(I’m so inspired by my colleague Drew’s ambitious rollout of new features that I’m debuting one of my own: Welcome to the inaugural “Ten Minutes With….,” an occasional interview with someone in music that I spend 10 minutes with and then present an almost verbatim transcript of the conversation. Up first, country singer Jack Ingram).
Jack Ingram comes from the great Texas tradition of singer/songwriters. There’s no area that breeds then like the Lone Star State-from Bob Wills to Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and Rodney Crowell, the list goes on and on.
It was from the same fertile soil that Houston-born Ingram sprouted. He toiled around Texas, cultivating an audience who adored his storytelling and fresh, yet knowing voice.
He signed with Big Machine in 2005, the label best known now as the home to Taylor Swift. As successful as Swift is, Ingram holds one distinction she will never claim: he scored Big Machine’s first No. 1 with “Wherever You Are.” Several more top 20 hits followed, including a remake of Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel. ” “That’s a Man,” the first single from his new album, “Big Dreams, High Hopes,” is already shaping up as another big hit for Ingram.
The singer performed an intimate, acoustic showcase at the Gibson Guitar Showroom in Beverly Hills yesterday for press, retail and radio, where he previewed a number of new songs from this summer’s release. Afterwards, Hitfix chatted with him before he left to go do what singer/songwriters do: catch a flight to San Jose for a show that night.
Q: You talked on stage about why drives a performer to fly around the world, hoping for applause. It’s a hard life, why do you do it?
A: Most people who do this start at an early age and they really have no idea what that need is-to be in front of people-that performance thing. I mean, this one common thread through most performing artists that I know, of any field of art, is they’re a little bit wacky.
Q: Yes, but it’s encouraged in artists, not in the rest of us.
A: You bring up a good point. The reason why I studied psychology in school and studied songwriting in the school of the world, I guess, is that I am continually interested in why we’re all so screwed up.
Q: Have you come up with an answer yet?
A: No, but there’s something very satisfying in asking the questions and letting other people know that I’m asking the questions.
Q: But that’s what music does; what you want is to communicate with people.
A: Yeah and to pretend I know anything more than anyone else is presumptuous, to say the least. So for me the satisfaction is going out there and joining hands with people who are in the audience and going. ‘Hey man, if you feel this way, stand up,’ and most nights, everybody does.
Q: You’ve been playing in front of 15,000 people while you’ve been on the road opening for Toby Keith. What’s that been like? Have you been playing pranks on each other?
A: No. I think the only pranks he plays are jumping into the audience and actually getting into fights with his fans (laughs), which is a pretty good prank. He jumped off his stage two weeks ago, I think, because someone poured beer on the stage and flipped him off. I was going to pull that prank. I was going to go out during the same section of the song and pour beer on the stage and flip him off and at the last minute, I was “Nah, I’m not going to do that.”
Q: Maybe on the last gig. So what’s it like touring with him?
A: It’s fantastic. His fans are wide open and they’re available for me. They like the same stuff musically that I like and they come ready to get it on and that’s always fun for me with my band. What you saw today is vastly different than what I do live. Hopefully, it’s as intense, but in a different way. When I get up on stage, it’s like “C’mon everybody. Let’s do this. Let’s have a thing.” His fans are ready to do that.
Q: What makes Texas such a fertile ground for singers/songwriters?
A: A lot of it is just one begets another. Like Bob Wills was rolling around Texas way back doing his own thing. Then you’ve got Ray Price doing his own thing. Then Ernest Tubbs doing his own thing, being successful in a major way, but also being so unique. That spawned Willie Nelson. That inspired Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and every guy like that. There’s a long line like that and part of that is the energy, the synergy, it’s kind of like, “We can do that down here.” And there’s the hope that it will play on the big stage and that keeps it vital.
Q: Then there’s another generation that’s the generation before you: Rodney Crowell, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Joe Ely.
A: Robert Earl Keen. That’s right. There’s just a lot of support. Before anybody else knew me, there was hundreds of people coming to see me and paying good money to see me play, providing me the ability to do this for real. I didn’t have to make the decision of, ‘Oh, I’m going to give up everything and move to Nashville.’ It was made for me. People wanted to see me play and I knew it because they paid money to do it.
