Born and bred New Yorker Jackson Harris is a multi-talented singer, songwriter and musician on the rise. Recently completing a European tour opening for pop artist Cody Simpson, Jackson is steadily making a name for himself in the pop music market.
Today, Jackson took some time to talk to us about his career and his music. Read what he had to say below.
What was it like to get your start on YouTube?
“It was definitely different. Trying to explain it to my friends and family at first as to what the YouTube community is and continues to grow to be was a little difficult but once they saw not just the numbers but actually the different kinds of numbers like the playlists or some of the shows I’ve been at, they started to come around. But it was definitely a different way to break into the business.”
What made you decide to go that route?
“I guess I’d seen some other artists who went to go that “other” route if you want to call it that, but they generally pull out when they slowly begin to realize how little control they had and how little creative input they had. I kinda just wanted to write the stuff that I wanted to hear on the radio, so I made the music I liked with the hopes that people would enjoy it. I really wanted to share it so I put it on YouTube. I felt like that would be a good way to get it out of my head and so that people could actually listen to it and care about it.”
So looking back now, do you think it’s been easier to do things that way or harder? Would it have been easier to go the more traditional route or do you think this has been exactly what was right for you?
“I think, inevitably, this has been exactly what is right for me. You know, every day, every month a new objective I have is challenging me in different areas. Which, of course, if I was with a label with major backing, things like that, that would make some of the business aspects of this music world easier just because of their sheer size and influence. But as far as the creativity I’m allowed to have, it cuts down on how I think it’s helpful. It’s why I don’t have a label or go the traditional route. That’s something some of my friends who are with big labels don’t have. They don’t have the freedom to just make something because they are with someone they’re inspired by in the art of the moment. People are so bound by a contract, the legal stuff. I may not have the name or the notoriety but I have the creative freedom that they don’t. The biggest difference between going major and going independent, if you want to call it that, is the freedom and the ability to kind of create your own way to ‘make it.’ ”
It sounds like the easiest thing about going the independent route has been the creativity and freedom. What’s been the hardest thing about it?
“The hardest part, I guess, is having the outside entertainment community take you seriously and not just call you a YouTuber. You know, some people, companies, brands, other artists have really embraced it. You know, I’ve worked with Gibson a lot. They’ve really embraced YouTube as us being musicians who just happen to do it on the internet. I think there’s a stigma that sometimes comes with making music on the internet, that it’s just not as legitimate, but I think slowly but surely – at least in my case – by being able to tour with some really talented, top notch artists and put out relatively high quality content that normally wouldn’t be expected from the internet, that kinda breaks the mold. So that’s been a little bit of an obstacle but if anything it just pushes me to work harder.”
You’ve described your music as “An Adam Levine style of Taylor Swift honesty.” How did that style come about for you?
“I think it just comes from being stubborn and wanting to write things that actually happen to me. You know, it’s too easy nowadays in the music industry to focus on how it works and for me, personally, my career’s always been about, if I’m singing a song that has my name on it, it has to actually have my name on it. I cannot have wimped out in some defense move and not have put any input or some of my life or story or personality into it. So, I think doing my own music and not really wanting to have anything else get in the way so that when people listen to it, it’s me. And that, when I talk about it, it’s a story I actually went through and it’s not just something that I concocted with a writer somewhere or that got sent to me and I passed off the song [as my own].”
So much of your music is so positive and optimistic. Even when it’s sad or wistful, there’s such a strength to it. What or who is your inspiration for that and how do you keep it so hopeful?
“I’m gonna go with a corny answer here, but it’s my mom. And, as I get older, I’m starting to realize that. Because I went through a time, you know, around 17, 18, 19 where it felt like, growing up with just my mom as a single mom and my older sister that it was like this battle back and forth and I didn’t realize until I got older and as I’m getting older that, not that she’s right because there’s stuff that she’s wrong about, but more that she’s there to support me and help me and has kinda been the biggest hero in my life. She shows me that you can go after something you love and that there’ll be someone to support you and love you and to challenge you and fight with you and argue but at the end it’s because she wants what’s best for me. I think that I bring that into my music in that things can be bad and you can go through really tough things and you’re allowed to be sad and you’re allowed to cry and be emotional but you just have to know that life goes on and tomorrow’s another day. Those are all things she would tell me so I think that even in my darker songs or in my happy songs, the strength comes from her.”
Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written? One that speaks to you the most, more than the other ones?
“I think my answer for that is no because they’re all like my kids even though I don’t have any kids. But the new song that I worked on called Dancing with the Devil, which actually I co-produced with this group called The Eleven – who most recently worked with Megan Trainer on her album – was probably one of my favorite songs in the last month or two. And I think it’s just something that, when I started writing it, it really resonated with me. It’s the song you listen to when you’re in the moment of questioning your relationship, your business, your career…whatever choices we go through in life and kinda knowing that you’ll get through because that’s the kind of strength we have.”
