It’s a Sunday afternoon and while every other touring artist may take the seventh day off to catch some forty winks, workaholic Jamie Kent takes the time out to interview with Morgan and Gauraa from UpstateLIVE. It’s no surprise, though; he does include singer-songwriter, concert promoter, entrepreneur, and mischief maker in his job description!
Mary Morgan Craig: Okay so before we get down to business can you tell us about this “stint” you had in a Mariachi band?
Jamie Kent: Ha ha, okay so I was in high school and there was a battle of the bands and a group of friends and I formed a mariachi band called Suko Gringo and we won the crowd award for it.
MMC: Thats awesome. Ha, the coolest kids in school I’m sure.
JK: Yeah, it was an experience.
Gauraa Shekhar: So what was it like growing up in Northampton, Massachusetts?
JK: Northampton is a really awesome town. It no doubt influenced my goals in the beginning being musician. Its a big music town I pretty much spent all my money growing up going to concerts. and when graduated high school I knew I was going to do music. I was either going to go to Berklee in Boston or Babson in Boston to either do music or music business. I did an undergraduate program for music business but continued to do music on the side at Conservatory.
MMC: So why did you choose to apply to ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)?
JK: Well, when you’re first starting out you kind of take the advice of people you look up to and my producer at the time had a big music library that he would sell to radio stations and film and TV. He was both an ASCAP and BMI member and he said both are tough to deal with but I get paid more from ASCAP. So I was like “Oh Cool!” and started to figure out why it was better to go with ASCAP and what’s been really great with them for me personally is they have some really great programs to develop songwriters which a lot of others don’t. Last year I got into this songwriting program out in L.A. working with some really crazy people, (including) the dude who wrote Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Keith Urban and Lee Ann Rhymes’s last two records. So, they really network well and help you connect with other great songwriters that help take it to the next level.
GS: So what is it like writing music solo compared to writing with the band or in workshops?
JK: Its definitely different. It’s got its benefits and setbacks. Solo you can really do everything that you want to do which is awesome but for me sometimes I will lose focus and get distracted by Facebook or whatever and then it’ll take me a few days to write a song whereas when I’m writing with other people and we’re in a room together, we will focus for a few hours until the song is written. You do lose control over some of the things you want and you have to make some compromises but it is a lot more productive.
GS: Kind of keeping each other on track.
JK: Yeah, exactly! And also about challenging each other. Sometimes when you’re writing by yourself you can settle but when you’re with other people they can push you and you’re like “Oh yeah, it could be better” but you don’t think of that until you’re with someone else.
MMC: We’ve heard you have a tireless work ethic but touring 200 days is a lot. What was that like?
JK: You know, I love being on the road fundamentally but I also really believe that the live show is the most important aspect to being a musician these days and important of course in order to make money and survive since anyone with a laptop and a Myspace account can be a musician these days which is cool but that also means there’s an overwhelming amount of people so if you want to distinguish yourself and take it to the top your show has to be incredible. And ya I just love playing. The more I play the better I get.
MMC: Practice makes perfect.
JK: Yeah, exactly and you know like in Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers he talks about putting in 10,000 hours into something you’re going to know it better than everyone else and do it better.
GS: If you could pick one thing you like the most about touring what would that be?
JK: Thats a good question. I love the stories that come out of it. I’m a big fan of at my shows of weaving stories into my shows and making that part of it and that does inspire songs a lot. That is where a lot of stories come from: being on tour and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and having something interesting come out of it. Often it involves like a random character that you meet in Rock Island, Illinois or wherever you might be but there’s nothing that you could ever experience by just sitting at home in the studio.
MMC: You’ve got a campaign going for your next record. You must have a great fan base, you’ve got a very successful campaign going and it looks like they’re even sponsoring your next record. How do you maintain such a strong connection with your fans?
JK: Well I think that the way I’ve been able to do it really well is because of this thing I started couple of years ago called The Collective. Its a community of my most loyal fans and in return for their contributions they get free tickets to shows, free music, free merch and they can log into a specific program where I post exclusive content and ask them questions. So like The Collective voted on my album artwork for the last two albums and like where they think we should tour, what the first radio single should be, that kind of stuff and that’s kind of kept people really involved in like my career and vice versa. I think that that’s been really helpful and since the beginning I wasn’t sure that people would continue to reinvest in the next project or the next album that kind of thing but they really have which has been awesome and they’ve spread the word to friends and it has really kind help create that loyalty.
MMC: That’s great. I think we’ll start seeing a lot more of that kind of fan base building.
JK: Yeah, I think so. I launched it before Kickstarter even came out and then when Kickstarter came out I was like oh that will sort of become like what The Collective is on a bigger scale. Whats sort of surprising that they haven’t done yet is kind of create the community. Kickstarter is just like a project-to-project kind of thing, where they help you make that one record and then that’s it and then hopefully they’ll go to Facebook or sign up for your email list or something like that but The Collective is about a long term community to create loyal fans. So even like we’re doing the Indie GoGo campaign for the next record but everyone who contributes gets a part in the collective so we can keep it evolved for the long term.
