Breakthrough British bluesman Jack J Hutchinson wraps up his whistlestop tour of the Czech Republic tonight before hooking up with Kris Barras Band for two outstanding UK dates next week. Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth caught up with the bearded wonder…
Rushonrock: We’ve heard rumours that there’s a new Jack J Hutchinson record on the way this summer…
Jack J Hutchinson: We’ve been in the studio for about eight months, on and off, recording new songs. And Who Feeds The Wolf? should be out in late summer. We’re putting out a single in June called Justified and the full album will follow. It’s the first record that I’ve recorded with Felipe Amorim (drums) and Lazarus Michaelides (bass) who are part of my touring band now. And we’ve been together about a year. I had some great musicians on the last one but I’ve become tight with these guys andwe’ve been on the road for 12 months. As a result the new album reflects more what we sound like live.
ROR: Is it very different to Paint No Fiction?
JJH: The last record was more of an introspective piece of work where I wrote a lot about really personal things. There’s a lot of acoustic material on that record that doesn’t necessarily get performed live. Paint No Fiction focused on some painful things that were happening to me at the time. It’s a really cool record but with the new album we wanted to lay down 12 tracks that all of us could perform live.
ROR: Is there a different formula for writing songs geared for the live arena?
JJH: I don’t sit there and consciously write material for a live show or think ‘I’ve got to write a radio friendly tune’. I just write what I write. I guess the new music was kind of organic, because it was coming out of rehearsals with Felipe and Lazarus. We also worked on stuff that we were jamming in sound checks and that sort of thing. It’s just been really important to record an album, as a band, with these with these guys. It’s not something I’ve really done before.
ROR: Is it something you wish you’d done before now?
JJH: With every record I’ve made, I’ve been the writer of the material. But I can discuss things openly and freely with these guys. Laz is great when it comes to the composition of songs and he can give me some ideas about how to develop a song – he’ll say ‘that bit’s quite good, that’s the same old stuff, I like the bit at the start of the song but let’s flip it on its head’ – that sort of thing. Felipe’s really good at looking at the hooks and looking at the power of a song. And he’s such a good, groovy drummer. My default position is like Crazy Horse and Neil Young, so everything’s kind of grinding as a starting point. Felipe’s quite a funky drummer and he also likes to turn things on their head. We started to sound more like Rival Sons rather than everything sounding like Fuckin’ Up by Neil Young!
ROR: Does it feel like a waste if you write material that doesn’t get a good airing live?
JJH: Not really. There’s some stuff that I’ve worked on in the studio in the past – and that includes some of the more complicated material on Paint No Fiction – that would never be performed live. But I still feel as if it’s valid creative output. I’ve just never made a record where I’ve felt I wanted to – or I was able to – play it all live and that was the motivation behind the new record. I wanted us to create something really powerful that reflects how we sound on stage. Part of it is that I’ve never really been in a band where I’ve been that happy with how we’ve sounded live. And I feel like meeting these guys 12 months ago took me to the next level in terms of creativity and confidence. I’m not trying to be disrespectful to any musicians who I’ve played with in the past – because I’ve worked with some fantastic players – but a lot of it’s to do with chemistry and how you work as a band. What I find with Laz and Felipe is that you end up in a situation where you’re not even thinking about what you’re playing, and you almost become like one musician. You’re having a conversation with the audience and the band are just talking to them. And that’s quite a magical feeling to be able to do that live. So we’re trying to capture that with Who Feeds The Wolf?. Experiencing that little pocket of energy we found in a studio setting was a lot of fun as well. This has been a really fun record to make from start to finish.
ROR: Have the new songs already made an impact live?
JJH: We’ve played a couple so far – Lucky Man and Peace Of Mind – and they’ve gone down well. I like to think Lucky Man is like a mix of Led Zeppelin and Blackberry Smoke but the other one is quite a complex one. It’s structurally quite tricky to play live but I wanted to test myself as a songwriter – it starts off almost like Blackbird by The Beatles and then suddenly kicks into something more akin to The Allman Brothers! And then there are all sorts of harmonies and different guitar parts but it’s been kind of cool to do something a little more intriguing in terms of song structure. Some of that inspiration to push myself came from touring as RHR last year with Mike Ross and Troy Redfern – we did a tour last November and that opened my mind a bit in terms of the dynamics behind a song. I like the fact that within one song there can be several twists and turns.
