I’ve been following Houston songwriter Lucas Jack now for several years, since the first moment I heard his album Sun City and wrote about it here. That album unfortunately never got the traction he wanted (explained further in the Q&A below) but he’s had the option to “trim the fat” and relaunch the album under the name Before I Forget, traveling the country and giving these cinematic songs the live treatment they clearly deserve.
I sat down to talk with him by phone earlier this week, in advance of his Union 50 debut here in Indianapolis. It’s a free show, so there’s no excuse not to spend your Friday evening downtown hearing some great music. Show starts at 10:30! And read on below for his take on turning Sun City into Before I Forget, the cinematic lyricism of Billy Joel, and why he’s really excited to start playing Indianapolis on a regular basis.
It’s funny, because I recently was sent a copy of your new album for possible review, and after listening I realized it was mostly the same songs as Sun City.
Yeah, I sold out of Sun City, I sold all my CDs and I got a new manager, and the new manager was like ‘we need to work on new product,’ all of this stuff. And he basically said I had too many slow songs. We needed to take the five or six slow songs out and get it remastered to make it a little bit louder. Then we were able to re-release it in a better way, because the first time I released it I just put it on iTunes, you know? I didn’t do it right. So this time I tried to do things the right way. For the thousand people who bought Sun City and they come to a show and say ‘is this the new album?’ I tell them they can just have it because I know they already bought it. But for the most part, most of the world had never heard Sun City, so Before I Forget is new to them. I have a ton of new songs that I just can’t wait to get back into the studio and record. And I usually don’t bring this up, I just bring it up with you because we did talk about Sun City before [back in 2013].
Plus I’m old school, right? I’ve been following you for a while.
Yeah, it was my first release and I just didn’t do it the right way so not enough people heard it. But Before I Forget is really a remastered, re-released trimming-of-the-fat edition of my first record. And I’m really actually much happier with the way the songs flow and the way the whole album works. I do have a couple new songs I like to play at shows.
I was going to say, because you’d talked in the past about all the new songs you had ready, and you were excited to get around to recording them. It sounded like that kind of got put on hold.
We play all the new songs live. We recorded a live album when we played at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, the show where we opened for Foreigner … we recorded that show and that has a bunch of new songs on it.
How did the Foreigner fans react to your music?
Man, it was by far our best show. Everyone there was really into it. When people pay $80 for a ticket they’re usually a little more attentive. We made so many new fans at that show — I still have people who come up to me and say ‘hey, I haven’t seen you since Foreigner, but I’ve been following you online!’ We must have made a thousand fans that night, we sold two hundred CDs, it was phenomenal.
Of course in general the days of selling music are over. CDs are the promotion for a live show, and I’m thrilled about that because I’m much happier on stage than I am in the studio. I like recording and I really enjoy songwriting, but what I really like is performing. And I want to sell people music if they want to support what I do, but I would rather have them come out to a show and sell the ticket to a show than a piece of plastic with my songs on it.
Do you like to twist the songs up when you play them live, do they grow with the audience?
I really like playing new songs for a crowd. I play new stuff all the time. I write a song a week, something at that pace, so I have tons of songs and I try them out constantly. I’ve had some die-hard fans who come to all my shows, and those are the fans I really target — they’re part of my process. And what I like about playing live is I can change the song if there something I don’t like. I can change lyrics I don’t like, last night I changed the lyrics to a chorus and it was so much better. Of course I had to tell my bass player who was singing harmony, so he had to remember a new lyric. My bandmates aren’t always crazy about it. But there’s no mystery involved, I write a song and I want to get it out there. I write songs that I hope will connect with people and you really get to feel that if it happens at a live show. And if a song doesn’t work you get to see that too. After you’ve played it enough times you know when to just shelve one.
I’ve always liked your lyricism. I’m glad to see “Paralyzed” still made it on the new record because as far as the lyric goes, that song is the most cinematic you’ve got.
I can feel that song every time I sing it. It’s a very specific song about a very specific night in my life … walking up to my gate and it’s raining, walking inside, upstairs, through the bedroom and then laying down on the ‘frozen bathroom tiles.’ It’s just a vignette of one night and it makes it easier for me to sing and stay passionate about these songs, because they are so specific to my experience. I really feel like I’m telling a story every time, in particular with that song.
