Few artists are as transparent and as genuinely funny as Jack Freeman. While many have become familiar with his outgoing personality and soulful, classic sound, Jack’s story of leaving the football field for the stage is one that few may know. From writing songs in a Honda Civic to recording with the engineer who worked with Tupac on his last song, ever to opening for John Legend, Hustlegrade got the opportunity to talk with Jack about where he is at in his career and how it all came to be.
Hustlegrade: When did you start singing?
Jack Freeman: Well most of my life, I played football and ran track. After my red-shirt freshman year at UTEP in 2008, I woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to play football anymore. It wasn’t fun. I wasn’t getting paid. After my spring semester I came home and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I had known Yves, Free and Todd from The Nice Guys for a long time and they had a rap group so I told them, “man y’all oughta let me sing a hook for you." I had no idea what I was doing!
HG: Had you ever sung before?
JF: I did but, I didn’t really get comfortable with my voice until I was in high school and realized that women like men who can sing. I made up songs about food and stuff; I was basically Jamie Foxx. Nobody took it seriously because I didn’t take it seriously.
HG: So what happened that made you take it seriously?
JF: In 2009 my girlfriend at the time was a singer from Los Angeles whose dad was a song writer. (He wrote a song by The Originals called “Sunrise” which is the song Kanye sampled for “Guess Who’s Back”.) I went to Los Angeles with them and recorded my first song, ever; a cover song for a Barack Obama documentary. That is where I recorded with the engineer who worked with Tupac on his last song! I didn’t know how to stack vocals or anything; I was just in there singing. I wasn’t comfortable with it, I probably didn’t even sound that good.
I came back from Los Angeles and started working more with The Nice Guys. For a while we were recording in Room 265 at Cullen Oaks on Free’s computer that was souped up and would crash every now and then. We were using Cubase, the mic was shitty and you could only hear on one side of the headphones; it was just all kinds of bad. By the end of 2009 we decided to get our money together and find an actual studio to record an EP and ended up at Barron Studios.
Then I met James Kelly of Wire Road Studios when he was still recording out of his house and recorded a 7 track EP with him. That is really when things got rolling for me. I went from playing ball to “man, I think I can write a song!” Funny story, me and Yves wrote the song “Not At All” in the car. That was when I would pick Yves up and go to club like every day. We were in my Civic and he played a beat and I would write songs.
It has all been trial and error. I just took it and ran with it.
HG: When did you release your first EP?
JF: The summer of 2010. The first song I ever wrote was on there, “Summer of Love.”
HG: What are your go-to performance songs?
JF: “Slow Dance” because it gets the crowd involved, I make people get up and dance. If I blew up to some mega-star status I would still perform that one. And “Nobody”, that is a go to.
“Nobody” has got me a lot further than I thought it would. Last year like a week after I lost my job, I get a call saying "this is so and so from Axe and you are a finalist for a competition you entered with your song 'Nobody'." I knew it wasn’t a bill collector because they didn’t call me by my real name but I completely forgot that I entered the contest. Turns out the person who selected the finalists was John Legend. I was just fired from my job and now I’m on Skype talking to John Legend!
At this point, multiple people have made their way up to Jack during our interview and even mid-sentence he stops to greet them with hugs and jokes. And it must be mentioned that Jack’s sense of humor is one for the books, at one point he shouted that we were conducting an interview for Booty-Do magazine; a name change may be in order.
JF: So yeah “Slow Dance”, “50 First Dates” and “Nobody.” Go to performance songs.
HG: Wait, this John Legend thing, tell me more.
JF: It was the Axe Collective Showcase at SXSW in 2016. The line-up included Alex Newell from Glee, Gallant, the 5 finalists from the competition, John Legend, AlunaGeorge and Rae Sremmurd.
And I was DRUNK by 6 pm. It was an amazing experience. I even met Andy Roddick. Someone came up to me and said “Andy really loved your show!”, I’m like, Andy who? Then I saw him and he looked like a damn Winklevoss twin. He is huge. I spoke to Roddick's wife, Brooklyn Decker, and she said “OMG, we were at the bar and we were not paying attention to ANYONE, then we heard you sing and ran to the stage! We only came to see John!”
HG: That must be fulfilling.
JF: Definitely. Because you never know who is watching you. I have been afforded a lot of different experiences in music that I sometimes take for granted because I am so stuck in what is going on now. I really have been blessed to be around a lot of people that most artists aren’t all able to be around.
