Indispensable Interview: Jack Grace
by Kristine England
The man Jerry Lee Lewis once likened to “that Cash kid, but good” has enjoyed a long and varied career. Jack Grace is that man: a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who’s been touring and recording for over 25 years. His duet with Norah Jones, “Bad Wind Blowing” was a standout tune on his last recording, Everything I Say Is A Lie, produced by Joan Jett and Steve Earle’s former guitarist Eric Ambel. He’s performed with a diverse collection of artists, like the aforementioned Lewis as well as Doc Watson, Fishbone, Junior Brown, The Meters, and has even shared the bill with Merle Haggard.
A talented singer, songwriter and guitarist who hails from New York, Jack's work melds rock, jazz, Americana, and other styles to create a sound that is completely his own. His latest record, What a Way to Spend a Night, was released this summer.
Indispensable Music sat down with the affable and entertaining Mr. Grace to discuss his latest recording, the NYC music scene, and more.
What a Way to Spend the Night is your new record. What do you think sets this apart from your previous recordings?
It was mostly written and recorded in Cambridge, England, so that created a different space in my head. I lived there mostly for 9 months. I was alone a lot more than usual. I liked that. Most of my albums feel like a journal of the time from the last record, but this all feels more like a dream.
Tell me a bit about the musicians you collaborated with on the new record.
Fabian Bonner on bass plays every week in the Cambridge scene. He is funny and has a distinct approach to attacking songs. Ian Griffith is such a gentleman and has tremendous focus and attention to detail for the songs. There really is a difference for me having a band from England back me up as opposed to an American band. They hear the beat differently.
How has your creative process developed over the years?
It hasn’t really. I just rarely write at night anymore, it’s all about the morning coffee energy.
You utilize a variety of musicians on your records and live shows, much more like a jazz ensemble than a rock group. How did that come about?
The first regular bass player for the Jack Grace Band was J Granelli. He came from the jazz world. He helped make me a book of charts for when he couldn’t make the gigs. It was like keys to the palace. I loved that I could bring that book and anyone that could read charts could play along. I just kept running with that, and now I have versions of my band all over the US and corps in Canada, Ireland, and England.
Tom Waits is clearly an influence on “You’d Be Disappointed If I Didn’t Disappoint You.” Who are some of the other artists that are in your current rotation that may have inspired you in writing these songs?
They just burst out of me. I don’t know if it works that way for me this far in the game anymore. I did write a song trying to be Gordon Lightfoot recently. Fortunately for me, when I think I am writing like someone else, most people don’t hear it the same way as I do.
Many of these songs seem biographical. How do you walk the line between personal and anecdotal experiences to write for a larger audience in writing lyrics?
I don’t, but I will pull back a line from time to time if I feel it is too gross or raw. I also like to intentionally cloud who a song might be about.
You have resurrected your first band, Steak, once again. You’ve gone back to the studio to record a new song after 21 years. What keeps drawing you back?
Steak is its own world, and it’s a real world of great humor and sincerity. I was watching that Eagles documentary, and Joe Walsh said something about how you there is nothing like playing in a real band for years, there is no feeling like it. I thought, “I have that.” So I called the boys and booked a few shows. It felt really good and we organically wrote a few songs. So we made a record!
What’s your favorite type of venue to play? Do you have a favorite venue?
I like a room that listens but also wants to have a lotta fun and a little danger. The Nelson Odeon is a place that comes to mind. It can be anywhere, it’s just when that spark happens, it could be in a dumpster at the Seven Eleven for all I care. But I DO love when the sound is amazing, and I have a good vocal monitor. 7-Eleven dumpsters have the worst sound.
What’s your take on the current state of the NYC music scene?
The scene I was in is relatively decimated. There are some younger musicians doing things in the deep parts of Brooklyn. Overall, the expense of running a venue or living in NYC is finally gutting the art form in these parts. But New York City has survived many stages. It will find its way back.
You’ve worked as a music news correspondent for “The Takeaway.” and now you’re writing articles for the Red Hook Star Revue. What is it about this form of communication that appeals to you?
I like writing things that are just about exactly the length of a regular new story. I don’t want to write a book.
What’s next for Jack Grace?
Maybe I’ll write a book. I was writing a play in a notebook in Amsterdam, but sadly, I lost it. I think I will play more shows, write more songs, make more albums and write other things. I might also have a martini.