By Will Swanson
When you meet someone for the first time and it’s a planned meeting you try not to go into it with too many expectations or judgment. I didn’t know a lot about Jared, I researched him some so I could come up with questions and avoid any that he’d been asked in every other interview. I had just finished listening to his unreleased but soon to be out there album and had kind of an idea what I thought he might be like, that whiskey-soaked rocker/bluesman voice and the edge that comes forth so strongly in his songs, I dialed the phone and waited.
(ring ring) Hello (smooth voice, young, not old rocker sounding)
Me: Is this Jared? (I realized that every telemarketer asks this same thing and thought he might not answer ‘yes’ if he thought I was one)
Jared James Nichols: yes…
And that’s where it started, I am already surprised by the tone already but thankfully I have prepared questions, I have a direction to this already slightly derailed train.
Guitar Connoisseur: So what got you into playing the guitar anyway?
Jared James Nichols: It like a typical thing growing up, you hang out with your friends doing whatever, but when I was about 14 we all got bit by the music bug, we all got into classic rock. I started to raid my parents closet if you know what I mean.
GC: Right, I got ya.
JJN: Started to raid all their old albums, I started getting into it and I really wanted to be a drummer. I had no intentions of playing the guitar.
GC: That’s really interesting that’s where you went.
JJN: Yeah man, all my friends played guitar and I was the guy that was like ‘nah, no way’ I just wanted to jam with them so I learned all this stuff on drums. I learned Black Sabbath, Zepplin, the who and stuff and I would jam along but I could hear they were off and I’d tell them. you’re not playing that right’, it just didn’t sound right.
GC: I definitely understand.
JJN: They would ask me how it was off so I’d learn the song on guitar, learned It by ear, so I could show them.
JJN: The first song I learned was ‘electric funeral’ by Black Sabbath and I was like here, play it like this. And my buddy was ‘like you’re pretty good’ and I was like yeah whatever, cause there was like ten of us and I was the only one that didn’t play.
GC: So what happened?
JJN: I had a friend that had a drum kit and he was like you can just have this, so I trucked it on home and set it up in my parent’s basement. Well, I’m down there jamming that first day and my dad comes home and hears the racket and basically just said ‘no’ too loud, you can’t have that in the house.
GC: Yeah, sounds like a dad.
JJN: He said why don’t you try the guitar? You can take it with you, so much simpler, so he told me if I learned a full song on the guitar he’d buy me one and I was like whatever and the drums just wasn’t going to fly so he set me straight. I really started to play when I was like 15.
GC: It seems there were so many signs pointing to the guitar you couldn’t have avoided it if you tried to.
JJN: Seriously, it was just like that, everything was steering me towards it except for me, I was like ‘I don’t know’ and I’m left handed too so I would try picking up a right-handed guitar and flipping it over, the heavy string on the bottom.
GC: Right, had to make due.
JJN: I was trying to play a right-handed guitarist and I didn’t want to play with a pick so I was doing all these things that didn’t feel right. So I am trying to decide, do I get a right-handed guitar or a left-handed one and I remember going to guitar center and I saw all these right-handed guitars and then I saw all the left-handed ones, there was a total of like six of them and I was ‘oh my god’
JJN: And I didn’t want to be that guy so I ended up opting for the right and the bug hit me real quick though man because once I got the guitar, within like eight days, all of a sudden I figured out what distortion was and I figured out how to use that, I found that little button on my amp and what that did and I figured out what a pentatonic scale was, I was super into it right away. I kid you not, I locked myself in a room, I was that guy.
GC: It seems like that’s how all the great guitarists did it, no social life, just living in the guitar only,
JJN: I joke with my friends now but it’s almost true, I don’t remember from about two-thousand-four to about two-thousand-seven, I don’t remember really anything that happened in the world really, I was so into it every day, I played every moment I was awake.
GC: That’s great.
JJN: It’s still like that today, people joke with me, that it’s my blanket, anytime I’m sitting down I have to have a guitar in my hand.
GC: I’ve heard that from some others too, John 5 comes to mind as doing the same thing and I know I do it too, just end up sitting there doing something on the guitar as I’m watching a movie or something.
JJN: All the time, it’s funny, it’s like an addiction, my brain is just sitting there playing something and it’s so real.