HG: Do you have any favorite places to perform?
JF: New Orleans is my favorite. I love performing in New York when I get the chance. I performed at SOBs last year, that was great. With Tito Jackson! It was the most random shit ever.
HG: How did the ongoing shows you have in New Orleans come about?
JF: A few years back I booked a show in New Orleans where I met Madania Graves. Fast-forward a bit, I was doing a show at The Howlin’ Wolf with a turn-out of like, 20 people. Madania just so happened to be one of those people. Three months later he had me sing at a party and he packed the venue out. There was a whole room full of women. I was sold! Then we booked a show at Gasa Gasa on my birthday, another one during Jazz Fest and one more later that year.
In 2016, Madania and I went by the Ace Hotel to discuss booking shows and the programming manager turned out to be a woman who was with Gasa Gasa when I performed there. Very small world. I told her that I wanted to do a residency and, here we are.
The premise of the shows is a Houston based artist, me, in New Orleans performing with a New Orleans based band and opening act; as well as a Houston based DJ, DJBigReeks. It is called Hou By NOLA, we do it every month. Three Keys is the name of the venue, inside the Ace Hotel – it is an amazing venue. Every show so far we have had a packed house with a different crowd, it’s great.
HG: You said at one point you were writing songs in your Civic, what is your writing process like now?
JF: It is very spur of the moment. I don’t make myself write because I can’t force it. I don’t remember the last time I wrote a song during the day. I don’t even physically write music down anymore. I just go over it in my head.
HG: And you write all your music?
JF: All of it.
HG: The musical composition of the songs, are you responsible for that as well?
JF: A lot of it is Chris Rockaway, he produces most of my music. We just click very well and I am sad he moved to Los Angeles! Rockaway is a musician, he isn’t a beat maker so when I work with him I explain to him what I want the music to feel like. It works out really well.
HG: Do you have a regimen for keeping your voice up?
JF: Whole lotta Hennessy! Nah, I try not drink (not to drink a lot) the night before shows, it does mess with my vocal chords a little bit. Other than that, I smoke cigars. I don’t really have a regimen. I need some vocal lessons, probably.
HG: Have you ever taken any vocal lessons?
JF: Never. I wouldn’t even know what to do in a vocal lesson.
HG: Who are your direct influences, musically?
JF: My favorite artist of all time is Donnie Hathaway, my dad introduced him to me at a very young age. D’Angelo, John Legend. And a couple of the new guys, I really like Anderson .Paak. He got that funk and I love funk.
HG: Let’s talk a little bit about your most recent release Spotless Mind: Side B.
JF: I released Spotless Mind: Side B on February 10. The reception has been cool, like a slow burn. And I am okay with a slow burn. I just want people to hear the music and like it.
HG: Absolutely. Spotless Mind: Side A came out quite a while before Side B and the way you gave it time to be consumed was great.
JF: Yeah, and Spotless Mind is one album, I recorded all the songs at the same time. The goal of the album was to make 12-13 songs that sound nothing alike. If you have seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it is about people who go in and cleanse their minds of certain thoughts. I didn’t want this album to be compared to my previous album, Lynnie’s Juke Joint, or anything else. I wanted it to be completely different and fresh. I wanted people to hear it and be like “I have never heard anything like this before!”
HG: So, what’s next?
JF: More shows. Traveling a lot more. Making more music. I have a big plan for this year that involves releasing a lot of music. At the end of March I am back in New Orleans. I am working on a show here in Houston that is going to be a lot more exclusive to myself.
By this time, what was intended to be a quick, 15-minute interview before Jack’s most recent concert, “Live at Fox” at Houston’s Fox Hollow, ended up being a 40-minute conversation including pauses to shake hands and greet friends before he was rushed on stage for what ended up being an amazing show.
To offer a short anecdote, a few years back I committed to attending and subsequently missed multiple occasions to see Jack perform live. When SXSW 2014 came around, I got my first chance to see him perform at a small bar in Austin during what turned out to be an unplanned appearance alongside The Nice Guys. His stage presence was nothing short of enchanting. After seeing him perform plenty of times since then, the sentiment still holds true. All that to say, go see Jack Freeman live. And go get Spotless Mind: Side B. And Side A. Trust me.