Interview: Jack J Hutchinson Striding Into The New Year

Jack J Hutchinson has been on a blues ‘n’ rock riffing roller coaster since his debut release, Feathers And Fools, just over ten years ago. Striding into the new year as firmly as he left the last, the musician drops his latest album, Battles, on the 9th of February, just a few days into his UK tour.

Jack J Hutchinson
Interview: Jack J Hutchinson. Photo: Rob Blackham

Sitting down with MetalTalk, we got an insight into all things Jack J Hutchinson. But only after getting a quip into family life as a bustling artist.

“I was at my brother’s birthday party last night,” Jack says, “and he put on my music at one point. My niece Merida told him to turn it off. She’s my harshest critic. But that’s five-year-olds for you.”

You always think it would swing one of two ways when musicians publicly listen to their music. “I hate it. It’s one of those things where I think it’s a bit naff listening to your own music. I think you’ve just got to stick on some good old Rolling Stones.”

Humble straight off the gun with an insatiable warmth to him, we dive into what big plans are in store for the year ahead.

“A lot is going on,” he says. “We shot the video for the fourth single from the album Rip It Up (out now). Photoshoots, ramping up the interviews and promo. It is so exciting because you spend a year in the studio on and off working on a record, and then it becomes this moment where you are unleashing it. Then, of course, you hope there’s a positive reaction to it.”

Being both a seasoned studio craftsman and touring titan, Hutchinson recognises the joys of both environments. “It is a different set of skills and art form,” he says. “The studio is where you can be really creative in terms of the development of songs. I’ve always been so interested in songwriting, so the studio feels like home in that respect.

“Then you take the music on the road and pull the song apart. Making them heavier and hoping the audience reacts well to it. Both are very exciting but in different ways.”

Battles saw Hutchinson jump into new creative territory, unlike his previous released work. He pushed himself to get a vibrant take on his signature sound. “This time, I’ve pushed my songwriting in a new direction,” he says. “It is the first album I’ve co-written with anybody, with a guy called Josiah Manning. Suddenly, I was entering the studio in an environment where I had to lay myself open to collaboration in terms of potential criticism of ideas and trying to rework things.

“I’ve been quite stubborn in the past where I have written the bass, drums, and guitar. However, with this record, I wanted to take a different approach. To allow somebody else into that creative space.”

Battles will be the first LP Hutchinson puts out since his 2022 The Hammer Falls. When the world spun into disarray, the music kept going, albeit behind the scenes.

“After The Hammer Falls, I felt a bit burnt out,” Jack says. “It was an album I’d put together throughout the COVID lockdown period, and I worked very hard on it. It took a lot of energy to keep going over those two or three years without the ability to tour.

“I threw myself wholly into the studio environment and was proud of the record, but I was kind of finished. For the first time since I’ve been doing this, I just felt a bit like, where the fuck do I go from here? So I needed just to have a little bit of a break. I went through a reflective period for about three months.”

It was during that period Hutchinson got in touch with Manning. “I started talking to him about potentially working on one song to see if we had any creative flair. So I sent him ideas, which turned into the track Constellations, the first single on the album. It was pretty fucking good, so we decided to write some more. It worked out well.”

With the initial four released singles from Battles all carrying a fiery, hard-rocking edge, it was necessary to look back at Hutchinson’s musically diverse back catalogue.

“I think with The Hammer Falls, I somewhat lost track of my roots,” Jack says. “I have always been a massive blues fan. I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin when I was a teenager, and they opened the gateway to all these fantastic blues artists. I was very much obsessed with people like BB King, Muddy Waters, and Elmore James for a while.

“So that’s what I wanted to do with the new album. Bring it back to those blues roots. The original idea was to write a blues album, but it doesn’t sound like a blues album.”

