Digging Deep With Country Star Jacob Bryant (An Interview)

Jacob Bryant’s new album PRACTICE WHAT I PREACH charged out of the gates last Friday rising to #1 on the iTunes Top Country Albums chart. Bryant’s response was fast and to-the-point: “I’d like to thank God, my team and my amazing fans for all the support and help pushing this to #1 at iTunes. We couldn’t have done it without y’all!”

PRACTICE WHAT I PREACH was co-produced by Collective Soul lead guitarist, Jesse Triplett, Bryant and his manager, Jeff Catton, and Bryant had a hand in the creative process from start to finish. In addition to co-producing, he co-wrote four tracks on the album. Bryant also leaned on a few close friends and hit songwriters to help fill out the album and tell the rest of his story. The 12-track album takes listeners on a journey of Bryant’s own life experiences – including the heartache he suffered from the loss of his mother in 2010. The tragedy sent Bryant on a downward spiral of alcohol and drug use – but it was his passion for music and the love of his fiancé that quite literally saved his soul.

In my review of the new album, I wrote: “If you like your country music trustworthy, then Jacob Bryant is the voice you seek.” I was lucky enough to have a conversation with him on the very day that his album debuted at the top of the Country chart. That’s exciting stuff, and it’s always a pleasure to be able to share that moment with an artist. Here’s our conversation:

Jacob Bryant: How’s your Friday goin’?

Greg Victor: If it’s just half as good as yours is goin’ out there in Jasper, Georgia, then it’s great!

JB: Man, I stayed up last night when my album came out. Once it started charting pretty well, I stayed up and watched it some more. I probably went to sleep about three o’clock, and then I woke up and sent my fiancé off to work about six, and then couldn’t get back to sleep. So I’ve only slept a couple of hours.

GV: Same here. Knowing I was going to be talking to you this morning, I stayed up watching the album on the iTunes chart. But once you hit number one, I figured it was safe to go to bed! Congratulations again.

JB: Thanks for the support. A little bit of dedication and a good work ethic. One thing I’m not is a quitter! Once I start, I can’t stop.

GV: So when you’re out there, working hard on the road, what do you miss most about home?

JB: Just the quietness. I grew up on a dirt road, so I’m out here in the middle of nowhere.

GV: All you need is a front porch if you’re going to live there, right?

JB: And the birds and the squirrels.

GV: I know that your first exposure to music growing up was sitting on the porch and learning to play bluegrass music with family.

JB: Yeah, they had a band and we’d all get together on the weekends and rehearse. They call it rehearsing, but they were probably drinking more than rehearsing. But they were pretty dang good, and I took a  lot of influence from them.

GV: Does this mean we can look forward to your releasing some bluegrass music someday?

JB: Absolutely. I’ve actually talked about it with one of my guitar players. At some point, we’d like to do a 3-song or 5-song bluegrass EP, just to change it up. Dierks Bentley did that one time and I thought it was pretty cool.

GV: I agree. I’d like to ask just a couple of fun questions about music other than yours, if you don’t mind.

JB: Go ahead.

GV: If you were stuck on a desert island and only had one album to listen to, what would that album be?

JB: Believe it or not, it’d probably blow your mind, but it’s a Fleetwood Mac album that me and my mawmaw and my mom used to listen to. It had that song, “The Chain,” on it.

GV: Fleetwood Mac’s greatest album — Rumours.

JB: That’s it. I can still picture the cover of the album. If I had one record to listen to, it’d be the one.

GV: So what was the first concert you ever went to?

JB: Edgar Winter Band, and Jackyl.

GV: Where was that?

JB: At a biker rally. I was really young, and it was pretty fun. I got to see Jesse James Dupree saw up a barstool, doing “The Lumberjack Song” at my first concert, so I don’t think anybody could ever top that.

GV: If you could have written one song in the past, which song would that be?

JB: That’s a tough one. I’d say “Miami, My Amy,” the Keith Whitley song.

GV: Do you ever do it in your live show?

JB: I have before.

GV: Was there one single moment when you realized that country music was definitely what you were destined to do in life?

JB: Well, I’ve been doing it for fifteen years now, and I feel like there are stages in a career. If I really look back on it, there were certain times when I had that “I’ve made it” feeling, but then I’d get to that plateau and then climb the next ladder. And then the next one. But I feel like I “made it” for real when I played my first arena show, just this past year. I played a gig with Brantley Gilbert at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

GV: And I’m sure the huge crowd there loved it. You and Brantley must’ve put on a heck of a show.

