Interview: Jackie Greene

“Well I called up the president and asked him where the money went/He told me that it all got spent long before I ever learned to drive,”sings roots rocker Jackie Greene in his cheeky tune “Modern Lives,” the title track from his forthcoming EP set for release on October 13th via Blue Rose Music. “It’s one of those songs that came out real quick. My wife and I were waiting for a car to take us to the airport, and I grabbed a guitar and starting singing it, and it just came out. I recorded it on my phone and finished in the car on the way to the airport. It’s weird, every once and a while that happens, but usually you have to labor a little bit,” he explains of the song’s origin. “I’m not trying to be political in the song, it’s mere commentary. I’m just the peanut gallery over here,” he laughs.

Modern Lives Vol. 1, the first of a two-volume set, features six songs—from bluesy, rollicking ramblers to laid back, front porch-style grassy goodness. “Originally, I was going to release one record, but I decided it would be cooler to release it as two EPs, and the songs split up well that way,” he explains. “There’s a large part of me that has a big DIY/homemade feel to it. On every record I’ve made, there’s at least one song where I’m playing everything. This is the first time where all the songs are me playing everything—it’s sort of like my own Basement Tapes—I literally made it in my basement in Brooklyn. It’s not studio record in the traditional sense, in fact, it’s not a studio record at all,” he laughs. “It’s that much of a stretch for me though. I did everything but the mixing.”

Some artists shudder at the thought of producing their own music, and others balk at the idea of not having that control, Greene isn’t easily fazed by either option. “I’ve done it both ways, produced myself and had producers. It’s like fitting pieces to a puzzle, I can carve out what the song is from the block of marble. Maybe I’m wrong and don’t know what I’m doing,” he laughs. “Even if I don’t, i’m doing it anyway. I go completely on instinct—I just know when it’s done. There’s a famous Jackson Pollock quote, someone had asked him when he knew he was done with a painting, and he replied ‘How do you know when you’re done making love?’” he adds with a laughs. “That’s one way to look at it, you just know.”

In keeping with Greene’s DIY ethos, he enlisted the talents of animator Bill Plympton to create the videos to accompany the EP; the first video, the title track, was released recently, and it’s a brain-massaging wonder. “The song is me being snarky, and the video feels like that, it encapsulates the general feeling of the song,” Greene explains. “It’s all about creating a feeling. We get so caught up in the cerebral details, especially when it comes to music; we break it down and put it under the microscope, and that’s not always necessary. People listen to music for enjoyment and in order for that to happen, you have to elicit some sort of a feeling.”

“I’ve been into animation for a while; I was introduced to Plympton’s work by a friend. In the back of my mind, I’d always wondered if he’d do a music video for me,” he continues. “I started thinking about videos again when this project rolled around—I knew I didn’t want to be in the videos this time, I wanted to do something different. There’s an element of Plympton’s stuff that’s very indie, very homemade, it can be challenging, and it’s very tangential. You have to follow along or you get left behind, and I like that, it works well with the basement nature of my aesthetic,” Greene says. “I reached out to him, and was happy to discover he’s a fan of mine as well, and I told him he had free reign to get as weird as he wanted. He’s doing all the videos for these songs, and they’re going to get progressively weirder. I just wanted Bill to be Bill. Everything he’s shown me has been mind-blowing. The ‘Modern Lives’ video is definitely the tamest one by far. New territory for me, but it feels natural,” he adds. “It’s an exciting time to be making music.”

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Susan Hubbard

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