Jonathan Jackson, ‘You feel like life is gonna go on forever’

Courtesy of Getty Images
Courtesy of Getty Images

Millions of Americans tune in every Wednesday to ABC’s hit television show, Nashville. If you are one of the estimated 6.5 million viewers, then you are familiar with a series regular Avery Barkley, portrayed by actor Jonathan Jackson. In his free time away from his television life, Jackson finds other avenues to be creative. The five-time Emmy award winner is also a published poet, and front man of the rock band Enation. On October 14, 2014, his band released their fourth album Radio Cinematic, it is the band’s first release on their new label Loud & Proud Records. To coincide with the new album, the band also released a new single entitled “Cinematic,” and a new music video for “Everything Is Possible.”

Jackson took some time to speak with FDRMX about the new album, and to give some insight into his artistic nature. Radio Cinematic is the title of Enation’s new album, these names peeked some curiosity. FDRMX was curious, what kind of meaning do these names have for the band?

“I think with any band, the name sort of takes on its own meaning based on the music that is created. I think that as people get to know the music, the feeling around the name kind of takes on its own life.” Jackson said, “In terms of choosing the name, the meaning had some kind of earthing to it, it is a kind of creative, and organic birthing. We wanted the music that came from the band to be something that we discovered, and not something that was just manufactured. We have always believed that you discover the songs, as opposed to creating the songs. We thought that Enation kind of represented that idea of an organic and creative experience.”

Being a film and television star, while also being a dedicated musician, the album’s title makes a lot of sense. “The name of the record, Radio Cinematic, is really for us, you know? We’ve lived in the film world, and the music world for years now, and we have always seen those two things as being connected to each other. For instance, some of the best films that I really love, one of the reasons that I love them is because of some of the music that is in them. Some of the bands that I love the most, I have connected with them through the visual element of what they bring like: U2 and their Zoo TV Tour, and Peter Gabriel’s live performances. It is the combination of these incredible, and visual experiences connecting with this music that we thought was very authentic and deep. So, that is sort of a model for us. I try to write songs that are authentic, genuine, and that are coming from a very real place. We want to bring these songs to life with live performances, utilizing visuals with art work and all that kind of stuff. That is where Radio Cinematic came from, those two worlds coming together.”

This album has a lot of interesting elements to it, it is actually a sort of accidental concept album. There are recurring musical motifs, and lyrical references to love, loss, and faith. Jonathan explains, “It just kind of evolved into that, we didn’t really set out to make a concept album. As we got further into the process, we had 40-50 songs that we were looking through to figure out what the album was gonna be. It just kind of started becoming apparent to us as we picked certain songs. There really is a journey, the song “Young World’s Riot,” is the opening track. It starts out with this sort of primordial joy, a place which we call the Young World’s Riot. When the world was young, we all come into this life with a sense hope, joy, and wonder. As you grow up, it tends to get beaten out of us through various experiences. The question at the end of that song is, how do we get back to that place of belief in the beauty of life? After that opening, it is this push and pull for the rest of the record like “Cinematic.” It is about looking for those ideas in the beauty of a romantic relationship. “I See God In You” is another example of searching for that door, and trying to find how to get back to that place. We look at relationships, sometimes people try to find their way back through drugs and addiction. There are all of these different ways that we try to have that sense of transcendence. At the end of the record, we kind of come back around full circle with “Young World’s Riot,” yet it’s a completely different version of the song, those are some of the themes.”

Artists tend to have places of their own, whether it is a physical place or a place in their mind that they sort of escape to. “I think that that is always present, certainly memory is very powerful, and reflection is very powerful as songwriters and artists.” Jackson explained, “I don’t think it is something that I do a lot in terms of consciously trying to look back. I tend to kind of live in the present, but I think there is a paradox because, we carry all of those things with us. Certainly childhood is always with us. In “Young World’s Riot,” the lyric is ‘There once was a time when we were young, and we were free, there once was a time.’ All of that is certainly remembering growing up in Washington State, and just feeling like there’s no real sense of time. You’re not completely aware of mortality in the same way, you feel like life is gonna go on forever. There are all these things to discover, and experience. G.K. Chesterton talks about entering your second childhood. There comes a point when you grow up, where we are sort of invited to enter into our second childhood. I always found it really fascinating to try to figure out what he meant by that, so that was kind of a theme of the record. You don’t want to literally go back to being a child, but there is some beauty in that kind of innocence and wonder. If you experience it as an adult, it can be quite magical in those moments because you have that innocence, yet you have also experienced a lot. It is fleeting, but when we find those moments, it is pretty powerful. Sometimes we find it when we have kids, and sometimes we find it when we fall in love. There are all these different moments in life when it sort of opens up, and you just feel like time has disappeared again. It is very powerful, so we really wanted to touch on that.”