GC: I know there are times when I’ll be sitting there watching a movie with a guitar in my pal, the amp plugged in but volume down and I just lock into a riff and next thing I know the volume is up and I’ve missed like thirty minutes of the movie.
JJN: Yeah, totally. I was getting into the classic rock real heavy plus where I grew up I was right next door to this music theater, I saw all these amazing concerts growing up. It’s where Stevie Ray Vaughn died, and I saw all these amazing bands KIZZ, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, all these different shows but its where Stevie died and there was this connection, he was super relevant where I grew up and I was ‘whatever’ but then I saw a video of him playing on Austin City Limits when I was 16 and I was like “Holy Shit” this guy is on another level, he wasn’t just playing guitar, he was ripping that thing to shreds, so much soul and feel and once I saw that I was ‘that’s what I want to do’.
GC: That cool…so have you always played with your fingers then, or did you start with a pick, Stevie was a pick guy.
JJN: No, I played with a pick basically when I started, it was one of those things ‘if you’re going to play guitar you’re going to need a pick’ so I used a pick from when I started like two-thousand-four to two-thousand-nine, I played with a pick for a long time, those heavy two-point-zero Dunlop for years and I played a Stratocaster to be like SRV and I actually did pretty good with a pick but one thing I noticed I was never good at speed picking, getting all those intricate notes.
JJN: Trust me, I sat there with a metronome, doing all those exercises like everyone says you’re supposed to do but at the end of the day, you know it just wasn’t working so I went to holding it between my thumb and middle finger, using my index for certain things and started using that finger for everything so I set my pick down on the amp and next thing I just decided to ditch it and play like that and felt right, it wasn’t like I just decided to set it down and play this way, it progressed and it just was right.
GC: Just a natural step.
JJN: That’s when the sounds I was making with the guitar without the pick were so much more inspiring that I started to think that I could do so much more without it, so many more options, and once I started doing that, that’s when stuff started to get more interesting and not so focused on playing and following a crowd and I started digging into my own stuff at that point.
GC: I totally understand, it’s when you forget about all the learning and how things are supposed to be done and how your hands are supposed to be on the neck or whatever and you just start playing your music and everything comes so much quicker and better.
JJN: Totally, and the funny part is, I remember this quote ‘learn all the rules and then break them’, I played by the rules for a solid six or seven years where I was always doing it their way and then I was realizing it felt better to play it my way. It felt real, it felt right and especially because I was so heavy into playing blues, only blues at this point, and it’s funny because now with the trio and me doing my own thing, it’s rock on rock, but it all stemmed from the blues, Albert King, Hubert Sumlin, these were the men when I knew this is what I wanted to do. I was never into shredders like Zakk or Eddy (Van Halen), I was never hip to any of that.
GC: Right, those guys out there with that tone, Albert King, Billy Gibbons, Gary Moore, that influence, when I heard this album you have coming out, its obviously rock but that badass slide in there and those blues undertones, so cool.
JJN: Case in point, there is a huge piece of me that loves rock, but as the guitarist and the guy that leads the band I want to take all of that and build on it, and draw in people that normally wouldn’t have ever listened to a blues record but they will start to delve into it through the rock, feel that influence, just like that old stuff like Cream, blues but it’s in a rock and roll outfit.
GC: Like that original Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac album, he brought that all together, that rock sensibility but the blues too.
JJN: One hundred percent, but I’ll hear a lot of guys say ‘it’s all about the blues’ but I’ll ask them who their favorite blues players are and it’s like ‘uh…uh…’ just stammering and that’s where for me on a personal level, I want to do a blues record someday, I love it more than the rock.
GC: So was this an inspiration to get into playing a Les Paul then, you were still playing a strat then right?
