Up and comer recently out with his second album discusses his broad musical interests, his recent European tour, how he got started in the business, Wisconsin’s famous cheese, musicians he’d love to work with, and a whole lot more.
At 24, Jefferson Grizzard has a lot to be proud of so far. He just released his second album, Learning How to Lie, last fall. The album, which has garnered a number of rave reviews, was followed by a great companion music video this spring. The Georgia native also did a mini European tour this past winter, with dates in Ireland, Germany, and the U.K. It was his first time performing in Europe, though he has been there as a tourist before.
|Courtesy: Back Porch Syndicate Records|
Jefferson also had the opportunity to team up with Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, recording some tracks at that band’s studio in Buffalo. “Robby’s a great guy. We cut four songs that haven’t been released yet. It was a great experience,” Jefferson told me. Later on this September, Jefferson will be performing at an arts festival in Buffalo that Robby has a hand in. “Mike, my drummer, is from Buffalo, so he has a lot of connections there. I have a lot of fans up there,” Jefferson continued.
So how did it all start, I wondered? “Well, I really liked writing, even before playing. I grew up in a pretty boring, little town in Georgia. That’s how I passed the time,” Jefferson said, continuing, “I’ll often forget about the songs I’ve written, until I find them again later on - scrap paper sheets that just pop up again.” The guitar playing started when, “My sister got a guitar for Christmas one year. A cheap little Yamaha or something. I played for weeks, and then months. I played until my fingers bled.”
He counts among the songwriters who have influenced him Jeff Tweedy, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan. “The first songwriter I really got turned on to,” Jefferson said of Dylan.
Jefferson certainly has some powerful, moving, thought-provoking lyrics in his portfolio. I can see he’s a serious writer. What are his influences or inspiration when it comes to lyric writing, I wondered? Does he like to go anywhere in particular to get away? What is his process like? “I get that question a lot. I really have no process. It just happens,” he explained to me. Jefferson continued: “I’ll be outside doing something, and then it just comes. Or something just brews in the subconscious for a while before it comes out. I never really spend over an hour on a song. The ones I do spend that much time on never really turn out good.”
When asked about the moment he realized, Hey, this is for real - I’d like to do this as a profession, for a living, Jefferson said it came about more as an evolution than as a single moment. “It just kept evolving. I felt I was a different person when I did the first album compared to when I did the second one [the latest, Learning How to Lie],” he explained, continuing on, “For the second album, I really felt like I was a part of the larger process. With the first one, I was younger, I just went in and was told what to do. The second felt more like a true album, as opposed to just a collection of songs.”
I got my hands on a copy of Learning How to Lie before my interview with Jefferson, and I can attest that it really is a lot more than just a collection of songs. For starters, the album case features some great photography and design layout, and it comes with a booklet featuring the lyrics for all 12 songs along with more eye-catching photography and design. It’s packaged nicely, to say the very least. The lyrics are profound, which unfortunately seems pretty rare these days in most mainstream American music, as Jefferson was alluding to earlier. Jefferson’s voice is soulful, and the music is rich and diverse, featuring a good variety of instruments like horns, keyboards and organ, tambourine, and soul-filled background vocalists in various tracks. Drawing from elements of many musical forms, Jefferson explained, “I really wanted it to be an Americana album, with R&B, blues, rock, gospel, and country in it, even in one song.”
In his spare time, “I love to people watch, travel, and take in inspiration and information from the world.” A sci-fi fan, Jefferson enjoys watching Star Trek, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and reading. “I have the goal of writing a sci-fi rock opera someday,” he told me.
We got into talking about Milwaukee a little bit. Jefferson was here for the first time at the end of this past January for a show at Club Garibaldi. I felt pretty bad for him when I learned that, knowing that he arrived in our otherwise beautiful and hopping city in the middle of one of the longest, most bitter winters we’ve had in recent memory. But it wasn’t all that bad for him. “We stopped off at a roadside cheese shop. I bought the best cheddar cheese I ever bought in my life! That was my cultural experience there,” he told me.
Asked about dream musicians he would love to perform or record with, Jefferson presented a well-rounded, all-star lineup: bassist Catherine Popper (“The best bass player I’ve ever seen live”), drummer Glenn Kotche from Wilco, and British singer Laura Marling (“The greatest female voice around right now. The greatest songwriter of the Millennial generation. A great poet, songwriter, and guitar player”). He would also love an opportunity to work with British producer Ethan Johns.
His advice for aspiring musicians is as powerful as any of his lyrics: “If you’re a songwriter or musician, or any kind of artist, don’t look for an end goal. Always be satisfied in the present. Don’t look forward to the future. The music is the end, not a means to an end,” he said. And, for a young man who grew up in the Internet age, he warns, “Stay away from the Internet as much as possible. It’s too easy to get wrapped up with what others are doing or trying to do. I avoid it at all costs.”
And his parting words for fans and those who happen to come across his music - simple: “Listen to the words!”
You can learn more about Jefferson and follow along on his journey at jeffersongrizzard.com .