Cris Jacobs Interview

Interview by Harry Kaplan
I have been following Cris Jacob’s career for quite a while now. He and his band, The Bridge, have been rocking Baltimore and the mid Atlantic for years. Now Cris has branched out a bit and is no longer a Baltimore hidden gem. He is known. Very well deserved for a guy who is not only a superb musician and performer, he is also a gentleman. A true “good guy”. Cris speaks about his new album, Color Where You Are, touring, and his musical plans for the next year. 
CJ: Cris Jacobs                                       TL: TwangriLa

TL: I want to congratulate you on the new album, Color Where You Are.
CJ: Thank you very much.
TL: You’re welcome. I did a review on Twangrila.
Tell me about how it came about: making it, musicians you used, all the technical stuff.
CJ: Well, I used my band that I’ve been playing with now for, I guess, three and a half years or so. There was another guest musician named Daniel Clarke, keyboard player from Richmond, Virginia, who played on the record. We recorded it in Richmond, where two of the guys in the band are from, at a studio called Montrose Recording Studio. Yeah, it was basically borne out of wanting to make a record. I didn’t really have the whole thing mapped up before we booked the studio time. I sort of just booked the studio time and went for it and sort of gave myself a self-imposed deadline and started writing. So went into the studio with some sort of half-finished ideas, some raw ideas, and soon as I showed to the band I sort of kept writing as we were along. That’s sort of how it went. It wasn’t like an over-rehearsed thing where we had all the songs we were working on. It was very organic, sort of spontaneous process.
TL: Wow, you must have a lot of trust in those guys and they must have a lot of trust in you.
CJ: Well, yeah, I definitely have trust in them. I would hope that they trust me as well. I definitely trust them to be able to take any idea that I had and make it good. I never have to tell them what to play. Basically, the way that it went down was there was a little outdoor area of the studio, we’d sit out there, and I had an acoustic guitar and sort of played the tune—played the ideas—that I had for everybody as they just sat and listened. Then we went back into the studio and said, “All right, let’s bang it out.” We’d work out an arrangement and everything on that record is pretty much within the first to the third take (laughter).
TL: Wow, that’s pretty amazing.
CJ: When you work with good musicians, with good instincts, and know what to do and it’s a liberating thing. That’s when we can really just focus on the creativity and not as much the clean up or damage control.
TL: Right you don’t have to worry about the mechanics. You can just focus on the music, because you got trust in these guys.
CJ: Exactly, exactly. There’s no hand-holding or babysitting required. I’m very lucky to have those guys.
TL: Yeah, that’s the best feeling as a musician. It’s got to be the best feeling in the world.
CJ: Absolutely. It’s 100 percent. It’s been a couple of years or touring and being in the van together, just becoming really really close friends as well. That certainly plays a huge part. We just like each other and we like being around each, so there’s general ease of a feeling and a general open communication and trust. We didn’t have an outside producer, which would be—
TL: I was going to ask you about that.
CJ: Yeah, that could be the death of most recording projects—because of all the egos in the room and no clear default leader to defer to, but in our case we were able to do it.
TL: It sounds like you guys all have the same philosophy of music and song, so it probably makes it a lot easier.
CJ: Absolutely. Yes, we do. We’re all on the same page. We all share a common goal and sort of come at it from similar place and are able to, like I say, just trust each other. I think we all feel the synergy that happens when we do. It’s sort of greater than the sum of its part when it all comes together.
TL: Absolutely. Do you have any favorite tracks?
CJ: I don’t know. It’s hard to say just because they all have their own special thing to me.
TL: Are there some that you really like playing more than others?
CJ: I mean, I like playing them all at this point. There are some that maybe are a little more difficult to pull off at our average show, because some of the more quiet/intimate tunes maybe don’t get as—you know, when you’re in loud clubs and bars and people are ready rock, it’s maybe a little harder to deliver those, but that doesn’t mean that I like that any less. We really have been enjoying playing all of them honestly. We really have been a lot. It’s great. It’s nice to have a fresh, slew of new tunes, and they really evolve on stage too, which is fun.
TL: I’ve been reading some descriptions of you as a soul singer. Do you consider yourself a soul singer? I just feel like it’s just good old rock and roll with some soul influence. How do you feel?
