Feature interview: Jade Jackson at Newport Music Hall

Andy Downing

“Aden,” the first song on Jade Jackson's debut album, Gilded (Anti), opens with the singer/songwriter admitting to being something of a daddy's girl. “I grew up my father's daughter,” she sings in a clear-if-slightly-husky tone. “He said, ‘Don't take no shit from no one.'”

Beyond doling out practical advice, it turns out the rising country singer's dad also was instrumental in stoking his daughter's musical interests.

Growing up in Santa Margarita, California, a small town of 1,200 that rests 200 miles north up the California coast from Los Angeles, Jackson lived in a house absent computers and a television, deriving much of her entertainment from her father's diverse record collection.

“As a kid, my dad was either playing old country or bands like Bauhaus and the Misfits … where you can't really hear the story and you don't really know what they're saying,” said Jackson, 25, who opens for Social Distortion at Newport Music Hall on Sunday, July 30. “I've always loved those bands, but then he'd put on something like Tammy Wynette or Hank Williams where I could understand the story, and I was more entertained.”

These classic country influences bleed into Jackson's clear-eyed tunes, which are filled with vivid imagery and novelistic detail even in those moments when her vision blurs. Witness “Good Time Gone,” where the musician knocks back whiskey shots until she's relying on a pool cue “to keep me stable, colors of the rainbow spinning on the table.”

At age 13, Jackson started writing songs on her father's old guitar. Shortly thereafter, he pushed her to begin performing whenever and wherever she could, because, as Jackson recalled him saying, “You never know who's going to be in the audience.” As a teenager, the musician played countless times in coffee shops, on street corners and in alleyways. Once, on vacation, she even performed a three-and-a-half hour set for Robert Plant's tour bus, which was parked in the hotel lot where the family was staying, on the off chance the Led Zeppelin legend might catch a song or two. (To Jackson's knowledge, he didn't.)

But Jackson's true training ground remains the small cafe across the street from the family restaurant where the musician still works as a waitress when she's not on tour. (Earlier this month, Jackson arrived home at 5 a.m. after completing a five-week leg opening for Social D and was back working at the restaurant that same day.)

“There was a guitar hanging on the wall in the cafe, which was the only cafe in town, so you'd go in there every day if you wanted a coffee. My dad saw [the guitar] and said, ‘Hey, can my daughter come in and play?'” Jackson said. “Since my parents had a restaurant and were always working, Sunday was the day off. So on Sunday we started doing this thing where every week after church [the whole family] would go to the cafe and I would sit on the couch and play the songs I wrote that week.”

Jackson would later play her first proper concert in the same spot, opening for a local bluegrass luminary. Some years after, she headlined a show at the cafe where she caught the ear of Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness' wife and son. Ness would go on to produceGilded, in addition to inviting Jackson on multiple Social Distortion tours. In another odd bit of kismet, the first concert a then-13-year-old Jackson attended of her own volition featured a headlining turn from none other than … Social D.

“The fact that it was Mike who discovered what I was doing and helped me with everything is kind of serendipity, because he was the one who brought the dream [of being a musician] to life in the first place,” Jackson said.

Early on, Jackson, who refers to herself foremost as a songwriter, resisted the idea of performance, giving in and embracing a frontwoman role only when she was unable to find someone else to deliver her words. As a result, Jackson said she developed a vocal tic that Ness pushed her to distance herself from as the two worked in a studio in Orange, California.

“I started off quiet and shy and had a little bit of a shaky, yodel-y kind of thing in my voice, and I guess I thought that's what made my voice special, and so I would try and do it all the time,” Jackson said.

Jackson has always had an unshakeable faith in her songs, however, which can arrive as effortlessly as water from a fountain. The album's title track, for example, took shape in a single day, moving from Jackson's pen to the studio recording board with an ease that caught even the musician off-guard. “I was writing every day … and I kind of felt bad because the band was having to learn all these songs,” Jackson said. “I wasn't planning on playing [‘Gilded'] for them … but they asked me to, and then they all got on their instruments and without even talking we wrote the parts for it, and it was this beautiful little moment.”

Songwriting has always served a therapeutic role for Jackson. She favors sad songs and said she “releases something” with each verse, almost like an emotional purge.

“Having all this aggression and angst and embarrassment and all these weird feelings you get when you're a teenager, I've always just channeled it through my songwriting and my storytelling,” she said. “A lot of my songs, because of that, are sad or melancholy, but I've been a pretty happy person because I can get it all out in my writing.”

Newport Music Hall

6 p.m. Sunday, July 30

1722 N. High St., Campus


ALSO PLAYING: Social Distortion