2017 was a great year for Jillian Jacqueline – fan & critical acclaim alike for her EP ‘Side A’, a 15 week radio tour and even her first visit to the UK to perform during Country Music Week. The good news for us Brits is that she is back in a few weeks to appear at the C2C Festival at the O2 Arena. We were lucky enough to grab a few minutes of her time to talk about it.
You’ve struck up quite a strong relationship with your UK fan base haven’t you?
I like to think so, yes. It’s been so much fun talking to fans in person and online from Europe and they are definitely some of my most active listeners. They really listen so deeply; when I was over in October, Drake White told me that UK crowds really engage with the deeper songs and the lyrics.
And we can expect you back over again for the C2C Festival in March?
Yes! The week we did last year for Country Music Week gave me a little taste of what it’s like over there and we’re so excited to be on and playing a few different stages, it’s gonna be fun. We really wanted to make the most out of the trip and play for as many people as we could so that’s what we’re gonna do!
Well, we’re definitely excited to have you back. The levels of engagement for Country music over here is amazing now considering where they were 5-6 years ago.
That to me is so hard to believe, but I’ve heard that; that it’s been amazing this past five years. It blows my mind to think about how Country music has blown up over in the UK and how you are so accepting of new and upcoming artists – there definitely seems like there is a solid infrastructure now for Country to grow and expand.
I think a large part of that is that we aren’t at the behest of radio programmers. Artist’s reputations are made mostly on their live shows and performances here, hence why you are so popular right now!
Wow! I love that. I’m very good friends with The Cadillac Three and they’ve been touring the UK for years now and they’ve had such a great response so it’s been a huge goal of mine to come over and play shows, sell out shows and build a fanbase from the ground and to do that you have to put the time in, get to know people and really work hard.
Can we refer to you as a ‘child star’ given you were out on the road performing with Kenny Rogers from the age of 9?
Yeah, I guess you can! (laughing). I did start very young. I was acting and singing and I have my mom to thank for that. She was very supportive right from day 1 when she could see I loved to do that sort of thing. She took me to auditions and all that stuff and I’m so thankful for that now. When I was a kid I loved it, but I always resented it sometimes, as it made me different from everyone else – you know she eventually pulled me and my sisters out of school and we were homeschooled but I’m so glad she did that, because it gave us a very unique education and interesting childhood; so I guess you can say all four of us were child stars! My sisters and I were each other’s best friends, because we didn’t see a lot of other kids unless they were performing in the shows with us. When we did the Kenny Rogers shows a lot of the kids we performed with became our firm friends. It could be isolating when you were working and there were times when I thought ‘why can’t I just be normal and hang out with regular kids?’ but I was an introvert anyway, so when I wasn’t onstage I was usually reading a book!
And are your sisters in the music industry too?
They do music in their own ways. One of them has a baby now, so she’s busy being a mo, but the other two are – one plays drums and one plays piano. They’re in New York and LA. After our band broke up I rebelled and went back to high school for three years – me going to college was my rebellion! Mom didn’t really want me to go to a traditional schooling situation, she wanted me to do music, so that was my one rebel move – getting a degree!!
Last year was a great year for you.
It was amazing! So many firsts I ticked off my bucket list. It was really busy travel wise – we had a 15 week radio tour that is still continuing now, we got to put out my E ‘Side A’ and we toured a bunch. It was pretty non-stop and I loved every minute of it. The reaction to the EP was wonderful – I couldn’t be more thankful for the reviews and the love from the fans. It was an incredible response.
Has it made you impatient to get a full album out there or are you happy to keep drip-feeding songs to people?
I love the way we’ve done it so far. Of course, there’s always that part of you that says, ‘When do I get to show everyone all the other songs?” because a lot of songs that I have I wrote a year or even two years ago and I don’t want them to get old in my mind, but I have to remember that no-one else has heard them yet and so they will be new to everyone else. As an artist you always have a little bit of impatience, but I also feel like we’ve given the EP time to breathe and I want to make sure that when we do release an album it’s the right time and the right songs for me. So, whether that’s songs that are two years old or ones that I’ve just written this month, it needs to represent who I am.
Wasn’t ‘God Bless this Mess’ originally slated for Tim McGraw & Faith Hill?
Yeah, it was. I thought for about a year that they were going to be putting it on their album. You never really hear much from publishing companies once they take a song, you just have to wonder and hope your song makes it, but it didn’t make it which I was initially bummed about that but thank god they didn’t use it in the end!!! Now I get to perform it every night and it’s one of my favourite songs. I look at that one as a sign that it was always meant to be!
What’s it like working with ‘powerhouse’ writers like Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsay?
Both of those are up there as my favourite songwriters and such good friends. I like to approach those days and those sessions with an idea. As the artist, I like to walk into the room with something to say. I don’t like writing if I don’t have an idea or I have something else on my mind, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. For me, I like to start with a title, a specific phrase or an idea. I’m not very good at trying to pull a concept out of thin air, that to me feels like it doesn’t have much weight or integrity behind it. If you don’t have a ton of conviction around a song or idea then it just sounds flimsy.
You have a real knack at capturing that sense of mid to late 20’s angst. Are the things you write about based on your own experiences or are they amalgams of ideas from friends and acquaintances?
It’s always personal. I’ve never written a song that doesn’t have anything to do with me or my own life. For me, it’s like pulling out a diary entry and trying to turn it into a song.
‘Reasons’ seems like a very personal song.
It is; it’s pretty autobiographical. It’s something I wrote at the height of a break up before I had a record deal. It’s all about the unravelling of my relationship with an ex-boyfriend.
Is it hard forming relationships as a musician?
Urm, no, I don’t think so. I mean, in Nashville it can be hard if you’re a musician and you’re also dating a musician, maybe? I’ve dated musicians and we’ve supported each other through the ups and downs of the industry and I’ve dated non-musicians, so I think it just depends on the person. I think if you’re pretty well-known it can be difficult because you don’t really know whether the person is dating you because of what you do or because of who you are.
I read that you told Billboard magazine that you weren’t sure that ‘Reasons’ would work with Country radio. Have you changed your mind now?
(laughs) I said that only because you can’t predict anything that happens with Country radio!!! I’m hoping that it’s received well. It’s the kind of song that I would want to listen to in the car, so all I can hope is that other people feel like that too. I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable and listen to the opinions of the people around me who I trust. My team were very excited and passionate about ‘Reasons’ being the first single, so I trusted that.
I think ‘Bleachers’ would make a good single somewhere down the line.
I love that! I love that you love that song. It’s one of my favourites, one of the more fun things that I’ve done. It’s so quirky and I had so much fun recording it. I would love to make as many of the songs on the first album a single, as many as possible. ‘Bleachers’ is so much fun to play live. You always have to think about the flow of a live show and the way a setlist works, going from one song to the next. Balancing out the ballads and the sad songs with some fun ones. “Bleachers’ is one I like to throw in – if you notice the song is all just one chord all the way through and the bass line just runs too, so when you don’t have a full band it’s quite hard to do it live.
Speaking of live shows – You’re out on the road with Thomas Rhett and Brett Eldridge later in the year. Those shows will be great!
I am! I’m so excited. They will be amazing crowds. I love both artists and I’m so thankful that they decided to have me along. Thomas’ music is pushing genre boundaries right now and it’ll be great to play alongside him.
And so when can we expect new music from you this year?
We have something new coming VERY soon – I can’t say when, but it’s soon! And now we are talking about the rolling out of the album and that’s going to happen in the Spring. The next couple of months will see you getting some new music, for sure.