Welcome back to Uncharted, an Uproxx original series highlighting the best artists you haven’t heard of, yet. With the support of our friends at Honda, we are following some of the best emerging talent as they follow their dreams and make great music.
“Rock and Roll” is as old and dusty as an unloved museum piece.
A quick scan of your radio dial will reveal nothing but bands from the distant past… or bands trading on nostalgia for different sets of glory days. It is a genre encased in amber, with Led Zeppelins and Soundgardens replacing the unlucky mosquito.
But if classic rock belongs in a museum, then Jared James Nichols is the type of kid the security guards hate. The 24-year-old Midwestern giant is hopping the ropes, swinging his 6-foot-5 frame around and knocking the dust off reverential displays of Hendrix and Sabbath. The guitarist hopes to inject some much-needed vitality into a style of music that many practitioners and listeners are content to leave stuck in time.
“I have the chance to do something new with it. I’m this young dude that’s really ready to take chances,” Nichols said. “I want to give this music the energy and the passion that it deserves…I have the hunger and the passion to actually take something [that people have] turned their backs on and bring them back by making good songs.”
The problem, according to Nichols, is one of attitude and timidness. Too many bands are content to play it safe with songs they know classic rock’s aging and ever-decreasing audience will love.
“I don’t think everyone doing this has the same intentions. A lot of these people really think of rock as this ‘music of old,’ but it’s as alive as I am,” he said, decrying guitarists who are unwilling to take their audience out of their comfort zones. “At least give the audience a chance to hate it.”
And Nichols isn’t just preaching. The guitarist who hails from the same part of Wisconsin as legendary player Les Paul came to his own signature sound by making himself uncomfortable. After hearing too many times that he sounded exactly like Stevie Ray Vaughn, he dropped his guitar pick in favor of playing with his fingers.
“I thought, ‘Is that what it’s going to be? I put in all this work just to sound like someone else?’ So, I had to change my style…do something a little left-of-center,” he said.
Dropping the pick wasn’t easy, as evidenced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of guitar players prefer to play with one. But Nichols believes it was worth it.
“I noticed right away how drastic the change in sound was. It was like I had to fight the guitar to get it to make the sounds I wanted,” he said. “It was hard as sh*t, man. Like eating rice with chopsticks for the very first time.”
“But now there’s definitely things I can do with my guitar that you simply can’t do when you’re using a pick. [Using a pick] is playing within that boundary of, what, like 60 years of guitar? This let me hear a different and refreshing take on that,” he said.
Nichols’ unorthodox playing style is finally starting to net him some serious attention. He was selected to open for southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd as they toured throughout Europe, a period he describes as “surreal.”
At one of the band’s stops, they invited Nichols back onto the stage for “Sweet Home Alabama.” But they weren’t content to let the young guitarist stand to the side.
“We’re in Germany playing in front of 9,000 people and I look over at [the band] and they say ‘Take it. Take the solo,’ ” he recalled. “So I stepped up and just let it rip.”
That is — Jared James Nichols stood in front of a traveling ‘70s rock exhibit and let loose his signature take on their most-famous song.
I’m sure even the stodgiest Classic Rock Museum-goer would admit that that was worth the price of admission.