Jack J Hutchinson - Firevolt Festival 2023
Jack J Hutchinson – Firevolt Festival 2023. Photo: Linda McDermott

His 2020 album Back To The Blues was quintessential in its classic blues hooks, though this sound still has tinges in the new. “Well, a lot of that has to do with the sensitivity of guitar and how I play guitar solos,” Jack says. “So I brought a little bit of that back for Battles.”

Before his break onto the larger circuits, Hutchinson was a familiar face on the downtown scene. “I spent five or six years playing blues in various bars across London,” he says, “which is where I cut my teeth as a musician.

“I used to run blues jams in Soho and just off Carnaby Street at Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues Bar. I had a lot of fun doing that. But I also really like rock music. Most of the music I will listen to when I’m on the road will be AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, that kind of thing.” While bumping into Hutchinson might seem a far-fetched sight these days, you can sense his affection for those days gone by.

The Rip It Up official video’s release shows a raw, in-your-face, strident stage setting showcase. Visually enticing as a demonstration of Hutchinson’s stage presence captivation, it comes after a more narrative-led video for the single Bullets. Released last year, it immediately pulls you into this gritty, Wild Western feel.

“We had Kris Barras directing, who was just brilliant,” Jack says. “With videos, you want to work with amazing people who also have a creative vision for things. We talked in great detail about the video, and I talked a lot about Steve McQueen. The film Bullet has been a favourite of mine ever since I was a kid.

“It was a dream of mine to rent a Ford Mustang for the day. If there is one song I’ve ever written that would suit a Ford Mustang video, it was that one. We had a lot of fun driving around. We filmed in the New Forest, but it looks like it was shot in America.”

Unapologetically rock, the shoot looks and feels like somewhere in the Nevada desert. “It felt like an extension of being in California to a certain degree,” jack says. “But Kris did a great job. We spoke on the day about how lucky we were regarding the lighting. The sunset we got on that day was incredible in these sort of wide, expansive landscapes. But the videos are really important in music. Before this, I was a visual artist. So a lot of my thinking regarding music is visual.”

Speaking of America, did he do some shows over there last year? “I did, back in June, July time, which was great,” Jack says. “I love going over there. I’ve done shows over there twice in the last year, which was good and a bit of a dream of mine to go to America and play a gig.”

But not all was smooth running. “The first show I did, I got in an Uber, and this guy took me to the wrong side of Los Angeles. So I was late for my own gig. I arrived about 10 minutes before my stage time. Anyone who has ever worked with me will know that if I have to be somewhere at 7 pm, I’ll be there at 2 pm. I had traveled all the way to California and nearly missed my own gig.”

But hey, what’s life on the road without a bit of chaos?

“One thing is for sure,” he says, “when it comes to music, there is a universal language within blues rock and classic rock that many people get. One of the great things about going abroad is that the audience’s age demographic tends to be younger. When I did shows in Brazil, a lot of people in their twenties came out to the shows wearing their AC/DC t-shirts. And that’s not to knock the age demographic of what you get in the UK, but it is slightly different.

“I just find it amazing that I can go to these places and play my music, and people dig it. I sit there writing songs in my flat or the studio. Then to perform those tracks for people – whether in this country or America or Brazil – it’s mind-blowing.”

Jack J Hutchinson - UK Tour Dates
Jack J Hutchinson UK Tour Dates

Though the literal playing field has stretched far and wide for Hutchinson, his UK tour kicks off next week. The first show will be at the O2 Academy 2 in the city where Hutchinson honed his craft.

“It’ll be great to start the tour with a London gig,” he says. “A lot of familiar faces are there before we head out to play some of my favourite venues across the country. There’s a place called Esquires in Bedford we’ll play. I remember playing there probably ten years ago. They’ve always been really kind to me up there, and I always enjoy it. I’ll also be playing a festival called Love Live in Blackpool at the Windsor Gardens, which will also be great.”

Having studied in Blackpool, it looks to be a much calmer time than previously in the vibrant seaside town. “The last time I went to the Windsor Gardens in Blackpool was when I was at university studying art, and I remember I got so drunk that I fell down some stairs and slept in a bush that night. So, thankfully, I’m more mature now.

