Welcome back to Thalia’s in depth interview with Blues Power prodigy Jared James Nichols.
In the last edition, we talked with Jared about his roots in the Chicago blues scene as a teenager and his journey to becoming a full-time guitar gunslinger by way of Berklee and Los Angeles. Oh, and we also played a $100,000 ’60 Les Paul – you can read about it here
In part two, we pick up as Jared moves to L.A. and the moment that he nailed down his distinctive playing style.
We’ve talked about this before, but when you were in L.A., that’s when the sound started to come together for you. That’s when the raw blues thing clicked…
When I was in L.A, I saw how many guitarists and how many musicians there were. Now, music is not a competition. But, when you’re put in such a small area and there’s, let’s say, 400 guitar players, you really gotta do something different to stand out. I remember that I saw all these guitar players ripping and shredding. And at the time I was playing traditional blues. And I thought to myself “how am I going to stand out?” I was already doing the pick-less thing – I’d gotten that together. But that’s when I said to myself “y’know what man? I gotta take this bluespower shit I’m doing… I’ve gotta mix it up, put a fist behind it and make people listen. I’ve gotta bring more power to the music.” ‘
Cause I saw guitarists that were unbelievably talented just slip through the cracks. I said “what do I need to do in order to rise above and be heard.” And I thought, “man, you’ve gotta do something pretty special and put your heart and soul into it.” Because if you don’t do that… when I play guitar without putting in everything that I have, I feel like it doesn’t mean anything. That’s when I started to live behind every note. I started my trio at that point, and that’s when I started really shaping the sound. I thought to myself “this is where I want to go sonically… I wanna incorporate this, this and this and make my own path.”
Moving to L.A. and being thrown in the lion’s den… when I moved there, I didn’t knw anyone. I remember walking down Hollywood Boulevard listening for music, trying to figure out “what the hell am I gonna do?” I know I’m not gonna go home, so what the hell am I gonna do? It was pretty damn scary. I had that feeling inside of me… it was that animal instinct where you have to say to yourself “I’ve gotta put everything on the line to do this.” And I did. And I’m so glad I did. But it was a really hard step, it was really jumping off the edge.
So how quickly did it start coming for you once you got to L.A.?
So the big breakthrough once I got to L.A. was about two weeks in. I saw a flyer and it said “Gibson Guitars and D'addario Presents: The Les Paul Tribute Contest.” And it said: “we’re looking for guitarists that show the inspiration and the influence of the historic guitar wizard Les Paul…” blah blah blah. And it said “send your demo tape to blah blah blah and you could be eligible to enter the contest.” And I said, “ I don’t have a demo tape, I don’t have anything but I’m gonna fucking enter.” I remember I had Garage Band on my computer… by the way, my computer crashed in 2011, and I haven’t had a computer since.”
You bet. I mean, I’m outta touch a little bit, but… it’s funny, so many people ask me, “how do you live without a computer?”
You play a lot more guitar I guess?
Exactly! I play a lot more guitar.
So I send in this demo, and about a week later I get an email saying, “congratulations, you’re in the contest.” And the judges were Paul Gilbert, Carl Verheyen from Supertramp, the instructors at Musicians Institute, Michael Molenda from Guitar Player Magazine…
2010 Musicians Institute Les Paul Guitar Competition
Yeah, and this guy Phil, who’s now my manager, ‘cause he owned a big studio In L.A. So I go to the contest, and there’s 20 guys. I walk in backstage and all these guys are playing guitars. There’s an acoustic guy doing crazy tapping, a Jackson guy shredding and I’m like “woah man, I’ve got my work cut out for me.” ‘Cause I only sent in a slow blues. They say, “we’re gonna pick numbers out of a hat for order.” I pick 20, so I was the last guy to go on.
I was backstage and I said to myself “Jared, you gotta go out there, and you’ve really gotta put your guts on the table. You really gotta do this.” So I went out, and I just laid into it. I had the crowd after about 30 seconds. Because I’d been playing for so long, I knew how to be on stage. I’m not trying to say I was an entertainer or anything, but I knew what I had to do. And I won.
I won a Les Paul Gold Top, a year’s supply of D'Addario strings, a feature in Guitar Player Magazine and they took me out to dinner. And I was so pumped about the dinner! They took me out and I was carrying the Les Paul Gold Top and I’m like “I get to eat right now.” Living in L.A. at that point, I was living off of Peanut Butter and Jelly.
So we go out to eat and this guy Phil says, “hey man, when can I hear your band play?” I said “man, I don’t have a band, I just moved here.” He says, “can you sing?” I said, “a little bit, but not really.” He says, “do you have any songs?” I say, “no, not really.” He says, “well, I own a studio here in Los Angeles. Why don’t you get some guys together, you can come over and jam.” I said, “yeah, that’s cool.”
Jared James Nichols at the Swing House
So I called him a week later to take a tour… it’s this place called Swing House in the heart of West Hollywood. So I walk in, and there’s Marilyn Manson… it’s like a rockstar den. And I was like “woah! This place is legit!” So we go in there and start jamming, little by little. And say to Phil, “hey man, if I get a gig can I borrow some gear?” and he’s like “yeah man.” So little by little, this relationship is growing, and we’re rehearsing there all the time at this point.
A few months in, we’re jamming in the room and all of a sudden Steven Tyler walks in and says “who the hell are you?” and I’m like “hey man, [under his breath] oh my god, Steven Tyler.” And he’s like “we’re making a record in the back, why don’t you come and hang out with us?” Next thing you know, I’m hanging out with Aerosmith.
