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[AltWire Interview] Jackie Lee – “I Want People To Feel Like They Belong At My Shows…”

When it comes to country music, there are a lot of up-and-coming artists who just don’t have that oomph, that x-factor that will break them out into the biz. This isn’t the case for newcomer Jackie Lee. The 25-year-old country crooner, who was born and raised in East Tennessee, took a few moments to talk with me about some of his influences, his approach to connecting with fans, new music, and how to make it in the biz.

Jade Jewell [AltWire]: How are you today?

Jackie Lee: I’m so wonderful. How are you?

AW: Oh, I’m pretty good. Enjoying this weather.

JL: I was supposed to leave Nashville at, like, 6 a.m. and get here to LA at, like, 9-something, but I decided to come in late last night. And I’m very happy with my decision because I did not want to have to wake up early.

AW: I can’t say I blame you there, especially with the time difference.

JL: Exactly!

AW: Alrighty! Well, I did a little bit of research on you and your musical background and I saw that you started your musical career in a three-piece church band. So, how did you decide to settle on country music as a career?

JL: My dad was actually a pastor of a church in East Tennessee but country music has been, from the time he was a kid, his favorite genre of music. He’s from West Virginia, so it’s EVERYONE’S favorite genre of music there. He has such a passion. He is a walking Encyclopedia of country music. Just being around that growing up…that was all I was around, really. My dad never listened to his first pop song until he met my mom, which I think is hilarious. So, that’s definitely where the country music love in our family comes from…my dad. It’s just something that was never a second thought for me of what I wanted to do. I just always wanted to do country music.

AW: That is definitely awesome! I saw you live a couple of weeks ago and I noticed that you have a little bit of pop influence in your music, too. So, I’m going to assume that came from your mom?

JL: For sure! My mom loved pop music. I love Phil Collins, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, Styx, Journey, The Police…all of those people because of my mom. I definitely love pop music today, too. All of those influences…my favorite bands in high school were Maroon 5..and…I make the joke about Boys Like Girls, but they were seriously one of my favorite bands. So, yes, that fusion came from my mom, for sure.

AW: You definitely have a lot of good tastes in music, I can tell you that! Speaking of your mother, you stated in the past that the loss of your mother in 2016 did change your musical career a lot. I just wanted to say that I am sorry for your loss.

JL: Thank you.

AW: I was wondering how you’re managing and how you would say that it affected you as an artist?

JL: It’s been unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my life. I guess the thing that is so difficult about it all is the fact that there’s no, like, “handbook.” Even if I was to sit here for an hour and try to describe to you how I feel, I would never get across what I really feel. There’s frustrating in that. There’s a little bit of hurt, well, a lot of hurt. I don’t know. It’s unlike anything that I’ve ever felt.

I still have the same goals that I started out with. I want to win awards. I want to sell a lot of records. I want people to come to my shows. Those are all still things that are intact, but I believe the perspective of my personal life/career have definitely adjusted.

My mom was such an amazing, loving, wonderful, wonderful person. She would literally stand out in the rain for people if they asked her to and that’s what I really want my career to be seen as. Someone can come to my show and feel the love and feel like you’re a part and feel like you got your money’s worth. I feel like that would make my mom happy.

I feel like so many artists get on stage and sing for 60 minutes and get off the stage. I don’t want that. I want people to feel included and I want people to feel like they belong at my shows. I feel like that is kind of honoring my mom if I do that.

AW: Well, having seen you live, I can definitely say that the crowd does feel that way with you. You put on a heck of a show and you put a lot of love and acceptance into it. That’s really great as an artist.

JL: Thank you so much. That means so much to me.

AW: You recently finished a tour with Dan + Shay. How do you think that faired for you?

JL: Oh my gosh! That was literally…I said this on Instagram, I think…but that was, like, one of the thrills of my life getting to open up for those guys. I kind of made the decision to do it solo acoustic because I wanted the fans….their fans are just so dedicated. It would be 25 degrees outside at 8am and there would be kids in line. It just blew my mind! Those are the people I was singing for every night. I did solo acoustic because I wanted that wall, that barrier, to be broken from the stage. I wanted people to know, “Hey I see you! Let’s have a good time together!”

