The alternative rock band Jackson Waters is quickly grabbing the spotlight and when you hear their hit song Center Of Attention from their album Come Undone which was featured on the television show One Tree Hill you will soon understand why. The Arkansas group now based out of Nashville has sent a few guitar riffs across the bow of the rock scene signifying that they are here to stay, and if the competition slips, they will soon take over the top slots on the music charts.
In my recent interview with keyboardist and singer David Leonard he spoke about the quintet’s desire to create a fresh sound, something they have accomplished with the jagged riffs of “Give Me Amazing Grace,” a song Leonard penned with Jason Ingram. Ingram is one of the brighter and more innovative writers on a Nashville songwriting scene that can sometimes be very stagnant. There are few bands in music today that can match the quality lyrics and rock melodies that are being created by Jackson Waters. The Arkansas quintet is a world-class band.
“I think our fans keep coming back because our music is a little different than what they are used to hearing on the radio. It is not the norm in Christian music,” says Leonard.
“We are working hard every day to come up with something fresh and the reaction that we want is for people to say (it sounds fresh) and different. (We want them to ask) where did that come from? That is a huge compliment to us. We are continually trying to mold and shape our sound into something great,” says Leonard.
The rock lament “Give Me Amazing Grace” proves once again that a strong gospel message can be combined with great guitar riffs to put out a prolific message. “I don’t wanna’ be stuck in this misery/I’ve tried my best to make it on my own/But I’m in way too deep, so deep that I can’t sleep/As I wait for the sun to break the dawn/.” The singer finally gives in to the one who wipes the slate clean and restores order in his life.
The band’s lyrics seem to resonate in particular with the issues confronted by the high school and college crowd. The songs talk about relationships (“Center Of Attention”), the struggle for identity in the note bending tune “Give It All Away,” and overcoming obstacles to realize our dreams (“Jamie’s Song”). Whether it is a girl-guy relationship, a friendship or the dynamic between teen and parent, everyone at some point during their lives has probably know an individual to whom the lyrics of “Center Of Attention” would apply, “You think that you’re the sun/The whole world revolves around you/The center of attention/And everything is drawn to you/.”
Leonard talks about what having the song “Center Of Attention” played on One Tree Hill has meant to the group, “It was huge for us having it on the TV show. We had over 100,000 plays on our MySpace Site in the next week just because of that (exposure). A lot of people get it (the message of the song), and can relate to it.” Not only can they relate to the lyrics, but fans of Coldplay will fall in love with the music.
“It has been a really cool experience to connect with people with whom we would never have been able to connect otherwise,” Leonard says in speaking of the producers and fans of One Tree Hill, “For them to (also) hear the other music that we do has been really cool,” he says. The particular episode that the song appeared on was aired over Thanksgiving last fall and allowed the band members to share the moment with their extended families.
The words to “Send Her An Angel” offer a gentle prayer on behalf of the children of a Ukrainian orphanage. Emotive is the only way to describe the passionate vocals and tear soaked lyrics that talk about the children who at the end of the day are left to fend for themselves, as the adult supervisors go home. Children who are already live with very little are left without the protection of an adult, abandoned on a daily basis. The words and the story behind this song jolted me, moved me to tears, and caused me to bow my head and say a quiet grateful prayer for my circumstances. The song itself is a prayer for God to send an angel to let the children know that they are loved.
The song, “Jaime’s Song” is a testament to just how good Leonard’s vocals are, and how strongly he is backed by guitarists Toby Friesen and Jesse LaFave, while Brian Meek lays down a solid bassline. Ryan Hawk’s beats on drums are not overpowering, they are measured and establish a good groove. This is the most beautifully arranged tune on the album and demonstrates the excellence of producer Rob Hawkins (David Crowder Band). Leonard doubles up on keys and is simply outstanding on “Jaime’s Song” and “Center of Attention.” On this album, he plays Rhodes, B3 and Moog synthesizer.
Leonard talks about Hawkins contributions to the creative process, “Rob demands excellence and we wanted that push. We had a self-produced independent album before (this one) but we wanted someone to come in and tell us what to do. We wanted a fresh (perspective) on things, and have someone say that doesn’t work so well. We love Rob and it was a good experience to be stretched and pulled. We grew through it as well.”
Late last fall Jackson Waters traveled to New York State and set up their equipment in the middle of a forested area so they could record the companion video for their song “Come Undone”. “It was exciting but cold,” says Leonard repeating the word cold several times during his description of the video shoot. “We played for about twelve hours. It was really tiring and cold but we had a great time with it. When you start out as a band, you want to make a music video and to be able to do that was really cool.”
The band Jackson Waters is not named for a person or place but the group came up with a name because they thought sounded cool and southern. “We love the south, the seventies and we love the movie Almost Famous. Anything that could tie us to that era and that kind of feel is what we wanted to get with. We think we got it with Jackson Waters,” says Leonard.
“I think that southern rock is a part of who we are and we are not going to leave it,” he says. Leonard also confesses to being a big fan of Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder, “people who sang with feeling, meaning and purpose. When you listen to people, sing now, especially with pop music, a lot of times it is like they are singing just because they can, but there is no feeling behind it. I want to put emotion into it (my singing) and have people feel what I am feeling. I think that is what Jackson Water is all about, creating an environment and emotion so that people can get lost in the music.”
In a world where many new acts are simply following a template laid down by record labels or because they simply lack creativity and imagination, Jackson Waters stands out as a band that knows how to spell the words fresh and originality. This is not a new group struggling to find an identity, these are five young men who know who they are and what they want their music to say. The Arkansas alternative rockers have arrived.
Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs, www.rivetingriffs.com .