It’s been about a decade since the disbandment of Ghosthustler and the beginning of Noah Jackson’s solo career. We haven’t heard much from him since then, but now, after years of reinventing himself and searching for his sound, Jackson says he’s found it and that a new EP is just a month away.
“It takes a long time to find a voice,” he says.
“What a lot of people don’t see is the mountain of crumpled-up paper that just grows bigger and bigger. …You don’t show that part. …You just keep going until you get the one that you’d like to share.”
A self-described perfectionist who rarely lets his songs see the light of day, Jackson says he finally loves what he has in the bag. After 10 years of trial and error, Jackson says this new sound is home.
Though he’s been living and working in Nashville for the last few years, Jackson still considers Dallas his home base. He recorded his upcoming EP with Jason Burt at Modern Electric and has a posse of Dallas-based musicians he calls on to track in the studio and play with him live, among them acclaimed drummer McKenzie Smith, guitarist and bassist Justin Lyons, piano player Jordache Grant and keys/producer Adam Pickrell, who has worked with St. Vincent and is Nelly Furtado’s musical director.
“Noah is doing what the best of musicians that I love — songwriters — do," Pickrell says. "You can’t really say what it is. It’s just really good. Noah’s biggest strength is he is really himself in his music.”
Jackson describes the new direction as a fusion of all the music he loves, a carefully crafted blend of '70s R&B with new-school psychedelic elements.
This is a paradigm shift for Jackson, whose most recent releases have had a Ray LaMontagne-esque lyrical density mixed with a healthy dose of Noah Gundersen’s sadness and a tad of Lord Huron’s vibey Western accents.
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“I want people to have an experience when they see a show; I’ve always wanted things to be like that," Jackson says. "So, when I made sad bastard music, I would want people to be moved against their will. I’d play a show, and I’d be really glad if people got, like, embarrassingly affected by it because people are really hard-hearted, and I feel like music is a real, necessary thing.”
Now, Jackson says he is trying to evoke a new feeling: joy.
“It’s kind of weird to flip the equation the other way, like, make people smile, make people dance, people who don’t dance, make 'em dance," he says. "It’s a little challenge, and if you can do it, then you have something that is special because people can’t help but enjoy it in whatever way.”
Jackson’s new song “Need Your Love” from the upcoming EP features his trademark lyrical density but swaps the old, moody guitar-driven soundscape for drum and synth sounds, the kind that live in Thundercat’s realm. It’s funky, bold and makes you move your butt just a little.
To leave the “sad bastard” plateau, Jackson had to make some changes. He felt he had stagnated writing songs on his guitar and switched to piano.
“I think about it like a map, like if you’re playing a video game," Jackson says. "There’s a dark area outside of the places you can go to and visit and see. I was kind of stagnating, so I started to play piano, and my map started to expand.
“On piano, there’s just no margin for error there. Because the wrong note sounds super wrong, and you can’t just slide them into position. … It’s just taken me awhile to get to where I feel like I can write exactly what I want to write.”
Though the transition was tough and took longer than Jackson hoped, Pickrell says the time Jackson put into learning versatility is part of what makes his music so special.
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“Noah is so proficient at keyboards and at guitar that you can basically just jump in and play with really great musicians, and Noah is one of them. It feels like you’re playing with a wonderful band, but then on top of it, it’s actually like masterfully written songs and the guy that’s written them and is singing them really believes in them.”
Though Jackson’s road has been fraught with difficulty, he is excited for his next frontier and the chance to put what could be his best work yet in front of the world. “I’ve been doing it for a long time,” he says, “but I’m just getting started.”
Listen to Noah Jackson's single "Need Your Love" below: