by Jordan Finn
Who is "Jackson Blue" really???
Jackson Blue McMurrey is my full name, that's where "Jackson Blue" comes from. I turned 20 this year, and have been playing music and writing my own songs since I was about 13 or 14. I'm nearly having an existential crisis just thinking about who I am. Most days I just feel like a kid who has no idea what he's doing, but just taking life as it comes and trying to enjoy myself along the way. Listening to my music is probably the best way to find out who I really am. Many of the recordings I've made, I made with the intention of creating a portal directly into my head and/or soul.
Looking at your catalogue of online recordings I've noticed significant shifts in style and even genres. What do you attribute to these movements?
To put it simply, music is my way of translating feelings into sound. Apart from just being subconsciously affected by the music I listen to at the time, and my general surroundings overall, I've experimented with a lot of things. And, I felt a lot of feelings, both explainable and not. We all have our own stories to tell, especially from our youth, I just happened to be pretty much documenting all of it in song as I progressed through my teenage years. Most of what I've made is just composed of me being a confused teenager trying really hard to find comfort in my confusion, and creating my own sounds to match that was always that comfort. I remember recording my first song when I was 16 and put it own on Soundcloud. I was really depressed at the time, and music was always my way of expressing my own feelings while hoping that someone else out there might be feeling the same way. More often than not do the words just come straight to me, and then I try to make the sound of the song sound how I feel. As far as genres are concerned, I always loved pop music, lofi, hip hop, and rock, so I think I've tried to experiment in all of those by now just for fun if nothing else. But, I mean, I've grown so much over time. I suppose it's only natural that my sound changes with me. I think I'll always be evolving.
Listening to your new record, The Fear of Living, I'm struck by the diversity of sounds. What's your setup for playing live?
It's definitely weird being a kid who spent most of my time just writing and performing simple little love songs on acoustic guitar, and that's all I've known for a long time. I haven't even taken my production game seriously until this year really. But I've been performing with an electric guitar and my pedal board for a couple years. Basically, if I even decide to do any of that live, I'll just be running my laptop through my pedal board with the main vocal track cut so I can keep all the harmonies and stuff to sing over. Or I just play a live version to offer a different experience for those who get to see me live. When I produce, I usually add layers upon layers of lots of sounds, so it'll be cool getting to deliver a recording live. Since usually a lot of those final recordings are meant to be emotional experiences overall, I want to be able to deliver that, even if I'm the only person on the stage.
Do you have any fun rituals when you write music? Say, serenading a potted ficus or neurotically attending to your collection of Troll dolls?
I just need a pencil, my sketchbook, and my bong is probably not far away, depending on the day. Sometimes it feels like my brain is an entirely separate entity. So like, I'll just be sitting here, and then a line will pop into my head, and then a voice in the back in my head says "Hey, let's run with this." And then it's like I'm hanging out with my friend (and often my worst enemy), my brain, and ideas and phrases are just popping up like fireworks and balloons and bubbles all under some giant umbrella. It's like when a chemist gets excited about chemical compound structures, or when a computer nerd gets to build a computer from scratch. Words, and letters, and syllables, and sounds- its all fun to me. Life in itself is the ritual, and I am probably neurotic, but that is the best part about being able to write, and play, and create. I guess I'm a word-nerd?
What are your thoughts on the Billings/Montana scene? A favorite and least favorite quality that you might like to share?
I grew up watching shows, always dreaming of being that dude to stand on the stage on day. Once that happened, I never really had the dying urge to actually go and play somewhere else, though that may change, as I get older and just better overall. I don't mind playing with the same people over and over again because they're some of my best friends. Some of the more underground venues, like Kirk's Grocery, or Smiling Dog Records, have been run by people that became best friends. My favorite part would be the amazing musicians here, and the amazing support system. Even on the days where 17 year-old Jackson played some of his worst shows with my band or all alone, I always got a pat on the back and a "good job" from somebody, for better or for worse. My least favorite part would be playing in bars, I suppose. It might have something to do with me still not being old enough to drink legally, but I mostly just didn't like being this quiet, emo kid that was trying to sing sad songs over an obnoxiously loud bar full of middle-aged drunk cowboys and bros that probably could care less about what I have to say. Such is life.
What's your favorite sound?
I'm always down to trip out over some binural beats on my free time. But my favorite sound is the sound of the love of my life's gentle breath as she's fast asleep next to me in our bed. If not the sound of her breathing, then the sound of her heartbeat. Totally not creepy.
Who's music do you like to steal from/get inspired by?
Man, I think most the things I hear inspire me in one way or another, whether I even know it or not, hence all the crazy and weird stuff you here on my albums. But really, Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) and early-days Matt Schults (Cage the Elephant) both have heavily inspired me vocally. Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Leanord Cohen are some old school writers I really look up to. I've been listening to a lot of Mac Miller lately; he's my boy, rest in peace. The Gorillaz always had a cool style I looked up to. Ahh, there is just too much.
I see you have a collaboration with Ty Herman on your new album. Do you have a dream collaboration of any kind?
Ty Herman is a wizard on guitar, love the guy, it is a privelage to know him. I used to want to collab with BIllie Eilish but then she kinda blew up, and I probably still would down for a little bit but that fantasy will pass soon, I'm sure. Lorde would be dope to collab with. Logic, and Post Malone just to name a couple others off the top of my head. But that's what I love about being a solo artist, is getting experience in different genres. If anyone reading this right now would like to collab, just find me and shoot me a message and we will do it. It is already a dream come true to be able to work with any musicians who I can catch a vibe with.
Anything you'd like to turn people on to or give a shout out for?
I would love to turn people on to listening to music that gets them out of their comfort zone more often, and just explore genres you may have never even heard of before. Huge shout out to my "music dads" in Billings- Alex Naumen, Parker Brown, and Shane De Leon. They have known me since before I even started doing any of this, and I would be nowhere without them, whether it came from teaching me chords, or getting me my first gigs. Thank you. Shout out to Bob Engel, my 80 year old guitar teacher, who has been hanging out with me since I was 13; the one person who taught me it was okay to live my life way outside of the box. And shout out to Waste Division and the adventures to come! Thank you so much for letting me talk about myself so much and for letting me play at Dreyfest.
I still don't believe who "Jackson Blue" really is, but what are "Jackson Blue's" plans for the future?
My goal is to have some national recognition by the time I turn 21 in April of 2020. It's kind of a silly goal because I really don't care about being famous, or being gawked over, I just think some of my music one day might have an impact, or so I hope. Until then I plan to have at least one release for every month, like I have been since the beginning of 2019, so if you like my music, keep checking back every month to hear my latest release(s). No matter what, I don't think my brain plans on stopping the writing game any time soon. Meanwhile, I'll still be down here representing my fraction of the underground scene here in Billings, and just be popping up here and there