Nashville is a funny city (I understand that's not necessarily the most original of thoughts, but bear with me). For as often as we hear Nashville championed as a "Big Little City" or a "Little Big City" (because no one can ever decide) and the unspoken appeals of such descriptions, it's still laughably easy to get caught up in cliques, tribes, and groups. There's so much going on at any given moment, it's seemingly best to stick to the most familiar locales. So imagine my incredulity in attempting to do just the opposite, only to learn that a friend from high school has casually gone ahead and won one of Nashville's most competitive music competitions - Music City Mayhem. Enter Jackson Bruck. The aforementioned moment of incredulity was a two fold problem, because not only was I unaware that Jackson Bruck & The Dukes of Hume had entered Music City Mayhem, but I was also ignorant to the fact Bruck played music at all, much less in Nashville. So, as you might imagine, an interview was in order. There was ample ground to cover in the conversation with Bruck, which was enthusiastically welcomed. Consider it a simultaneous attempt at making up for lost time as well as preparation for an extensive and substantial career for Jackson Bruck & The Dukes of Hume, all born out of the peculiar spirit of Nashville.
Now/It's met with Jackson Bruck at Embers Ski Lodge in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville, TN.
Jackson - How you been?
N/I - Pretty good. For as close to I live, I think I’ve only been here once.
Jackson - Well welcome to my hangout [laughs].
N/I - Thanks [laughs]. I’m going to be totally honest with you, I didn’t know you were in town playing music and all that.
Jackson - I don’t think people really ever knew I was a musician.
N/I - I remember you singing in the Methodist church choir growing up….
Jackson - For fun [laughs].
N/I - Same reason I did. I think that’s what made up ninety percent of the attendance, just to pass the time. So with that in mind, my perspective of whether or not a lot of people from those days are musical or not is skewed.
Jackson - There were some people who could not sing, and that’s not a knock at all.
N/I - Not at all. It was just a hang. So that’s my admission of guilt for the fact that once I saw Jackson Bruck & The Dukes of Hume pop up in the Music Mayhem thing, I started to think “How many Jackson Brucks can there be in town?” Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it out to any of the rounds, but now that you guys have won, I think I’m finally up to speed. How as all of that?
Jackson - Man, it was a blast. I just figured I’d throw my name in the hat. I think they had over 300 bands submit….
N/I - It’s always a lot of people.
Jackson - Then they narrowed it down to a field of 32, and once it got rolling, I always had the mindset that if we made it to the final, we could probably win it, because I have faith in what we do as a live show. We don’t play to any tracks. I think between the bass player, lead guitar player, and myself, it’s a total of five guitar pedals. So it’s very much a “plug-in and go” situation. Our sound on our record is like what we sound like when we show up. So I thought if we got to the final, we’d have a chance to show everybody what a rock n roll band is.
N/I - So you’d classify it mostly as rock n roll, then?
Jackson - Oh yeah.
N/I - And how long have you been doing The Dukes of Hume stuff, exactly?
Jackson - I cut the EP… I think we released it last April.
N/I - That’s what I could find, was last Spring.
Jackson - Essentially, what happened for me…. I’ve been writing for a long time….
N/I - And you didn’t want to be a songwriter, or try and get cuts?
Jackson - I guess the way I view it is - a songwriter is just who I am and what I do. I’ve always had more of a dream to be a part of a band. All my heroes… that’s what they did. They were all parts of bands, and it was a bunch of friends that played music, went out, had a good time.
N/I - Like a Bruce Springsteen career versus a Bernie Taupin career?
Jackson - There’s something about the camaraderie about being up on stage with your friends. I think it’s special.
N/I - It absolutely is. The reason I ask is because a lot of people I’ve interviewed initially came to Nashville in hopes of being songwriters first, performers second. Then they’ll start a band and things will take off. But since you’re from here, I’d imagine you probably knew some folks in the industry growing up that might have cautioned against either path as a career goal. There might have been more opportunities for people to turn you off of a life in music, yet here you are having wound up in the music and entertainment realm.