JB: That was an incredible first, for sure, for me.

GV: So how would you describe your sound?

JB: I’ve always been a more traditional voice, on top of a Southern rock band. With my vocals, there’s no way to get away from the influence that I drew from Keith Whitley, and Travis Tritt,  and Randy Travis. And on the music side of things, what I always liked was The Eagles, Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the bad boys like Bon Jovi. I’ve tried to mesh Southern rock and rock, but with a traditional voice. I kind of came up with what I call “Country done my way.”

GV: Well, you were certainly born with a country voice. There’s no escaping it. And on your new album, it’s quite impressive. You really cover a lot of territory, musically.

JB: Thanks. I want something on that record for everybody — the people who like traditional, or the people who like modern country, or blues, or whatever. I want everybody to be able to listen to the record and find something they love about it.

GV: How’d you choose the songs? Considering all that you’ve done, was it difficult to choose what to include?

JB: Really, I don’t try to cram a bunch of stuff into a record. I just kind of let it blossom, like a flower, I guess. There’s some stuff on there I wanted. We had one of the bigger songs on there that has about fourteen or fifteen million views, or streams — I don’t know how they added it up — on YouTube. “Pour Whiskey on my Grave.” I did not write that song, but we were almost done with the album and I was playing a Writer’s Round in Nashville, and the guy sitting next to me tore off into that song and it hadn’t been cut. I said, “I have to have this song. It reminds me of me going to my mom’s grave and pouring out a beer with her.” So we went back into the studio and cut it.

GV: Are you trying to convey any particular message with the album?

JB: I feel like we just tried to put together the best representation of who I am, and get it out there for people to enjoy.

GV: Is there any one song that you are watching, to see how people respond?

JB: Yeah, we’ve got a song on there called “Wrong Way Home.” I guess it pushes me a little bit closer to the Jason Aldean modern rock/country kind of thing, which I’m a super big fan of. I’ve just never tried it before. I figured I could do something that could ride the fence of mainstream, that would make fans on both sides of that fence happy. It’s pushing my vocal abilities and letting me hone my craft. I’m excited to see how the fans like that one, for sure.

GV: There are a couple of Oscar-nominated movies this year that are set in the music industry: Bohemian Rhapsody  and A Star Is Born. If someday there were a movie about the Jacob Bryant rise to the top, what would you hope that Hollywood got right about your story so far?

JB: I would just want them to not focus on just the bad I’ve done in my life. I understand that the media like a little bit of drama — that’s what sells — but at the end of the day, I have a softer side… more than just a biker who drank and has been a coke head and done all this dumb stuff, you know, back when my mom passed away and I was going through a divorce… I would want people to see that I grew up in a Christian household, and had some parents who struggled and got through their demons. I just try to be a better person to everybody, everyday. I would definitely want them to dig a little deeper into the book of Jacob Bryant, before they just take all of the stuff that’s on the internet and run with it.

GV: That sounds like a great title for a future double record album — The Book of Jacob.

JB: [laughs] Instead of the A and B side, it’ll have the dark side and the light side.

GV: I’d buy it! So is there anyone in particular that you share this moment with, who was there at an important stage, looking back?

JB: I’ve been influenced by so many people. Both my parents. Both of them were never perfect, or anything like that, but they both tried to support me. I’d just say I appreciate it. ‘Cause me and the good Lord got it worked out a little bit differently than most people I guess. I’d have to thank my brother for being there for me, and helping me through some dark times, and giving me inspiration to write some of these songs, and believing in me. You’ve just got to strive to be better everyday.

GV: Once you were asked in an interview to complete the sentence, “I would love to have been there in musical history when…” Your response was “… when country wasn’t cool.” I really liked that answer and I just wanted to ask you to explain that a little, if you don’t mind.

JB: I like not thinking about it. It’s not only just country though, there’s also the hipster stuff… whatever’s trendy. When country wasn’t cool, the guys who were doing it just had their own way, and they’d make their own path.

GV: Like who?

JB: Like Waylon, and Paycheck, and Merle… and George Jones… they just had their own vibe. At the end of the day, they were who they wanted to be, and I’ve always respected that. I wish I’d been around when country wasn’t cool, and I was just who I am now. Because I don’t think I could ever be anyone else.

GV: You practice what you preach.

JB: That’s it.

[For more about Jacob Bryant (including upcoming appearances) visit his website.]

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