Both Dan and Shay just treated me like a brother. It was literally one of the best times of my life. I’m so sad it’s over. We’re going to have, like, our last hoo-raw at Stagecoach this weekend because we both play the same day.

I’m just really stoked that I got to do that. It was a learning experience. I watched everything from their VIP experiences to their shows, their meet and greets. I just wanted to learn as much as I could from those guys and apply it to my career.

AW: I can definitely agree with you there. They do really awesome shows. I’ve seen them probably 20 or 30 times and they are great live. You’ve got that one right.

JL: I feel like there is so much value in that, when you feel like you get your money’s worth. I’m a fan of artists and I’ve paid to go to shows before and I’ve left the show before and been upset that it just didn’t fulfill me. I think it’s your fault if you go to a Dan + Shay show and don’t have a good time, you know?

AW: I agree with that. They are very interactive with their fans. So, yes, it is your fault if you go to their show and don’t have a good time.

JL: Exactly.

AW: Did you think that Dan + Shay’s fans were pretty receptive to your music?

JL: Oh yeah! Mainly because they love Dan + Shay so much, they want whatever is a part of them to work. I would definitely say yes. The social media interaction just blew my mind. I definitely took the “Dan + Shay Approach” trying to interact with them as much as I could. After every single show, I would go out and sign with whoever was left. We always had such a great response after shows, getting pictures with people and signing. I really hope so, at least. It felt like I did and I feel like those fans are so dedicated and if you put out good music they’ll be with you for a long time.

AW: That’s good, though. That’s a really good way to put yourself out there as an artist successfully – to go and introduce yourself to people like you said you did.

JL: Yes!

AW: What do you think it is about you that makes you stand out more than someone else in your same genre of music, like, let’s say, for example, Dan + Shay?

JL: I think my approach. I’ve been on this kick the last three or four years of trying to get out of my shell a little bit. I just really want people to know that, yes, I’m stepping on stage to do my job and we have either 30 or 60 minutes worth of live music coming at you. But I want it to be an experience. I feel like with music, we get so caught up in singles and trying to make this song work. People just want an experience. They want to escape, whether it be a sucky time they’re having in their life, or maybe they’re having a great time in their life and they want to go have fun.

I want people to be able to escape when they came to my show and just really have a good time and forget whatever they’re dealing with at the time.

AW: That’s definitely a good approach. Especially with something like country music where there are so many artists to stand out from and I think you’re doing a great job of finding your own way to stand out.

JL: Thank you!

AW: You released your single “Getting Over You” in 2016, which I love, by the way.

JL: Thank you so much!

AW: You’re very welcome! Are you working on any full length album or anything that we can look forward to anytime soon?

JL: We have an EP out. We’re going through a lot of record label changes right now, so there are so many questions that even I have that I’m excited to hopefully get answered in the next little bit. But my goal…I feel like you have the age now where it’s like, “Well, people don’t sell records anymore.” But there is still a story to be told with a record that is equally important when you’re a new artist.

This is all my opinion, but I feel like when you’re a new artist it’s so important to have a body of work out there that people can listen to. The truth is, most people are going to listen to your album on Youtube and they are never going to buy it. What you need them to buy is buy into you. You have to give them a reason to believe in you over other artists. I really, really, really hope that I can get that chance to make a record this year.

We did the EP. We sold a lot of EPs on the Dan + Shay tour. It was only available on the Dan + Shay tour. I’m really hoping that we change that and make it available everywhere soon. In my mind, I’m always looking toward my “debut” album, so people can really kind of get to know me and buy into my brand.

AW: I like that you said that. Going back to what you said about people not necessarily buying albums anymore…I think your approach to it is good in that even if they do hear it on Youtube, if they get excited about it, I feel like they’re going to pay to go and see you in concert. So, that kind of makes up for what they’re losing out on not buying the album.

JL: Exactly! That’s exactly right!

AW: You also said that when you were writing “Getting Over You,” you wrote with Paul DiGiovanni from Boys Like Girls. You said before that he was one of your childhood idols. What was it like writing with one of your heroes?

JL: Oh my gosh! The first time we wrote was like two years ago. Paul was completely different then. His fingernails were painted black. He had the emo haircut. Now he looks like just a normal guy with a beard.

