Jack Grelle is certainly no newbie to the music scene. Just reading his bio, you get a sense that he is a well-rounded musician, drawing immense inspiration from every ounce of his resume of work. But his work also speaks for itself. His most recent album, Got Dressed Up to be Let Down, not only speaks to the masses solely with its title, but is also overwhelmingly beautiful in all of its twangy glory.
But don’t let the overall sound of the album fool you into thinking Jack Grelle is any type of one-dimensional. In fact, we unpacked a lot of interesting and fun facts from this incredible man when we spoke with him around the album’s release. Here’s what he had to say.
What’s your official origin story?
Born and raised in St. Louis. Pretty normal upbringing…. always loved music from a young age. I used to have my sister and brother play fake instruments with me when we were kids. Wrote some silly songs about a dog and magicians. I got into playing guitar in middle school because my cousin Steve, who was close in age, started playing. Loved classic rock at the time and just wanted to learn Led Zeppelin guitar licks.
What was the first record you remember that left a lasting impression on you?
First record… thats a tough one… I know one of the first country records I fell in love with was Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. I didn’t grow up listening to country…so that was one of the first introductions. Neil Young’s Harvest was played in my car repeatedly in high school as well. Right now Terry Allen’s Lubbock on Everything is getting a lot of play.
How do you stay inspired to continually create new music?
My friends and peers are always my biggest inspiration to keep writing and creating. I’m all about old records but its really when I hear a beautiful song from someone I know is when the creative juices started flowing. Late night song trades is such a timeless tradition. My friends in New Orleans are always great with that.
Walk me through some of the creative evolution of your music, from beginning to now.
I’m constantly getting into new genres of music. My first band in high school was kind of an experimental band. We would just play for hours and try and find a groove and sound in the drummer’s parents basement. I also played in the jazz band at school.
I moved to Columbia, MO to go to college. At that time I was really into singer-songwriters and bluegrass. Played in a bluegrass band there for a short minute before I found the punk/DIY scene. Thats where the idea of being a musician really took off. Seeing touring bands play in living rooms for next to no money, but having the time of their lives was when my eyes were opened to the fact that “making it” as a band was some illusion and that you could live the dream regardless of financial success.
For years I booked shows in Columbia at collectively ran houses and show spaces, played in probably ten different bands during that time. Through those circles and travelers I found country and old time music. I eventually had to quit the crusty hardcore band I was singing and touring in to focus on country music. I was blowing my voice out every night, then I could barely get through a country set the next. I took my songs on the road in the romantic tradition of Woody Guthrie and so many other greats, hitchhiking and hoping trains, busking on street corners for tips. After a few years of that and an extensive stint in NYC, I got worn out and moved back to St. Louis. Needed space of my own and a little income. The band just kind of happened naturally. That was four years ago.
You’ve just released Got Dressed Up to be Let Down. What was the creative process like, putting it together?
Each album I have put out is just a testament of where my life has been at during that time. When I have enough songs…its time for a new record. Cajun music was a new love that I found during the writing process of this record. Also the political climate in St. Louis and around the country became very sharp. So I began to branch out on topics and content. Made sure I was putting some kind of positive message in there. Of course, half the record is pretty traditional. I also discovered Lavender Country, the first openly gay country album, during this time. Thats was a game-changer of writing country songs with a political undertone.
The recording process was new as well. I had a unique opportunity to record with our friend Ben Hinn and Mound Sound. We recorded most of the album in analogue on a two inch tape machine. It had its challenges, but also made it feel more authentic on the performance end.
In some ways, you’ve used your music as a form of activism. What support and/or pushback does that bring you?
The political climate we live in is very divided. Black Lives Matter or Blue? Our president-elect empowers a lot of white supremacists while leaving millions vulnerable and terrified of what is to come. I feel like we live in a time where its crucial to take a stand. I’ve always been a political person and have ran with some activist circles. All of my old punk bands were political. Putting it into my country songs is a new thing. I look to the songs and lives of Woody Guthrie, Utah Phillips and Blaze Foley as reinforcing inspirations in the tradition of folk music.
My song “Changes Never Made” has gotten some mixed reviews in live shows…..but mainly positive. It is about the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson. Tried to make the song very factual and not preachy…especially coming from a white man. A lot of people have thanked or complimented me on the song and for bringing up the issue. Others have walked out, a few boos and one serious middle finger in Nashville at the Americana Fest. Its too bad that saying “Black Lives Matter” results in a middle finger from someone who was enjoying themselves the song before… but thats the times we live in. I’d rather say something about the current state of affairs as opposed to just ignore it.
Music isn’t an easy path to pursue. How and why do you do it?
At this point I don’t know what else to focus my energy on. Being an independent touring musician is hard. Lot of cat and mouse to book a show where five people show up and you make $50. But I do love it. I love to travel and playing music is a reason to show up to a new town. I hope to find that sustainable stride where I can keep afloat being on the road part of the year.. but I’m grateful for the opportunities I have gotten.
What’s your dream collaboration?
Dream collaboration? Oh… that’s another tough one… John Prine? Joe Ely? Fred and Toody?!?!? Haha not sure… I really enjoy what Daniel Romano is doing. I’d also love to collaborate with musicians and producers that are not in the country or roots scene.. find a new take on the old tradition.
With 2017 nearing, what can we expect?
We are starting to plan a European tour for late spring. Has not been announced yet. In February we are excited to open a string of Midwest dates with Pokey LaFarge. Thats always a great time and we are close with Pokey and his band…sometimes share members. Summertime I think we will head to the west coast. And some point make it to the east coast. Plugging away in 2017.
Think thats all…. Thanks so much for the support!