Courtesy of Jonathan Jackson and Enation via Facebook
Courtesy of Jonathan Jackson and Enation via Facebook

The album was in the creation process for nearly two and a half years. A lot of things can change in that amount of time, so it is easy to wonder what those ups and downs were like, and whether or not Jackson is still the same person who started this journey to begin with.

“Well, we were demoing songs for 2 1/2 years, so yes in terms of the development of the songs, the writing process, making arrangements, and doing demos. The actual recording of the album moved very quickly though. We actually recorded it over the summer in Nashville, while I was on hiatus from the show. Since we had been demoing for a couple of years, we had a lot of it worked out, and we were able to move really fast during the actual recording. We worked with Greg Archilla, who co-produced the record with us. He was just fantastic to work with, it really came together, and I think faster than what any of us would have thought. It was a couple of years in the making, but the actual studio time for the finished recording was just over the summer.”

“I’m not really sure what the next one’s gonna feel like, but I think for this album, it was really good that the songs came over the course of a couple of years. There were some songs that I was finishing writing a month before entering the studio, but the majority of them were already written. Life is a journey, and we wanted the album to have that feeling. I think it was appropriate that the songs were flourished over the course of a few years. You have time, you’re able to reflect on certain things, and it is great to be able to look at 40 songs and find some moments. Moments that are like, ‘Oh man! I wrote that a few years ago, but this actually really connects with this song, and makes sense on the record because of this reason.’ Scrambling to write while we’re recording is not usually how we go about it.”

For a composer, each song is sort of like one of your children. Nobody wants to say that they have a favorite kid, but secretly, everybody always has one. “It is difficult to do that.” Jackson explained, regarding whether or not he had a favorite song on the album. “It is especially so, because we’ve looked at the album as being connected to itself, I feel like if we took one away then the balance of the whole record would change. For me, I really feel like “Cinematic” is very special, both lyrically, and vocally. I felt like it was something different, and it was just kind of a moment for us that was really exciting. I mean, obviously I love them all, and for various reasons. I think that this song in particular is the one that really conveys what the whole album is trying to express.”

As far as lyrical content goes, Jackson explains that his process is constant in a way, but it is always evolving. “It changes song to song really, but I think that for the most part that the lyrics kind of happen as I’m writing the music. In the song “A Far Away Reality,” I had met somebody who does a lot of charity work in the Middle East. He educated me on what was going on in Syria a few years ago, long before it was really being talked about in the media here in America. It was really learning about what the people in Syria were going through that inspired “Cinematic.” So, I sat down on the piano, really just wanting to find a way to somehow communicate what they are going through, and what we go through when we hear those things. That is the whole idea of the song you know? It is so easy for that to be a far away reality, and to have it be something that we just see on the news. It really hit home meeting someone that was working with people that were suffering, and going through what they were going through. It was really just playing the chords, the lyrics just kind of flowed, and it really wasn’t one that I had to labor over too much fortunately. It was just something that was kind of there, and it came together pretty quick.”

In a structured world based on black and white rules, it can be hard for artists to thrive, and truly express themselves. There is always a standard set of questions, a standard format, and even a standard set of answers. So that left FDRMX wondering, was there something that Jackson wished someone would ask about his music? Or was there some sort of profound statement that he would like his band’s music to make?

“Wow, oh boy, that’s a really great question.” Jackson replied, “I mean there’s nothing I can really think of specifically, you’ve actually done a really great job at covering a lot of that. For us in Enation, we want our music to be entertaining, but we want it to be more than that. We want it to move people in a way that music has moved us. So when people actually take the time to look at the lyrics, to dig into it a little bit, and discover what’s in there, that’s what you really hope for as an artist. I feel like FDRMX really did just that, which I really appreciate. That is kind of what you hope for as an artist, that people go beneath the surface, and experience it. Often times, even with bands or artists that I’m familiar with, it is the fourth or fifth time that I listen to the record that I really start to experience it. Music really has a powerful way, and it is great when people take the time, especially in this day and age when people want to buy just one song. As opposed to actually sitting down, listening to a record, and truly experiencing it. So when it actually happens, we are really thrilled.”

Courtesy of Jonathan Jackson and Enation via Facebook
Courtesy of Jonathan Jackson and Enation via Facebook

For more information on Jonathan Jackson + Enation, check out his website here. Radio Cinematic can be purchased online through iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.