Welcome back to the final part of Thalia’s in depth interview with Jared James Nichols.
If you’re not up to speed, check out parts one and two here where we talk Jared’s roots in the Chicago blues scene, his distinctive finger style playing and get to grips with a very tasty 1960 Les Paul…
In this final edition, we pick up on Jared’s Blues Power mantra, life on the road, and how his impressive Epiphone signature Les Paul came to be…
Blues Power is your mantra…
And every time I speak to you, I ask you what Blues Power means to you at the moment, ‘cause it shifts a bit. Listening to “Nails in the Coffin,” this feels like a shift again. It’s a very modern, very forward thinking version of Blues Power. So where are you at with that at the moment?
I feel like since I’ve talked to you last, my eyes and ears have opened a bit more and I’ve grown in a lot of ways. That more trying to be a vocalist, that more trying to be a songwriter; doing more than just thinking about the guitar.
There’s a point in time where all of these guys go through it; they say “the guitar will always be there, it’s a part of me, but I really want to write, I really want to push it. Blues Power to me… whether it’s “Nails,” or any of the stuff I do; I’m putting my life on the line with it. It’s the deepest song I’ve ever written. They say when you first write something really personal, that’s when you start to feel the shivers down the spine. And that’s the one, man.
Vocally as well, you’re sounding fierce on it.
I’m really happy to be growing on all levels. Finding my own way as a vocalist is a beautiful thing. I guess that comes because I’ve been on the road all year, just non-stop.
You’re hardened by it, right? I remember the first time I saw you was back in 2015…
Here, supporting Glenn Hughes, right?
Yeah, that’s the one. So I’m with my buddy watching the set. We’re both ‘70s rock and blues guys so we’re digging it. But, about fourth song in, he turns to me and says, “he’s not using a pick.” That was an eye opener.
Like “shit, what the fuck is going on here!”
From there, where you’ve ended up four years down the line…
It’s crazy man. Music in 2019 is always an uphill battle, especially for the things that we love. But you’ve always gotta be on the road and you’ve always gotta be pushing it. I’m so excited for the future. I really think like now I can start to settle into who I am as an artist. I needed that time to grow. A lot of guys never have the chance to grow. They think to themselves; “I need to stick to this, this is it.” For me, it’s been a beautiful development. And now I’m tapping into what I want to. It’s great.
It’s nice because there’s been all this progression, but you get up on stage and it’s still very pure. It’s the same three guys. You get up on stage and you plug in to… are you using a [Blackstar] HT-20 now?
JJN Signature Amp by Blackstar
That’s my new signature amp, the JJN-20. I just plug straight into the amp. I’m still old school in many ways. Some things I’ll never change, bro. We keep it simple on stage. We understand it’s not 1975 anymore, but we stay true to the things that we love and we just go for it. When I bend a note, you’ve still got all 220lbs and 6ft4 going into it!
There’s a heft behind it. So, I forgot to wear my earplugs tonight…
Uh-oh, you’re gonna be ringing tonight…
And especially without that protection, it hits you right in the face. You definitely get that massive sounding, Pete Townshend vibe.
No matter what I play, what I write, what I do, that’ll never leave me. ‘Cause that’s the excitement, that’s the shit I live for. Records are forever. But playing live, one-night-stands, boom-boom-boom; that’s what I live for. Those moments on stage, sometimes you just hit the magic and it’s beautiful.
So you’re on the road basically all the time these days…
Yeah. This year I’ve been out since January 14th straight. It’s crazy, but it’s part of the deal.
In terms of practice, do you still have a routine, or do you just get up there and rip it every night?
I still have a daily routine. This year, I’ve been on the road so much. I’ve been to the Middle East, I’ve been to Europe. I’ve done North America three times. We’re going to Japan, we’re going to Australia… there’s so much happening. But, I try and keep some normalcy in my life. I keep exercising, I try to stay true to some kind of diet; I don’t go crazy on the alcohol, I don’t go crazy on the sweets.
As far as music goes, I’m playing every single day. As far as chops go, I used to be a guitar player that had a regime where I would do chords, scales, finger exercises, bending, vibrato. It was an hour of that every day. But I got to a point - pretty recently actually - where I was playing so much. The way that I play is pretty heavy and I thought to myself, “man, you know your harmony, you know your theory, you know how you want it to sound. So what you should really think about now is pushing towards your sound.”
So I started to really get on that train. But rest assured, until I was maybe 27, I was practicing nine hours a day when I was home, three hours a day when I was on the road. Now, I’m still playing two-to-three hours a day, but I don’t have a specific routine any more because my life now is a little insane. I never know what I’m getting into; every day is an adventure. The only thing I know is that I’ll be on stage at some point during the day.
