Great pop music is much like a finely woven tapestry. Different shades and textures provide depth and color that capture attention and invite closer inspection. Jackson Waters creates that kind of music. Talented musicians with varied sonic influences and personal testimonies, they mesh together to forge an engaging pop sound anchored by compelling lyrics that explore faith in a fresh context.
Most of the group members can trace their roots to prestigious John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Drummer Ryan Hawk's first taste of performing came during his stint in a punk band. "We played really, really loud and it was terrible," he recalls with a wince and a mischievous smile. "Then I decided to be a singer for an emo band and that was even worse."
Ryan wanted to find a lead vocalist and get back behind his drum set. It was then he met David Leonard, another John Brown student who had been leading worship and playing in a local band. "I saw David play a show and I really liked his flavor," Ryan remembers. "He had a Southern twang and a Southern way he played. He was really inviting. His voice was amazing."
They talked about getting together, but nothing happened until they reconnected at a Jennifer Knapp concert. "I hung out at his house and it rolled from there," says Ryan. "We booked our first show at a coffee shop in Tulsa. It's funny because we showed up and played acoustic country rock to a mostly goth crowd. The best part was that they loved it."
Along the way, David and Ryan recruited fellow John Brown student Toby Friesen to play guitar. Born in Kobe, Japan where his parents were missionaries, Toby moved to Kansas when he was 13. "I think all of us can remember back when we were kids and said we have the dream of playing music," Toby relates.
As that dream started becoming reality, the band added bassist Brian Meek and guitarist Jesse LaFave. Dubbing themselves Jackson Waters because the Southern flavored moniker fit perfectly with their Southern influenced pop rock sound, the band began gaining regional acclaim. They recorded an independent CD that garnered airplay at such influential stations as The Kross in Tulsa and earned opening slots working with Big Daddy Weave, BarlowGirl, Thousand Foot Crutch, Bebo Norman and other acts.
Jackson Waters gained an enthusiastic fan base that loved the band's energetic live shows and eclectic musical personality. "The best thing about our band and our sound is we all come from different backgrounds and musical influences," says Ryan citing such diverse influences as Stevie Wonder, the Black Crowes, Keith Green, Steven Curtis Chapman, dcTalk and Boyz II Men. "It's like taking the best music over the last 50 years and trying to put it back together. I think we've done a decent job with that."
To meld those diverse influences into a sound all their own, the band began working with Rob Hawkins, an up and coming producer who had worked with David Crowder on his Sunsets and Sushi collection. As a friend of Word Records A&R guru Otto Price, Hawkins began sharing the Jackson Waters project. Price's enthusiasm for the band's fresh sound soon led to a deal with Word Records.
"It's been a pretty wild ride for about a year," Jesse says of the band's launch. "My whole family played music while I was growing up In Oklahoma, but still I never thought I'd be here."
What has taken the band from regional favorites to the national spotlight is the strength of the music. It's pop, but with a Southern taste. They've drawn comparisons to Maroon 5, but any comparison falls short of capturing the unique flavor of the band. The melodies are soaring and have a cinematic quality. The lyrics are thoughtful and explore the complexities of life through the filter of faith.
"We always were Christian guys in a band and every song we wrote about was about us or life, what we were going through, what our friends were going through and that still is the case," says David, who sees the band's audience as diverse. "It's a wide range. We've played to 15 year olds that love it and then their parents would come and they love it. We do have a lot of Southern rock influence and a lot of parents really love that because they grew up on that. We're hoping that everybody really catches it."
The first single from the project is "Give Me Amazing Grace." The song is a soaring anthem with an infectious chorus that makes the listener want to immediately sing along. "‘Give Me Amazing Grace' talks about how we feel, the experience of being touched by God," says Ryan.
Brian cites "Give It Away" as his favorite track on the album. "I like the way it's put together musically. I like to play it," he says. "I also like ‘Center of Attention' because it's kind of chilled out."
"Let It Fly" is among Toby's favorites. "We've been playing that one for a while and it's powerful," he says. "It kind of lifts you up to another level with energy. I enjoy playing it live and ‘Let It Fly' is us doing this right now, venturing out there."
Each song has its own unique personality and listeners will have trouble singling out a favorite among the stellar collection. "Jamie's Song" is a poignant ballad with an underlying message of hope triumphing over adversity. "Come Undone" is a haunting, ethereal concoction that perfectly showcases David's soulful vocals.
"‘Come Undone' is my most favorite one to play live," says David. "My desire is for it to give people hope and encourages them to be themselves. The song is so much about the skeleton in the closet. We all have a past and things we've done wrong, but we have a Father that loves us and loves us for our imperfection. I think that's the beauty of Christianity. We don't have to be perfect. I love that.
"This whole record is about grace and forgiveness," he continues. "We're still trying to figure out this whole thing and I don't think we'll ever know, but it's all in the songs. We just hope people will listen to them and catch the emotions we felt while writing and creating them."