Chris Jackson is known for writing songs for Cheryl Cole, Tank, Toni Braxton, and B. Smyth. During our chat, Chris reveals his own recording talents on his just released album, No Chaser.
Dave Hawkins: It’s great to have you here for a talk Chris.
Chris Jackson: Great to be here man. Thank you for having me.
Dave: When we were setting up this interview, you told that you were in Los Angeles and wanted to wait until you were back in New York City for our talk. Are you crazy? Winter’s coming and you want to come back to New York rather than stay in the warmth of LA? (laughs)
Chris: Listen man, if I didn’t have to go back to New York I would stay here. (laugh) Trust me, I’m not ready to go back to the cold. I’m not!
Dave: I want to stretch your memory Chris and take you back to your childhood. What’s the first song or artist that made an impact on you?
Chris: Ohh, wow. Ok, so I grew up in church, so there’s a lot of songs that I heard in church. But outside of that the first artist that I was really exposed to was Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, around the same time. You know, with the MTV generation, you saw music videos. They played both of them a lot! I think Rhythm Nation was really hopping. You know, Michael’s Dangerous and Bad were out around that time. I remember my cousins and my uncles used to play those albums a lot. They had a lot of other CD’s and records. I was surrounded by that. I can’t really put a name on the first song, but I can remember those two artists first standing out to me. And I think also because my last name is Jackson, so I always had that thing, are we related? (laughs)
Dave: (laughs) It happens to me. People wonder if I’m related to Ronnie Hawkins.
Chris: Well, are you?
Dave: No. I just tease them and tell them he’s my uncle. (laughs) I don’t think anyone believes me.
Chris: They just have to have faith!
Dave: (laughs) We’ve talked about artists that you’ve enjoyed, but you’ve spent a long time songwriting for others artists.
Dave: What changed to make you want to record your own music?
Chris: Well, nothing. I always wanted to record my own music. Before I started writing professionally for other artists, I was recording my own music. I had a slew of songs that I was doing for myself. I got the opportunity to write for other artists was because it just got into certain other peoples hands.
Back then I was working with the same guy who does my music now. Andre Johnston from A Minor Musik. He had a meeting with someone and played the songs that we were working on. They asked who I was. They were OK with the songs and thought my writing was great, but weren’t sure if I was ready as an artist. So they took that and developed it. Through that I started to write for other people. But I always had it in my heart, that I wanted to be my own artist. After awhile, it started burning and tugging in me. I felt a calling on my life one night and that changed everything. It was time.
Dave: Some of the artists that you’ve worked with are really significant. You did Tank’s “Stronger”, Ron Isley “This Song is For You”, Jasmine V “That’s Me Right There”, B Smyth with “Leggo”, and you did Cheryl Cole “Promise This”. That’s incredible!
Chris: Well thanks man. You’re doing your research! (laughs) Those were great opportunities. Some of them I wrote by myself, some I co-wrote with other people, but, all in all, they were great experiences. I’m grateful for each one of those records.
Dave: When you’re writing for someone else, is it difficult to adapt your writing style to suit each of those artists?
Chris: You know what? Not really. I appreciate the challenge. Sometimes it can be. I’m such a lover of music and I’ve been listening to music all my life. A lot of these artists that I’d been shooting for, I’d already been a huge fan of.
Like my music collection is huge. Prior to the streaming phase, I would be at the music store every week. I still go to the store and buy hard copies to this day. Back then I was buying everyone’s albums. You’d be surprised at my collection. Not only do I have every Janet and Michael album, but I also have every Britany Spears album. I have A Tribe Called Quest albums. I have all Kendrick’s albums. I have, you know, P!nk, her albums. I’m just a lover of music. So it helped me to write for these artists. It was still challenging, ‘cause I’m stronger in certain genres than others, but I didn’t make that stop me. I would go and try and figure out how to make it work and just do it.
Dave: Wow! You are old school, buying the hard copies. (laughs)
Chris: (laughs) To this day!
Dave: Are you going to switch things around now and buy everything on vinyl?
Chris: Whooo. I’ve been thinking about that for so long. I really, really want to. There’s a lot of great albums out there, like some of my favourites. For the collecting purpose, I would love to have the vinyl. Maybe play it. Who knows? It’s a great sound that you get on vinyl. It’s something that you don’t get anywhere else. So hey, why not?
Dave: It’s obvious that you’re a talented guy. You’ll write a great song for an artist and they’ll have success with it. But what about you as a songwriter? Do you think you get the recognition or exposure that you deserve?
