John and Jacob are an enigma. Firstly, there are five of them, most of whom are not called John or Jacob; secondly, though they are from Nashville, and have often been seen in what we might consider country musician’s attire, their style is eclectic, drawing more on pop and late 50s / early 60s music than on country in many songs. Acoustic spent some time chatting to John Davidson.
Your music contains a lot of 50s and early 60s references; I heard Everly Brothers in ‘Be My Girl’ and Little Richard in ‘Give It Away’. Were you surrounded by that music growing up?
Yeah, you know, when we were growing up we were just exposed to good music by our parents, and people around us. I mean, we were listening to current music too, and getting into that at the same time, but riding in the car with our parents we heard a lot of good music through them. I mean, we didn’t know that we liked it so much, we just grew up on it, and when we got older, we just realised that was the stuff that we kept going back to listen to again, and it was always good. So we were always into that kind of music, and it just bled naturally over into what we do, just because we love it.
If the band were superheroes, what would be your origin story?
Well, really, Jacob and I grew up together when we were kids, even before we knew each other we lived a block apart because our families are from the same area. We had a class together, and we ended up skipping that class, and playing music together. And you know, we weren’t any good; we thought we were rock stars, but actually we were terrible, but we kept on playing because people said that we could play music – and we believed that. We kept on writing songs, and you know, if you do something long enough, you eventually start to learn your craft, and become skilful. And then we found the rest of the band; Jake Thrasher, the bass player, was a friend of mine; Trevor Davis, the drummer, lived just across the lake. Then we ran into Austin Smith, our keyboard guy, by the pool at a building we lived in in LA, and everything just fell in place so naturally that it was actually kind of weird that it came so easily. Here in Nashville, bands are put together with hired guns, you know all these ace players, and that’s who makes up the band, and we are honestly a group of best friends who all live together, play together and travel together, who all just happened to love the same type of music, and formed a band. It’s like being in a band with your best friends, and I think we all consider ourselves pretty lucky to be doing it.
Most of you are from Alabama; what do you want to represent about the South?
That’s right, all of us but Austin, who’s from Abilene, Texas. I think no matter where you go in the world, where you come from is part of you. Unless you can disconnect from it, which we can’t do, nor do we really want to. We’re proud of where we’re from, and so I think, naturally, you’re just who you are. I think a lot of people like where we’re at. Some don’t, but we’re Southern boys, you can’t take that away from us, ‘cos we can’t help it!
You’re based in Nashville, but you’re not that country (apart from the hats). How is that working out for you?
Well, you know, I think that goes back to the music we grew up on. We listened to a lot of rock and roll, Beatles, Beach Boys, and also a lot of indie material, but the thing that really brings us together is rock and roll music. I don’t mean rock and roll as it’s used now, I mean, like pop songs in the 60s that now are called classic rock and oldies. It’s fun and it’s energetic, and you know, if we’re going to have to live with these songs for years, we might as well write some songs that we like to play. And I think that there’s a lot of great country music out there, and we have some songs that kind of touch on country music, but when it comes to the full band, we have a sort of energy, you know? It’s just what we want to hear on stage, and Nashville has become such a broad city in terms of the music coming out of here. You have major bands coming out of Nashville that aren’t country. So a lot of people feel like country music is the only thing that lives here, and the thing is, we have a foot in the country world, but it’s a very diverse place.
How does Europe respond to what is very American sounding music?
Europe loves it, and we love Europe. I think it’s the coolest thing to come to Europe. The first time we came over was 2012 with The Band Perry [they also penned The Band Perry’s hit ‘Done’], and we really had no idea what to expect. We had two days to prepare and come over, and we didn’t even have a band name, which is how we came to be called John & Jacob, because we had to get a product together in a short time. But John & Jacob is five people, and though it sounds like two, it’s very much a band. We came over to Europe again last summer with Kacey Musgraves, and you know, I just found the audiences in the UK to be very receptive. I feel like they’re there to really listen and enjoy the whole experience, and it’s a lot of fun because you don’t get that everywhere you go. In Nashville, there’s music every night of the week by this person or that person, so you really don’t think about it, but when it only comes through every now and then, maybe it makes it something special. It takes a lot of effort to come over; it’s not easy to do, and it’s nice when people appreciate it. In the States, country music is almost like top 40 radio; you have really pop sounding songs with electronic drums on country radio – that stuff would not have been called country 10 years ago. I think country music at its root is more traditional, and about melody, and there are a few people still doing that. You know, at one point people were appalled by the Beatles and Elvis; they were too dangerous to listen to, and it’s hard to see what’s going to come through now that’s going to be dangerous, so who knows!
What have been your most memorable touring experiences?
I might have to give you the edited version! I mean, we’ve been out with Kacey a lot the last year, and we’ve become friends, but… oh there’s one I would just love to tell you, but I’d better be safe than sorry. I’ll tell you another one – we went up to South Dakota, near Mount Rushmore, which is the craziest thing to ever see in person, because it’s big faces in a big mountain, which is already a difficult thing to wrap your head around… I mean, there are more variables to this story that make it more interesting, but I don’t know if I can, really….
I can see that we’re on dangerous ground; can you tell us about what’s currently happening for John & Jacob?
We have some festivals that we’re playing here in the States, but it’s kind of sporadic, and we have some Canadian shows, but we haven’t booked up that much of the summer, because we want to dedicate time to writing, so we’re writing and recording a whole lot, but then in October, we’re coming back over to the UK.
John and Jacob have energy and excitement in spades, and we encourage you to catch them here while you can. Their eponymous debut album is out now and you can get it via iTunes. For more information, visit: www.johnandjacob.com