Intervjuer Nyheter

Jared James Nichols – Tornado Tales and Broken Bones

Jared James Nichols is mostly known as a blues guitarist, but on his new, self-titled album he has proved that he is also a fine songwriter with a taste for grunge and hard rock. We spoke to Jared about making the record, breaking his arm, and how the best guitar he ever played, a 1952 Les Paul which he calls “Dorothy”, was found in a garden after a tornado.

Text and photo: Anne-Marie Forker

Hi Jared!
– Hey! Thanks for talking with me today.
Shortly before recording the album, you had a broken right arm and had to have surgery, and had a plate and 16 screws. How are you now? 
– I’m good now, thankfully. It’s been a while. But to be honest when I broke it, I had no idea that I’d broken it. I had no idea. I’ve never broken a bone before. I was picking up a case after a gig. Maybe it weighed 75 pounds. When I picked it up I heard a little pop. Originally I thought “Oh, my elbow hurts a little”, you know like when you stand up and your knee pops? I thought that is what had happened to my elbow. But in actuality, my arm kept turning and I had to stop it. I knew something was wrong. So, when I went to the emergency room they initially thought that I’d torn my bicep muscle but they took an x-ray and you could see there was a chip in the bone. I freaked out. I couldn’t believe it. They told me I had to have an emergency surgery to get it fixed. It was every guitar player’s worst nightmare.
Yeah, you were in the middle of a tour when it happened?
– Yeah. I’m sitting there thinking “Can’t you guys just tape it up?!” They said I couldn’t do anything or go anywhere. It was horrible. The biggest fear when I woke up was that I wasn’t going to be able to move my fingers. But everything went great. It took a long time to rehab. For a while I couldn’t even get my arm straight. Thankfully now I’m good and if anything that accident opened my eyes to the fact that anything can be taken away in a moment.
Although it was your right arm, you are actually left-handed, but play right handed. Has that given you something different, an advantage somehow, having your dominant hand on the fretboard?
– I felt like I had more control with this hand. Maybe I’m crazy, but it always felt like I could bend a little easier, and felt like I’m at home. That’s probably why I don’t use a guitar pick either. A pick never felt right. When I grab a guitar, I want to feel it under my fingers. So when I don’t use the pick that gives it a kind of unique sound, but I also feel like I have a lot of strength in my left hand, and that helps me take it over the edge a little more.
My favourite guitarist, Jeff Beck, also didn’t use a pick. Was he the reason you don’t use one?
– Absolutely. Jeff and Albert King. When I heard his sound I thought “It sounds so quacky. How does he get that?!” He’s pulling up on strings.  Then I discovered “Blow by Blow”, and I thought “This is the best ever”. I also heard Mark Knopfler and Derek Trucks. If these guys can get this amazing sound using their fingers I might as well just give it a shot.
It’s all about the feeling for you?
-100 per cent. More than anything, the music has to feel good, not just sound good. My guitar playing is so physical. I get off on the physicality. I feel like I’m the one making the sounds and I can put everything I have into it. It’s intimate.

There’s so much feeling and physicality on the new album. It sounds live in places, it’s so passionate. Was that the intention, to sound almost live?
– Absolutely. It’s funny. In 2019 this guy comes up to me after a show and says “Man, that show was great. You sound so much better live than you do on your albums”. That stuck in my head. I wanted to make a record that served as the menu for the live show. I wanted it to have crazy energy, sound, and be guitar based, drums and vocal, and just really raw.  With this record, we walked in the studio and set up as if we were going to play a live show. We recorded everything to tape.
The record can’t be pigeonholed as just classic hard rock – it has grunge (“Down the Drain” – a bit of “Black Hole Sun”-era Soundgarden) to metal (“Hallelujah” – vintage Black Sabbath doom to a Motörhead-esque finale) to psychedlic-rock (“Shadow Dancer”). Who are your main influences from those genres? 
– A lot of people would think “Oh Jared is this blues guy, right?”. Okay, cool, but I also grew up hearing Nirvana, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, all these amazing bands.  For me the big influences are Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden. I like post-grunge stuff like Silverchair and bands like that. That’s the stuff I grew up hearing. When I was writing this record there were songs like “Shadow Dancer” and “Out of Time” that wanted to go there, because I love that sound. I feel like grunge is like a new age blues. There’s something about it that’s all emotion. It’s people channelling their emotions in a different way. So when I hear the album “Dirt” [Alice in Chains], to me it’s as bluesy as anything. It’s heavy, and I can feel it. With those songs I wanted to be able to spread my wings and play everything I love. This was the first time I wasn’t scared to really go for it. You know what, I want it to sound like Motorhead,  I want it to feel like early Sabbath, because I love that shit!
It does sound like that, but also like you. That can be a hard balance to achieve.
– Totally. It’s really hard to wear your influences on your sleeve but ultimately, you use them as the sparks for the fire. You still have to be the fire, but all the sparks are the stuff we love.
The new album is self-titled, unlike your previous albums. Why now?
– Great question. With this album I finally arrived at a benchmark. I love my previous releases, but my first record was the first time I’d ever been in a studio, and the second record was made out of necessity because we were on tour and I had to have more music. This was the first one where I sat down and dug into it. When we were thinking about a name for the album, I kept thinking of it being self-titled because this one feels like me. It feels like a combination of all the energy of the earlier releases but this is really the sound and the vibe that speaks to me as an artist.