Chris: Thanks for that, but, you know, its subjective. You know they’re are people who live for the credits. When I was younger, the first thing I did, before I even popped the CD in, I would open the case and I would look through the credits. I would read everything before I played the music. I want to know who produced and who wrote what. There’s a lot of people who do that because they want to know who was involved. Even if I didn’t get the recognition or the shout-out from the artist, the people who bought the CD would hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and say; “You’re the guy that wrote such and such? Man, that was amazing”. That really touched me. I can’t say that I wasn’t writing this music for the recognition, because who doesn’t want to be recognized, right? But things like that really matter to me.
Dave: I think we’ve been spending way too much time talking about other artists. We’re here to talk about the music you’ve recorded. I’ve really been enjoying the diversity of your style. Sometimes you draw from a decades old music style, then on the next track you bring it up to date. Do you like switching things around?
Chris: I do. I really do. Because I’m so influenced by the music I grew up with and the current music that comes out as well. I take from the past and what’s going on now and hopefully put a bit of the future in there as well. That would be me giving myself to you.
I’m not trying to chase a certain sound. All of this is really how I feel. You know, I get in the studio with Andre and he really knows my style very well. He knows me, he gets it, and taps into that. That’s where that chemistry comes in. I come in with an idea and a feeling. That’s where it starts.
Dave: I really noticed these style changes on your first release, No Pressure. You’ve got the song “Blessed” being all bright and positive. On the following song, “His Pain”, you flip the music into this jazzy/blues vibe as it deals with a man’s pain and questioning.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, I’m glad to caught that. (laughs) Well “His Pain”, that’s actually a cover of a Kendrick Lamar and BJ The Chicago Kid song. The only thing original was the track. You know, he was telling his story. Me, listening to that song, it inspired me to write my own story of my own pain. I felt it when I listened to the original. I was able to capture that myself because I was telling my own story. It’s like, even though I’m blessed, I wouldn’t be blessed if I didn’t go through this pain. I don’t know why He keeps blessing me. There’s a flip side. A good and bad. A lot of times we sugarcoat things. We can’t do that if we want to inspire and touch everybody and tell them about the goodness of God and Jesus. We have to tell about how great things are and how terrible things can be, but at the end of the day He’s still blessing us.
Dave: I totally get where you coming from. Your new album, No Chaser, it’s looking at faith down in the valley and up on the mountaintop. Do you feel a lot of artists don’t want to show both sides?
Chris: If you want me to be honest, yes. I feel like maybe that’s come from all the years of sweeping things under the rug in the church culture. Healing doesn’t happen unless you really talk about it by having these conversations. I’m not speaking on behalf of anyone except myself. These are my stories or stories that I’ve heard. Ones that I can relate to. Finding the beauty in those struggles, finding the beauty in the pain, so that there is an up when you hit down. When you get down you can get back up there again. So, we need to be more honest in our creativity and our creations.
Dave: Just a couple of months ago Chris, you released your first full-length, No Chaser. It wasn’t until I listened to it a couple of times that I realized that it was an ongoing story. What’s the theme about?
Chris: Well, it’s really about a young man who had grown up in the Christian world, and his eyes are opening up to different things. He’s also lived life by living life. You know, as you get older you experience certain things and you have questions. The first song, “Story of a Champion”, was inspired by my uncles death. He passed away in 2012. It was written in the perspective of the moment he found out that he had cancer, to the last breath he took. He was one of the strongest men I knew, as far as his faith goes. He kept saying; “I’m not worried. I’m not going nowhere. God’s got this”. I agreed; “You’re right man”. His faith was so strong. People were saying that he should be preparing. I’m like; “What? He’s going to pull out of this!”. I kept believing that up to the last minute. I kept telling him; “This is temporary. You’re not going nowhere”. He said; “I know. I’m tired, but I’m still here”. When he passed, I was like; “OK God. What happened?” There was all this faith, all this prayer. I know that death happens, but we’re always wondering about why it happens.
That wasn’t the only thing. Like, why do I love the things that You claim not to love? We all know that God loves us all, no matter what. Everybody sins, nobody on this earth is perfect. Everyone has their certain thing that they love that they shouldn’t. Whether they know it or not. It’s me trying to find myself. At the same time, I’m trying to find out who Jesus really is, to me and for me, and give it to the world.
Dave: A lot of Christians have a tough time questioning God about anything.
Chris: Oh yes, and I still do to this day. To this day! If I have a question about something or if somebody questions me – if I feel like it threatens the very core of what I believe, I’ll get kind of defensive. Even though I have those questions too. It’s hard for anybody to be challenged about something they’ve been taught and believed all their life. That’s where your faith comes in and to pull on the experiences that you know. I would hope that everyone gets that encounter and just know that Jesus is real.
