul 2. I’m going to be doing the next record with him starting very soon and I think it will be the best yet now that we have had a little time together under our belt.