Jackie Venson’s music feels good. Its laid back vibe mirrors Austin, Texas, the city she calls home. In recent years however, Venson’s music, like many artists living in the era of Trump, has taken on a bit more of an edge, her lyrics tackling the shift in American culture.
“‘Never Say Die’ is a song about sticking to my guns no matter the resistance I receive, and finding power in standing my ground where others might have found isolation and bitterness. This project is me stepping out of my comfort zone, using dancers and electronic instruments as opposed to my usual rock band instrumentation,” Venson says of her latest track. The single is straightforward; it doesn’t feature Venson’s signature sweeping guitar solos (something she now keeps for live performance). Instead it gives the listener just enough Jackie to leave you wanting more, an important shift for today’s artists who rely more on tours than Spotify listens.
We spoke with Jackie about her recent collaboration with Austin producer Michael Ramos and how she picked up the guitar in the first place. Read our interview and watch the video for “Never Say Die” below.
AF: Your father was a professional musician and you were taught piano as a child. What kind of music did you gravitate to early on?
Jackie Venson: I played classical music on the piano and I love Broadway and Disney. I think that’s what inspired my current day genre hopping, the drastic differences in what I listened to as a child.
AF: What’s your favorite Disney score to play?
JV: I never really play Disney songs these days but if I had to choose it’s a close call between “Circle of Life” and “Colors of the Wind.”
AF: You were born and raised in Austin, Texas. What was the music scene like there when you were a girl? I know it’s grown a lot recently.
JV: The music scene has pretty much always been consistently bumpin’. Some will claim it used to be more but [to me] it’s alive now as much as it has always been. There are artists moving here all the time, making it work and keeping the jams going. We do have affordability issues with the cost of living going up but there are a lot of great organizations in town fighting for artists.
AF: Do you think the changes are for the better? Or is that yet to be seen?
JV: I suppose it’s yet to be seen. The music is still thriving in Austin so I feel that is an indicator that things are well. Sure, the town used to be a little more laid back and affordable, however with time comes growth which is somewhat unavoidable. I also believe the wonderful organizations that spawned from this growth and support for the arts is simply amazing.
AF: I read that you picked up guitar after graduating from Berklee College of Music. Were you studying classical piano in school?
JV: Not exactly. I studied classical piano while growing up, but when I got to Berklee I dove into the production, songwriting, and arranging side of things. I got to study the nuts and bolts of what makes music and recordings what they are to us humans as a collective and ever changing culture. It was fascinating and really deepened my overall understanding.
AF: What made you jump ship?
JV: I wanted to perform and write but I was tired of the piano and the types of songs I wrote with it. I wanted to expand my sound pallet.
AF: In an interview this year with Shutter16, you discussed working with Austin producer Michael Ramos and how he opened your eyes to the differences between live performance and recording. I can definitely hear that influence on the Transcends EP and on your new single “Never Gonna Say Die.” Can you tell us a bit about the writing and recording process for this new song?
JV: I knew I wanted a minimalistic song, something that was just a beat and a melody, and I knew I wanted it to be dynamic as well. I think silence and space in music is incredibly powerful so “Never Say Die” was my anthem to that. I also wanted a strong song that carried a stark message about my journey.
AF: Transcends has so many beautiful messages in it, but I particularly love the vibe on “Fight,” where you sing “All of us are one, my fight is your fight.” There is so much turmoil around us, but you approach changing the world by changing yourself. How do you keep the positivity in your music, even when you’re tackling tough subjects?
JV: I can always see the silver lining and even when I can’t, the wonderful people that support me in my life help me to see it. There’s always positivity to be found and even when I’m feeling down I know that folks like me have to continue to fight and uphold positivity. No matter what is happening or how much control I have over the situation, I know I can always do my part.
AF: You’ve performed in many places (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic and Finland), and you recently toured with Gary Clark Jr. Have you noticed different responses from crowds? I want to assume the crowds are more rowdy and boisterous in Texas.
JV: Oh no, the crowds are never predictable by location. I’ve had apathetic chatty crowds or super pumped crowds in all different places. It’s literally impossible to know what a crowd is going to be like until I’m at the gig, plugged in, and strike the first chord.
AF: Your Spotify page says that you have 12 planned singles for 2018! What can we expect in the other half of this year?
JV: 6 more singles! Haha. For August, the single will be a private release for the JV Squad Facebook group and newsletter only, so be sure to subscribe to catch that one. Otherwise, I have some new music coming up and I can’t wait for y’all to hear it.
AF: What musicians inspire you nowadays?
JV: SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Hozier for sure. I really like the individuality they all bring to the table and I love that they are finding success being themselves in today’s crazy, information overload world.
AF: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given as an artist?
JV: My father told me “if the opportunity came around once it’ll come around again.” He also told me to “stick to my guns.” Both of these I use in my daily life.
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