’Delving Into Jeff Black's Cyber Summer Home!’
Jeff Black is an American singer-songwriter originally from Kansas City, Missouri and now based in Nashville, Tennessee. His writings have been described as "impressionistic songs that are smart without forgetting the emotional undercurrent."
His songs have been covered by Waylon Jennings, Sam Bush and BlackHawk. Indeed, BlackHawk's cover of Black's song, 'That's Just About Right,' was a Top 10 Country single in 1994.
Since then Black has released four of his own albums, tours widely, and he also maintains his own free weekly podcast, Black Tuesdays.
And now, singer/songwriter Jeff Black has released his newest album B-Sides and Confessions, Volume Two, the highly anticipated release following Black’s Plow Through the Mystic (2011). Also a follow-on from his B-Sides and Confessions, Volume One (2003), this latest album is a new chapter of moving and soulful songs from this incredible storyteller.
I have to say that this kind of music isn't my usual go-to, given that I'm a child of the '80s. But after just one listen I was hooked and playing it all day! What special voodoo did you weave into this album to make that happen?! "Well, I think I have some time in as far as being able to have the luxury of time to be able to write songs. I'm kind of a product of the '80s myself. I graduated high school in 1981 and so all those concerts, all the '80s music is just swirling around in my head all the time."
"And at the same point as I was coming up through the '70s, my brothers record collection and my older sister buying these records from the Readers Digest - like 'The Great Country Ballads' from the great country stars - factor in too. And then my brother went into the Marine Core and he bought a bunch of imports. A whole lot of Texas singer/songwriter stuff like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt stuff. And then you mix that in with everything that came out of the '80s like Peter Gabriel stuff after he left Genesis. That and stuff from Bob Seger, Johnny Cash, and so much AM radio."
"It's such a stew of influences. I never really found myself going down one road when I was listening to music. I used to sing in the choir at school. And I had a wonderful music teacher. So I'm a product of all those influences. And the neighborhood had it's effect too. Growing up in what was pretty close to the countryside, in the rural Missouri area. So yeah, it's a strange stew," he laughs.
You've definitely got a vocal cross of Tom Waits and Randy Newman going on here, but do you yourself hear that also when you're recording, perhaps? "Well, just like before with those influences, say Johnny Cash, of course, and I love the way Tom Waits writes. But I really love his songwriting more than I like his vocal styling," he laughs.
"But no, I don't hear that, because trying to kind of live through a narrative especially through a song, from my persepective kind of takes me away from hearing things. It's like looking in the miror - I wish I could see what maybe my mother sees in me, but I don't. It's just like a whole diffferent picture. And so this is like a whole different audio picture too. I think it's just one of those things that just starts happening and I just think different songs take on different characters. And I think some of those characters just happen to wear different coats, I guess."
So, why has this Volume Two follow-up taken ten years to come to fruition? "I guess it's a long story, isn't it," he laughs. "I think that it comes from around the time that I moved to Nashville until the day my first record came out. That was almost ten years to the day. And then 6 to 8 months after my first record came out on Arista, the label closed and was folded into BMG. And I was kind of beside myself about all that even though a lot of songs that I write I try and always strive for hope."
"But, there is a brooding, a little darkness that is just running through my blood. And I didn't want anyone to think that I didn't have somewhat of a sense of humor. So my next record that came out was B-Sides, Volume One. Because in the eyes of those that had only heard me for the first time it just seemed to them like I just got started. But I had actually been playing the guitar since I was 11 and writing songs since I was about 17."
"So, I think it was just a little bit of a wink and a way to regroup and take a long hard look at what this new turn was. And I titled it Volume One because I do write a little faster then what the old machinery used to be able to process. And I knew that one day I would make a Volume Two as I had so many other things to say. And it's not that these songs in themselves are cast-offs, it is just sort of a different little turn that I like to take. Because I do love so many kinds of music and although my whole style or motif seems to kind of stay in my vein, I do feel that I try and weave down the road as much as I can - just for honesty’s sake. I also think it took so long because time just gets away from you," he laughs, "if you really want to know honestly."
So, following that release pattern, that means Volume Three will be released in 2023, correct?! "I've been writing so many songs lately that I don't think so. I think I'll probably have to get to work on that after the next record. I've already started pre-production on that so we won't have to wait that long again," he laughs.
