89.3 The Current presents JD MCPHERSON
Rolling Stone: The most wonderful time of the year is officially underway, and Oklahoma rock & roller JD McPherson has gifted fans with this new jump-jivin', wintertime sing-along, "Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights)." CLICK HERE TO LISTEN "I love the whole of Christmas: lights, cold weather, sentiment, poinsettias, baby Jesus, popcorn laurels, Santa," McPherson tells Rolling Stone of the track, which will be available on iTunes on December 11. "I even admire the well-tuned machine of commercialism. There are loads of holiday songs [but] only a handful of rockin', rollin' Christmas songs, though. So here's our offering."
As a visual artist, Broken Arrow, OK native JD McPherson is well versed in the process of working within clearly defined formal parameters, and he employs a similarly rigorous discipline with his music. On Signs & Signifiers, McPherson’s seductively kickass debut album, produced by JD’s musical partner, Jimmy Sutton, this renaissance man/hepcat seamlessly meshes the old and the new, the primal and the sophisticated, on a work that will satisfy traditional American rock ’n’ roll and R&B purists while also exhibiting McPherson’s rarefied gift for mixing and matching disparate stylistic shapes and textures. Never has an album of so-called “retro” music been laced with such a rich payload of postmodern nuance. But that was precisely the intent of what JD describes, only half-facetiously, as “an art project disguised as an R&B record.”
McPherson took a circuitous path to get to this point. Broken Arrow butts up against Tulsa, a cultural oasis in the Heartland that has long been not only a musical hotbed but also a bustling center of the contemporary arts. “Tulsa’s got a lot of resources for people who are into weirdo art,” JD points out. And he gravitated toward it. “I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Oklahoma in experimental film,” he says. “I wanted to paint, do installation, make video art, performance stuff, sculpture. I’ll bet I’m the only person to have received graduate credit hours in card magic.” All along the way, music was an integral part of McPherson’s life. While studying visual arts, he also played in bands, doing everything from punk to western swing. JD was still scratching that itch when he recorded some originals with his previous band and took a shot in the dark. Well aware of Sutton’s status as a heavy hitter on the roots scene and the leader of R&B group the Four Charms, he fired off a MySpace friend request and asked if the producer/bassist would listen to his demos.
Six months into their budding partnership, JD arrived at Sutton’s newly completed home studio in Chicago—a sort of working shrine to all-tube recording as it was practiced a half-century ago, right down to Jimmy’s collection of vintage mics and his early-’60s Berlant/Concertone quarter-inch tape machine. Also on hand was Sutton’s go-to guy Alex Hall, “a Brian Eno type” according to JD, who multitasks as engineer, drummer and keyboard player. “I showed up and I said, ‘I got this song ‘Dimes for Nickels,’ and I want it to be like a Chess Chuck Berry thing, slowed down, with a flat-tire beat,’” JD remembers. “Jimmy and Alex are from Chicago—they know that stuff backwards and forwards—and we nailed it in two takes.” Within a week, they’d banged out a dozen tracks, recording during the day and writing at night with a guitar and a laptop.
Having finally decided on his artistic direction, JD isn’t looking back. “Although I grew up wanting to be a visual artist, I’ll tell you what: the most satisfaction I’ve ever had as an artist is right now,” he says. “Because as much as I love artists like Joseph Beuys, I love David Bowie and Little Richard more. I was doin’ OK, I had some things going, but I’d rather do this, make music the priority. There’s more instant gratification—you play a show and right away you feel like it’s something worthwhile, and a lot of people are in on it. So I’m definitely into continuing to explore all this stuff. It’s really exciting—knock on wood.” JD has no doubts about the viability of the choice he’s made. “Working within a genre has been done in all kinds of mediums—look at Alfred Hitchcock,” he points out. “It’s been established that rock ’n’ roll is a viable form—it’s hard-wired into American brains to understand swinging blues stuff. So it’s not surprising to me that kids are into the Black Keys and Adele. It just had to be presented to them.” So now it’s JD McPherson’s turn to step up to the plate and give it a good whack.
On May 17, 2011 Minneapolis based Farewell Milwaukee released their sophomore album, When It Sinks In. Formed in 2008, Farewell Milwaukee has charted a course down familiar paths blazed by folks like Jackson Browne, Ryan Adams and the Jayhawks; all focused on the power of honest, confessional songwriting with no pretense or ulterior motives. Every winter Ben Lubeck (principal songwriter and lead singer) holes himself up in his lakeside home with the goal of writing as many songs as he can.