It reminds me a lot of Brenda and Eddie from “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel, as if we can peer in on their lives twenty years later.
I love that song! ‘A couple of paintings from Sears, a big waterbed that they bought with the bread they had saved for a couple of years.’ We listened to that song … my band doesn’t listen to a lot of pop music, they’re into jazz, music-major types. They have degrees, and are very very good at what they do. But I make them listen to these old Billy Joel songs and we listened to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and they really liked it! I said we had to learn how to play it, because of course it has three different movements, key changes and some really significant time and tempo shifts. But that’s such a great tune and I definitely appreciate it — I’m a huge Billy Joel fan, and i’ve always appreciated how vivid the pictures he painted of people were. People, places, towns … if you listen to a Billy Joel song you know what he’s singing about.
I’ve wondered in the last couple years, have you had any new people you’ve found who inspire you when you get the chance to listen to new music?
I really like the new Dawes album, All Your Favorite Bands it’s called. I’ve listened to it at least fifty times. I just saw them in Austin and actually got a chance to talk to the guys again. I’d met them at Bonnaroo, then saw them again backstage at Stubbs and it was phenomenal. But I also love Langhorne Slim and the Law …
I love them!
I met him in Austin too and got into his music. I also really like Jason Isbell, his Southeastern was just a great album and he followed it up with another that’s really really good. I’d say it might even be better than Southeastern.
I thought it was great when Bruce Springsteen dropped his name last year in an interview, pulling him up on his iPod playlist and calling him an amazing songwriter.
I should pull up my playlist and tell you all the people I’ve been listening to. I’ve been riding in the van a lot, and when I ride I don’t always listen to music … sometimes I listen to audiobooks. I read it years and years ago but I’ve been listening to “Underworld” by Don DeLillo, which is a really great book. My desert island book would be “White Noise” by DeLillo.
I could tell you read a lot when I realized how much “Bonfire of the Vanities” influence there was on “You Belong to the City Now.”
I love “Bonfire of the Vanities.” [Returns to playlist.] I know everybody’s already onto this guy but the band Bahamas, they’ve got a great new record. There’s a song called “Waves” and I’ve been really jamming that. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan lately, Blonde on Blonde, Visions of Johanna, and on repeat the other day, maybe twenty times in a row, I listened to “Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” one of the songs he never performs live. But it’s a crazy song about the Jack of Hearts in this bar … nobody knows what the song means, and of course Dylan is so cryptic he’ll never explain what his songs mean.
And even if he tells you you’ll never know it’s true.
No, he’s funny. But yeah I’ve been listening to a lot of Dylan, Leonard Cohen, he’s had a flurry of new work coming out and I’m so happy for it.
So is this your first proper road-trip getting outside of Texas?
We took a tour to a lot of these cities last year but we played smaller clubs and we didn’t have a manager. So, like a lot of things, I just kind of threw the tour together and got gigs where I could. We didn’t get radio or press in any of the cities, so we didn’t have great turnout. This time around we’re doing everything a little bit more ‘correct.’
So have you played in Indianapolis before?
We didn’t play Indy last time. So this is going to be the very first time we play Indianapolis, is at Union 50. But hopefully we’re going to be coming back in November or December and start touring, playing Indianapolis once every four months or so. Indianapolis is a really cool market. I’ve been really watching Indianapolis because it’s always near to shows I’m booking, like Chicago … or Kalamazoo [laughs]. And Indy’s really seemed to have a renaissance as far as Downtown, local music. There are so many more places to play. When I was in college in Chicago, people didn’t go to Indianapolis to see shows … I knew people from Indianapolis and there just weren’t as many places in 2000 as there are in 2015, there are so many cool clubs now.
We played Little Rock this tour and had a really great show at a place called Juanitas, and they liked us so much they offered us an opening slot for Phantogram and Matt Kearney, so we’re playing a couple sold-out shows in support as well. Those are exactly the fans we’re trying to make, and it’s a really great club in Little Rock, right on the river. We also had a really great show in Wichita, got a lot of support and good press there, and a good show in Norman [Okla.], and 250 people who showed up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. That’s where I grew up, the hometown show, so it was a lot of friends and family … in fact one girl who opened for us, Megan Hickman, she’s from Chicago, she’s going to be playing Union 50 in Indianapolis about a week after us. We’re going to follow each other around the country, since she’s on tour as well.