Get an exclusive first look at the lyric video for this new tune from the North Carolina roots rockers’ album Creatures, coming out July 10.
The guys who make up the roots rock band Jack the Radio call Raleigh, North Carolina, home. They cite lots of influences like Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, Sturgill Simpson, ZZ Top, Jason Isbell, Dawes, Radiohead, Bill Withers, and Jeff Buckley to name a few. They’ve been through lineup changes, hiatuses, and four album releases (2011 Pretty Money, 2012 Lowcountry, 2013 Devil in Here, 2015 Badlands) since forming at NC State University back in the summer of 2005, but with Creatures their lineup is solidified with George Hage (vocals, guitar), Danny Johnson (guitar, keyboard, lap steel, vocals), Dan Grinder (bass), and Kevin Rader (drums, vocals).
The band’s brand-new release, Creatures, comes out July 10. It features the song “Getting Good” and C&I has an exclusive premiere of the lyric video. (That tin-type photo is an exclusive, too, made specially for C&I readers.)
“I wrote ‘Getting Good’ after parting ways with another group,” says Hage. “The full line is “Getting good at getting fired,” … which is a tongue-in-cheek way to make light of things. I’ve been fired before and have learned from each experience. Failure seems to teach me things that success misses, so I wanted to paint it in a positive light.”
Lydia Loveless does some guest vocals on the track.
“I always laugh my ass off with the Jack the Radio guys,” Loveless says. “They’re some of the first friends I made when I moved to North Carolina. I loved getting to push myself as a singer on this song. It’s an excellent country croon and the subject matter is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been fired from all my jobs and it’s led me to follow my dreams!”
We talked with the band about the new track and the new record and nabbed a Feel Good Playlist besides.
Cowboys & Indians: For people who not have heard Jack the Radio, how do you describe your music.
Danny Johnson: It’s always been tough for us to classify, but we’ve come to like “roots rock,” as it encompasses our swampier blues elements while still giving us a little leeway to lean into a ballad every now and again.
Kevin Rader: George once told me that he thought of our sound as “If Tom Petty had never left the South.” Seems like a worthy goal to me.
C&I: How did the song “Getting Good” and album Creatures come together?
George: We started tracking the album in July 2017 and finished recording in February 2020. I started writing songs like “Creatures” and “Secret Cities” years before that, but those were songs that took years to finish. Other songs like “Don’t Count Me Out” and “Let’s Be Real” came together over a few weeks. We were recording in the studio every few months as we were all balancing time between other bands, projects, and personal lives. The album really came together in the last year with Kevin Rader joining the band and the addition of some special guests.
C&I: Who’s playing on it, who produced it, where was it recorded?
George: “Getting Good” is a special track on the album for a few reasons. In addition to the band, we have guest vocals from the ultra-talented Lydia Loveless. She’s a friend and inspires with her own records. Her tone and style were a perfect fit for the song. We also have some killer pedal steel guitar from Allyn Love. Allyn is local to North Carolina and spent the past few decades playing with Steve Wariner (MCA Records). I produced the record and we recorded with engineer Al Jacob at Warrior Sound in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
C&I: Tell us a little about the “Getting Good” lyric video.
George: The “Getting Good” video is full of behind the scenes, home videos that Danny and I shot while we were in the studio. This was a perfect opportunity to pull the curtain back and give folks a glimpse at the recording process. Sticking with the home-video aesthetic I directed the video and edited the video, with Robin Derek putting together the lyric visuals.
C&I: What were the sessions like for the album?
Danny: Jack the Radio has been working with engineer Al Jacob out of Chapel Hill’s Warrior Sound for as long as I’ve been in the band, so at least 10 years, and so stepping into that studio always feels like home. For the Creatures sessions, it’s worth noting that these tunes had existed in a few different incarnations, and we found ourselves reworking and rearranging over the course of a few years to find their final form. While we put in a lot of hard work, the vibe at Warrior Sound really makes this process a joy. I’ll always remember the Creatures sessions for the friends and collaborators we were able to include in the process, and for the freedom we gave ourselves to step outside of our usual comfort zone with instrumentation and production.