And so please now tell us more about your upcoming new record! When can we expect to hear it? "Hopefully by the end of 2014, but maybe by the end of this year. It kind of depends on how far I get into production. You know, at the end of 2011 Plow Through the Mystic came out. We'd been doing that through some people that are on what we call the Black List. Which is our own little private set of wonderful people who support and believe in my music."
"And we've been doing this thing where we exchange things with them - if they want their names on the record or want to put their mark on the creative process. So, they've really enabled me to get back in the swing of things. Because although everything is moving into the digital world, it's still costly. And it takes as long as it takes. So, that will play a big part in it. I would say that the whole music industry is so different now that I think I've adapted. I do have a schedule now, but not a fixed work one. When it comes to writing songs and getting them recorded and getting them distributed in the new little model it's the same creative process but the machine is not quite as big. It's a little more streamlined, a little more stealth. So it shouldn't take that much longer."
Is there one song from this upcoming new album that is already more personal to you than the others, perhaps? "Well, the song that I've been working on for the past couple of days is called 'Time Domino.' I was talking with a friend of mine who is just on the other side of wrestling with cancer this year. And he's just about out of the woods with it. And we had a wonderful conversation yesterday about all of those things that are so more important than the things we basically take for granted. And I think as we get a little older, and hopefully a little wiser you stop and think about those things a little more often. More often than when you did when you were wild and twenty-two!"
I've noticed that your artwork is always predominately black and white - do you have an adversity to color?! "I've got a little bit in the catalogue. A little Christmas record that was grabbed from an old color print. So, I don't have an adversity, but I do love the contrast and the shadows of black and white. And I'm so inspired by the work of Michael Wilson ( www.MichaelWilsonPhotographer.com, who I think is one of the most fantastic photographers that I've ever had the privilege to work with."
"All of his work just tells so many stories and he is such a wonderful human being. He's really been an inspiration to me. He takes pictures of my songs and he's being doing that since the very first record. I would feel very alone not working with some of his artwork. I'm always so inspired. And I always think about that when I think about making a record and maybe where we might do the next photo shoot."
"The first one took place up and around my home town and places where I grew up an North where a lot of my family and ancestors are from. And we've done some shots around Nashville and even down in Kansas City. And then around my home here now. I draw more from the world around me right now than I did the old days. I think that's down to Michael Wilson. And he always works in black and white. We've shot some color, some old stuff, but his style, and his analog style of developing film ... it just travels. And I love to travel with him there."
So what story is being told on your new album cover of the old wooden fold-up chair? "Well, that's actually down in my little studio. There's a wood work shop next door. And I think the story is that, and not that I've ever come close to any sort of celebrity hood, but for me I think it's the narrative. Being able to experience some of these stories and the narratives without me in it. I just try and get out of the way. I don't know that I've really thought that much about it until you asked the question," he laughs.
"We get together and we'll take a bunch of pictures and Michael will send me the things that came to him. The things that really jumped out at him. And I trust him implicitly. And not that he ever picks the cover or anything like that. He just takes pictures. And some will be portraits, some will be candid shots, and some will just be of the environment around here. And that one was actually in my pocket even before Plow Through the Mystic came out. And I knew that would be a cover. And I was leaning towards it being the cover for Volume Two - although I'm Sagittarius so it's really hard for me to commit to anything," he laughs.
OK, taking some of the new song titles, and delving deeper into who Jeff really is:
'Avalon' - Where in the world, right now, would be your own personal Avalon to escape to, if given the chance for a few weeks? "Ahhh, yes ... so many dreams for me have come true. And not that I'm altogether solvent and content, by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it would be with the not-so-comfortable twists and turns of the world shut out - meaning it would be with my two little ones, and with my wife. And all of us finding that time that the world tries so hard to take away from you. Those quiet days together or even traveling together. That would be my Avalon."
'Miss Me' - As you've grown older, what have you begun to miss most about your younger days? "Being bulletproof is always one thing! That I feel like all the fun stuff that I used to do has turned its back on me," he laughs. "It's like why would you betray me, especially as we were having so much fun. Of course, it all takes its natural course, but I'd also try not to get too nostalgic about that. But I do miss those endless days. That seemed to just, to me, never holding me back. The clock didn't even exist. I certainly do miss that."
