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Jackson Scott

Interview — Mohamed Sqalli
Photography — Jean-Baptiste Sinniger

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Asheville-based singer-songwriter Jackson Scott put his atmospheric pop melodies on the indie map last year with Melbourne, his debut album. This conversation with him was the occasion to uncover the personality of a thoughtful, yet ingenuous artist.

You just came off stage here at the Paris Pitchfork Festival, how did you find the audience?

I love playing in France. A friend’s dad back in America was telling me something like « they’ll love you in France. They can’t rock & roll, but they love good stuff ».

And do you agree with him about the French not knowing how to do rock & roll?

I don’t know, but definitively my favorite electronic band is Daft Punk. They’re pretty damn rock & roll. Also, my drummer bought this French 60’s garage girl pop record, and I love it.

Things are getting big for Jackson Scott right now…

Yeah, this whole year has been pretty hectic. I signed to Fat Possum Records earlier this year and I’m just pretty happy to be able to put out my own vinyl.

Can you tell us about your life back in Asheville?

I originally went down from Pittsburgh to Asheville to go to college. I went to college for a year and then I stopped because I just wanted to make music. I worked at a bookstore, but I had the feeling they were going to fire me... Then I went to a Ty Segall concert on a day I was supposed to work, and they fired me. (laughing)

 

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In which conditions did you write this album?

Well, I was in Asheville, I quit college… I didn’t have a job… and basically I was living on the money I was supposed to be using for college. The funny thing is that I signed to Fat Possum right when this chunk of money I was living on was beginning to run out.

You suddenly benefited from a significant support from massive media like Pitchfork. How do you deal with it?

It hasn’t really affected me mentally too much. I’m grateful but my objectives always remained the same: put out this album. When I was making it, I was in a weird state of mind. I was literally getting to the point where I had this strange anxiety, telling to myself “I want to make an album before I die”. Just one album, and then I die, it will be alright. So I worked on the album pretty obsessively, and it’s all been really nice. I just wanted not to be too affected by what other people say about it.

Melbourne is a very sensitive and emotional album. To what extent did you use it to express your feelings?

I had been in a band before that; it’s called Sin Kitty. So when I began to write Melbourne by myself, I tried to be as genuine and authentic as possible, eventually trying to be self-conscious about it but I just wanted it be a direct representation of how I was feeling. This is why some of the songs, like Tomorrow for example are rather difficult to listen to. It’s like a diary. Sometimes I can be a spiteful kind of person, I wanted other people to feel the way I was feeling when writing.

 

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I think it’s an achievement then, because it’s not something you can listen to randomly… My favorite song in the album is Sandy, and I confess I was surprised to discover it was about the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The contrast between the childish melody and the very grave lyrics is striking. Don’t you fear that people take it as an act of cynicism?

The first thing to take into consideration is that I like the idea of being able to write a song about anything: a day at the beach as well as people getting murdered. I don’t think there should be boundaries. You can make a Disney movie or you can make Schindler’s List. It’s almost hard for me to talk about Sandy. I like to talk about it like something beyond me. It’s supposed to be something very objective, almost like a documentation of the event. I just wanted people to think about it, not just forget about it. You can argue that there is a bit of cynicism or irony in it but honestly, I think that the chords are not pure joy. It’s also very much melancholic.

The topic of childhood is very present in your album, in the cover and in the songs. Are you already nostalgic of your childhood at 20?

I think maybe that I’m at the age when you stop being considered a child. To be totally honest, it’s hard for me to even consider the part of the subconscious that might be present in the album. I know what I was trying to do but it was as if a lot of the stuff was almost automatic. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about it too much. This is the representation of how I was feeling at the time. That’s the point of this, really.

What came first, the music or the lyrics?

Definitely the music. I go back and forth in terms on writing. Sometimes, I write a lyric and I almost like it more than the music but mostly I give more importance to the music. I think that there’s an emotion that can come true only with the music, it’s hard to replicate it with words.

 

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In Any Way, you say “Isolation can be such a bore”. Are you an isolated person?

Yeah, I was really isolated during the whole making of the album. I was living in a house with 4 other guys, and most of the time I was in my room or in the basement recording. I wasn’t going to class, I didn’t have a job… I was just completely by myself. Singing this was almost a message to me saying, “it’s ok, you can go out and try and meet girls…”

I just saw you on stage and quite honestly, I didn’t expect it to be that energetic after listening to Melbourne. It was really grungy and yet, it gave the impression of a tidy disorder.

There are elements of that in the album. It’s a mixture of beautiful, pure, positive things with bad, evil and negative emotions. If you combine them, I think that’s life. I like to have both sides in the live set. My attitude towards the live show is just to have fun on the stage. It’s just even an excuse for me to play guitar, that’s really nice.

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