CJ: That’s fine. I don’t think too hard about it. I try not to read my own headlines. I also just try to approach music just from a place of not trying to label it as much as just trying to feel it. There’s going to be some Soul that comes out. I’m trying to sing soulfully, that’s for sure. If by Soul we’re talking Otis Redding or Al Green, then sure I’ll take it. Yeah, I certainly love those guys but like I said, I don’t really think about it in those terms. I just sort of let it fly and whatever comes out, comes out.
TL: We’re coming up on Memorial Day again. Last Memorial Day weekend, I saw you when you opened up for Willie Nelson and Sturgill Simpson at The Anthem. I was in heaven. How was that experience for you and the band?
CJ: Oh, man, we were in heaven as well. I mean first of all, that venue is pretty spectacular, huh?
TL: Yeah, it is. It’s pretty amazing.
CJ: When we got the call to do that show it was—it’s a pretty hectic feeling. I mean, Willie is one of my all-time favorites. He’s a living legend and true American treasure, as far as I’m concerned.
TL: Totally agree.
CJ: Sturgill is great. I love Sturgill. I got a chance to open a bunch of shows for him a few years ago. I just really love his music and the way he goes about his business. He’s a great guy, so it was good to reconnect with him. I hadn’t seen him in a little bit. Yeah, man, what an opportunity; it’s just a monster bill.
TL: Yeah, and I thought you guys played great.
CJ: Well, thank you.
TL: You had a great set.
CJ: Thank you. Yeah, it felt good. It was quick. We had to sort of jam pack it in, but it was great. We really enjoyed it.
TL: I got to tell you, Sturgill threw me because the last time I saw him he was doing a country thing, and this was more like Cream. It was pretty wild. He’s a good guitar player.
CJ: He’s a great guitar player. That’s what I really dig about him is just that he really doesn’t care, you know. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care what people’s expectations are.
I love that about him. He’s sort of got the moniker of being the savior of country music. I think he—I don’t want to speak for him, but I don’t necessarily think he cared about that label. I don’t he cared out fulfilling that destiny. I think he just wanted to do what he wanted to do—and his music took him somewhere else and he went for him. I love that about him. It’s easy for someone like me who doesn’t have the fan-base that he has to just say, “You know what, I’m just going to do this instead”. He’s got thousands and thousands of fans at this point that are expecting something from him and he just said, “You know what, instead of that, how about we try this?” He probably turned some people off and he probably gained some others, but you know what? At the end of the day, he did what the music wanted him to do and I respect the hell out of that.
TL: I’m with you on that. Not everyone would have the confidence to pull that off.
You just came off of a tour to promote your new album: Color Where You Are. I heard your van broke down.
CJ: Oh yeah.
TL: Well, other than that, how did the tour go?
CJ: Other than it was great. I mean, even with that we sort of powered through it. Like I said, man, I’m blessed with the band that I have. Those guys are just pros and they’re just level-headed dudes. Even in the face of adversity, we all just kept making each other laugh and did what we had to do and showed up to the next gig.
We didn’t miss a beat. In that regard, it was just—I’m so proud of us because we’re just doing work and everybody is just so focused on doing the best work. There’s no drama. There is no egos. There is no bad attitudes. In that regard it’s great. Like I say, the song is really coming to life out there. It’s nice to be playing these new songs. Some people have heard them already from listening to the record. It’s great. It’s great. All that’s fantastic, yes.
TL: That’s good. How’s the reception been outside of the Baltimore area?
CJ: It’s been great. We’re still trying to gather fans one by one, but it’s happening.
TL: That’s really encouraging. I got to see you play with the Bridge at the Charm City Blue Grass Festival.
CJ: That’s a great festival. I love how much they’ve grown that thing. I remember the first one. One of the guys that ran it are friends of mine. They just called me up and say, “You want to put a Bluegrass thing together for this little festival that we’re trying to run?” That was what, six years ago or something?
TL: That sounds about right.
CJ: Yeah, so it’s pretty cool to see how much they’ve grown.
TL: I look forward to it. It’s the best event in Baltimore, in my opinion.
CJ: It’s fantastic. They really do a great job.
TL: I like the fact this year they really did switch it up. It wasn’t really all bluegrass—in fact Friday was the bluegrass day and Saturday was really more rock and roll.
