Looking out of the window at the banks of snow that have been piling up for over two weeks now it’s hard to imagine that this bleak, depressing landscape facing me is less than an hours drive from the studio in the southern Swedish countryside where Luke Jackson made some of the warmest, most uplifting music we’ve heard all year.

The first words Jackson sings on his latest album ‘…And Then Some’ are “I haven’t felt this good in years” and he soon follows that opening line with “Turn my music loud so I don’t have to hear the voices” and this slice of power-pop heaven lights up the gloomiest of days while recalling the long mid-summer days when life just felt so good. It almost has the power to melt the snow outside. It’s in the running for the best opening song on any album released this year; it’s one of those songs that brightens up the dullest of days.

2010 has, thankfully, seen an upturn in the number of artists who have released albums that feature more than a few songs where they haven’t forgotten to add a tune to their words. Not just in the independent music world that Luke Jackson inhabits but many major, established artists have realised that the music-buying public likes a tune they can sing along to sometimes. ‘…And Then Some’ is a ten-song album where each and every song has a melody that will eat into your brain and never leave. Listen to the chorus of ‘This Life’ for proof of this, or ‘Goodbye London’ which has woken me up on a number of mornings by still running around in my head from the night before.

‘…And Then Some’ is the first we’ve heard from Luke Jackson around these parts but not the first batch of songs Jackson has committed to tape. However the fact that Jackson can gather some of the best musicians Sweden has to offer and also acquire the services of the late, legendary Robert Kirby for the string arrangements shows that Jackson’s talent for writing solid, affecting songs that are truly timeless hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Such a strong collection of songs that seemed to just come out of nowhere pressed us to try to find out a little more about Luke Jackson and he kindly answered some questions we put to him. Let’s just hope that Luke had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he said his next album might see the light of day before 2018!

PB: Born in England, living in Canada, last album recorded in Sweden, travelling all over the world…where is home these days?

LJ: I live in Toronto with my wife and young daughter. I started coming to Canada in 1992 in my gap year and never quite got it out of my system. I’ve lived all over the country and settled in Toronto in 1997. My wife and I moved to London for a laugh in 2005 and stayed for two years. I wrote 'Goodbye London' as we were preparing to leave.

PB: ‘…And Then Some’ is your third album but the one that has attracted most attention; it’s been some twelve years since your solo debut. While an album of the calibre of ‘…And Then Some’ is worth waiting for, there’s obviously a long period between your albums. Are you writing continuously during these breaks in recording, away doing un-musical stuff or touring?

LJ: I’m the least prolific artist you can imagine. Yes, my debut album (which was really just a collection of demos) came out in 1998, and my first real album was 'Momentum' in 2000. Shortly thereafter I had an immigration crisis which put the kibosh on any real promotion for 'Momentum', and ironically by the time I got back to music I had run out of the force that the album’s title describes. The album felt old already. I put music on the shelf for a couple of years and focused on other things.

When the opportunity to record in Sweden came up in 2006 I took stock of the material I had written since 'Momentum' was released: Six whole songs! That’s one per year! I found inspiration and wrote four more, dusted off 'Trouble' from my 1998 debut album (incidentally the first song I ever wrote to perform myself) and voila! – enough songs for a rather short album. Perfect for vinyl though.

PB: Were you in, or have you recorded with, bands before your solo debut? How did your musical career start?

LJ: I’d been in bands with friends since my teens, always on guitar although I’d played piano as a kid and then drums. The first was in the mid 80’s: Strange Brew! Playing Metallica covers in school gyms.

When I was doing my A-Levels at a sixth form college in Hendon I was “discovered” by my mate Meir who asked me to join his band. We changed the name from Dr Mushroom to Vodka Rubber Legs and played some dodgy venues around North London. This was 1990-’91. Career highlight: we played a packed Marquee opening for some better known bands. This was the first band I co-wrote songs for.

My third band was in Canada on a study-abroad year I spent in Peterborough, Southern Ontario. We were called Giggle With Children. We played the university haunts and moved to Toronto to spend the summer of 1994 playing the clubs. We were pretty tight by the end of that. Then I went home to the UK to finish my miserable degree in miserable Liverpool. I wound up in Vancouver after that, and got a band together but we never played live. We couldn’t find a singer we liked.

That’s when I started writing songs to play by myself. Early 1996. I wound up back in London, bought a digital 8 track and started recording demos that would become that first CD called 'Split'.

