About this project
First of all, we'd like for you to listen in on how a couple of the songs are sounding! Here are some unmastered (rough-cut) song samples from the new album so you can get an idea of how things are shaping up already:
Now, a note from Josh:
This is exciting. Really, really exciting. The album is finally ready to be finished. And what a ride this has been...
I started recording these songs in 2013 from my bedroom, but it didn't take long to realize they needed a full-band recording. The problem was that I couldn't get that sound in my bedroom. Something needed to improve. That's why it was a huge blessing when the Nehemiah Foundation for Cultural Renewal said they would record my next album, and at no cost to me.
My previous obstacles when recording from my bedroom:
1. I have only one microphone to record with.
2. I don't own a drum set, nor a bass guitar.
3. My knowledge on audio mixing is limited.
4. My old computer can only handle so much; the poor guy has been worked to death.
By recording at the Nehemiah Foundation, not only were ALL of those needs met, but I learned a lot of useful things, and I made some great friends.
I received a lot of extra help along the way. At certain points during recording, I would try to play a drum part, or a vocal take, and realize, "I can't do this!" And then someone would step in and play the part that I could not. Phil Hodges, a musician at the NFfCR, even arranged a string section for one of the songs! In that regard, In Clover is the most collaborative album I have ever made, and I'm incredibly happy about it. This is the album I have dreamed about making, because there were no limitations this time. I mean, we got to use a lap steel guitar. Seriously.
My hope is that this album will not only be more accessible, but be something encouraging and emotionally helpful for the listener. In fact, that's my main goal for this entire project. I'm looking forward to hearing the final product, and I certainly hope that the music finds you well.
And a note from Michael, producer and president of the NFfCR:
I met Josh about a year ago. Justus (our VP of Operations) kept telling me I had to hear this album, Practice Shots, by Fiery Crash. So after a bit of prodding from Justus (who couldn't stop listening to it), I finally checked it out.
I told Justus that I liked it, and I felt like the band had made some really good recording and writing choices, and I was curious what they would be able to do with more recording options. Except Fiery Crash isn't really a band. It's basically just Josh Jackson.
Upon further reflection, I realized why I was impressed. The record did have the intimate and personal "bedroom ballad" feel you would expect from a single singer-songwriter effort, but it had avoided the self-indulgence and emotional narrowness that plagues so many artistic products of a single mind.
Let me reiterate how rare this is in a lone artist. When you are working by yourself, you have no one to give you any feedback—good or bad. There is no one shaking his head in the corner. Or nodding it. So it's very easy for singer-songwriters to succumb completely to either paralyzing insecurities (e.g., Elliott Smith) or an obnoxious lack of self-editing (e.g., Sufjan Stevens).
Josh Jackson somehow avoided both extremes. How a single person was able to achieve such a feat, I didn't know. But I wanted to meet him. And work with him, if he would let us. So Justus and I agreed we should invite him to the studio for an initial meeting in preparation for a future project. "Great," said Justus. "So... you need to call his father."
Oh, yeah. When I first met him, Josh was in high school. Having heard his music, I had completely forgotten he was of the age where his parents needed to approve of the kinds of people he associated with. So I called Jim, and immediately liked the Jacksons. Meeting his mother and sisters later just confirmed that even more. Good, solid southern people.
I say all of this because so much of what we do here at the Foundation relies on communities. Art doesn't come from a vacuum. When Josh came to record at the Foundation, he lived with us, and ate with us, and played with my kids. We were already part of the same family. I knew that pretty much as soon as I talked to Jim. And that was an early indication that this could work. Anyway, let's get to the music.
Josh played nearly everything on this album, most of which was recorded in about a week, with finishing touches (and songs) added in a few additional trips. And unlike most of the artists (especially solo artists) I have ever worked with, Josh already had pretty much every lick and tone already planned—he told me exactly what he wanted a part to sound like, then he played it. Most of the time, he got what he wanted in a take or two. It was amazing to see.
The mixing process was similar. I have never gotten such specific notes on mixing. Like he already had the whole song (sound and all) in his head, and he just needed me to click everything in place.
And the songs. When we recorded the vocals for "Steeples," I had never heard the lyrics before. When he sang, "I'm trying to answer you, dear brother of mine," I couldn't hold back the tears. I lowered my head below the monitoring window so Josh couldn't see me crying from the tracking room. I had never before heard a song like this. It effectively rebuked agnosticism, but it did so with a vulnerable tenderness—the kind of tenderness that rebukes more fiercely than any mere apologetic. It convicts the listener of both kinds of hard-heartedness—the unbeliever's hard-heartedness toward God, and the believer's hard-heartedness toward the unbeliever.