CJ: I think they get it that people that like bluegrass don’t necessarily have to like only bluegrass. There is so much crossover. You can kind of root it in bluegrass but still branch out a little bit. Yeah, for me personally, I love bluegrass but to hear some other things throughout the day is always a welcome thing.
TL: I totally agree. It’s similar to what you were talking about with Sturgill. I guess some people probably don’t like the fact that they’re branching out, but probably more people will.
CJ: Right. I’ve never understood the whole purist thing. This is the thing too, and I certainly respect people that like to maintain traditions, and I certainly respect traditions in music and otherwise. But I enjoy taking those traditions and building upon them myself.
TL: Yeah, I totally understand. I agree with you. If you just play by tradition then there’s no musical growth. No experimentation.
CJ: Exactly and nothing new is created. You’re just kind of repeating—you’re going through the same tracks.
TL: Guys like Billy Strings. What he’s doing with bluegrass is absolutely amazing.
CJ: That kid is on fire, man. We just played a really cool gig with him at the Aiken Bluegrass Festival in South Carolina.
TL: I saw that on your website.
CJ: We all did our own sets, but then we were asked to do this late night set with him where he was playing electric and my band was the band backing him up. We played ‘til like 4:30 in the morning. We were doing Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin. Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, and Neil Young. It was rocking (laugh). Yeah, I think if people are expecting that kid to be a traditionalist, they are going to be disappointed because I know he’s got some ideas.
TL: Even now he uses electronics. They play acoustic, but it’s not really acoustic. I just like the fact that they’re pushing it forward. They’re pushing the envelope.
CJ: I’m with you there. I respect that, I think it’s important to be always be pushing the boundaries on anything.
TL: I agree. What about plans for the touring for the next six months. Are you going to be on the road a lot?
CJ: Yeah, we’re hitting a lot of places, doing a lot of festivals, going out west a few times. Then I’m actually having another child in September.
TL: Oh, congratulations.
CJ: Thank you. I’m going to take September off to be home for that. Then we’re going to crank it back up again and then make another record and do it all over again (laugh).That’s what we do.  Hopefully, you know, 10 more at least.
TL: Wash, rinse, repeat. (laugh).
CJ: (Laugh). That’s it man. That’s it, hopefully, with the same guys too. It’s a pretty special unit that I have and I don’t plan on letting them go easy any time soon. We’re just growing all the time. Even this particular record, we kind of stumbled on some new approaches of working together and stuff that I think we’re really excited to take into the next record. We’re excited about the possibilities. We feel like we’re just scratching the surface.
TL: Other than that, anything else you’re working on? Any new projects?
CJ: No, at this point I’ve been pretty consumed with either Cris Jacobs Band or being at home and being a dad and a husband. I have this project with Ivan Neville called Neville Jacobs. We’ve got a couple shows coming up next week. We’ll continue to carve out some times to play when we can. I’ll be doing a few shows with Phil Lesh this summer, so that’ll be exciting. He’s doing a few shows on the Outlaw Tour with Willie.
TL: I didn’t know that.
CJ: Yeah, he’s got like maybe five or six of them that are going around. It’s like a bunch of bands: Alison Krauss, Old Crow, Dawes, and then I’m in the Phil and Friends Band for a few of those Milwaukee, Chicago, and Saint Louis.
TL: That’s fantastic. Congratulations.
CJ: I’m excited. Thank you. It’s a dream come true.
TL: Will this be the first time you’ve played with Phil?
CJ: No, I did this show with him in October at the Hollywood Bowl. He was doing a set there and I was part of his band.
TL: Well, obviously, it went well, because he wouldn’t be asking you again (laugh).
CJ: I guess so. Yeah, it’s felt like it did, so it’s nice to get the call again.
TL: Yeah, that is fantastic.
I just want to say if anyone hasn’t gotten a copy of Color Where You Are there’s still time. It’s a great album. People should definitely pick that up.
CJ: Thank you so much.
TL: Oh sure. Speaking of that, where can people buy the album and find out about you? You got a website I’m sure.
CJ: Yes, and then they can buy everywhere: iTunes, Amazon, some music stores, streaming, Apple Music, Spotify.
TL: All the usual suspects. I want to thank you for taking time out of your schedule.
CJ: Yeah, thanks, Harry. I appreciate it. Glad we were finally able to connect.

Posted In:

Leave a Reply