PB: ‘…And Then Some’ was recorded in 2007 but some songs date back as far as 1996. Were you holding them back until you felt they had a ‘home’ on a certain album?

LJ: I think I partly answered this question when I talked about being unprolific, but I don’t want you to think I just recorded the songs I had and that was it. I could have re-recorded anything else from my back catalogue, but 'Trouble' felt right for this record. There was also another song we recorded for the album but didn’t include it because it didn’t fit. It was the original title track when the album’s working title was 'The Truth Drug'. It was too heavy and had this funky passage that didn’t work.

The songs that had the most resonance for me when we made the record were the ones I wrote specifically for the album: 'Come Tomorrow', 'This Life', 'The Fear', 'Goodbye London' and 'A Little Voice', the music for which was quite old but the lyrics were new.

PB: In my review of ‘…And Then Some’ I mention that your songs are so well-crafted that they could have been recorded almost anywhere and still shone. But how much of the overall sound and feel of the songs do you feel is due to the fact you chose an all-analogue studio in the Swedish countryside?

LJ: I didn’t so much choose the studio and location as I chose Christoffer Lundquist, the album’s producer. If he’d been making records on protools on a laptop in a basement in Berlin I’d have made the record there. His studio in a converted barn on his property and he built it from the ground up. Every piece of gear was a carefully measured decision on his part and he knows how to use every bit of kit inside-out.

Watching him work in the studio is mindblowing. The studio is an extension of his body. He has an idea for a song, he pulls down the microphone that hangs on a hook above the mixing desk, grabs a saxophone, his flute, guitar, vibraphones, what have you. He plays almost every instrument under the sun. He plays a line, sketches out a backing vocal arrangement...it’s instantaneous. It’s the fastest turnaround from inspiration to execution that is possible. It truly is something to behold.

PB: You must get tired of being asked this but for any readers who are new to your work, why Sweden for ‘…And Then Some’? That’s an impressive group of musicians you have on that album.

LJ: My philosophy when making this record was as follows: If a path opens up that feels right, and I can afford to do it, I’ll follow it. When I was vacationing in Sweden in 2006 and making real some friendships that had existed virtually for years, I was invited by Christoffer to record at his studio. I’d produced my own recordings before, always digitally, and I knew working with Christoffer would open me up to new experiences. Plus I’m a huge fan of his band Brainpool.

Speaking of which, Brainpool’s drummer Jens Jansson was the obvious choice - the only choice for the sessions. He and Christoffer are like brothers. Getting Magnus to play bass and sing backing vocals was also a done deal. We’d been email acquaintances for so long and I’m such a huge fan of his music (his former bands are Beagle and Favorita, and he’s toured in the Cardigans). Plus he is great friends with the other two. These three guys are musical at a level I can only dream of. They learned each of my songs in minutes and quickly made it clear that I was the weak link in the sessions!

PB: Getting Robert Kirby to do the string arrangements must have been a big thrill but you had some contact with him before as you staged a Nick Drake memorial concert in 2004. How did Robert get involved in ‘…And Then Some’?

LJ: Yes, I’d put together a Nick Drake tribute night in Toronto in 2004 on the 30th anniversary of Nick’s death. No strings at the show, just a bunch of people getting up with their guitars and playing Nick’s songs. It was a fundraiser for a breast cancer support centre and I approached a bunch of people involved in Nick’s career for some raffle prizes.

Everyone responded - Cally who runs Nick’s estate, his biographer Patrick Humphries, his producer Joe Boyd, and Robert. So, basically, we’d had some very minor contact and I had his email address. So when the time came to think about strings for the record, the option to get in touch with him to write the parts was there, and I took it. I never thought he’d say yes, but I’m an “if you don’t ask you don’t get” kind of person, so I asked.

I’ll never forget the moment I came home from a weekend in Brighton to his voicemail telling me he loved the songs and wanted to arrange strings for the album. I almost dropped the phone!

PB: In October of this year you took part in another memorial concert, this time for Robert Kirby. Paul Weller, Teddy Thompson and others also played. Was that something you arranged? How do you feel the concert was received?

LJ: I didn’t arrange the tribute to Robert. His son Henry was behind it and he brought in some great people to help. It was a real honour to be asked to perform. Henry and I had never met while Robert was alive. We’d always missed each other. So I took him out to the pub on a visit to London last Summer and he told me about the concert. I was blown away when he invited me to be a part of it.