JJN: The first thing is when I played a strat, growing up, everything, Stevie, Hendrix some of the Clapton stuff I was really into that and I honestly feel like s Strat is easier to play, so much easier to get a good sound out of it. I’d put it on the neck pickup or positions two or four, yeah, it was right, had that Chicago style blues sound, I fell in love with it like so many other players and it’s such a versatile instrument…but…When I moved to L.A. and started figuring out my music stuff and where I wanted to go musically I had my strat and was playing it with my trio I’d get up there and play and everything sounded like SRV, sounded super straty, just blues rock but that wasn’t where I wanted to push it. One of my friends had a Les Paul standard and I was using it to play slide because it can get that thick sound, just bigger, and I stumbled upon an LP custom and started messing with it and I played it with the trio, it made that trio sound so much bigger, that Les Paul sound is so beefy and full, made everything just blow up. The energy I got from playing it and the way I played on it was just so different from a strat and playing it right-handed, with the fingers and no pick between the right-handed playing, it’s hard to explain, it’s like something inside of you….
GC: It’s like you find your home, where you’re supposed to be.
JJN: Yeah, exactly and what’s funny, where I was born in Waukesha that’s where Les Paul is from, my grandpa and his friends were friends with Les Paul in the forties, it was cool, more connections
GC: As far as connections, you’ve played with some really legendary people like Zakk Wylde, Billy Gibbons, Walter Trout, what’s that like with so much vintage knowledge? Are they always those guitar gods or are the just bros who play?
JJN: I like that, vintage knowledge, yeah, those guys know so much and have done so much, I learn all the time just by being around them but they are really cool too. They are all really nice, supportive guys. When I first met Zakk, it was in London, it was really cool I ended up doing like 70 dates and 20 countries with him and at the first show of our tour he came up to me like right away and said ‘if you needed anything, strings, amps, guitars, whatever just let me know and I’ll get you hooked up with whatever you need’ and then he was just like nice meeting you and walked off to do his own thing. “I like what you’re doing out there”, just felt great, I mean he’s a living legend and he’s giving me props like that. Every one of these guys I’ve learned so much from, Billy Gibbons, just all of these guys, the knowledge they have is just unbelievable.
GC: I’ll bet.
JJN: I know I’ve said it before but it’s like a young dude like me, they see a point they were at before and they see how much I love it and care about it and they let their guard down and talk to me, real talk.
GC: They see you’re real and your hearts in it.
JJN: Yeah, its different than those flash in the pans, that I’m not just here for that quick buck or fame, that I’m here for real, they see that and there aren’t a lot of guys doing that and I think they see that and connect with it.
GC: It reminds me of that story between Peter Green and Gary Moore, where he bought that famous Les Paul, Peter just told him to sell his guitar and whatever he got that’s what he’d sell it to him for, he knew he was serious and like you said, his heart was into it. It sounds like what you got going on, you’re one of the group, the gang even if you’re in a different band.
JJN: It’s funny too because a lot of these guys couldn’t be my dad, they’d be like my grandpa and they see that too, here’s this young dude all full of piss and vinegar with fresh ears and a fresh mindset and all ready to go. It’s so cool for me, I’ve had thousands of hours absorbing their music and vibes right there. It’s like when I was eight years old riding around with a boom box taped to my handlebars playing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and then fast forward to last year and I’m on stage in Germany playing that song with them playing that song in front of twelve-thousand people and I’m thinking ‘is this real life, is this happening?’
GC: That has to be mind-blowing.
JJN: Sometimes I don’t even process it, I get home from these places and crowds and I just can’t believe it. I don’t take any of it for granted, I enjoy every step and it’s like another notch in the belt, doing what I’m doing out there.
GC: That is cool. So are you doing a lot of touring?
JJN: It’s about half on, half off, the last two years we have done about hundred-forty to hundred-sixty days of touring. This year is a little different, we started off on the road with UFO and Saxon and now we are starting to do more festivals, we fly out for a few days for Europe and play in front of these huge crowds but as far as touring I’m conditioned to it, we get out there and play and now when I’m home I get idle hands and still play all day but I have to get out there, that energy.
GC: I’m sure you’re bringing in money now but before the touring paid the bills did you ever work as a guitar teacher, soundtracks, session work or anything?
JJN: Oh no, the money didn’t come right away. From when I first moved to L.A. I was broke, and when I mean broke, I mean there was nothing. All the money was getting put into just pushing forward with the music, into gear, the van, getting out there and playing, to be honest, it was really hard financially to try and do this. First off when you’re on your own and there is nothing happening, it’s like people say ‘you can play here, but we’re not paying you’ and you’re trying to pay for a record, our touring and trying to get people on board, it was daunting and when I look back at it and where I am now I wouldn’t change a thing…it was…
JJN: Yeah (laughs) but through that came what I have now and through that came my total conviction and dedication to the instrument. I went through hell and back and I think anyone that has been through this would agree that anyone who goes through that and comes out the other side is like ‘damn’ there is a dedication there beyond the dollar or the guitar, it was about having a vision and the desire to do something with it.