'An Evil Lesson is Soon Learned' - What's one of the most recent lessons that you've been schooled in?! "There seems to be kind of a thread," he laughs. "Well, going back to time flowing like the river, man. It's trying really hard not to take it for granted. I've really been kind of focused on that especially after the Holidays. Because everybody's emotions are really running high. I even noticed my son, who's 11, and he was sitting quietly the other day. And although we didn’t talk about exactly what he was thinking about I knew that he was observing the world around him. And I knew he was looking around and noticing. Maybe I've learned that I actually don't know so much and this whole time I was teaching my boys something and they've really been showing me the way."
Tell us more about Black Tuesdays! "Yup, I'm getting ready to kick it back in gear. Especially with all this new material. Because I've always used Black Tuesdays as a pre-production vault. And so we've got some shows coming up and we'll get out and record them. We have actually been rebuilding, renovating my old website and now it's set up to where it's easier access. I've always found it kind of difficult and you really want people to be able to get a hold of it easily. And I think we finally found a way to do it."
"And so we set up this thing called the Tap Room. And it's free to sign up, it's just a place where I can put together 15 or 20 minutes of new songs, or some old stuff I haven't played in a long time. And we're getting ready to put it back out there. And I'm getting ready to put together a lot of the old songs and reissue those too. Probably through iTunes again, like we did in the beginning. And then also have them available for those on the Black List and that are in the Tap Room."
"It's probably not as interesting as some reality shows out there right now, but it is still a warts-an-all, good, bad or indifferent aspect to my work, my life. It definitely shows a work in progress. And some of that older production you just can't beat it."
Are you into social media like FaceBook and Twitter? "Oh yeah, definitely. I think it's a great way to keep in touch with everybody. That train went by and a lot of people jumped on there. So I think it's good to be on it. I think it's a great resource to be able to get in touch with people and let them know about shows and things. That might never have found out about it, or had time to read the paper. So, with the world turning so fast I figure it's a great way to stay in touch with people that like your music."
"I'm not convinced that it sells records or helps you that way, but I think that it does help with the human condition that we all want to try and keep in touch. I think that's very important. Especially on FB and all that you get cats, cute puppies and people raving on about politics and that sort of thing, but it's still a good place to stay in touch."
"And even though I've titled my Twitter account @ JeffBlackRadio I'm very inconsistent in the world of Twitter," he laughs. "I don't really live by it, but I do like to go there sometimes. It's maybe my cyber summer home or something."
Finally, and we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins, so we have to ask, do you?! "I think that there might be some well dressed-up penguins around here," he says matter-of-factly, as he walks around his house with the phone in hand! Do I need to prove it," he laughs, "as I bet there's a penguin in the kids room!"
No need to go to those lengths of proof, my friend! "Well, I don't know if I was ever as dedicated as a daddy penguin usually is. But, I'd like think that a lot of time when the kids were younger like that, that we certainly were able to enjoy that kind of role exchange. That twist on the old-fashioned American dream of the mom staying at home and the dad going to work. Because we were able to trade off. I love to go and play, but I hate to be gone. But when I'm home I'm home. But when I'm gone I'm pretty far away. I'm thinking that penguins set a good example."
Well, maybe in a previous life you could have been one?! "You know, especially at the speed I run, yes, I would say," he laughs, one last time.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of the new Jeff Black CD 'B-Sides and Confessions, Volume Two,' and you think you know all there is to know about the man himself, just answer this easy question: Jeff's connection to the early days of Rock 'n Roll is Waylon Jennings' having recorded a song Jeff penned titled "The Carnival Song". What instrument did Waylon play and with what legendary Rock icon did he perform?!
And, for a BONUS ROUND question, which means you also get something else special signed by Jeff himself: Q - What is Jeff's connection to Jesse James?!
Answer the first one (correctly) and be in with a chance to win a signed/personally dedicated new CD, but answer them both (correctly) and you will be in the driving seat to win a signed CD + something else of Jeff's personal choosing!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great AUTOGRAPHED CDs and More! Just send us an e:mail here before April 15th with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: JEFF BLACK SIGNED CDs to: email@example.com
'Volume Two' CD Review Link
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