GS: When you first jammed with The Options was it a “love at first jam” kind of a thing or did it take some time? How did you know they were right for you?
JK: Its been an interesting journey with the options. Looking at The Options as they are now are the solidified Options. My bass player and drummer, Dan and Rhees have been with me really since the beginning. Rhees for almost 3 years and Dan for like 2 and a half years. And then our keyboard, accordian and electric guitar player Killian and Zach. They’ve been with us for about 6 months. So they are the newer Options. Rhees I met when I was first looking to form a band. He was playing with this other girl in the area who actually wanted to be on The Voice and then they had a falling out. I met him at a mutual friends party right as they were falling out and we just hit it off. He was surprised to have a band leader who treated him well and shared the money and shared everything with him. Then Dan came on shortly after through the Northampton music scene we kind of saw him and brought him on and then we had a different keyboard piano player for a while which was he was incredibly talented but we had kind of a lesson learned that personality goes a long way in a band. It’s about both talent and personality and if personality goes askew then things can not be the greatest on the road. So we made some changes and brought on a few new members who were both really awesome people and killer musicians and its been the best setup we’ve ever had and I think at shows we displace that energy as well.
GS: Cool, yeah we can definitely hear it in your sound.
JK: Cool! That’s the goal. Yeah, when you’re on the road you really want to be with people who you like and connect with. It really comes through in your music. If there’s bad energy there that will come through as well.
MMC: Your last album Navigation had a fresh Americana twang to it. What can we expect from your new, evolved sound?
JK: Its sort of taking that and pushing it. The idea behind the record is Brian Eno producing Bruce Springsteen. That’s sort of the vibe we’re gonna go for. We’ve got a couple chops that we’re pretty excited for so far. Its gonna be really kind of roots rock vibe, really song focused.
GS: Definitely like the sound of that.
MMC: As you grow as an artist, do you feel as if your songwriting process has evolved?
JK: Yeah yeah I really do. When I began I was interested in song writing and when I wrote my first one I was like wow this is sounding really cool, boom done. But I’ve become a lot more picky in my songwriting now. I want every lyric to kick ass and if it doesn’t, I won’t release it.
GS: It’s really cool that you have a lot of different work experiences under your belt, you were reviewing craft breweries for Two Foot Media nearly five years ago…was that something fun you just decided to do?
JK: Well I went to Babson in Boston. The focus is on entrepreneurship there and I kind of learned just a different way of viewing the world. Entrepreneurship allows you to turn what you love into a career or business which is fundamentally what I’m doing with music and I’ve always had a big love for Microbrew and in college a friend of mine and I decided we wanted to go on a road trip across the U.S. and sample different brews and so we convinced the magazine to hire us and we reviewed all the breweries across country and put together article on them. If you love something you can always figure out a way to make money doing it.
GS: Well we couldn’t help but notice that you’re known as a “mischief maker”. Where did that title come from? What mischief have you been making?
JK: Ha, yeah I’ve always been a mischief maker. That was kind of coined this one time when I dressed up in a costume and planted my first CD in 172 Starbucks stores in Manhattan. The video for Mischief Man films all that. So that’s where it came from and I’m always causing little bits of mischief on the road and thinking of new ways to promote shows. For example we’ll go into like the nearest restaurant and start playing with a sign that says we’re playing tonight and then just take off. Usually we confuse people and also attract some attention. We are also playing for SXSW and we have an RV that we’re gonna drive around and party in and do flash concerts.
MMC: Very cool. Sounds like fun. Do you miss your family while you’re on tour though?
JK: Definitely. But I’ve sort of gotten used to it. I’m really good up until three weeks. At three weeks I start to get a little homesick. I love life on the road but you do miss home sometimes. Northampton is a great home to come back to as well. When I’m out on the road I’m always looking for a place that’s cooler than Northhampton and I haven’t found too many.
GS: So what’s it like opening for The Wood Brothers?
JK: Yeah I mean they’re fuckin’ awesome. They’re so good. And they’re really good guys too. Just unbelievably talented as I’m sure you know but also equally as nice. Rhees has worshipped Chris Wood since he was growing up so the first time they met Rhees was really nervous but they totally ended up hitting it off and Chris turns Rhees on to they’re great players and they push us both to be better players.
MMC: Who is your favorite contemporary artist?
JK: I’m really liking Milo Green, Churchill, and First Aid Kit are like the three bands that are getting a lot of iPod time with me right now. I’m sort of on this like female male singer combo thing. But i’m always bumping like Ray Lamontagne.
GS: Is there any advice you can offer young musicians about the industry?
JK: Yeah I would say if you want to be a musician you have to be willing to work your ass off. Its so competitive and the market is so flooded with musicians you really have to work your ass off and want it to get yourself out there. Otherwise I would say just put yourself out there like just do it. A lot of people ask me “How do I book shows?” How do I play shows?” and I always tell them really you just have to do it. Get out there, go to the venue, talk to people. The only way anythings going to happen is if you just take action and do it.
Make sure to catch Jamie Kent open for The Wood Brothers on Saturday, the 23rd of February at The Westcott Theater!