You worked with the producer Eddie Spear, who has worked with Rival Sons, Jack White and more. What did he bring to the table?
– So much. I met him through Jay [Buchanan, vocalist, Rival Sons]. He said “You got to work with this guy, Eddie Spear”. When we met, we hit it off right away. He is like a mad scientist/genius. He has worked with everyone from Jack White, Rival Sons, Slash, so many amazing bands. What I love about Eddie is that he has so much enthusiasm, but he’s not afraid to take risks, which I love. So we’re in the studio, and it’s really loud. I remember all the needles were all in the red and he’s like “Now it sounds good!” He wasn’t afraid to take those risks to get the record to sound the way it does. If there were ever any ideas he said “Just try it”. He never shot anything down. It was always about trying it and seeing what happened, and if it didn’t work then try something else.  I love that. A lot of people get set in their ways.  I understand why, but working with someone like Eddie was an eye-opening experience. Let’s just do whatever we want. No rules. Just make great music. 
Nice. A completely free palette.
– Completely! At one point I had my amps all the way up, and I’m in front of them making the craziest sounds. I look at Eddie and he’s like “YEEEEEAAAAAHHHH!” It was great.
And you took a similar approach to the vocals?
– I’m known as a guitar player but I love to sing. I love that element. So, Eddie really pushed me. He said he didn’t care if it was good, bad or ugly, it just had to sound like me. A lot of producers or engineers would say “Okay that’s good enough, we’ll fix it later”. With our record we didn’t fix anything. What you hear is me singing, which is a cool thing and really honest. Vocally, when I hear this record, it’s the first time I’m not thinking “Urrrrrgh”! It sounds like me.
The vocals are so confident. Have you always wanted to be a singer as well as a guitar player, or was it because you didn’t want to hire a singer?
– Well at first we just looked at each other and thought “Who is going to sing?” So I did. At first it did stem from that, but then I realised how expressive it is to be a singer. I can have an idea and get it out as a guitarist, but it’s also really satisfying to have an idea and get it our as a vocalist. For me, it took 4 or 5 years before I felt comfortable singing, because I was nervous. This was the first time, on this record, where I turned off the voice in my head and just went for it. This record, love it or hate it, the vocals are honest.

“Hard Wired” was born from a jam session with Tyler Bryant.  Do you often write like that, by jamming with others?
– It’s always a little different. Songs don’t often come from jams. When I hang out with Tyler, we jam, we play and come up with ideas. Graham Whitford plays guitar in Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown, but he was on drums, and Tyler was on bass. It was crazy! That song was written and demoed within an hour. It just came out. I had the riff, Graham was on drums, Tyler started singing and we just went for it. That’s what I love the most about writing, is when it’s natural and easy. With a song like “Hard Wired” it was so easy.  Tyler asked if I was going to record it, because if I wasn’t going to, he was going to!
What was the opposite of that song – the most complicated one to finalise?
– “Saint or Fool”. The way you hear it on the record, it’s very simple and repetitive. But when I brought that song in, it was a ballad on the acoustic guitar. When you hear the intro, that’s an excerpt of the ballad. When I brought it to Eddie he said “It’s kind of boring. It sounds like every other song. If I was listening to this song I’d turn it off”. I thought “What shall we do?” He said: “We need to bring Satan back to rock’n’roll!” and he sat down on the piano and played, and the band joined in. After we made that change, and played it live, I can’t imagine doing it another way.  Sometimes you have to take what you are comfortable with songwise and shake it up and not be afraid to ruin it. What you think is ruining it might be making it that much more special.
You have your signature Gold Glory guitar. What other guitars did you use on the record?
– Oh my goodness, I only used four guitars on the record. I kept it pretty bare, because I knew the sound of the guitars pretty well. I used the most recent guitar that I got. Have you seen the guitar that was in the tornado?
– You want to see it?
– Hold on one sec, let me get it. I’ll tell you a quick story. This guy sends me a message “Hey Jared, There was a tornado in my home town and this guitar landed in my yard. I know you like old guitars like this. Would you want it?”
Are you kidding?!
– I thought “Is this a joke?!” This guitar was found in his garden after a crazy tornado. [Jared shows the guitar]
Oh my God. What year is that from? 50s?
– One of the first ever. It’s a 1952 Les Paul. I named it Dorothy.
That’s amazing. Those marks are from the tornado, that’s not age. Wow.
– It’s the best guitar I’ve ever played. Swear! It’s beautiful. Using an old guitar, they have such a unique sound. It’s like a warmth and so nice. Sometimes with a new guitar it’s really spiky and articulate, so there were certain songs like “Good Time Girl”, “Saint or Fool” or “Skin ‘n Bone” where I would use the new Gold Glory guitar because it’s a more aggressive, modern sound.  I have another older Les Paul from 1953. That one is called “Old Red”. Guitars all have their own sound and their own voice.

– I hope you will have that on tour with you. Are you coming back for more summer festivals in Europe?
– Sounds like we are. I know they are working on us coming over in May and June. You should come!

Originally published in Norway Rock Magazine #1/2023