C&I: Any good stories about creating/producing/performing it?
George: Some of my favorite moments were of us pushing ourselves to try new sounds and instrumentation. At one point I asked Kevin to play my stainless steel portable coffee mug that I had just finished drinking out of and a Yankee Candle in glass that was freshening up the room with my pen from the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find comic shop. I remember Kevin sitting on the floor understandably skeptical as he tracked it on the intro of “Swimming With the Sharks.” It’s magic when ideas work. Similarly Kevin brought in ideas for cymbal swells and other percussion inspired by his orchestral background that I would have never thought of that elevated songs like “Paint the Sky” and “Secret Cities.” “Secret Cities” is one that at its core is a folk song with some bluegrass influence. It was one of the last songs we did as I wanted the band to experiment with ideas. Danny had the idea of using a Critter & Guitari Organelle to bring in this arpeggiated midi part on the choruses that I would have never thought to use. He also used a glass harp sound throughout the song. Both opened up the song sonically.
Another highlight was being able to work with some incredible guests on the record. Jeanne Jolly added some beautiful harmonies on “Trouble” and at the time was four and half months pregnant so we ended up tracking those in my living room. Tamisha Waden is featured on “Creatures” and “We’re Alright” and snuck in some harmonies on “Don’t Count Me Out.” She’s someone I’ve watched play with some incredible groups in the area and had the pleasure of sharing the stage with for a CCR tribute show. It was such a treat working with her and her willingness to try different ideas really paid off. Lydia Loveless really blew us away on “Getting Good.” I had originally planned to have her track some harmonies, but it quickly became apparent we needed to make it more of a duet.
C&I: Have any favorite lyrics and musical moments?
Danny: I think my favorite lyrics are from “Swimming With the Sharks”: “I’ve been swinging in the dark trying to take down all these demons. Searching for the truth with a 6-string and a reason. They’ll flatten all the hills, take a straw to the ocean for a clear line of sight at the cost of all emotion.” I’ve got a soft spot for lines that are reflections on the artistic process, and I loved that George was able to take a poetic look at some of the compromises we often see in the music industry. Musically, my favorite moments are in “Secret Cities.” As a listener, I’m a big fan of “headphone candy” — those little barely noticeable elements that are often afterthoughts in a song, but always bring a smile. “Secret Cities” is full of those, from really spacious percussion additions by our drummer, Kevin, to the little analog synth rhythms I was able to sneak in, it created a really cool wash of sound underneath George’s guitar and singing.
C&I: Now for a little background on the band. Where are you all from?
Kevin Rader: I grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, but the band is all based in Raleigh, North Carolina, now.
Dan Grinder: I grew up in Raleigh.
Danny Johnson: My family is from Chicago, but I’ve been in North Carolina long enough that I call it home. I originally moved outside of the Charlotte area and have been in the Triangle since 1999.
George Hage: I grew up in the Charlotte/Concord area. My dad moved around a lot for work, so I spent parts of my teen years in Atlanta, D.C., and London.
C&I: How did you get into music?
George: I started on classical guitar in 8th grade. At the time it was a way to get out of math class once a month, but it quickly became a passion and was my gateway into the Guitar World magazines and rock ’n’ roll. One of my neighbors’ dads had an old Gibson acoustic and some Led Zeppelin records, which was eye-opening to my 13-year-old mind. I was hooked.
C&I: What did you grow up listening to?
Danny: I grew up listening to a mix of ’70s singer-songwriters like Jim Croce and Gordon Lightfoot, and classic early rock like the Beatles and the Stones.
Kevin: I started out listening to my dad’s Simon and Garfunkel, Sonny and Cher, and Beatles records. I later got into my brother’s classic-rock records and by high school was listening to a mix of Dead Kennedys, Pink Floyd, the Cars, and Schubert.
C&I: What was your big break and some career high points?
