Jarrod Dickenson returned to Belfast in February for a couple of sold out shows in Belfast’s Sunflower Bar. We caught up with him to discuss his love of Northern Ireland and Northern Irish acts, songwriting, tours, shows and his new EP “Songs from Willow St”.
► You’ve got past history touring round the UK & Ireland, what is it you like about touring here?
The crowds really. Just about anywhere you go they’re willing to sit down and listen, and actually pay attention to the stories and the songs. And you know it’s not always just about having a drink with your friends and chitchatting it’s actually about the music.
► You won the Belfast Nashville award, a few years ago now, and you’ve played the festival as well before, what was the whole experience around that like?
They held a songwriting competition for the Belfast Nashville Songwriting festival and the winner would get to come over and play in the festival. And so I submitted a song ‘Walking in Central Park’ and that ended up winning. I got to come over and play in the festival that year and I guess it went down pretty well and they invited me back the next year, and the year after that. That’s kind of how I got my start here in Belfast.
► And now you’ve played Belfast a few times, you must enjoy it?
Yea I love it here, it’s great. Probably my favourite city in the UK to play.
► This is your second of two sold out nights?
Yea who knew, it was a blast last night. The crowd was perfect. They shut up when they were supposed to shut up and they were rowdy when they were supposed to be rowdy.
► How was the experience of your collaborative tour with David Ford?
It was brilliant. I met David a couple of years ago cause I opened up for him in Philadelphia and we met at the gig. That night they were driving back to New York. When they found out I was going to be taking the bus back early next morning they gave me a lift back home and we just stayed in touch. I saw that he was doing a UK tour, shot him off an email and said “hey man you want anybody to come out and open?”. Shockingly he said yes, and he had this idea of bringing me and this other girl from the States, Emily Grove over and forming a little band just for the tour. So he would play with us, we would play with him. All of us were out on the stage for like three hours every night which was great. We weren’t sure how it was going to turn out; riding to the first gig we all kind of said “well, this could be complete shit or it could be something good”. I think the crowds really liked it. Just seeing the camaraderie up there on stage and for a guy like David who is the headliner to be out there playing with the support acts is pretty cool. It shows that he doesn’t have any ego on him.
❝ The crowd was perfect. They shut up when they were supposed to shut up and they were rowdy when they were supposed to be rowdy ❞
► You’ve just announced a show with Duke Special. You’ve played with him before?
Back in the summer I got to do two shows with him down in Dun Laoghaire and Newbridge, we just got on really well. He’s a lovely guy and insanely talented. And so I saw that he was going to be in London on Monday, which was the day I fly into London so just gave him a shout and said “Hey, can I tag along?” and he was nice enough to say yes. So should be fun.
► Are there any other Northern Irish acts you’re particularly fond of?
Foy Vance is amazing. I saw him for the first time back in 2011 when I came over for BelNash, in the Empire and he was phenomenal. So he would be one. Farriers are great. I don’t know if he counts as a Northern Irish act since he’s from the States but Gentry is pretty damn good so I’m excited to have him here tonight. There’s quite a few.
► When songwriting and music start for you?
I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 18 which I guess is relatively late. But almost immediately I started trying to write my own songs. They were complete shit for a really long time. In fact I think there’s a few recordings out there with friends which they hang over my head. Almost immediately I tried to write tunes, it wasn’t until maybe my senior year of college that I really started getting the hang of it, and they started becoming at least a little less shitty. And just kept going from there.
► Do you think your songwriting has progressed through your records?
Yea I hope so. I mean it’s definitely progressed since then. I do see little changes between records. I mean hopefully it’s going in the right direction but it definitely changes from year to year.
► Who are some of your earlier influences? Are they the same now?
I mean early on would have been people I listened to in my dad’s record collection like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who. All the classic rock stuff which led me to all the blues guys that influenced them like Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, BB King. I was really into blues for a really long time, still am. But over maybe the last seven or eight years I’ve really gotten into the songwriters like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Hank Williams – all those guys.
► You also like to state your literary influences, do you think those have a big effect on your songwriting and your storytelling?
I would think so. Right after I got out of college I started reading loads. I never really read too much for pleasure growing up but dove in once I got out of college and really fell in love with guys like John Steinbeck who would write about the working man. And I would say that definitely influences my own writing.
► Can you tell us a little bit about your new EP ?
So last year I was touring quite a bit, over here mostly. And in between tours I would go back to Brooklyn and try to write a few tunes in my apartment there. In about October I had these four tunes and thought, well I wanted to record these. So I went down to Texas, where I’m from and hooked up with a good friend of mine, a producer and engineer named Chris Jacobie, and recorded them in just a couple of days. Didn’t know what to call it but, well I wrote them all in Willow Street so thought I’ll call it ‘Songs from Willow St’.
► What is coming up in the future?
Well got a lot of dates coming up on this tour and then after that go back home. David and I are going to do a tour in the States together in April and May. And then hoping to get back here in the fall.