Jack Ingram Biography
Last updated: 12/30/2011 11:00:00 AM
"What I've always loved about country music is that the music tells you that we're having a good time, while the lyrics tell you why we need to have a good time. What I've always loved about rock and roll is the attitude," explains Ingram.
Jack writes and records music that talks about real life and offers moments of insight, comfort and fun outside of everyday existence. His provocative, but truthfully universal, songs are evidence of a deep respect for country music. "(Country music) talks about things that make you think," says Jack. "That's what it's about when I'm listening to music. I write songs to figure out why I feel the way that I do, and why things are going the way they are." Then, with his rock and roll style delivery, Jack performs these songs - both in the studio and on the stage-to their truest, fullest, and most raucous.
On the aptly and evocatively titled Electric, his second album for Sony's Lucky Dog Records, Ingram firmly nails down the final elements of his cutting-edge slacker-country style. True to the title, it's a work of crackling musical intensity and powerful emotions, even in its quieter moments. After recording the disc, Jack combed the song titles and lyrics in search of a name for the album, when the notion of simply calling it Electric came to mind. It immediately encapsulated the spirit of the record. As Jack explains, "When that title came to mind, I thought, 'now that's what this record feels like to me.' The guitars are really prevalent, and it just jumps out at you. It has all the things that spell out electric for me; it's passionate, intense, surprising, powerful - it's electric."
Electric is also something of a song cycle, starting out with the emphatic and committed "Keep On Keepin' On" and ending on the sweet grace note of "Goodnight Moon." In between, Electric explores the complexities of human existence with a plainspoken eloquence. Ingram delves into the struggles and conflict that come with relationships ("What Makes You Say," "Won't Go With Her" and "You Never Leave"), the illusions people maintain ("Fool" and "One Lie Away"), solidarity and camaraderie ("We're All In This Together"), love's grandeur ("One Thing") and faith ("Pete, Jesus and Me"). Within that process, Ingram focuses on the contradictions people find in themselves and their relationships. Like all of the best music, Electric speaks from the heart to the ways in which we think, feel and live our lives.
Ingram is more than capable as an observer of human emotions. While college at Southern Methodist University, Jack taught himself guitar, produced two self-released albums, single-handedly created his career, and earned a degree in psychology. Within the songs he writes as well as those he covers, one discovers Jack's quest to understand the complex nature of human behavior. "On this new album I really focused on what the bulk of my songs are about, which to me is the human condition," he points out. "This record is about figuring out the complexities of our emotions and why we act the way we do. Those thoughts preceded the psychology degree. The reason that I studied psychology is that I am interested in it‹in people and what motivates us all and in what makes us tick. That's why I started writing songs."
By now Ingram's rise to national prominence is almost the stuff of legend. Before his Dallas college days, he grew up in Houston, Texas, and was raised on a musical diet of such Texas legends as Lefty Frizzell, Jerry Jeff Walker and Townes Van Zandt, as well as country giants like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Equally influenced by and raised on rock luminaries like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, Jack's repertoire was well-rounded from a young age.
While in college at SMU, he picked up the guitar and started teaching himself the songs he loved by heroes like Nelson as well as writing songs of his own. He soon landed a weekly gig at Adair's, a local honky-tonk, where he developed his first Beat Up Ford Band and built an avid following. His growing local popularity became a burgeoning phenomenon as his three self-released albums began selling thousands of copies in the Dallas area and then throughout Texas, eventually racking up sales of about 50,000 CDs on his own label.
"I didn't do it with that goal in mind," recalls Ingram. "I was just thinking that if I could sell these, I could pay for them. It was right when, instead of making demos on cassette, you could make a CD. And then you could put a cover on them with some artwork and sell them for 10 bucks. All of a sudden you've got a record. It just so happened that it struck a chord with people because it was real; it wasn't a demo but a record. So I started going out and selling them. And that led to another and then another. It wasn't like I was trying to make myself look like a real recording artist. I was just making music."
The path Ingram forged during and after college as an independent artist has since been followed by numerous other acts in the Lone Star State. Yet none of them have yet to come close to equaling the quality of his musical accomplishments. That's because by the time Ingram released his first major label album in 1997, Livin' Or Dyin' (Rising Tide), his sights were set on greater goals. The record landed Ingram in the proud Texas lineage of Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle (who produced the album) and Robert Earl Keen as an artist and songwriter of unique vision and lasting impact.
His debut Lucky Dog release, 1999's Hey You, even further impressed listeners with its extension of Ingram's creative leap from his honky-tonk roots to an expansive and eloquent modern country style. The Washington Post called it "rough-house charm that's hard to resist," while BarnesandNoble.com touted him as "a major voice in development." Billboard dubbed him "the ultimate anti-hat act" and the West Columbia, South Carolina Free Times declared Ingram as "the kind of artist that country radio needs." Being what the Dallas Morning News described as "a fearless performer," Jack rarely takes a break, playing some 200 dates a year in a multitude of venues-from rock clubs to country bars to fairs to movies (he appeared in the movies Hope Floats and Abilene).
In all of these venues, he consistently puts on an energetic and exciting show. Jack comments, "For me, the best part about a good live show is emotions that are conveyed in the songs. When people gather together to have a party, of course they're going to have fun, but when people gather together on a much more emotional level, now that is what creates something lasting. I hope my songs are the conduit for that kind of experience."
When he finally allowed himself a break in his touring schedule, Jack began to work on his follow up to Hey You. He booked Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville and gathered together a mix of some of the best Nashville and Texas musicians. Electric features guest vocalists like Patty Griffin and Lee Ann Womack, and unites Ingram's roots music grounding with a potent contemporary sound. On "Won't Go With Her," he's backed by Mark Knopfler's road band‹"One of the best bands in the world," Ingram enthuses‹as well as alternative country hero and master songwriter Buddy Miller on harmony vocals and guitarist and producer Jay Joyce on guitar. The set features four songs by Ingram alone, three written with his longtime collaborator Tom Littlefield, and two others Ingram wrote with longtime buddy Bruce Robison and hit songwriter Jim Lauderdale. As well, he taps the work of his friends Scott Miller and Gwil Owen and Will Kimbrough to round out the collection.
Jack chose Frank Liddell to produce Electric, whose production credits include Chris Knight's self-titled 1998 album and Lee Ann Womack's double-platinum album I Hope You Dance. As Jack explains, "I knew Frank because he had worked with some of my favorite songwriters, including, actually, Jim Lauderdale and Bruce Robison. I was confident Frank would make great song choices. I also knew and loved his approach in the studio. Frank is really good at getting great musicians in one room together and letting them do their thing. It is something he does best. It's also a production style that I like very much and don't think is used enough."
As an artist, Ingram ultimately prefers to look to the future rather than rest on the laurels of his numerous accomplishments, and Electric is the album where Ingram's artistic vision truly comes into its own. "To me, making a record and writing songs is all about what's next, figuring out what's going to be even better than what I've done before," he explains. "Watch where I'm going. That's what's important," he insists. Because with every record Ingram makes, he strives to outdo what he's done before and continue to fine-tune the sound that's all his own. "I look at it as that whole thing about being afraid to not make the grade. That's part of being a genuine artist." Or in other words, "Reach for the stars and you land on the roof. Reach for the roof and you're still on the sidewalk." And with Electric, Jack Ingram makes music that lights the sky.