George: I don’t know that we’ve had our big break yet, but there have definitely been some personal highlights. One of the earliest was the first time we heard our music on television. It was the “Ozarks” episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I’ll never get tired of texts or calls from friends or family when they hear our songs out in the wild. Another personal highlight was getting to play a rooftop show in the Berkshires several years ago for a special event at the WordxWord Festival. When I was a kid someone showed me the Beatles’ last performance on the rooftop of Apple Corps and it had always been a bucket list item for me. What they don’t talk about is the multiple story load in, but the crew, views, and incredible food and company more than made up for that.
C&I: What’s your process like?
George: When it comes to writing, it tends to vary. Sometimes a song can start with a simple melody line or guitar riff. Other times it starts as a single line or concept to build around. “Trouble” was one where I had the concept before I had the music, where “Don’t Count Me Out” started with the guitar riff and groove and then the melody and lyrics followed.
C&I: Something people might be surprised to learn about you?
Danny: I’m a full-time high school teacher and have managed to balance the life of an educator with the life of a musician pretty well. There’s nothing quite like grading papers in the back of a tour van to keep you grounded!
Kevin: Although those who know me are aware, it surprises some people that I’m a classically trained percussionist. Playing the drum set was always something I did on the side with my friends.
George: Dan and I are both certified project managers. Additionally I’m also a visual artist, having created illustrations and designs for Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters), Dreamvillefest, IBMA’s World Of Bluegrass, and others.
C&I: What have you been doing during lockdown?
Danny: Lockdown has been a lot of playing with my 6-year-old daughter, reading, and continuing to make music. I’ve got a healthy array of instruments in my home studio, so I’ve found myself rediscovering some old favorites over these past few months.
Kevin: I’ve continued teaching drums online, recording and woodworking. I also learned to solve a Rubik’s Cube!
George: Lots of walks, old vinyl records, comic books, and guitar.
C&I: How have you kept the music going while sheltering?
Danny: Luckily, all the members of Jack the Radio are able to record high-quality audio and video at home — one of the blessings of the last decade of technological advances. George knows his way around video editing, and I can mix audio, so we’ve managed to keep our musical minds occupied by collaborating and performing remotely. Not as good playing a rock venue, but it certainly scratches the itch!
C&I: What should we do when we’re in your town?
Danny: It’s a tough recommendation right now, but I know staying in and staying safe has reminded all of us in Jack the Radio of what we miss about Raleigh. Though we’ve got restaurants of all calibers, I think you’d be remiss to experience Raleigh without hitting up some barbecue, local beverages, and live music. I always send folks who are visiting to Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue for dinner, Big Boss Brewing for a local brew, and the Pour House for a show!
George: Raleigh, North, Carolina, seems to be growing exponentially. Next time you’re in the area head downtown and enjoy our microbrewery scene, some nationally and internationally renowned chefs, and a vibrant music and arts scene. If you’re into sports you can catch a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game or some NC State Wolfpack football.
C&I: What’s next for you?
George: We’re focused on getting the record out to as many folks as possible on July 10th. It will be out on vinyl, CD, and wherever music is streamed. We’ve also been working on a series of live videos to release over the next few months while we wait for live shows to start happening again. Additionally we now have a Jack the Radio anthology comic book in stores around the world. Keep an ear to the ground for the record release and hopefully we’ll be able to surprise you with some sync placements in your favorite shows or film. And we can’t wait to bring these songs to live audiences.
Jack the Radio’s Feel Good Playlist
“A Thought Is Just a Passing Train” — John Moreland
“I Won’t Back Down” — Tom Petty
“Keep It Between the Lines” — Sturgill Simpson
“Bright Lights” — Gary Clark Jr.
“Don’t Wanna Fight” — Alabama Shakes
“Locked Down” — Dr. John
“The Underdog” — Spoon
“Roll With the Punches” — Dawes
“Repo Man” — Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs
“Feelin’ Alright” — Joe Cocker
“Kissing My Love” — Bill Withers
“We’re Alright” — Jack the Radio