And is that [Dance with the Devil] going to be on YouTube? Where will we be able to hear it?
“We just finished mastering the song so sound’s pretty much done. Now we are looking to have a release by end of the summer. And we will definitely have it available for fall. Then we’ll be looking for a director to shoot the music video.”
So between the time that you started on YouTube and now, how has your sound changed and how have you changed?
“That’s crazy to think about. I think that I’m a little bit more self-aware, or at least I try to be a little more self-aware for my business, the music business. And that, you know, you have to have some idea of how you’re seen and perceived but at the same time, ignore that and just be yourself. You know, you kinda have to take a step back and evaluate the situation and also ignore it all at the same time so that it doesn’t affect your work and the stuff you want to do. As a person? I feel like I just wanted to be better. I see a lot of amazing people in this industry and you see a lot of other people that this industry has either hurt them or changed them and that’s something that I don’t want to have happen to me so I surround myself with good people, positive people and people that want the best for me and themselves and this world of artistic entertainment.”
I saw that you have an artwork contest going on right now for your song Feet on Fire. What’s it like to involve your fans like that?
“It’s super awesome and even now it makes my life So. Much. Easier. Because one thing I love design. I have full creative control on all the creative content like that, not just the music. So everything from the photographs to website design to how the t-shirts look…I’m the one with my manager who’s sitting there trying out ideas or just babbling on, scribbling horrible drawings of all the sights and videos. So stuff like this where I can involve the fans, it takes pressure off me. I like letting them make that final decision because usually what we’ve boiled it down to is like two or three options and then I can’t decide because I love them both or all of them so this takes the decision away and makes it almost a game, honestly. And then you have what they want to see. Inevitably, I’ve already made the thing but then you ask yourself what can they do that will make it their song as well. It’s really such a cool opportunity and if I was younger and was able to help choose for John Mayer’s album? I would do it.”
Did you have a lot of response to your contest?
“Yeah. We got lucky enough to partner up with Fahlo who helped us facilitate finding art for that. They were able to open it up to people who had maybe never heard of me and were just interested in some cool artwork. Graphic designers. You know, that’s one thing I love about, like I said, being independent, because I can tweet out things like, ‘I need some help with this album cover idea. Does anyone know a graphics designer?’ That’s how I met this great graphics designer on Instagram that’s done some of the artwork for my previous singles. Just through a Twitter contact. And that’s something that’s so special to me, that you can do that nowadays. That’s the most awesome part.”
The artwork from the two finalists is a little edgier than your usual stuff and so is the song. Is that a direction that you’re wanting to go?
“It’s kind of edgier but for me it’s all in context. It sets the mood of the song. Guitars like James Brown or Prince, those kind of hard guitar lines. I wanted to capture that sound, but I think like any 23-year-old you wanna live life and have fun. Sometimes that comes with a little bit of an edge and you don’t notice the edge until you’ve slipped off it a little but I think lots of kids my age and even younger are going through some stuff, going to lots of parties, things like that that are just as real. If anything, I wouldn’t say edgy, I think more passionate. That’s what I like to use. But I’ll take the nudge, get a little bit of an edge.” (This was said in a lighthearted, joking manner, but you never know!)
Other than Feet on Fire being released on iTunes August 7th and Dance with the Devil that should be released toward the end of the summer, what else do you have going on right now?
“Right now I’m working on creating many new songs because I wanted to kind of tip the bottle on its head. For me, it was always more fun making the sound and writing it down as quickly as possible. So instead of releasing an album where I’d have to wait six months or eight months, maybe even a year, to give time to collect all these songs, to put them together, and then put them out as one piece of work when in reality, to me, each song is its own body of work and each song will inevitably be different because they’ll be inspired by different sounds and the things going on in my life, because of that I want to just release a song whenever it’s ready and available. So we’re gonna try to release a song every 4-6 weeks. So instead of waiting a year, you get a new song every 4-6 weeks and then that way the audience can kind of grow and change with me because I don’t think that any one person loves only one style of music. So if we do some things, that’s where the honesty lies in that I’m not just one type of artist.”
It hasn’t been that long since you got back from tour, right?
“Yeah, it’s only been about a month or so.”
Do you have any other tours set up? Are you looking at that at all yet?
“There’s a possible tour with, I can’t say the name yet because things aren’t final as my managers always say. But there is a tour coming up that would be 20 dates, 20 show dates here in the US. I can’t really go into more detail than that but I’d be opening up for a duo. A young duo, male duo. That was a hint for some people. But it would be me opening up for them and I’d be super excited because I haven’t done a US tour in a while. It would be a great way for me to kind of travel the country in the fall so if that comes through you’ll definitely find out.”