The show was fantastic. It was put together with care and attention. It was well attended and everyone played beautifully. It was a fitting tribute to Robert. There were a couple of obvious omissions from the line-up (Strawbs, Magic Numbers), but that’s always the pitfall with a show like that. Musicians tour...not everyone’s going to be around.

PB: You have arranged a Nick Drake Tribute Night in Toronto at the end of November and Henry will be in attendance which obviously proves the show has his approval and support. That must be gratifying. Is it a solo Luke Jackson concert?

LJ: This concert was originally due to take place last November. Robert was going to fly in from London for the weekend to conduct, but he passed away unexpectedly in early October. At the time we were a week away from announcing the concert. So with a heavy heart I spent a few mournful days dismantling the show. Months passed and a few people mentioned that they’d still like to see the concert happen. By the summer I felt ready to re-conceive the concert, and the London meeting with Henry Kirby was initially to discuss use of the arrangements at the Toronto concert. Henry’s studying in the States for a year so it’s not too far for him to come up.

The show is as much a tribute to Robert as it is to Nick, and all the proceeds will go to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the same charity last year’s concert with Robert was meant to benefit. It’s a fitting organization, and one that might have helped Nick in his darkest days had such help been available back then.

Is it a solo Luke Jackson concert? Heavens no! I’ve assembled a handful of Canada’s finest singer/songwriters to perform – Stephen Fearing, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Emm Gryner to name a few. I hesitated before decided to perform myself – I’m producing and presenting the show and you want to avoid the “Geldof factor”, but at the end of the day playing Nick Drake songs with a band and string octet in a beautiful 800-seat church is too good an experience to pass up.

I’m doing 'Sunday' and 'Time of No Reply'. We’re also doing two songs with Robert’s arrangements which have only ever been performed once, and never recorded, which is hugely exciting.

PB: As some of the songs on ‘…And Then Some’ were written some time back, and I think I’m right in thinking that the album has been available in some countries for some time, are there plans for a new album soon?

LJ: Define “soon”! No, there’s no new album soon. I have very little new material and I am ensconced in the joys of raising a young family, which takes more time and energy than I ever could have imagined. If I was a professional musician with people who depended on me to make them a living encouraging me back into the studio it would be a different story. But I’m an independent artist – no record label, management, agent, nothing. It’s just me. Nobody is waiting for me to make a new record.

I’m sure I will eventually, but I have to write a bunch of songs I feel great about first, and that feels a long way off. You said it yourself – there was an eight year gap between my last two albums. 2018? OK, I MIGHT have a new album out before then!

PB: Given the success of the recordings you made in Sweden would you consider using that studio and musicians again or do you feel that you should try another studio/country?

LJ: Define “success”. I’ve received critical acclaim from some great places recently, but that doesn’t translate into sales. You need a machine behind you for that to happen, and I don’t have that machine in place. Fortunately for me the criteria I use to define success starts and ends before the album comes out. I made the best album I could make and I’m immensely proud of it.

If I had ten great songs and the time and money to make it happen, I’d go back and work with Christoffer and Co. again in a heartbeat, absolutely. I learned so much from them, and it was such a musically rich and fulfilling experience for me. I know there’s more where that came from.

PB: Do you have a favourite ‘…And Then Some’ song? One song that you feel especially proud of?

LJ: Compositionally I’m very proud of 'This Life'. Some songs write themselves but this was not one of them. It went through numerous changes, I could write two or three songs with the off-cuts of different choruses I tried on that song.

There are moments in 'This Life' that I love that had nothing to do with me. Jens improvised a lovely drum fill going into the second chorus, and when Robert wrote the string parts he seized upon that fill and wrote that beautiful syncopated line that crescendos into the chorus. I love 'Come Tomorrow' because I wrote it days before we started recording and we really captured the spontaneity of it. In terms of Robert’s involvement, 'A Little Voice', is surely the highlight.

PB: Any firm plans for the New Year after the Nick Drake Tribute Night?

LJ: I’m becoming a Daddy for the second time in the spring, and anyone who’s had kids knows you don’t plan anything else amidst that! I’d love to do a sneaky jaunt down to SXSW to play with a string quartet in March, but that’s dependent upon me being offered a spot. There are a handful of Toronto shows pending but nothing else out of town.

I’m finishing up a collaboration with a German powerpop band called Two Sheds Jackson which, if they like what I’ve done to their song, will see the light of day next year. You never know, I might even find the time to write a song or two.

PB: Thank you.

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