J.D. McPherson talks about being a new musician with an old soul

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This week my editor and I were lucky enough to speak to J.D. McPherson, a singer-songwriter from Oklahoma. McPherson combines an old school blues-rock rhythm with a retro style to create a unique and edgy sound. His latest album, “Let the Good Times Roll,” was released earlier this year. He’s currently on tour promoting in album and stopped in Dallas this past Sunday. Here’s what he had to say.

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The DC: Did you always know music was something you wanted to do?

JD: “I was doing it all the time, I never stopped doing it. I was always actually putting more effort into it than probably was appropriate for the level of responsibility that I was allotted. I always just saw it as a thing that I did and I think part of the reason why I never thought to try to do it professionally was because I never really saw anybody that went to leave and do it. Everybody I knew played locally and that was what they did, that was a community thing in that area and that it kind of never occurred to me how can I make that happen, to kind of transition from a local band to becoming a touring band. It was really kind of a strange occurrence but it just kind of happened and kind of fell from the sky and I was like, ‘oh wait, this can really happen.’ It’s almost like you have to have somebody reveal it to you before you’ll accept that they’re possible. Same thing happened to me with going to arts school. I was a kid that drew but I was going to go become an eye doctor and then a friend of my grandmother, a professor, took me to meet a painter in Oklahoma and said, ‘this guy is a painter,’ and it kind of hit me, ‘you could be a painter?! I’m going to arts school!’ So I did, and it never would have occurred to me that was something you could do and it was the right timing, and it happened.”

The DC: Considering your music brings back the sound of an earlier time, did you intend to reach a young audience with an older take on music or an older audience with a new take on music?

JD: (Laughing) “I just want to reach an audience. An audience. Anyone willing to listen is welcome to. This is the first teenager music and I think that if it has that sort of snotty element to it then the teenager in everybody is going to respond to it. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the band, The Cramps, they’re one of my favorite bands and they’re always talking about how they play ‘teenager music’ and I love that sentiment. And I’m basically fifteen years old mentally anyways, so it all works out.”

The DC: Since you are kind of a hybrid between the two ages, what’s one artist from the past that has inspired you and one from the present?

JD: “I always say Little Richard because he really is my favorite, but I’m going to say something different this time because I’m listening to a lot of him right now. There’s a guitar player named Link Wray who made instrumentals that are just the most killer, mean sounding records. It turned out he was actually a really cool singer too and he only had one lung because he had tuberculosis and lost a lung. He has this amazing growly voice. Link Wray is incredible so that’s something everybody should check out. Somebody right now that I really like is a band from Oklahoma, and I’d like them even if they weren’t from Oklahoma, is a band called Broncho and they’ve made two albums and they’re two of my favorite albums ever. I always keep music on my phone so there’s not a ton of room on my phone for it, so before we go on tour I always select albums to take and their two albums are always there.”

The DC: What would you say is the best part about being a professional musician?

JD: “Working is really great. Being able to work, to be present in the moment of creating work is something every person, every human being, should have. Every person should have some element of creative production in their life. I actually had an old friend of mine, who was my studio partner in grad school, we were both arts students. We were speaking about what we’d been up to and he had this girl in his painting class who was going to be an engineer and she dropped out of engineering school to become an art painter and her parents were furious. He sort of felt like he had helped her discover what she was supposed to do and he said something to me that I won’t ever forget. He said, ‘do I think that everybody that wants to be an engineer should drop out and become an art major? No. But do I think that every engineer should take a drawing class? Yes.’ So just to be able to work on creative production and do that 24 hours a day is the best thing. To be able to be an artist and do what I always wanted to do. That’s the best thing.”

The DC: If there’s one piece of advice you could give to aspiring musicians here, what would it be?

JD: “I’ll give you two pieces of advice for the musicians there at the
university. One is learn a supplemental, non-musical skill. Develop the ability
to shoot and edit video or learn how to do a little bit of graphic design
because the more you can do on your own, the better. In this day and age media
is so omnipresent and so competitive, for a band to get something happening
they really have to not only have great music but they have to have a visual
element, and that’s just the way it is. So if you don’t know how to use a video
camera or take pictures, develop that skill because it will assist you. The
other one is that you should work as hard as the med students. You should study
and work as diligently on your work as the kids going to med school. Also, don’t
ever be ashamed to say you’re a musician. Speak it with confidence and don’t
let anybody raise an eyebrow. Because it’s important.
That’s three pieces of advice.”

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