Jackson+Sellers unload with both barrels on Breaking Point, an angsty, guitar-stained pile o’ rock n’ roll harmony that radiates with synth, distortion, and gorgeous reverb-wrapped balladry. For Aubrie Sellers, it’s another step along the path she first trod with 2016’s New City Blues, blending her natural twang with crunchier tones for what she dubs “garage country”. The follow-up, last year’s Far From Home*, benefited from the same plan of attack, layering glammy fuzz over polished songwriting, and in the pandemic summer of 2020, Sellers and her partner, guitarist/producer Ethan Ballinger stretched their legs across atmospheric takes on tracks from Chris Isaak, Pops Staples, and Dwight Yoakam with the World On Fire EP.
Jade Jackson’s full-length debut, 2017’s Gilded, featured airy, caramel-voiced alt-country dusted with rockabilly, honky tonk, and cafe folk. Produced by punk rock pillar Mike Ness (Social Distortion), the two would reunite for 2019’s Wilderness, picking up the pace with heavier weight rhythms and broader narratives on full display. That same year, Jade and Aubrie found themselves performing in the same AmercianaFest showcase. Equally impressed with each other, Jade began considering Aubrie for a new song she was working on and chanced an invitation to collaborate– a seized opportunity that resulted in a wholly new entity.
Breaking Point opens with a Nancy Sinatra meets Joan Jett reworking of Julie Miller’s “The Devil Is An Angel” before Clash-ishly bopping along with the title track. “As You Run” shifts into wistful territory before Ballinger stomps the pedalboard on “The World Is Black”, and The Trogg-sy “Waste Your Time” floats like a butterfly and stings with lyrical jabs gloved in alt-rock cool. “Hush”, the emotional instigator behind the whole shebang features a tiptoeing acoustic guitar beneath the duos undulating vocals while the thoroughly modern “Fair Weather” blows into pure pop ache only to gracefully yield to the righteous tangle of “Wound Up”. A cut of Suzy Quatro’s “The Wild One” ambles and grooves, and ultimately, the album ends on a rumbling parting shot, the slowly exhaled, acid-tinged “Has Been”.
There’s a lot to dig on Breaking Point, not the least of which is the undeniable enjoyment of the participants. Calling from Nashville, where both artists have recently relocated from the West Coast, Jackson+Sellers share what it was like working together, their sonic inspirations, and what may be waiting down the road.
AI- I saw that you two were teaming up and I didn’t immediately know what to expect– but when I heard “Waste Your Time”, I felt like I was in high school! I wanted to be in a club with my head in an amplifier! It’s just amazing what you two have put together– and it all started at AmericanaFest two years ago? Had you two met before that?
AS- No! And we actually didn’t meet at AmericanaFest. We just played before each other and saw each other play and then followed each other on Instagram (laughs)! Jade reached out to me after that because she had a song. You can tell the story, Jade!
JJ- Yeah! I was getting into Aubrie’s music for the first time after seeing her at the same showcase we played. I was obsessed with her voice and I thought she was so good! I didn’t know she was following me on Instagram as well, but I was definitely following her! I had this song for my sister that was really special and important, and I was like, “It would be really cool if there’s really strong female harmonies on it because I think it would just be perfect for the theme of the song.” So I just fired it off to Aubrie! I DM’d her through Instagram, and I really wasn’t expecting anything back. And then she just messaged me right back and said she was interested! I sent her “Hush”, she said she loved it, and then three days later, we were sitting in her office together sharing songs. And then three months later, we had a record (laughs)!
But at that initial meeting surrounding “Hush”, you didn’t know that there was going to be a brand new entity?
AS- No, for sure. We were just playing each other music and we just hit it off musically and personally. We did some demos of “Hush” and the song “Has Been” that day. We left it with like, “We love singing together! This was so cool!” And then it just all snowballed!
Individually, you both have been making records, writing songs solo and with other people. Aubrie you’ve been steadily increasing the heavier sounding output, doin’ the garage country thing. Jade, some of these songs on Breaking Point are the most rock n’ roll that you’ve ever recorded, and I think that’s a little surprising knowing your professional pedigree. Had you flirted with a more rock n’ roll sound up to this point at all?
JJ- My last two records were pretty heavily influenced by Mike Ness, who produced them. I’m in a three-record contract with him, so we’re even gonna do my next solo record together. But obviously, he’s in punk rock, but he likes country too. We have that in common. Before I met him, my sound was more like folk meets Mazzy Star– everything was really slow and it was a ton of reverb. My sound mixed with his influences created the aesthetic of our last two records. I feel like any other projects that I’ve done up until this point, we weren’t pointing in any direction. That’s just kinda what came of it.
For this record, it’s funny because obviously, we were rocking out, we were having fun, but it wasn’t like, “Let’s make a rock n’ roll record!” We were layering things, we were experimenting. Ethan and Aubrie– you guys did have reference points or bands that you said to listen to that have influenced the sound of this record– but it never really digested like, “Oh, we’re making a rock record!” For me, it was just more fun, which I feel like is rock n’ roll anyway!