Jackson - I’ll never forget - I had a guy at Guitar Center tell me - he was the manager or something…. I walked in one day to buy something, and he told me not to do music unless I didn’t have a choice. He said if you have a choice don’t do it, but if you have to do it, do it. And I was like “I have to do it.” I think for me, it just depends. It’s all about what people are going into music for. About what they’re trying to do. If you’re walking into music trying to be a millionaire, you probably need to find a different career path. Even a lot of the really successful bands are not being paid millions of dollars.
N/I - They’re fewer and further between than ever before.
Jackson - So I got to the point that what I wanted out of music was to be able to have a steady career. I don’t have to make millions of dollars to do that. I want to own a home and I want have a family at some point. If I can do that, and play music….
N/I - You’ve checked all the boxes. The perspective of “needing to vs. wanting to.” That is something you see popping up quite a bit, not only in music, but most any creative arena. For myself, I just like talking to different people, new people, interesting people. That’s the general idea of it, so I set out to figure out how I can do that and live, for the most part, comfortably. I work at a radio station, shoot photos, do some contract writing, and then talk to people of interest. People that seem genuinely into what it is that they’re doing: actively pursuing what it is that they feel passionate about. So that’s my relative comparison to the “needing to vs. wanting to” dilemma that faces a lot of artists and performers. But that’s one of those things that I would imagine to be pretty intimidating to admit to others, much less, yourself because of the prospect of failure. Is that a possibility?
Jackson - I think where we grew up, there’s a lot of pressure to succeed from a monetary standpoint, being from Brentwood. We have such a skewed idea of what success looks like. It’s living in a 5,000 square foot home. Everybody has a car. Even stuff like that… Of our respective classes, I would bet 97% had vehicles, as in their own personal vehicle they drove around.
N/I - Absolutely.
Jackson - That is not normal. Not even a little bit.
N/I - Exactly. The relative notion of having access to these seemingly everyday things can distort other ideas of things like success. Or what a “safe” or “proper” career path is. There aren’t a ton of people from either of our classes that are doing outwardly or deliberately creative endeavors.
Jackson - That’s true.
N/I - But there’s nothing bad about that at all. It’s a classic “to each their own” scenario. At the same time, that’s what makes me feel bad about being so late to the game in learning about you and The Dukes of Hume.
Jackson - But that’s more on me. That’s more on me not talking about it. I’m not a huge self-promoter.
N/I - I feel like most people aren’t.
Jackson - But it’s a very important thing to do if you’re going to be selling yourself.
N/I - Realistically, it’s the next most important thing to do outside of the actual creative material itself…. Now that I think of it, I won’t say it’s the “most” important thing to do, because there is a lot of undo pressure placed on it, but it is a vital aspect of the life of a creative entrepreneur.
Jackson - There are a few that are doing it. It is funny, though. I have my friends I grew up with, and then I have my music friends. They’re very different crowds, and that’s totally okay.
N/I - Absolutely. It’s completely fair, and normal.
Jackson - It’s kind of funny, because I sit in between these two crowds, and could serve as a potential glue, but a lot of musicians aren’t really into people that are doctors and lawyers, while a lot of those people think that musicians are a certain type of person they can’t relate to.
N/I - There’s plenty of disconnect. But again that happens with any two groups of people - not just musicians and non-musicians, but people from different backgrounds are likely to fail at better understanding a different group if they choose not to practice empathy and understanding. Look at the left versus right that’s been going on for forever, it’s entirely unharmonious at times because understanding and empathy are voluntarily disregarded.
Jackson - That’s true. It happens a lot. Different worlds.
N/I - So when did you get back to Nashville? You were up in Knoxville for a while, right?