Not all of these songs are explicitly about religion or God or restrictively "Christian" things, though. And I really appreciate that. It is another sign of Josh's maturity. He writes about whatever is going on in his life as a Christian would write about it. It's real, in other words.
Some of these songs are about teenage isolation and longing, as you would expect. Some are about girls, as you might further expect. But what you don't expect is the palpable absence of angst.
These are the kinds of songs a teenager would write if he knew already what I found out much later in my life. I thought when I was a teen that I would feel more confident and be more sure as an adult. I found out later I was wrong—that the longing doesn't go away. Neither does the more than occasional feeling of isolation, embarrassment, and self-loathing. The only thing that goes away is that futile bitterness and vanity we like to call angst.
In those songs, like "Loving Wish," where he expresses his doubts and feelings of unworthiness, the lack of resolution is not despair. It is patience.
I don't mean to say the songs are resigned, or even sedate. You listen to "The Divorce" and you feel that the zeal and fire of youth is still burning in Josh. But he isn't using up his fire to complain about his own circumstances. He's pleading with others. Pleading for the sake of others.
But he's also talking to himself—telling himself the right things (like in "Put Down," where he tells himself, "Put down the phone. It's okay to be alone."). It's this self-awareness without self-consciousness that really sets him apart.
Honestly, I don't understand how Josh exists. Being with him is an easy pleasure. He is respectful, charming, kind-spirited, and patient. He has a dry sense of humor. He goes to bed early, rises early, and drinks milk every day. You would almost forget that he was a special kind of genius.
All that said, I am very excited to share In Clover with the rest of the world. It is the product of a genuinely godly and disciplined young man with an extraordinary gift for music. It has been the utmost joy to work with and for him.
A final note from Justus (watch out, he's really boring):
Being the logistics guy, I'd like to break down a few of the nitty gritty details!
First of all, be checking in with us, because we are currently designing the artwork for stickers, posters, and t-shirts, and we will be posting them here for you to check out! Trust me, they're looking super fly. (That's a thing, right?)
Next, were you wondering what exactly we need $6,000 for? Good! I'd be happy to tell you. The proceeds of this kickstarter will fund the following:
Mastering—the final polishing of an album! A really fantastic group of audio engineers called Chicago Mastering will make sure this album sounds great in every listening environment, make sure the tracks match in volume, and give the tones of each song a final polish.
Duplication—It's not easy or cheap to create several hundred CDs from scratch, but our friends over at Disc Makers will press several hundred CDs (depending on how many y'all want!), print a design on the CDs, print the CD cases, and print the insert booklet (lyrics, liner notes, etc.).
Distribution—Next we'll turn to our cohorts at CD Baby. They'll make sure this album gets the pro treatment, publishing it in its entirety to all those places you like to find music at, like iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon.com.
Merchandise—We'll be ordering up a batch of stickers, posters, and t-shirts from some folks we have worked with before, and so far they have not let us down. The t-shirts will be extremely comfortable, 100% cotton American Apparel tees.
Marketing—We want as many people to hear this amazing album as possible, and with your help, we can give this album the kind of push into the world it deserves.
Shipping—We didn't want to bog you down with shipping details, so we just included all the shipping costs of this project in the goal amount. Enjoy a hassle-free checkout, and we'll make sure you get your stuff delivered to your door.
Studio Costs—At the Nehemiah Foundation for Cultural Renewal, we are determined to never take a dime from the artists that work with us. We know the amount of time, sweat, and money they have already invested in their craft, and we wholeheartedly serve at no cost to them. That's why we recorded this album with Josh absolutely for free! However, if this project raises more than is needed to cover all of the above (and miscellaneous) costs, Josh has volunteered all the additional proceeds to be invested back into the Nehemiah Foundation. It's his way of maintaining our spirit and practice of paying forward.
Risks and challenges
Mastering and replication are highly dependent on the availability of the mastering engineer and the completion of album art. The album is already mixed and ready to send to the mastering engineer, so there is almost no risk at all that the album won't be completed. It's really just a matter of when, not whether.
In order to make sure our Kickstarter rewards are fulfilled promptly, we are going to complete art while tracks are being mastered, and we will be sending off for T-shirts and stickers during that same time. We set a reasonably generous time of fulfillment in order to accommodate any potential delays in the production line, so we are confident we will meet our deadlines or improve on them.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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