By Aaron Wagner
Soulful singer and Texas songwriter Jarrod Dickenson officially released his newest project that he’s been working diligently on in Ready The Horses.
The thing that stands out on this album from Jarrod is just the rich musical sounds. There’s this great combination of country, Americana, and blues that makes the entire album a joy to listen to. Combine that with the stories that he tells through with his songwriting and you have a collection of great songs.
What makes Ready The Horses particularly unique is that it was recorded live, straight to 2” tape in a studio on the southeast coast of England.
We chatted with Jarrod about the inspiration behind this project, some of his favorite songs, and what he hopes fans think when they listen to the entire album.
When you set out to make this album, what was your goal and what were you hoping to achieve?
I wanted to make something new that was a slight departure from my previous albums. The record that preceded Ready The Horses, an album called The Lonesome Traveler, was very much a folk record. It features largely acoustic instrumentation, and the songs are all deeply rooted in storytelling. I am, and will always be a folk singer, but I wanted to stretch my legs a bit on this record, and explore some of the other styles of music that have been equally influential in my musical development.
I grew up listening to my father’s record collection, which consisted of The Beatles, The Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Jim Croce, Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Who and others. That early foundation in rock and roll and folk music certainly left its mark. From there I got heavily into the blues with artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and B.B. King, which then also led me to the great Soul and R&B artists like Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. Then somewhere along the way I discovered Tom Waits, and the game was changed yet again.
All of that music has been inside of me for years, so with Ready The Horses I wanted to start letting it inform my own songwriting a bit more. I wanted this record to sound bigger, be more energetic, get down and dirty in places and stay tender and vulnerable in others. I certainly think there’s a common thread throughout my music that my existing fans will still latch onto with this record, but it’s most definitely a departure.
What things inspired you to make this album?
The main inspiration for me to make any record is simply that I love doing it. I love the process of writing songs, getting into the studio and watching that idea in my head come to life on tape. It’s such a rush when it all starts coming together.
This particular album was almost completely written while I was living in a 250 square foot studio apartment in Brooklyn, NY. I was very much a part of the New York hustle. If I wasn’t on the road, I was working 7 days a week at a day job just to pay my bills. Songs like “Faint of Heart” were a direct reflection of what I was experiencing at the time.
I think living in a place like New York, particularly when you have no money, forces you to either be defiant and vow to not let the city and all that comes with it crush your spirit, or you flee. I chose defiance, and I think a lot of that came through in my writing at the time.
What was the songwriting process like on this album? Did you write each and every song? Any co-writers that stand out?
Every song, for me anyway, comes to life in its own way. Sometimes they come in a flash, and sometimes I’ll have little snippets of songs that literally hang around for years before it all clicks and that song can be finished.
I am a songwriter first and foremost, so yes, I write every song. There are a few songs that are co-writes, but not in the Nashville sense of co-writing, where you meet a stranger in an office building at 11:00am on a Tuesday, and you “write a hit”. The songs that I have co-written are with good friends and fellow artists who are coming at this thing from a similar perspective and have the same end goal, which is to create something meaningful.
There are a few friends of mine with whom I’ve written several songs over the years, and it’s always a very organic process. We know each other, trust each other’s sensibilities and instincts, and always put the integrity of the song above any potential commercial viability. I know there are plenty of people who work well in the Nashville style of co-writing, but it simply isn’t for me.
Previously, you’ve mentioned that “Way Past Midnight” is your favorite song on the project. Why is that?
“Way Past Midnight” was just one of those magical moments in the studio where everything came together. We were going for a sort of Ray Charles meets New Orleans kind of vibe, and what came out of that was a really grooving, soulful tune. It has hints of Gospel and Blues and R&B, and tells the story of late night possibilities. It was a blast to record, and it seems to be a fan-favorite as well.
Aside from “Way Past Midnight” which song or songs are ones that you hold near and dear to you?
We perform all of the songs from this record live at least from time to time, and over half of them are in the set every night. “Your Heart Belongs To Me”, which is a duet with my wife, is always a special one to perform live, and is very much a fan-favorite. We’ve had several fans say that they’ve used that tune as the first dance song at their weddings, which is a lovely thing to hear. “Faint of Heart” and “Gold Rush” are two of the bluesier, grittier numbers that make it onto most setlists, and “Nothing More” is a ballad that a lot of people seem to have really connected with as well. So there are plenty of favorites!
Were there any challenges or surprises that popped up during the recording process?
I don’t know if there were any specific challenges really that popped up during the recording sessions. It was a very natural and organic process the whole way through. We had been on the road for a solid month playing 21 dates across the UK supporting The Waterboys, and the day after the final show we went into the studio and started recording. So we were fairly tight as a band at that point.
We tracked the record live, straight to 2″ tape, and mixed it down to 1/4″ tape. The only real challenge was time. Since I was funding this record out of my own shallow pockets, we couldn’t really afford much studio time, so we tracked the entire album in 4 days. Since we were working on tape as well, we had to make quick decisions. We’d do a take, listen back, and then quickly decide if that was the one, or if we needed to go again. If we did another take it meant that we were recording over the previous take. So you had to be firm and resolute in your decisions!
I don’t think we ever did more than 3 or 4 takes for any given song, and at least one tune, “In The Meantime” was just a single take. It was genuinely the most fun I’ve ever had in the studio, and I’m very proud of what we created.
Which 3 words would you use to describe this album?
I’ll borrow the words Chris Hawkins of BBC 6 Music used to describe this album – “Storytelling with soul.”
Lastly, what do you want your fans to know about this project?
More than anything, I simply want people to hear it. We put a lot of love into this album. It’s honest. It’s real. There was no studio trickery. No bullshit. What you hear on the record is what went down in the room. It’s a bunch of friends crowding into the same room, making music together, live.