Jackson - So my path after high school was that I went to Murray State for two years, so I did that for a while, but after my sophomore year, man, I was…. It feels like the more I’ve started to talk to people, it seems that most people experience a sort of depression their sophomore year of college. It’s weird. I don’t know it is about that point in your life, but I got really depressed, and was just ready to bolt.
N/I - It’s more of an adjustment, because that’s getting into the thick of the “new normal.”
Jackson - Right. My sister - Jacy - was going to University of Tennessee, and even though I swore I wasn’t going to UT, I was like “You know what? Whatever. I’ll do it.” So I went over there and ended up really enjoying it. The house I moved into was a house of 10, which were mostly guys that were older than me. I was an early birthday, and that was perfect for me. I showed up at school and two months later, was able to go out with all those guys. I ended up really having a blast. After I graduated from Knoxville - which was marketing and entrepreneurship - I sold beds. I worked at Mattress Firm. It was a blast. That got me into doing sales, so when I moved back to Nashville - I graduated in December of 2014 - took an extra football season.
N/I - Nothing wrong with that.
Jackson - When I moved back, I got a job working for Jaguar Land Rover. So just selling high-end cars and moved into a house with my old roommate at Murray State, and [another guy], down in Brentwood. I did that for about a year and a half, starting to get itchy wanting to do music stuff.
N/I - So all the while, were you working on music?
Jackson - Yeah! What happened was, someone hit me up with an opportunity here in town for a pilot tv show called American Supergroup. I auditioned for that, and then they picked me to do it.
N/I - How’d they get in contact with you?
Jackson - I was messaged by someone who was a friend of a producer who said they were doing a casting call, and they knew I did music. At that time, I had some songs, and everyone seemed to like them, but nobody had any idea what to do with them. And when you’re in that situation, you’re hit with that dilemma of “Do you want to be a writer or do you want to be a performer?”
N/I - I posed that exact question ten minutes ago.
Jackson - Right. So for me, I don’t see the difference in the two. I don’t really do a lot of co-writing. I write most of my music by myself, which I think is maybe a little bit more common with artists, whereas writers use each other for material. I think it’s more efficient.
N/I - That’s something I’ve come to learn through talking to people - as an independent artist, that’s the biggest challenge - you have to be the writer all the time. That should be a no-brainer on paper, but in Nashville, you have more people leaning in on other people’s writing abilities than one might like to admit.
Jackson - I wouldn’t have it any other way. I struggle to even do covers, because I’ve only got so many minutes on stage, that I need them to hear my music. You work hard. You pour out a lot of energy and a lot of effort and a lot of yourself into your songs. If I want to be in a cover band, I’ll go play on Broadway. That’s not what I want to do. I want to sing my songs for people. So I got picked up for that TV show, and it went south.
N/I - Do you remember what network it was on?
Jackson - It was on PopTV? It aired there, MTV Live, and VH1 Classic. The concept was really cool, but it just kind of fell through. But in the end, it was a very eye opening introduction into entertainment.
N/I - It’s an entryway into “the industry” that I think a lot of people would kill to get a whack at, but don’t realize that this version of “making it” can wind up becoming an “I don’t care about the money, I just want out and want to start over,” scenario. The only desirable out is cutting your losses sometimes.
Jackson - It is. It literally was that. It was my “heads up” for just how important it is to know what you’re signing. I do believe that most people are good, and I think the people that put that show together had every desire for the show to be successful, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Especially when things start going poorly. It’s a bummer, but I think they were just trying to do it and it didn’t work out, ultimately.
N/I - I think that’s something you run into when you link up with someone “pursuing a dream.” They work so hard to start seeing things come to a fruition, and even at its most realized form, it can fall short.