“Hopefully, we will avoid that scenario, but I’m so excited about it. I love touring, and the guys I’ve got in my band now are just great to be on the road with. We have a lot of laughs.”

MetalTalk will definitely be looking forward to hearing all this new material onstage for the first time. “For sure.,” Jack says. “I’ve played a similar set over the last three or four years. So, I’m pretty interested in kind of really shifting things around and playing the majority of the new record. I think it really will lend itself to the live performance.

“Sometimes you release an album, and there will be certain tracks you can’t recreate live. But with Battles, from start to finish, it’s almost made for the stage. But of course, there will be all the classics of the old records on the setlist.”

I can only imagine that as the discography grows, picking and choosing songs to feature in a headline set will get harder. “There’s a song of mine called, I Will Follow You, which is a very emotional song that I wrote about my father and being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I always get people asking me to play that song, so that will still be in there.

“But I want to play some new stuff. Sometimes you can get a bit stuck in your ways about how you deliver sets. You have always to keep evolving as an artist.”

Jack J Hutchinson
Interview: Jack J Hutchinson. Photo: Rob Blackham

Though an all-compassing artist, Hutchinson will be known by many as primarily a guitarist. However, with Battles, other avenues were taken to expand his sound and his own skills as a vocalist.

“One thing we really worked on in the studio was my vocals,” Jack says. “Josiah’s wife, Charlotte, was in the studio quite a lot while we were there, and she was working with me on particular singing techniques, which I’d never done previously. When I was a teenager, I discovered Chris Robinson and just liked to scream the first Black Crowes album. But when working on Battles, they got me singing properly. There are some notes on some of these tracks that I didn’t know I could hit.

“The final track on the record is a song called Stay With Me, which is a really nice song. It’s Josiah’s favourite on the record. There’s a note on the final chorus that I thought, there’s no fucking chance I’m going to hit that note. Very Steve Tyler-esque, but we did it. That was really rewarding, though. To be able to go through that process and not shy away from it because I was approaching it as a real singer and not just a blues musician.

“Singing on Constellations was a revelation because that is in a key that I’ve never sung in my life. But Josiah was very encouraging about it. He said, trust me, you can do it. Having that confidence come through was a real positive for me. Upping my game across the whole board.”

But once a guitar man, always a guitar man. “Oh, hell yeah. They’re all behind me here, actually.” Hutchinson turns around to reveal a damn fine (not too overly extensive) rack of strikingly good-looking guitars.

“For this record, I used a Seth Baccus guitar, which belongs to Kris Barras, on a few tracks. But I’ve always been a Gibson Les Paul guy. As my wife will testify, Josiah’s only negative influence was encouraging me to buy a lot of different guitars. I got a Telecaster, which I play live. I’ll be using that on most of the new stuff because we used a lot of drop tuning on these songs. But of course, I’ll be bringing out the Les Paul. Buying new gear is inspirational. I haven’t purchased a Seth Backus guitar just yet, but if I ever do, you can blame Kris and Josiah for that one.”

As the old age adage goes, you can never have too many guitars. “Well, I’ve got a Gibson SG twin neck like Jimmy Page, and I think when anyone’s bought one of those guitars, that’s probably the point where they need to have a quiet word with themselves and say, what are you doing? Because it’s absolutely ridiculous. And it’s horrible to play that guitar, actually, but it looks cool.”

With so many exciting things on the horizon and in the works, it seems Hutchinson is looking at an open road with endless opportunities. “I feel fortunate to work with such incredible people on this project. My new band, Phil Wilson on drums and Charlie Rachel Kay on bass, are just such good musicians that have also inspired me.

“This whole project has been about realising that I don’t necessarily work best by being a stubborn asshole who thinks he knows better than everybody else. So that’s the moral of the story with this whole album. Open your mind, work with nice people and the results will be positive.”

Battles is out 9 February 2024.

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