GC: You put in the time and commitment and decide, this is what I’m going to do.
JJN: Yeah, a lot of young guys listening to this, you have to be prepared to give it all you got because it’s not like going to a school where you start here and end up there, it’s a total crapshoot from beginning to end and where you end up who knows. You have to be willing to take risks and chances and you have to be selfish about it. I borrowed money from all my friends to figure stuff out, I did what I needed to make it happen.
GC: So have you done festivals before this for the cash or soundtracks or session work?
JJN: I’ve done so much session work and I’ve met people that that’s all they do, music for the discovery channel or whatever, there is this show ‘moonshiners’ that my first real gig in L.A., singing the theme song for that show. I got the call and came out and saw the shown and it was unreal, my first paycheck in L.A. I got my foot in the door doing some tv stuff, I was at that point where I would do anything and then put that money into touring, but then it was you lose, you lose, you lose, there was no way to make money, Transportation, travel, everything it just adds up and when you’re an unknown artist you can’t go into these venues and ‘I’ll take this one, but not that one; but now I’m doing these little placement things.
GC: That has to help
JJN: I just did this thing for fretted Americana for my buddy Phil X, and it all kind of funnels into the pot. I think musicians today have to work all angles, the social media, endorsement, be on the road, be everywhere.
GC: The only reason I ever found out about Phil X was from doing that fretted Americana videos and the guy was funny, good player too, but his personality and the cool guitars and everything drew me in and then you find out he’s touring with Bon Jovi because Ritchie is doing whatever, it’s all about getting your presence out there.
JJN: Yeah, I tell guys, you have to be out there and visible, we live in a sea of players, a sea of good guitarists and some of them are really great, technically great and it’s hard to figure out who they are, to separate them and I see it for a guy like me its just really important to stay on the road and keep making music and keep putting that out there and still be in the studio, still be everywhere.
GC: So are we going to see you touring to support this new album you have coming out?
GC: Is it a headlining tour or are you still supporting other guys?
JJN: What we are planning on doing a heavy headlining tour starting in late September or October when the record comes out going to Europe first and then the states, do everything we can to support it. I have to say one thing about playing in that support spot is we get out there and I get my mug in front of twelve-thousand people that are like ‘who the hell are you, I didn’t expect that’ and I see some of them getting into it.
GC: Great way to get fans.
JJN: I meet these guys who are like ‘I’ll never do a support slot’ and for me, it’s a realization that you get the kind of exposure that you won’t get online or anywhere else.
GC: Is your trio a new lineup or have you guys been playing together for a while?
JJN: I’ve known them since right after I moved to L.A., they are Swedish ya know (he does that Scandinavian accent really well as we talk about this). When they first got here they had no idea about the blues, blues rock…all they could play was…uhh
GC: Death metal (laughs)
JJN: Yeah (laughs) pretty much, but I asked if they could try playing this classic rock thing or the twelve bar blues and they picked it up so I said ‘ if I can get us a gig you guys in?’ and they said for sure (accent again) so we headed to Europe, played with Skynrd together, played with all these bands and stuff and we all stayed in L.A. and we kept it together through all the gigs.
GC: So when I listened to your album I have to admit it reminded me of Sass Jordan, whiskey-soaked down and dirty blues (he’d never heard of her but wanted to check her songs out)
JJN: Who’s that, I want to check that.
GC: It’s one of those albums that has just stuck with me and I hear it on your album too.
JJN: Thanks, man.
GC: There was a song on there too that reminded me of a Steve Stevens song from atomic playboys, classic rock, hard and melodic, really cool.
JJN: I actually played with Steve at this outdoor concert, that guy is a monster player.
GC: Definitely underrated and he shows it so much more than when he’s playing that Billy Idol stuff.
JJN: Yeah, completely
GC: And that first song reminded me a lot of a Steve Stevens song from atomic playboys, the guitar as that same rock sound, I’m a huge fan of his and…
JJN: That guy is insane
GC: He can play so much better than he does on the Billy Idol stuff, listen to flamenco-a-go-go or….