Lately I’ve been doing these master classes and guitar clinics where it’s just me without. And talk about growing your chops man! You’re playing these songs on your own and singing without the safety net of a band.
I spent over a decade playing by the rules and learning and studying and being an apprentice. Now I’m just trying to find my own path. The thing people say to me now is “I can hear all your influences, but it sounds like you.”
I think that started when “Black Magic” came out. On the earlier record, you could hear where you’d come from. But by the time you hit that album, we could start to see where you were going.
Once “Black Magic” came out, I really felt like I was getting into a rhythm. Now, I’m like a crazy animal. It’s great, because although I’ve been working my ass off like crazy, there’s still a lot of ground to cover and a lot of people to play for. My work has just begun. That’s the fun part.
So one more thing I want to talk about is the Epiphone. You’ve got a signature guitar…
I’ve got a signature guitar! Can you believe that?
It’s a good one, too. So what was the process behind that? How did you end up there?
I always loved Les Pauls. I loved the shape and the style. But, playing finger style, I never got on with the neck pickup. I was always trying to milk the bridge pickup and use the volume and tone. So I ripped out my neck pickup for the finger style playing. And when I did that, I ripped out the toggle switch, I ripped out the volume and tone for it [the neck pickup], and I was left with a bridge pickup, nothing up here (gestures towards the neck pickup) and a volume and tone [for the bridge]. That was the origins of my Gibson Old Glory: a black Les Paul Custom with a P90. I got that guitar just before I recorded my first record. That’s the sound of that record.
Ltd. Ed. Jared James Nichols “Old Glory” Les Paul Custom Outfit
People were starting to see this guitar any saying “what the hell is that guitar? What are you doing? Who’s this guy who’s not playing with a pick, playing heavy-ass blues stuff with a single pickup Les Paul?” I’d got friends at Gibson at that point who were checking me out, starting to see what was going on. It got to the point where that Les Paul, in guitar circles, was better known that I was. People were coming to shows and asking me “hey man, can I see Old Glory?” I thought that was so cool.
Moving forward, I was playing that guitar, touring with it, and Gibson contacted me. They said, “hey man, that’s a really cool guitar. If you need any help with anything, let us know.” So I started getting pots, borrowing different guitars, and the relationship just blossomed from there. Then, last year, we said “let’s do it and make a deal.” They said “we’re gonna start with Epiphone and make your signature Old Glory. Then we’re gonna move to Gibson, but we really wanna start with Epiphone.” And I said, “absolutely.” One year and two days ago, we sealed the deal, and I couldn’t be more proud of the guitar. They killed it.
Epiphone are doing some phenomenal work at the moment, especially with signature stuff. And, your model is very true to the spirit of the original...
Absolutely. And the one that they sent me – the prototype – is the one I still play. I remember I said to them, there’s some specs I need, there’s some things I understand [won’t be there]… but when they sent me that guitar on December 4th 2018, I couldn’t believe it. They’d done such a good job. Every day I’ve been on this clinic tour, I’ve been seeing them in shops. People have been buying them, and the production models have been so good. I can’t say enough how amazed I am at the quality.
In the beginning, they said “we’re gonna do a run of 500. We’re confident that we can do 500.” I was like, “wow, that’s amazing.” Then NAMM happened and I released the guitar. Then, about two months later, I was in Seattle, and one of the Gibson reps came and met me at a shop called Emerald City. She said, “hey, do you realize how many pre-sales you have on your guitar?” We’d been aiming for 500, but it was three times that in presales alone. I almost fell off the chair.
What’s really cool about it for me is that guitar’s so personal to my style and who I am as a guitarist; how I base my sound and how I envision music. To have it be something that people have latched onto… I mean, it’s just a Les Paul with a single pick-up…
But it’s the essence of simplicity, right? To have something that’s really well made, that really rips, that does what it says on the tin… I completely get that. I get why people are switched on to that.
I’m just so honored. It sounds cheesy, but being from the same town as Les Paul, and being able to honor him with his original design while putting my spin on it… and have it be successful… It’s a full circle moment. I never even in my wildest dreams thought that would happen.
So here I am, seven months later, never being home, still on the road supporting it, and I couldn’t be happier.
That’s it for our epic chat with the mighty Mr. Jared James Nichols, but where one discussion ends, another begins…
If you’ve had hands on experience with the Epiphone Old Glory, then let us know your thoughts in the comments. And, tell us if there are any guitarists you’d like Thalia to interview and the questions you’d like us to ask them!
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.