The Art Of The Song
Jackson has the longest history of songwriting. "I get the impression that some singers think it's an obligation, that it's a chore. I've never felt like that. I've always enjoyed songwriting. The songwriting preceded everything including piano lessons. I've always preferred creating music to actually playing it. Also, I was obsessed when I was very young with Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder. I would listen to their songs and try to work out how they'd done certain things. Ultimately, everything came from the writing."
While Jackson clearly gives songwriting priority, he's not planning to stop performing. "No, I don't think so. I really enjoy playing in front of an audience. I much prefer it to recording. If it wasn't a necessary part of my career I'd happily stop recording tomorrow. The idea of other people performing my music is a real thrill. I really hope to get to that pointnot just people covering my tunes, but writing with specific people in mind."
Lyric writing is Jackson's problem issue when writing. "I'm constantly on the search for good lyricists. I work with a couple already. I enjoy writing lyrics but I tend to ruin songs by doing so. Half the lyrics on the album are mine (half are by Molly Hollman) but it takes me ages. If I have lyrics in front of me the musical ideas tend to stream in at high velocity."
Simmons writes on her own and, like Jackson, finds lyric writing problematic. "I've never collaborated. I'd like to but I don't know what it would be like. I find it really hard to write lyrics." Simmons writes very personal lyrics, often very self-deprecating. "I can't really write in any other way: it is like my therapy." Despite their very personal nature, Simmons' lyrics do strike a chord in other people. "A girl once came up to me and said that the lyrics to 'Almost' were 'my life.' Another girl tattooed some of the lyrics from 'Whatever' on her back. She sent me a photo; they looked really nice."
James collaborates with keyboard player Ross Lorraine. "I met him through an ad I put on the Gumtree website. Ross lives just down the road from me: we just seemed to click pretty much straight away. I write the lyrics and melodies, form a lot of ideas in my head and he takes it on from there. I wanted to make an album for long time but the time never seemed right. I've got two children as well so everything has to be fitted in around them. After my daughter was born, she'll be five soon, my old vocal coach got back in touch and told me it was a good time to start writing. So that was the moment I started to write songs and realize that of course I'm a singer/songwriter."
The impact that songs can have is a source of obvious pride to all three singers. As James puts it, "I think there's always somebody who might connect with what we write. A lot of what we feel is shared human experience." As Simmons says, with James' enthusiastic agreement, "The best feeling in the world is when people love the songs you've written."
Master Plans or Letting It Roll
Making a career in a tenuous profession like music demands a single-mindedness and commitmenta long-term plan might also be seen as a pre-requisite. Of the three singers, Jackson is the one with the clearest long-term goals and the plan to achieve them. Simmons and James have a more laissez-faire approach although their determination is just as strong.
So how far ahead is Jackson (pictured left) planning? "Basically, very far. There is a long-term game plan to reach an international audience and the festival circuit so I'm trying to maneuver myself into position for that. I don't consider myself to be anywhere near the final product. I feel I'm still learning a lot... But if I'm going to reach that level then I have to start thinking about it now."
Jackson's trip to New Zealand saw him supporting saxophonist/arranger Bob Mintzer and leading master classes. Some forward planning enabled him to capitalize even further on the visit. "I was invited to do two Festival appearances and a couple of radio shows. My manager Sandra Marcy set up some other things including a TV appearance on a significant New Zealand morning show. With her knowledge and PR strategy she could see that this would be a trip wasted if we didn't use every opportunity. I came away with the rights to use the TV interview as part of my PR. You send something like that to promoters and they see you in a different light."
Given such foresight, it seems strange that the tracks on Jericho are too long to fit the time constraints of most music radio. Jackson agrees with this, but he's already thinking of a solution. "That's true. My producer and I decided that the tunes were that long, that they needed that much time. That's my official answer but the truth is that there are a couple of tunes we probably will edit down. We're in the position to approach radio stations now and it would be a waste of opportunity if we didn't have something to send them."