I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in August of 2009 on The 9513.
Those in “the know” had to be laughing in the audience when Jack Ingram won the 2008 Country Music Association Award for “Best New Male Vocalist.” It hardly seems that the road-weary artist from Texas that had sixteen years of performing under his belt, and with several critically acclaimed album releases under his belt, could hardly be considered as “new.” But it wasn’t until that fateful award night that all of his musical roads finally crossed with the national commercial success that had eluded him for so long. But beginning with 2005’s “Wherever You Are,” 2006 releases “Love You” and “Lips Of An Angel” and 2007’s “Measure Of A Man,” Jack Ingram had finally arrived. On that award night, with a heart full of pride and triumph, Ingram said during his acceptance speech, “big dreams and high hopes” can come true.
Now a year later, Ingram is back with his brand new Big Machine Records release appropriately called Big Dreams and High Hopes. The new album has already spawned the two hit singles, “That’s A Man” and “Barefoot and Crazy,” and will hit shelves on August 25th. Ingram’s story is unique in this era of ever-changing new artists, youth and fast paced stardom. Ingram’s ascent has been measured by live shows, decades and miles instead of hits. Far from overnight success, this road to stardom was paved by Ingram’s own sweat and tears.
Ken Morton, Jr.- So how does a psychology major at Southern Methodist University turn into a major country music star?
Jack Ingram- A lot of miles. I was studying psychology the same reason I was into music. I was just trying to find out what makes people tick. And what makes me tick.They say a lot of times that music can be therapeutic. I’ve always thought the two things go hand and hand.
KMJ- There’s some irony that it took almost 16 years to the day after the release of your first album to win the 2008 Country Music Association Top New Male Vocalist. Tell me a little about the journey and what that award has meant to you.
JI- The award meant a lot. It’s truly fantastic to be recognized by your peers and the music industry and by the fans. The journey itself is simpler than it seems, you know? It’s really about getting a gig, then plugging in and doing a good job, and doing the best you can. Then you work at trying to get another gig and that takes you a little farther down the road. It really is all about the journey. It’s about what you’re doing little by little every single day.
KMJ- When you look along that journey, how is today’s Jack Ingram music different from those early Texas-touring days music?
JI- It’s quite a bit different. First of all, there are a whole lot of states besides Texas. It’s a much bigger world for me now. There have been a whole lot of nights driving in a van with a trailer behind me. My surroundings have changed, probably drastically. The mission behind the music and the way I approach the music haven’t changed one bit, however. It’s still about trying to make a connection with the people directly there in front of you.
KMJ- Do those symbolic tire tracks in your past still influence your writing and your music today?
JI- Absolutely, man. I haven’t changed why I do this. Who I am and what I am hasn’t changed at all. I’m still writing and playing about all the subjects I did before. I’m still trying to find out what makes us tick and how we affect the world and how the world affects us.
KMJ- Is it easier making music as an indie, which you did for so many years, or on a major label on a national stage?
JI- I wouldn’t say it’s easier or harder. It’s just a matter of making a record. I’ve always wanted to make records the same way as I did in 1992 as I do in 2009. I just want to put a stamp out there of who I am at that particular time as an artist.
KMJ- And what were some of your goals on the new 2009 album?
JI- Well it’s called Big Dreams and High Hopes. A lot of the stuff that’s on there is about that theme. It’s kind of about a lot of what we’re talking about here. It’s about setting your sights on something and come hell or high water, going and getting it.
KMJ- That particular song on the album was the highlight for me. It was very autobiographical, especially considering your CMA speech. Was that the springboard for the theme of the album for you?
JI- As a general theme, yes. Obviously, not every single song on the album is about that. I think it really is about bigger picture stuff. It’s about committing, going all in. That’s the theme on this record.
KMJ- You have Patty Griffin singing a beautiful harmony on a new song called “Seeing Stars.” How’d that relationship come about?
JI- I’ve been friends with her for about ten years now. I’m a huge fan of hers. When I wrote that song and went to record it, I knew that it called for an angelic voice. The very first person I thought of was Patty Griffin. So I called her and she agreed to do it.
KMJ- She provides a very ethereal voice behind your voice on that track.
JI- It’s truly awesome. She’s just fantastic.
KMJ- How has your relationship with Radney Foster molded your music?
JI- He’s become a good friend of mine and a co-writer too. And he produced a couple tracks on the record. He’s been just so supportive and he’s given me a lot of confidence in myself.
KMJ- Does he have a style that compliments or contradicts you? Does he bring some new thoughts when you sit down to write?
JI- He’s just wide open. He writes with a wide open style. He says and plays anything, really. I wouldn’t say compliments or contradicts, really because I’m so influenced by him. He’s been a big influence on my writing. When you get a chance to sit down and write with someone like that, it’s an honor.
KMJ- Tell me about The Little Big Lost Beat-Up Ford Funky Times Freedom Choir.
JI- When we were doing a new track called “Barbie Doll” with Dierks Bentley singing on it, I needed some buddies of mine to come in and sing the response part of the chorus “Barbie Doll.” So I called all my friends up and down the road that we’ve met along the way and told them that we were having a little get-together and party in the studio and they needed to scream, “Barbie Doll” a couple times. So everyone came over and it was really a ton of fun.
KMJ- And just who is backing you up as part of the choir on that particular song?
JI- Little Big Town, The Lost Trailers, Randy Houser, James Otto, Jed Hughes, a songwriter friend of mine Bruce Sanders, and everyone else that was there in the studio that day. They were just screaming.
KMJ- That had to be a wild day of recording.
JI- (Laughing) It was truly a lot of fun. And it was really cool.
KMJ- One of the criticisms that I’ve read about your recent music is perhaps that you’ve moved away from the Texas country music movement in favor of a more polished pop Nashville sound. How would you respond to that?
JI- I think that’s more perception than reality. I don’t think that’s necessarily the truth. I’m following my path. And like other artists that have come from that scene and made it on a national stage, I’m never not going to be a Texan. I live there. I’m from there. I’m going to continue to play there forever and ever. My heroes are guys like Willie Nelson that have made it big outside of Texas. I’ve got to follow my path, though. I’ve got a vision of what I want my career to look like. And that’s all I can concern myself with. You’ve got to weed everything else out.
KMJ- What does music hold for you beyond this new album? What other career goals would you like to attain?
JI- As a big picture? Aside from doing what I do every day and continuing to hopefully do it at a high level, I’d like my audience to grow. I’d like people to buy my records and I’d like for people to come see me play. There’s a whole lot more left to do. Kenny Chesney sells out stadiums. That’s the top of the game. That’s what I would like to be too. That’s what Kenny does. It’s just about doing your job well and as good as you can and going about your business.
KMJ- What is country music to Jack Ingram?
JI- It’s storytelling. It is about making people think. It is about making people feel. It’s making people learn something about themselves. Whether it’s soul-searching or just having a good time, it is about making people feel. It’s real people doing real things.