Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips chats with the amazingly talented Austin-based singer, songwriter, guitarist Jackie Venson
Jackie Venson is a freak … and I mean that in the nicest way possible! Firstly, take a listen to her gorgeously fluid guitar licks on tracks such as What I Need or I Don’t Cry from her debut album The Light In Me. Then try to comprehend the fact that she only started playing guitar four short years ago. It’s insane. You can attribute some of the rapid learning curve to the fact that her father Andrew Venson, is a 40 year veteran of the Austin, Texas music scene but there are many other musicians out there who have toiled for decades and still don’t have half the musical smarts of this 25 year old guitarist. Add the fact that her beautiful, soulful singing voice has been compared to Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse, plus she’s also an accomplished songwriter and you begin to realise that Jackie Venson is something very special indeed.
As for the instant affinity with the guitar, as well as her dad’s influence, Venson puts it down to the years she spent at Berklee College of Music studying piano, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Composition and Studio Production.
“Well my dad is a professional musician and he was my example,” Jackie explains. “A lot of people like music and they think they have an affinity for it but if nobody else in the family does, then they sometimes don’t see it as a possibility. Having my dad as a professional musician, it’s like … you can do this, it’s hard but you can do this. Really though, It’s because I played piano. I already knew how to read music. I knew all the theory, so basically I just had to fill in the blanks. It was like, OK I want to play a blues solo on guitar in G. OK, how do I play a blues scale? For people picking up an instrument for the first time ever, they are not thinking like that. They are not thinking how do I play a blues scale? They are thinking, how do I make a noise on this thing? I’d been playing keyboards for 15 years and played in bands, it was filling in the muscle memory of playing guitar rather than having to start from square one.”
Surprisingly, Berklee was not a happy experience for Venson. In fact it led to a long bout of depression and was the reason why she turned to guitar, to get away from the monotony of learning piano. “Berklee was really hard for me,” she recalls. “I was expecting it to be one thing and it ended up being another thing and I was really depressed probably for the entire time I went there. I didn’t really play at all. To get out of the depression I decided to pick up a new instrument to kind of distract myself. Then that new instrument ended up turning into my whole life, it was pretty weird.”
In a relatively short period of time, that new instrument, the guitar, has steered Jackie Venson’s career through two EPs, a full length album, countless interstate American tours and there’s a European connection which will see her head to Germany and beyond for a second year running. Australia is next on her hit list!
“It started off with my friend having a connection there,” Jackie says of her German link . “Then my friend ran out of funds and couldn’t go and I had the funds and thought, I’ll go anyway. I just went. I went to a blues jam and ended up meeting everybody I could need to meet. It was complete luck. I’d looked into the scene and found out they were big on blues, so I wasn’t completely in the dark when I bought the plane tickets. I did blues jam after blues jam and met everybody. Now I am going back and I have landed 3 festivals. It was crazy, everything happened exactly how it should. Touring has been the most eye opening experience. Going outside of America was just nuts … it blew my mind. I knew that America was like super involved with themselves, just like any country, you get involved with your own culture. I knew all that but it is different to know it and then to see it. I got to go to Berlin and get out of the American vibe and get out of the whole culture of America and it was the most life changing thing ever. By the way, there are a lot of Australians in Berlin. Three out of five people I meet per day would be Australians. It’s cool though, we chill. I guess I am an Australian magnet,” she laughs.
In America, Jackie tours both with a band and solo. The gear she chooses to play depends on what format the gig is. “Whenever I play with a band, I play a Fender American Strat,” she says. “It’s a 2012 model. I tried to find a cool vintage one but they were all warped or screwed up in some way. I also have a Martin DX1K acoustic guitar that I tour with solo. The Martin, I plug into a loop pedal … a Boss RC 50 and I daisy chain it with a Boss DD7 and a Boss Digital delay and a Boss Octava. Boss has the best prices! So I daisy chain them with the loop pedal and I will switch on the delay and distortion and it doesn’t even sound like an acoustic anymore.”
Rather than aim to record a new album in one hit this year, Jackie has decided instead to get there single by single. “What I am going to do is slowly release singles,” Jackie explains. “On my YouTube channel I have this series called Truth in Music and the next series of singles is going to be the album. I realised that the pattern with listeners is that you release a whole album and they only listen to one or two songs. So why release one giant group of songs all at once when you can use that as twelve months worth of content. So I am releasing an album single by single. At the very end I will make a compilation of it all. That’s the plan until i can get another entity to put some money into it. I am tired of putting so much money and time into it and it fades away after a few months. It just seems so inefficient.”
Next up, Jackie Venson has a March tour of North Carolina before she heads to Berlin and Poland in June. Upon her return she hopes to reconnect with her hometown of Austin, an audience she feels she’s neglected. “I really need to start caring about my hometown,” she tells me. “I cared about it for a while but then I got to see the rest of the world. The world is so huge. So I am trying to narrow it down a little bit, stop seeing the big picture, although that is still important. But the focus is to try to get more of a following in my home town.” Hopefully, Jackie will then utilise her Australian connections to come down and play her soulful brand of blues for us too.
We fire six more quick questions at Jackie on video!