AS- Ethan and I co-produced the record, and I feel like we had a little bit of a vision, and then also, we let the songs influence where we went. I think with our voices together, this is just naturally the sound that came out of it.
I want to dive into two pieces of that. First, the fun part of it. Now, when it comes to songwriting, especially in the realms that you both move in, I think there’s often a premium placed on the more serious side, which I am all for, of course, and you both also display that beautifully on the album as well. But when you get to the rock n’ roll factor, the fun part of it, that had to be the biggest draw of this project for both of you.
AS- It was so fun! I think Jade had talked a lot about how this was less structured than a lot of the stuff she’s done in the past. We got in there and I was like, “Don’t stress. Will get the right people in the room, and we’ll make music! We don’t have to plan every step.” I think that’s a big part of allowing the magic to happen, if you will, or allowing the creativity to come out. We were crawling around on the floor (laughs) and doing all kinds of stuff just to up the energy and be silly! You can hear a lot of that on the record, especially on songs like “Wild One”!
JJ- (Laughs) I was very welcomed in this environment! I was crawling around and cracking up– and then they kept the recording! They added a bunch of layers to it and stuck it on one of the songs, embedded it in the record! Which I love ’cause with my last few projects, it was like, “Oh, we have to clean this up. We have to clean that up. This needs to be polished.” And this record was so opposite! It just made me feel like I could be myself a lot more.
Are you gonna carry that forward, Jade?
JJ- Oh, well, I’m gonna try! But like I said, I’m in a contract with Mike Ness, who’s very intimidating! So I’m gonna walk into the studio with my new knowledge and be like, “Let’s have fun!”
But this does seem like something that would be the next evolutionary step for the project with Mike. I could definitely hear more of that influence.
JJ- Maybe I can get him to crawl on the floor! Can you imagine? (Laughing)
I’m gonna picture that happening. Sure (laughs)! The second thing that I wanted to ask, Jade, you bring up certain songs or sounds that Ethan and Aubrie had on their minds. I was curious if there had been any sort of listening party prior to the recordings– like “I have this idea,” and putting on a Troggs record. Or putting on a Clash record and sayin’, “This is what I’m aiming for.” Did anything like that happen? Or did you have those kinds of discussions?
AS- It was more loose in terms of how I’ve been with making all my records. I don’t like to essentially bring up a specific track for our specific song. I don’t want to copy things, but I think in general, it was more about the sonic map of the record. Ethan was talking about the drums and the bass having this sort of muted, ’60s/’70s quality, but then some of the songs, like “Waste Your Time”, to me, almost have a ’90s rock influence. So there’s a lot of different stuff we pulled together and then let it all naturally fall together rather than pulling one song out and saying, “Let’s copy this,” or like, “Let’s try to do it exactly like they did it.” In general, I prefer to do it that way. I’m not a huge fan of throwback music where you try to sound like a different era or specifically as much as take influence from your greatest inspirations and let them come out of your music naturally. I think that also happens in the songs that we write.
Let’s talk about the inspirations. Aubrie, I know you’re a big Julie Miller fan and you have “Devil Is An Angel”. I was really curious, with that jangly, upbeat version, did you bounce that off of Julie? What did she think of it?
AS- (Laughs) She heard it after we did it! I didn’t ask her for permission but she heard it (laughs)! I think they liked it? They posted about it on their social media! I’ve been a huge fan of both of her and Buddy forever, and I remember when I was a teenager before her music was all up on streaming– ’cause it was right when all that was getting started, might’ve still been the iTunes era– but she heard that I liked her music, and she sent me all of her CDs. So I’ve been living her catalog since I was starting to play guitar. Most of her songs, I love their style so much that if I were to record them, I would do them exactly how they did them ’cause I can’t imagine topping what they did. But for this particular thing, I was like, “I’d love to do a more rockin’ version of this!” I love the original just as much, but we put our own spin on it and it was super fun! The reason we put it out as the first single is because I feel like Jade and I are both singing on it pretty equally, and also, I feel like it’s pretty representative– that energy we brought to that song– of the whole album.
Suzi Quatro is another artist that you pay tribute to on the album with “The Wild One”. She’s somebody that I don’t think gets enough credit for contributions to music as a whole. Who brought that one to the table?
JJ- I just gotta tell ya, Aubrie and Ethan, totally, were like, “Let’s do these covers!” That was all them! We have to give all the credit to them, ’cause I was hesitant. I was like, “No, we have all these songs we’ve written. We should do those!” They’re were like, “No, let’s do it!” So they sent me these songs, and I’m so happy that we did ’em ’cause now they’re some of the funnest ones to play! But anyways, go on Aubrie!
AS- I saw this documentary about Suzi Quatro, and I was not familiar with her before that. That’s where I was exposed to that song, and it’s interesting ’cause we’ve done a lot of interviews with people in the UK and she was really big in the UK, so I feel like even more people there when we talk to them know who she is. Yeah, I heard that song, and once again, I’m a huge fan of the original, and I think what I was drawn to actually on the original was the more rock, upbeat vibe. We ended up doing sort of like a halftime, breakdown-type vibe that she goes into a couple of times in her version. Once again, we didn’t have a plan of like, “We have to do it this way,” when we started recording it, but we just felt it out. That was the one where we were going nuts (laughs)!
