Jack Berry sat down to talk about his new insanely gritty, soulful single “The Bull.” The track is from his forthcoming full-length, Mean Machine. Known for his soulful and passionate live shows, Berry’s hooks and grit have made him comparable to acts such as The Black Keys and Highly Suspect. His debut record, Heathen Heart, was named Blues Rock Review’s #2 album of 2013. The rest of his upcoming record, Mean Machine, is set to be released this coming spring. Learn more about Berry from his responses and be sure to check out “The Bull” below
How would you describe your music to others?
A fistfight in church. Motor oil and holy water.
Who and what influences your music? Why?
Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Elvis, angst, Lee Van Cleef, Roberto Duran, guilt, rye whiskey and mixed emotions.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy reading quite a bit: Cormac McCarthy. I like listening to records, funk and soul mostly. I’m psyched on the new Monophonics and The Arcs records.
I’ve been told I like to bicker a lot, so I guess bickering.
How would you describe your writing process?
My whole approach is based off a lyric, a line I heard or read. Say I hear someone somewhere say, “cocky as the king of diamonds,” and that sticks to me. So I come up with a riff I imagine would be this so-called King’s theme, his leitmotif. I’m just stirring up a whole movie in my head.
From start to finish, how long did it take to create Mean Machine?
It took the better part of this past year to write and create these songs. Adjusting once you play them with the band, once you give the song some breathing room.
Once we got over to Blackbird to record it only took three days to track. In and out train robbery style.
How is this record different from Heathen Heart?
The last record was me experimenting with the process of recording in general. I’d never played those songs live until after we cut it. Mean Machine is refined and looser all the same. It’s got a bit more heat on it.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind “The Bull”?
When I was a kid my grandpa would take me to the Reno Rodeo. It was a spectacle. Reno is a cowboy town. We had horses, my step dad rode bulls, you get the picture. At one of these rodeos the rodeo clown joked with the announcer about having a black jack problem and I found it funny and kept it. Just picturing this clown with the mob over his shoulder and a ton and a half of beast in front of him…it was entertaining.
Do you play covers at practices or shows? If so, which ones are your favorites?
No covers thus far. I have thought a James Brown cover would be slick, but I hadn’t worked out the details. I can’t play someone’s song as well as they play it so why try? I’ve tried rearrangements of songs I like but that just kickstarts the process of a new song altogether for me and I forget what I was doing in the first place. “What inspired this song?” “Oh, well, a Neil Young cover.” “Huh? It sounds like Black Rebel.” “Thanks.”
Do you have any favorite venues or cities?
The Ryman here in Nashville is really special to me. Someday.
Can you describe one of your favorite concerts?
I saw Ben Harper play at the Fillmore years ago and at one point he stood mic-less at the front of the stage, wailing like a reverend and you could have heard a pen drop – the audience hung on his every word.
I got to be a part of the Jack White at bonnaroo insanity just two years ago. I think we got the best show he did on that tour.
What do you typically do post-gig?
What image do you think your music conveys?
Clint Eastwood arm wrestling Ronald Regan.
What has been one of your biggest challenges as an artist?
Just getting people to listen. Lend me an ear for just a second and the rest of the story’s always worth it, I swear.
What has been your funniest or craziest fan/show experience?
Halloween in Los Angeles we played the House of Blues. It was my buddy Shawn on drums and he’s got this Col. Sanders costume on and I’m wearing this King John crown and cape like the cartoon and we’re both more or less halfway through the haze of fuzz and a crippling earthquake of kick drum and I jump on top of my amp. The damn thing’s uneven so I’m swaying back and forth trying to keep my balance and low and behold a string snaps. I raise my eyes up from my guitar and I’m facing this sea of cooks and crazies in the craziest outfits, drunk as skunks but screaming their painted faces off. My response was to jump as high as I could off my amp, which was too high because I smacked into the ceiling and fell like a bag of bricks to the floor. I honestly don’t recall what happened next – I came to and we were a quarter into the next song in the set, broke string whipping around like a snapped powerline. That was my last LA show before I packed up for Tennessee.
What is something odd you want fans to know about you?
I’ve been kicked by a horse six times. Not the same horse, thankfully.
What can we expect from Jack Berry in the coming months?
The live show is the most important thing on the docket right now. You can expect an invite.