Jackson - They spent years and years working on that show’s format and pitching it to networks, and then you have a bunch of artists who hope being on the show will be their “big break” when in all reality, the guys that started the show want the same thing. It’s a lonely group of dreamers. It’s weird, because you get excited about moments, because you never know if this is the moment that could change things. Even right now, I remember getting picked up for the TV show and thinking it would be a huge step in my career. I quit my job and thought I could do music full-time because I was going to be getting paid to do that show. But when it fell through, I had already gone out and cut a record, but I ran out of money. So I got another job that allowed me the flexibility to pursue music, but also be able to pay my bills. Which for an artist is the best case scenario.
N/I - Until you have the total means to bring the ultimate version of your “dream” to life, that’s about as good as you can ask for. So after the TV show - that’s what? 2016? 2017?
Jackson - I think it started in October of 2016, and I was with them right through January of 2017. That’s kind of when the show fell to pieces. So January was when I went in and started cutting the new record. We got it done pretty quick, and then got it out in April of 2017. I had no release strategy. I didn’t do any sort of single, just put it out, posted on my socials “Hey, just dropped some music. Go check it out.” And that was the start. I’ve had some people tell me this and that about it, and it’s been funny to see things come full circle, because the people that said it should be re-recorded are interested in recording our new music.
N/I - That’s vindicating.
Jackson - Part of who we are as a band is having a blind faith in knowing what we’re doing and knowing who we are. People are always going to want to change us, because our sound isn’t necessarily “current.”
N/I - I think everyone’s trying to get to their “dreams” faster than they would like to admit. Everyone claims to be willing to put in the “sweat equity” for a project, but it becomes apparent pretty quickly that that is easier said than done. Then they start looking for people who are putting in the work and they try to hop on the coattails and add their imprint to the project. That honestly sounds like something you’ve run into more recently because of the Music City Mayhem outcome.
Jackson - For sure. There’s a lot of bands that are influenced by old bands, but they don’t sound like old bands. We are literally an old school rock n roll band. A cool thing that happened - my dad told me he was standing next to some guy at the finale at Marathon Music Works, and the guy was smiling. He was just happy. He goes, “I can’t fucking believe this! I feel like I’m at a fucking Tom Petty concert.” And to me, that’s the point. We love this old music, why not just do it? We don’t have to be anything different. We’re just trying to be like our heroes, by being a fun rock n roll band and have high energy. But ultimately, it all boils down to the song. It all starts with the fact that we focus on the lyric of the song. Then it comes down to the presentation. I’ve got two songs that are over seven minutes long, and that’s because those are stories that need to be told. Then the instrumentation comes in, and the instruments have a story to tell as well. When you get to that point where your instruments have a story, and not just entertain for a second, it becomes more artistic. It’s been fun to see people drawn to that.
N/I - And respond to it.
Jackson - It’s so funny - you have all these people saying “This is what you need to do to be more marketable,” and then you have an audience that’s saying “I’ve been waiting for a band like you guys.” I love 70s music, and I’ve run my catalogs dry trying to find new bands from the 70s, but why can’t we be a 70s band from 2018? So in a way, we’re giving them new, “old” music. I dig it.
N/I - I like that approach. Not to sound too marketability inclined, but that does sound like a practical approach. It’s sensible while maintaining an integrity to what you want to do. It’s not like you’re going “No one’s come out with an Alabama Shakes record in three years, so let’s make the next Alabama Shakes record.”
Jackson - And you’re seeing it all over country music. I guess it’s kind of Texas Country. It’s Old Western Country music.
N/I - Or Red Dirt and all that. I talked to Josh Hedley a little while back, and he’s kind of been thrust to forefront of the country western revival movement, but to him, that music is just the music he prefers to listen to. It’s the kind he responds the most to, so it makes sense that he would make music like that.
Jackson - I was six years old, listening to Bruce Springsteen, so of course I try to sound like Bruce Springsteen. That’s what was dumped in me. And even still, we don’t have to be the best version of Kings of Leon, we just have to be the best version of Jackson Bruck & The Dukes of Hume. And that is what we do best. I think if we start switching that approach, and the sound up, we’re going to start sucking.