Loving our scars

By Paul Rigg

Carly Jo Jackson (23 August 1993) is an Austin, Texas-based guitarist and singer-songwriter who has a string of hit Youtube songs and heavily watched videos, including Sleep in My Car, You Can’t Love Me and Wildflower. Her singing voice is powerful and rich, her lyrics have depth, and she is brave enough to take considered risks in her career. 

Jackson is a 2015 Belk Southern Musician Showcase winner, and has appeared on America's Got Talent and regularly plays at respected festivals. Her
most recent releases are the EP Au Naturel (produced by Lost Coast Records and distributed by Cherry Bomb Records), which includes the singles Sleep in My Car and Clipped Wings.

Guitars Exchange
catches up with Jackson while she is staying with her family in Florida to ride out the Covid-19 quarantine. She woke early this morning to play guitar, and is now happy to talk about her love of guitars, her much-beloved dog Heidi, and her hidden tattoos…

GE: Do you come from a musical family?

CJJ: Well there are musicians in the family, but we also have writers, novelists and all kinds of entertainers. I say I come from an entertaining family [Laughs].

GE: You’ve been writing songs since you were 10 years old; who were your original inspirations?

CJJ: I used to watch Britney Spears, Aaron Carter and The Spice Girls, and artists like them, and I would love what they were doing. I thought ‘I want to be a rock star like them; I want to write a song’, so I would just dive in and rephrase things that they were doing. My mum got scared sometimes because I would get very deep, but actually the first song I wrote was about a boy; it was a love song.

GE: You bought your first guitar at 16; which was your first brand?

CJJ: My aunt Gail recommended either a Martin or a Taylor, and I fell in love with the Martin. Taylor’s are great and they have this beautiful bright sound, but there was a nice moody, deep and cool sound to the Martin, so I chose that one; and I still have it. 

GE: Do you play electric?

CJJ: Yes, I do. People don’t think that because I don’t play much electric live but I am planning to change that. There are a couple of songs I’m working them into. 

GE: You described your song ‘Wildflower’ as being a changing point in your life: why was that?   

CJJ: I was going through a lot of stuff at the time. I was at college, was separated from my family, and I was figuring out what I stood for and who I was, and that song helped me come to grips with what I felt I could be. Someone said to me that when you see one beautiful flower of a different colour in a field of beautiful flowers that one sticks out; the wildflower. I think it suggests that even if you feel weird and different you can still be beautiful too, in your own way. 

GE: Why do you think it struck a chord with your listeners?

CJJ: At the time I was performing live a lot, I had not had a hit but I was working with Dashboard Confessionals’ Chris Carrabba, and there was a lot of cool hype about that. I then found that people were sending me messages thanking me for writing it, because they said that it had had a profound effect on them.

GE: Is that your boxer dog in the video that accompanies the song?

Yes, her name was Heidi, she passed away not too long afterwards, but I was so happy to capture that happy moment with her in the video. 

GE: And the cat in ‘You Can’t Love me’…?

CJJ: That’s my cat Sweetpea; I try to include animals, things and people that I love in my videos. 

GE: Your ‘mash-up’ song - ‘The Blues’ with Sublime's ‘What I Got (Love Is)’ - is something very different; what inspired that?

CJJ: That was inspired by our live performances because we would jam to keep the crowd dancing, for example, and we then thought ‘let’s record it’, because it is fun. It’s quite long, about six minutes on Youtube I think, you are a trooper for watching it! [Laughs] I ended up renaming the song as Trouble and recording different versions without the mashup on my last two EPs – Au Naturel and Color Show

GE: Also, you did a very popular cover of Adele’s ‘Set Fire to the Rain’, where you just play with a ukelele; what inspired that?

CJJ: I just thought it would be different to play it like that; I wanted to change it up a bit. 

GE: If you had to choose three highlights in your career, which would you choose?

CJJ: Well, Milwaukee's 2018 Summerfest was a great experience. When I was walking through security, I could hear bands that I absolutely adore playing on the stage right next to ours, and that was amazing. And we did a pretty good job too; Twitter voted us as one of the best emerging artists.

Then I would choose America’s Got Talent because I learned so much. A lot of people told me not to go through with it but it taught me a lot.

A third would be working with Chris Pelonis of Lost Coast Records.  I met him when I was performing at NAMM in California, and he said he’d like to fly me out and record me in a very acoustic setting. All those things sound great when you first hear them but you want to make sure that it is actually going to happen, and it did! I also got to meet Michael McDonald who sings back-up vocals on my EP Au Naturel. I am so thankful for so many things, but that’s just a few.

GE: How do you go about writing a new song?

CJJ: It depends. Sometimes the vocals come first but lately I’ve started with full guitar riffs, and then asked myself what kind of vocals would be best with it. 

GE: If you were on a boat with all your guitars and it was sinking; which would you grab first?

CJJ: I now play a Gibson Hummingbird Modern Mahagony which is amazing and easily the best guitar I have owned, but I have this very special guitar that was loaned to me, and then given to me, by my dad’s friend. It is a ‘70s Ovation 12 string that is still in its original vintage case; I’d have to take that one because of its sentimental value. 



GE: And which gear would you take with you?

CJJ: A mic and a mic stand and some cables, so I could still do shows and get my money back to get some more equipment! [Laughs]. I like Samson and Shure; they both sound great.

GE: You have mentioned you love Dave Matthews because of his emotion and his capacity to transmit that to his audience. Are there any new guitarists or artists coming up who you admire?

CJJ: I really love a UK band called The Struts the lead singer reminds me a lot of Freddie Mercury, but a modernised version. I also really like Alesia Cara because she has an amazing voice and a great message, and then Florence and the Machine because she has a great voice. I could go on and on.

GE: What advice would you give to aspiring guitarists?

CJJ: I know this is a cliche, but you have to really want it; as if you feel that it gives you superpowers when you are doing it. Don’t ever give up. And don’t compare yourself to other artists, because you are the only one who can do what you want. 

GE: A fun question to finish. You once sang about your scars: “if you can’t love my scars you can’t love me” - but have you got any tattoos?

CJJ: That’s lovely of you to choose that lyric! Actually, I have a wildflower on my back and the design goes down my spine. I also have a little guitar on my ribcage, but it’s little; no-one even sees it!  

The interview closes with Carly Jo Jackson talking about her decision to recently relocate from her home state of Florida to Austin, TX to be in a more music-centric town and split the distance between her growing opportunities in Florida and Califonia.  She was just getting settled in Austin when Covid-19 hit, and is anxious to get back out on stages and perform live.  She has done virtual shows from home during quarantine but nothing compares to performing in front of a live audience.