That squawking guitar on “Wild One” is what gets me! Ethan Ballinger is such a huge component of these songs with the guitar. Aubrey, I know that in addition to being collaborators, you are together, and that has to make for a much different dynamic in the studio when you’re puttin’ these songs together. The three of you did have an opportunity to sit down and write one together, right?
AS- Ethan and I had started “Wound Up” a while ago, a few years ago. I really loved the vibe– he kinda had this Link Wray guitar vibe– and I had not liked the lyrics. I just wasn’t getting the lyrics right! So I played it for Jade, and I was like, “I’d love to record the song, but I would love to rewrite the lyrics with you because they’re not batchin’ up!” We sat down and wrote the lyrics and we did it really quickly, so I hope we can write more together in the future ’cause it’s not always that collaboration go so smoothly.
Jade, you had “6FT Changes” come out back in the spring– just a powerful video, wonderful song. You say you’ve got a third Mike Ness album in the works, but Aubrie, I’m assuming you had planned to be out for much much longer on the Far From Home tour. Before all of this, what was keeping you occupied during the original lockdowns?
AS- Well, like you said, I’d had multiple tours booked, so it was kind of like, “What do we do now?” But I went back to school, I was still promoting Far From Home virtually, and then I also put on an EP at the end of 2020 called World On Fire that Ethan and I also produced together. And then it wasn’t too long after that, that Jade and I hooked up!
JJ- A fun fact was that I recorded “6FT Changes” one night after we were done recording some of the songs on Breaking Point. It was just kind of like an afterthought of the evening. We did it fairly quickly and then I ended up putting it out sooner ’cause you can with singles. So that was created in the same creative space that Aubrie and I were in for this record.
When the whole thing shut down, I as well had a bunch of tours cancel and everyone kept saying like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry! I feel so bad for you!” And I was like, “Don’t be sorry! I’m gonna do something! Stop saying that! I have to create!” (Laughs)! I was just very like, “There’s something good that’s gonna come out of this!” I didn’t know it was gonna be working with Aubrie– which was the most wonderful silver lining of all time– because with my timeline and Mike Ness’s timeline, I would want to put out a record a year if I could, but he’s so busy obviously.
We weren’t gonna be able to put out another solo record for a long time, and I’m also in a contract with him, so I can’t use another producer. However, working with Aubrie as a side project allowed me the freedom to just fly out to Nashville a month after I met her and create this project! We did it in a safe way. It was a small studio, we were the first people to record there, we were wearing masks, which was really interesting (laughs)! We’d obviously never done that [while] recording stuff before! But it was really special and it was kinda like my I-told-you-so-everyone-who-felt-bad-for-me-at-the-beginning moment!
Are you both currently residing in Nashville now?
AS- Yes! Jade moved!
JJ- Yay! I did!
Aubrey, your experience there writing with other people… As a matter of fact, I spoke to Adam Wright not too long into the pandemic– and when we spoke about you, he had nothing but wonderful things to say– and you have a couple of tracks with Adam on this album! Jade, is that something you plan to explore more of now that you’re in Nashville– writing with other people? And seeking out a publishing deal? Or is that something that’s already in the works?
JJ- I have a publishing deal. I’m really bad with all that stuff! It was called Big Deal music, and now I think they’re called something else, but I told ’em, “Hey, I don’t want to waitress forever! I’d rather write songs for things!” But like Aubrie was saying earlier, it’s hard! It’s awkward! I’ve even “jammed” with people before, and it’s like… I don’t know? Aubrie and I are very unique, we’re very similar to each other, but in the world, it’s hard to relate to people sometimes. So when you try to create with them, it just feels a little inauthentic. With Aubrie, everything was just like, “I’m writing with myself, but there’s another person here!” I really hope Aubrie and I do some more writing. And who knows? There’s maybe some other unicorns out there like Aubrie that I will click with and I create with!
AS- I told Jade that one of the things I admire about her and think makes her so special is that she writes by herself, and also, she hasn’t spent a lot of time here in Nashville, so she’s able to keep her energy separate. You can be surrounded by the same thing down here and it can kind of get in your head. As much as I’d love for her to expand her horizons and work with people here, I also selfishly want her to retain some of her individuality.
JJ- She wants to keep me in her basement (laughs)!
AS- I wanna lock you up (laughs)!
So you feel somewhat protective at this point?
JJ- I call her my grandmother (laughs)!
I saw someone write that Jackson+Sellers was one of the first great pandemic bands. I can’t argue with that sentiment. I want to know– there’s more to come, right? You are gonna continue this adventure together?
AS- Yeah, I think we’ll definitely create more together. We were not planning anything, but we are letting things naturally happen. I don’t see how we couldn’t work together ’cause it’s been so fun!
What is the status for a tour?
AS- We’ve just been planning things that we can control because we had a tour cancel again last month. We’re gonna book shows here and there that we know we can pretty much control. We did an album release show and we just played the Ryman and we’re maybe looking to plan a show in December around the vinyl release. We’re just planning one day at a time.