Talk Music: Jack Ingram plays Western Days
Oct. 16, 2013 at 5:16 a.m.
Jack Ingram might take his life motto from Polonius' famous line: "to thine own self, be true."
With two Top 10s, four Top 20s and a handful of other hits, the 42-year-old guitar-slinger is making the music he wants, the way he wants, and nothing else will do.
Before he headlines Yorktown's Western Days festival, Ingram caught up with Get Out to talk about writing for the sake of the song, his policy on compromise and life after escaping Nashville.
Judging by your tweets, I have to wonder if you're a Lady Gaga fan?
I'm a big fan of people that do whatever they want - who push whatever envelope of whatever genre or situation they're in.
I'm not a huge fan of her music, but I do think she's immensely talented.
I can see that in your music. Would you say you have that mindset?
I think so. I've always been pretty bull-headed about my career and the kind of music I want to make. I've definitely known when I wasn't doing right by that, and it felt uncomfortable, and I was so agitated.
It's not some tangible thing you can see or touch, but you can definitely feel it.
The funny part for me is that the most commercial success I've had is when I felt like I had to break some of my own artistic vision.
But I don't believe that I can't have commercial success and be following my heart, my vision.
I wasn't in the exact right circumstance, so I'm still searching for the correct equation on that, and I know it's there.
What goals do you have in mind for the future?
Just trying to make the most of my music. I still feel like there's a long way to go in my career. I've been doing this in Texas for 20 years, but I just still feel like there's so much that I haven't done and some much I want to do.
I think about Willie Nelson; he was my age when he first had a No. 1 on the radio. He was 42. From that aspect, it's like this is a marathon, not a sprint.
I'm still trying to write a better song and make a better record and put on a better show. That's the roadmap for me. There are artists that I really love that never took their foot off the gas.
Merle Haggard, Tom Petty, Neil Young - they had the career I want. They continually had major commercial success with music that you can stand behind for all time.
How do you describe your guitar technique?
From songwriting, I just always figured Townes Van Zandt said, "For the sake of the song." You follow the song and service the song, which is servicing the little tiny idea that you had in a moment of clarity - that moment when you say, "I got it!"
It's a tiny little moment that feels perfect. To focus in on that little moment and turn it into a bigger thing that's three and half minutes long is really hard to do.
My technique is to always compare every line that I'm writing to that one moment of clarity.
"Biloxi" is a song that came out on "Hey You" years ago. It was one of the first times I really felt clear about everything the whole way through.
That song started with the very first line: "Where in the hell did you go?"
I think the entire song services that idea of really coming down hard on somebody for what you feel was a wrong. It covers it in a way that's whole. It's not venom and anger; it's hurt and love and passion and everything else.
What's your philosophy to this business and how does that differ from the way you approach songwriting?
When I write songs, I'm completely enveloped by the process and the emotion of what's happening then and there. The business part is much different than that.
I think that's what young artists get confused about with the term compromise. You let it carry over into your music, and I don't think you need to do that. I think the compromise part comes into play in the business end.
As you get older, I think you start to go, "Oh, OK, how come compromising in business doesn't hurt so bad?" That's called negotiating. The music is untouchable, it's how I do it, and that's what I'm willing to release: no compromises. The business side is: Let's talk.
It seems you've regained a strong sense of self-confidence. Not that you're cocky, but maybe there's a new perspective that life is too short to be doing something that isn't 100 percent fulfilling. What caused that?
That's definitely the way I feel. If you're lucky enough to know what direction you're supposed to be headed, which a lot of people don't, then I feel like it's sort of an obligation to head fully in that direction.
You mentioned earlier that you're still searching for the right equation. What are you doing to find it?
The main thing I'm doing to find it is knowing I can, which I guess equates to not giving up.
My heroes found a situation where they were following their true, authentic vision of their music, and the business pieces were in place, and it worked. The one thing I can control for sure is my music and my writing and the songs I choose to sing. That's what I'm doing. I'm being very clear about my music.
The other thing is trying a label who shares my vision, not just a label that has money and can get you on the radio, but a label who thinks they can get my music on the radio the way I hand it to them. That's always the rub in Nashville. They can get you on the radio, but you have to do it their way. That's where people get in trouble.