Q: You were the first artist to have a No. 1 single for Big Machine. Now Taylor Swift is on the label and has spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
A: I love it, I love it.
Q: Were you able to give her any advice?
A: I feel I did. I don’t know what she would say about that. When she came in, I met her when she was 16, I guess, maybe even 15. Obviously, she’s a studier of people and what they do. There’s no way to be as well-adjusted as she is without really taking note. We did a bunch of shows together and spent a bunch of time together. I feel like if I helped at all, I’m proud of it because she does well and she was pretty well on her way when I met her anyway. I think she saw, Wow,okay, it might happen this way where I skyrocket to the moon, but there’s a certain confidence knowing you’ll be okay if it doesn’t. Maybe I provided her that, with a little bit of you can do this on a lot of different levels. We’ll see. She’s doing great, she doesn’t need me anymore.
Q: Any thoughts of doing a duet together?
A: I would love to if I find the right song. I don’t want to do it just to capitalize off of her success. I’d like to find something, if we are ever able to do that, that would work for the right reasons.
Q: You write your own stuff, but you had a hit with Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel” and you also cover an Ellis Paul song on your forthcoming album. What makes you decide to cover someone else’s material?
A: There’s a lot of songs that I’ve been covering and I have for years. I’ve always been a great admirer of songs. If something works better for me or works as good for me that I didn’t write, I’ve never been one… I want to express myself through my songs and through other songs whatever that takes, whatever form that takes and that’s how I chose them. If something works for me on that level…just like any other fan… If the hair on the back of your neck stands up and the world stops for three and a half minutes and you kind of feel woozy afterwards. Kind of like your first kiss.
Q: That’s what you’re going for?
A: Yeah, that’s the moment I go ‘I could do that song.’
Q: What would we be surprised to know is on your iPod right now?
A: I think you’d be probably surprised by a lot of it. I love Coldplay, Beyonce is on there. Katy Perry, I really love that. I’m just like everybody else, I want to learn that dance to ‘[Single Ladies] Should have Put a Ring On it.’ (laughs)
Q: You can do it. It’s arm back, arm forward, bend over. You could do it just like Justin Timberlake did on ‘Saturday Night Live.’
A: Just like Justin! (laughs)
Q: Who’s your dream duet? Do you duet with anyone on the new record?
A: Not on this record. I tried to get Emmylou Harris, but she was taking a break and I’ve done a duet with Willie Nelson. He was on the top of the list, head and shoulders above anybody else. Below that, it’s just people that I would love to work with. I’ve never really made a list. I have Willie and everybody else. So Petty, Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard… I could keep going. Let’s start at the top and have them trickling down.
Q: You won the Academy of Country Music award for new male vocalist last year. Did that change anything for you?
A: Career wise, absolutely. Just like in any business, there’s always a need to separate yourself from the competition somehow, whatever it is. It’s not always talent that does that. So, when you get an award, that says you’re the top of the class, it does things for you. You get offers that you might not have got. Just different things. I was telling my sister, she called me before the awards show and was saying ‘good luck!’ I said, I want to win for the reasons that we all like to be recognized as doing good work, a pat on the back, a job well done, way to go, a pat on the ass, see you later and then I also want to win because this is a business, this is not a hobby for me. I’ve got a family and three kids and there’s going to be better things that come because in capital letters, you won top new male vocalist (laughs)
Q: I was reading on your blog that this album is a bit of a change for you. How so?
A: It’s just a little different in that every album’s different. Every time you go into the studio, especially as a songwriter, my interest is in self-expression. Somehow to connect with other people by baring myself and so the things that I go through between the course of the last record and this record, I’ve changed. You know, I’m now all the things that have happened to me-winning male vocalist, touring with Brad Paisley, watching Taylor Swift blow up, all of the things that make my personality and my character what it is, ebbs and flows and changes. That’s kind of the subtleties I hope aren’t lost on true fans of mine and if they’re catching on now, I hope they’re seeing a part of me that’s fresh to me as well.
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