JJN: He’s a wicked player, I did a record with him, this Mexican rock record, I mean it’s their band but I and Steve did the guitar on that record, he’s very cool
GC: Is that record under his name or….
JJN: No, it’s this band called Moderatto
(the album is called malditos pecadores – he messaged it to me later)
JJN: It was their last record, they are a huge Mexican rock band, I’ve played with them here in L.A. at the staples center and it was sold out, they play all over central and southern America, they play those huge festivals where it’s like twenty or thirty thousand fans and it’s so cool. Steve and I had a blast on that record.
GC: Kind of going back, I know Dick Dale was originally a drummer too and he said the guitar is a percussive instrument.
JJN: Oh yeah….the beautiful thing about the guitar is literally you can take any mindset to it and it will work. I think like a drummer and hammer out a riff and it comes out sounding like that, percussive but then I can think like a guitar player and play this high octave, beautiful, elegant riff and it sounds great. It awesome, you can meld it all together and it just is what it is
GC: Right, it sounds like the player.
JJN: My favorite guitar player is Leslie West, that dude, he can literally make a guitar go from a whisper to a scream,
GC: Just crazy huh?
JJN: He’d have these brutal hard gritty sounds, bone crushing but then all of a sudden he goes into a lead that is so melodic and sweet, right? That’s the kind of thing that now I love, it’s like Gary Moore, Leslie West, its just the way they combine it all together, that’s the heart of it. We all play the same stuff but it’s like Zakk told me once ‘we are all eating off the same deli tray, you just make your sandwich different than me’.
JJN: It was so right, I get guys asking me ‘can you show me how you play your riffs or what’s your favorite break?’ and ‘I’m like ‘I don’t know’ but getting off my rant, it’s like that’s why I love guitar. It’s such an instrument where you can throw anything at it and it works.
GC: I love that quote, I know even when I’m playing some days it’s like you’re in there playing to some crazy ethereal hour and a half backing track and it shuts off and you just go into power chords and crunch and everything and you haven’t changed the settings, volume, guitar sitting in the same place.
JJN: Oh yeah, it’s like we could be playing together, I play a riff and hand it over to you right after and you play your interpretation of the same thing, it’s the same music but its so personalized, the sounds, pace and way of playing, so unique. At the end of the day, it’s all about what you are going to play. It’s a tool of expression that can be deadly in the right hands.
GC: Its the most personality-driven instrument there is.
JJN: I’m with you on that and that’s why even though you hear ‘the guitar is dying’ or whatever, it’s not that, it just needs some fresh blood, people that are going to do their interpretation of it, there are a lot of guys that are going to breathe new life into it, you know what I mean?
GC: People are going to burn out on the autotune, the American Idol, the next whatever star, its eventually going to come back around, people are going to want to hear real music again.
JJN: Take it from me after playing all over the place, you should see it when some guy just goes up there and plugs in and plays guitar, it’s undeniable, its there, it’s not going anywhere…The pendulum swings, it will come back.
GC: I definitely agree.
JJN: That’s me in a nutshell, I like rock and blues and playing.
GC: I can definitely hear it in your album, can’t wait to hear the finished version too.
JJN: We have some tweaking to do but…
GC: It sounds great, definitely doesn’t sound like you just walked in and roughed out some tracks. Sounds awesome, raw and honest.
JJN: We went in there, played a song through about four or five times, listened, it sounded good and we left it alone and moved on. We wanted to get the feeling across, bumps and bruises, I don’t care, just we wanted to get that energy across.
GC: Thanks for your time, anything left you want to get out there.
JJN: I want to give a shout out to Seymour Duncan pickups, D’Addario strings and Blackstar amps, their stuff is incredible and they’ve always been there for me – really great people there.
As I hung up I felt really inspired by this guy. An hour ago I had never talked to him but hearing how genuine he was, how deep his roots were in the genres he was pursuing and the lean years that led to this and his honest humbleness and appreciation for those that had shown him the ropes, the guy is a good person and damn if he can’t play some mean guitar. Now I just can’t wait to see him play live!
Check out Jared James Nichols latest release: Black Magic
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