Dave: You know Chris, I think that if you never released another track, I would be OK with it.
Dave: Because the title track from No Chaser is an absolutely perfect song.
Chris: To God be the glory. Wow! Thank you.
Dave: What about telling us more about the tune?
Chris: Well, the title of this album, No Chaser, was actually within me while I was working on No Pressure. After I finished No Pressure I already had the name No Chaser. Why? I don’t know. I found people gravitated towards “His Pain” the most on No Pressure. Everybody loved that song, but that was the song I was so scared about putting on there. I was like; “Man this is too honest”. It’s not the type of song that you hear on gospel or Christian music. I wasn’t sure that I wanted people to hear me say these certain things. But people could really relate to that. People are really yearning for things like this.
When I started work on No Chaser, some of the songs took weeks to write, while others took only minutes. Every song that I did, it was like a sigh of release when I was done.
Dave: You mean this was all bottled up inside of you?
Chris: And I didn’t even know it. “No Chaser”, to get back to your question, was one of the later songs that I did. I never thought of what a song called “No Chaser” would be, or maybe I just didn’t get what to do with it until I went through some stuff. Two of my friends died unexpectedly. Like very close friends and on top of that I was going through a very, very rough period. I remember being in the studio one day with Andre. We were going through some sounds that he had found and it sparked something in the both of us. I automatically started writing, working through my frustration, and that’s how that song was born. It all felt therapeutic and that’s how it came about.
Dave: The video that goes with “No Chaser”, is beautiful too, in a dark way. It’s almost film noir.
Chris: Oh yeah, thanks man. Both myself and Andrew Johnson, who’s Andre’s brother, a very talented family, we came up with the idea of that video, which was based on true events. These are things that people go through. We wanted to capture it and put it out there. I was scared when we finished shooting it. It was like it was too real. I’m glad that people are watching, sharing and appreciating it.
Dave: On the No Chaser release, you drew in quite a number of featured artists. What did they add to the feel of the album?
Chris: They helped to bring it to life. It absolutely couldn’t have happened without them. Each of the songs they are featured on would have been incomplete without them. I knew each of the voices that was needed to tell the story that needed to be told. Like on “Story of a Champion”, I knew the sound that I needed from Kennedy and Melissa, one that nobody else could have given to me. Those colours helped to paint this beautiful picture. “The 1ne That Got Away” with Denise Renee. She’s an amazing person, amazing writer, and an amazing person all around. She’s a storyteller and I needed that. Karina on “Falling Down”, the colour in her voice, that needed to happen right there. All I kept hearing was Javonte’ on “Yeah Yeah”. His texture and his tone, the emotion in his voice that he brings to that song, having the dark undertones. All of these songs would have been incomplete without having these guys…I hope I’m not missing anybody. (laughs)
Dave: (laughs) No, because you’ll be sure to include them all in the credits.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. I’m getting old, my mind is leaving. But even down to the musicians on No Chaser, they were necessary. The strings, the live guitars, all the horns, DJ Rick Geez on “Never Again”. They were amazing. I needed all those elements.
Dave: It sounds like you’re actually visualizing all of this as you’re in the writing process. This isn’t; “Well, this person is available. Maybe I’ll pull them in for this song”.
Chris: (laughs) Well, I still have to work on their availability and hope and pray that they’ll want to do it. Thank God that everybody I asked was down to do it. It was just destiny man. It needed to happen. I say this all the time, there’s 27 people living inside my head as I’m writing. (laughs) It sounds crazy, but it’s painting the visuals. I better stop talking before I sound even more crazy than I do right now! (laughs) But, but I’m being honest!
Dave: (laughs)… Give me your thoughts on the release of No Chaser. What kind of effect do you think it will have on people?
Chris: I pray that it will open eyes. I pray that it will awakens people, but I don’t want it to awaken them to me. My prayer is that I want them to know who it is that I’m talking about. Who it is that made me get to where I am as a man. Who is making me the man that I will be in the future. It’s not just me, it’s somebody much bigger than I. That’s the end goal that I have here.
Dave: Chris, this has been a really great having a chance to talk with you. Thanks so much.
Chris: I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me. It has been an absolute pleasure.
Dave: And don’t forget about winter man. Stay in LA!
Chris: Man, I plan on it and I pray for all of you who are suffering from a terrible winter. If you feel anything like me and you hate the cold, stay inside and be warm.
All of the music of Chris Jackson is available as a no-charge download on Noisetrade. http://noisetrade.com/chrisjackson
About the interviewer: Dave Hawkins is host of The Antidote, a syndicated weekly radio broadcast featuring interviews with innovative artists who share a Christian worldview. http://www.theantidoteradio.com/