ROR: Are you still committed to the DIY approach or is a label deal alluring?
JJH: With the RHR record we actually did things a little differently and the album was distributed through At The Helm Records, which is a Brighton-based label, and that was really cool. So we had ownership on the release but had assistance with the distribution and that worked really well. So I think we’ll probably take the same approach with the new album. But I think when I talked about labels previously, it’s maybe because I’d had a few experiences that weren’t great. That’s in the past and not necessarily related to what my career is doing now. You know, if a label is interested in talking to us then that would be a conversation I’d be interested in.
ROR: Without the full support of a label there’s a lot of work to do outside of the music – is that work you’re still prepared to do?
JJH: It’s a tough balancing act. I did feel a little burnt out at the end of last year. I’d had a bit of a crazy period where I’d done two albums in a year and a lot of gigs. Then Laz and Felipe came on board – essentially as touring musicians for a few dates in Spain – and it became clear quite quickly that Laz is a great tour manager in terms of looking at the logistical side of things. He’s taken on that role and the two of them share the load in terms of social media and promotion and that kind of thing. That’s freed me up to do more of the songwriting and guitar playing which has been a massive relief. In the past I was very much in the mindset of ‘I can fucking do everything – bring it on!’. But actually, what I should be doing is focusing on writing songs and being the best performer I can be.
ROR: You’re back in the UK for a couple of outstanding Kris Barras Band dates this month – how much do you enjoying playing with him?
JJH: It’s been really cool for me to meet Kris. I supported him on a few dates last year and he’s been really supportive of what I’m doing. He’s shared a lot of insights into how he operates. It’s been a really good learning experience being able to work with somebody like that and it was a real honour to be asked to do his latest tour. Beyond the fact that he’s a really nice guy I totally dig his music. I’ve done supports with lots of people in the past where, you know, you’re essentially just there to kind of open up the night and there’s no relationship with the headline act. From day one Kris has been different. We’ve had beers, and we hang out and chat about different things. And he’s given me a lot of advice on how and where to take things further. That advice has included the importance of delegating responsibilities. He realised early on that he couldn’t take everything on. I like to have control over my music and my band so that means taking greater responsibility. But Laz and Felipe have changed my view on that. I wasn’t looking to form a band but playing with those guys has been a really special experience. Meeting them – and touring with Kris – has given me a very different outlook.
ROR: Is there an appetite for the kind of bluesy, Southern rock that both yourself and Kris favour?
JJH: It feels to me like in the last 12 months my audience has grown. And it feels like there’s a different type of audiences coming to the shows. There are still the people who were digging the kind of blues rock that I was doing before but I’d say that the material I’m doing now is more Southern rock. And that’s brought in some new faces. I know it’s kind of bizarre because I’m from Burnley but that’s the music that I’ve always listened to. It’s always going to drip into my songwriting but there’s a real appetite for Southern rock or outlaw country or whatever you want to call it right now. Look at some of the bands who’ve played Ramblin’ Man Fair in the last few years. There’s a big audience for that music that wasn’t necessarily there five years ago. It’s a really special moment in time. I’m not saying all of these bands are great – there are some fucking terrible bands jumping on the bandwagon. But when you listen to Rival Sons, Blackberry Smoke and Kris Barras you know they’re the real deal. They’re creating top quality music.
ROR: And on the subject of Ramblin’ Man Fair – will you be back again in 2019?
JJH: I’ve played there two years in a row and I’d happily make it a hat-trick. But even if I’m not playing there this year then I’ll be there as a fan – hanging out with Kris and watching him tear up the main stage.
*RHR play the Guitar Heroes Festival in Germany on May 4
*Jack J Hutchinson opens up for Kris Barras in Cambridge on May 7 and Leeds on May 8
Images By Adam Kennedy