I was at his house for probably half the day. I go into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. He had just moved into this house so his stuff was all over the floor in boxes. I look in this box and there’s a Boys Like Girls double platinum album award laying on the ground. I was literally not thinking at all – all I saw was this Boys Like Girls plaque. I yell from the kitchen, “Hey, man! Why do you have a Boys Like Girls record on the ground?” He goes, “Oh that was my band!” I literally spilled coffee everywhere. I was freaking out that I was in the same room as Paul. I just completely spaced. I didn’t even think that was Paul DiGiovanni.

He is probably the nicest, most humble, sweet, caring…I could go on…guy that I know. And he’s definitely one of my best friends. He’s the guy that, if I had a flat at 3am on the side of the road, I would call. He’s that guy. To be able to have a single with him, for him to be able to produce my EP and my single, literally is like cake to me. It’s amazing.

AW: That’s awesome! I think that’s a dream of every artist to be able to sit down and even be in the same room with somebody that’s their hero, let alone being able to write a song and release singles and be friends with them afterward.

JL: 100%.

AW: Did you feel like there was a certain standard that you had to live up to just because it was him?

JL: Oh yeah! Especially after I figured out it was him!

[We both laugh]

JL: I was like “Man, I have to impress this guy!” He is literally the most humble guy that I know, especially with the success that he’s had. You just would never know. He’s a great guy and he works really hard. He works harder than any person I know in Nashville. He’ll go out on the road and write with an artist for four days and get back on a Sunday and never sleeps. He goes right to the studio and gets to work. So, he’s a really hard worker.

AW: That’s completely awesome. I love hearing about people like that, especially nowadays when you hear about how much the music industry is changing.

JL: Oh yeah.

AW: Do you have anybody that you would like to write with in the future?

JL: Yeah, there’s Lori McKenna. She is just a living legend. I just wrote with Tom Douglas last week and that was someone that I had on my list. He is a heavy hitter. I would love to write with Keith Urban, I feel like Keith Urban really has a strong sense of who he is and always has. I would love to get in a room with him and write. That’d be amazing.

AW: I feel like that would be a very surreal experience.

JL: Oh yeah, it would be insane.

AW: Do you have any upcoming tours that we should watch for?

JL: We’re trying to get on a fall tour right now. We hardly have any leads but this summer, I’m playing Plinko and just bing-bonging all over the country doing every festival starting with Stagecoach. Some stuff will be full band, some stuff acoustic, kind of like, I have a guitar and I’ll travel to wherever you’re at. We’re just trying to stay busy throughout the summer and hopefully “Getting Over You” just continues to rise and we get success with that song. That will open even more doors for us. We kind of have a plan but we’re also just trying to call up the booking agent every single week just trying our best to get shows on the books, you know?

AW: I definitely feel like you’re going somewhere with that single so I’ll have to see if I can find a show close by and go out and see you.

JL: Absolutely! That’d be amazing!

AW: Just as a final word: first of all I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your day, I know that you’re extremely busy and it’s hard sometimes to just be able to sit down and have a moment to just do an interview with somebody. So, thank you so much for that.

JL: No, thank you! Thank you for making time!

AW: Just one last question for you. If you could give just one piece of advice to any aspiring musician in any genre at all, what do you think it would be?

JL: If this is something that you truly, really, genuinely feel like you’re supposed to be doing, when you get spit on by the music business, you have to wipe it off your face and keep going. I feel like that’s probably true with any profession, but this is one industry that you give so much of your time and your passion and sometimes you don’t get anything back. And when you do get something back, it’s spit on your face. If this is something that you are really passionate about and you love and it’s not just a hobby, it’s something that you’re willing to give everything for, then do it. Don’t be discouraged when everything doesn’t just go your way immediately. Stay with it. Just don’t stop. If you believe in yourself, then you’re just going to keep going and you’re going to figure it out eventually.

Check out Jackie Lee on Facebook, on Twitter @JackieLeeMusic and on his homepage www.jackielee.com/. Also, be sure to look for Jackie’s single “Getting Over You” on country radio and plan to see him live at a show near you!

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