So I had all these crazy things happen, but really, when the bridge broke was that contest. I remember I saw that flyer and I said “you’ve gotta do this. This is exactly what you want. Gibson guitars presents… c’mon man.” And it’s funny, fast forward to know, because having a signature guitar, one of the things in the description is “winner of the Les Paul signature contest… from the same town as Les Paul.” It was a full circle moment. Sometimes, the little things like that grow into something that can change your life. It did for me.
It was in L.A. that you cut your first record, “Old Glory and the Wild Revival.” It’s an interesting thing for me with your LPs, we’ve talked about this before. Because there’s been such a progression between the two records you’ve done. You went from “Old Glory…”, which is raucous, good time blues, to “Black Magic” which is darker, and stylistically you push the boat. So you’ve got a new single out at the moment.
“Nails in the Coffin,” which is…
Different again, right. It’s a big song, a big tune. So what’s the process behind that, how did we get to there from…
From “Old Glory…” and “Black Magic?” So check this out. “Old Glory” was the first time I was ever in a studio, working with a producer named Warren Huart and then Eddie Kramer.
I didn’t know you cut that with Warren?
Yeah man, do you know him?
Not personally, but I’m a longtime follower of his YouTube Channel.
Yeah, now he’s a huge YouTuber! At the time, he was doing a little bit of production and he was an engineer. I worked with him through the Aerosmith connection, and Eddie Kramer, which was unbelievable. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to sound like. I’m still really proud of that record, but I can hear myself at a certain time.
I like that record a lot, I was listening to it earlier today. It’s a very Eddie Kramer record, isn’t it? In terms of those guitar sounds on there…
Absolutely. I only have good memories about making that record. Some people can’t listen to their old records, but when I hear it, it makes me grin.
Then, we did “Black Magic” at Johnny Depp’s house. And I was in a whole other mindset. We went in there and just knocked those out. I had riffs, we hit it, we didn’t think about ‘em twice. I was like “let’s keep it short, let’s just go in there, break the neck and get out.”
Photo by John Bull
Moving forward to what we just released, “Nails”. “Nails” is the first song that I’ve ever truly written on an acoustic guitar. I wrote that with a songwriting team in L.A.; Mark and Ian. When we started to write that song, it became very clear early on that we had a song. It wasn’t just a riff. It wasn’t just a chorus. It was a song. When we were writing it and recording it, I realized “this is very different from anything I’ve ever done,” and I got a little nervous to be honest with you.
I said to them “is this OK?” and they said, “man, you just do you. Don’t let other thoughts creep into your head.” So we did it, and I’m really proud of it as a song. There’s an element of modernity about it, obviously, and when we play it live, we take it to a different place. It’s almost a little bittersweet because some people say “Jared, you should be ripping guitars on, it, where’s all the guitars?”… it has a 15-second-guitar-solo.
But, it’s the only song I’ve ever had where people go “dude, what was that song, what was that one?” Even the big rockers; Gary Holt from Slayer, Phil Demmel from Machine Head, they go “dude, that’s a fuckin’ song.” Then Planet Rock starts playing it, and A listing it. Then BBC2… It’s really funny to see the progression of it.
As far as where my head’s at moving forward for writing music? I will never ever stop playing the shit I love, which is blues-rock with that raw energy, but I really want my stuff to mean something…
The thing with “Nails…” is, it has that. It’s unmistakably your stuff. But in term of the dynamics of it, it terms of the punch of it… It’s got a bit more production on there but it feels like it’s your kinda thing. It’s a big song.
It’ll be fun to see what happens with it. There’s a lot of people getting behind it who have never gotten behind my stuff in that way. I think that’s the kind of song that takes it from being “just a guitar guy” to pushing on the artist side.
There’s something kind of transcendent about it. I mean, the blue rock longhairs are always gonna be with it the instant you start ripping on the Les Paul, right? But with this…
There’s the potential to cross into a market that I never dreamed of. And what’s cool about it is that when I sing it, and play it, and recorded it, it felt right. Somebody said to me, “you wrote that song to pay the bills.” And I was like, “no man, I wrote that song on an acoustic guitar thinking about Muddy Waters. And was just trying to push forward.”
Make sure you watch this space for the next edition of our chat with Jared, where we get to grips with signature amps, Custom Les Pauls, and what Blues Power means to Mr. Nichols in 2019.
Header photo: Adam Kennedy
Cal Jam doesn’t get the same love as festivals like Monterey Pop or Woodstock. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have the late ‘60s countercultural cred, happening a full five years after the summer of love reached its peak. Maybe it’s because it was staged to be filmed for television (as part of ABC’s legendary “In Concert” series). Why do I love California Jam so much? It is because it established the record for the largest concert sound system ever assembled? Was it because it featured the first ever appearance of the Good Year blimp at a music festival?
Guitar lessons eventually followed. But, classical guitar didn’t grab me in the same way that my own freeform compositions had. Firstly, I didn’t know any of the songs I was supposed to be learning. Secondly, it required the kind of co-ordination and finger dexterity that I was – at that time at least – far too impatient to master. “I read somewhere that there are these things you can use to hit the strings so you don’t have to use your fingers. I think they began with a P,” I once told my guitar teacher. “The thing that begins with a P is called practice,” he replied. He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear it.
This week, to satisfy my yearning for live music, I’ve taken a deep dive into my record collection and rediscovered some live favourites. Given how much joy I’ve got out of these records, I thought I’d share them with you today. Putting together this list, I’ve tried to take the road less travelled. I didn’t want to put together a list of classic live albums that everyone already knows like the back of their hand. Instead, my three picks serve as alternatives to some of those classic albums, offering a new look at some legendary bands.