A common question asked of many songwriters is whether the music or the lyrics come first when crafting a tune. Typically, the artist replies with something along the lines of “Well, it just depends, really, there’s no one set way to write a song.”
For Jackson Scribner, such a question may elicit a similar reply now, but in terms of his young musical life, the answer is most certainly that the music came to him long before the words he sings were his own. The 20-year old Melissa resident is a music lifer who first picked up the guitar at age 9 for family jam sessions, yet the release of his debut single “Sixteen,” is the result of a more recent effort to carve out his own artistic path.
Receiving a Gretsch hollow-body guitar for Christmas a couple of years ago really spurred Scribner toward exploring different styles and sounds for the arrangements he had only begun to compose for himself. The words to the songs that will be on his upcoming debut album, to be released jointly in 2021 by We Know Better and State Fair Records, would follow only after the tunes had formed a foundation.
“I was very insecure about my writing starting out,” he says. “I felt that my lyrics didn’t match the level of the music I was creating.”
Judging by the music he’s made already, such concern seems to be unwarranted. The lilting, pastoral beauty of “Sixteen” recalls the early works of beloved troubadours such as Josh Ritter, Gregory Alan Isakov and even local hero Doug Burr, an artist Scribner considers a major influence.
Such folky sonic quality makes sense, given how Scribner was raised. A self-proclaimed “old soul,” Scribner’s father played a lot of Lyle Lovett and Hayes Carll on guitar while his mother would turn on Brandi Carlile, Neko Case and Patty Griffin for the family to immerse in.
As in-the-flesh influences go, Scribner had a studio full of them when recording his songs with a veritable all-star cast of Dallas talent. Drummer Jeff Ryan, who plays with Motorcade, the Baptist Generals, Pleasant Grove and many more, has been working with Scribner as both a musician and as a manager. With Ryan’s help, Scribner was joined in the studio by John Dufilho (Deathray Davies, Motorcade), Scott Danbom (Centro-matic, Sarah Jaffe), Kim Herriage (Lucky Pierres), Richard Martin (Shibboleth) and David Ponder (Somebody’s Darling, Trophy Wives).
It’s not a stretch to theorize that having such a vast array of experienced players in the studio was more valuable in 2020 than it would’ve been any year before. Recording one’s first record is always a daunting endeavor but add in the obstacles that social distancing during a pandemic brings to the proceedings, and it’s a wonder anything has been recorded at all this year, regardless of modern technology.
“It’s strange when I think about making my first record while social distancing,” Scribner says. “Because I feel like so many artists had to adjust to make recording work, but I had no real studio time prior, so a social distancing record is the only experience I know. On the other hand, it was never a thought to put the record off, but rather how we were going to work all the musicians in and format our sessions. I’m extremely thankful to everyone who came in, under the circumstances, to make the record happen.”
Ryan wasn’t at all concerned about how recording during the pandemic. After all, musicians make music and the rest is often a glut of details to be figured out.
“He’s just got it, you know,” Ryan says. “When he sent me the demos for the album, they were just so good that Jerome [Brock, Consolvo Studio engineer] and I made the decision that we had to capture them despite all of us at the time being in quarantine. We just masked up and everyone came in separately knowing the risk.”
After feeling the warmth and intimacy of the songs Scribner and crew laid down over the summer, it’s impossible to imagine them being recorded in such a unique way. Images of a spartan cabin nestled in a mist-covered mountain range seem more appropriate than an urban studio where temperature checks, face coverings and curbside takeout containers are the norm.
Ryan says they captured “as natural and organic” of a vibe by tracking Scribner’s guitar and vocals together with his drums. That natural backbone provided a center point for the other players when recording separately.
For a young artist, simply getting a first album out into the world is a fraught-filled list of obstacles and demands ––and that’s when the world isn’t going mad. But even in 2020, the end goal for a songwriter isn’t any different now than it’s been for generations. Whether the music or the lyrics come first, and whether there’s a pandemic or not, really isn’t the point. Scribner just wants to do his thing and let the listener figure it out from there.
“Growing up, I was connected to songs by the storytelling components,” he says. “That’s what, I felt, made the artist unique and genuine. The words and the atmosphere of the songs create an image or a scene for the listener to put themselves into. I wanted that aspect to be true for my songs.”
Listen to "Sixteen" below: