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Thursday, 15 February 2018

The S4L Interview 2018: J Jackson (ApologetiX)

(J Jackson - ApologetiX lead vocalist)

I first stumbled across ApologetiX more than 17 years ago and begun dropping a line or two to J Jackson (lead vocalist) to let him know that the store that I was working in at the time was selling his band's CDs and that they were flying off the shelf. Back in 2002 I got to meet J and the rest of the band for the first and only time (so far) at AtlantaFest music festival which was being held at Six Flags in Atlanta. Since then we have been in touch more than a few times and J has done interviews with me a couple of times as well. The first one was over on MySpace many years ago (does that place even exist anymore!) and the last time was here on this blog back in June 2015.

A lot of time has passed since then and ApologetiX have been putting out new music on a regular basis (in fact they have released 11 albums in that time!) and so I thought it was time to catch up with the man I am happy to call my friend, Pittsburgh's Parody Legend J Jackson, to find out what's going on with the band these days. He's always so open about his faith and the mission as he sees it of his band.

All photos of the band during their 25th Anniversary Show have been provided by J Jackson and used with permission.

There are lots of links down below so check them out by clicking on them to listen to the Parodies by ApologetiX,


(The 50th Album was released  December from ApologetiX, Xit Ego Lopa, which means back to the beginning, features Biblical Parodies of Get Back by The Beatles, No Excuses by Alice In Chains, You Might Think by The Cars, What's The Frequency Kenneth? by R.E.M. to name but a few of the thirteen tracks)

S4L: It's been awhile since we last caught up with ApologetiX so what's new in your world?

J: Well, last year, we celebrated our 25th anniversary as ApologetiX, and we also released our 50th CD … and our 47th (Very Vicarious), 48th (Zebraic), and 49th (From Hair To Eternity)We’ve been doing a lot less touring in the past four years, but we’ve been doing a lot MORE recording.  We’ve been releasing two new songs about every two weeks and four CDs per year since the start of 2014.  We’ve also incorporated a lot of parodies of songs with female vocals into our catalog, and quite a few with brass. My oldest daughter, Janna has done the lion’s share — or lioness’ share — of the female vocals, but there are other talented ladies who have sung with us, too, including Keely Singer, Elaine Heitzer, and others.

 

S4L: 25 years of ApologetiX! Does that feel like a bit of a triumph for the band? Did you do anything particularly special to celebrate this milestone in the band's history?

J: We held a couple 25th anniversary shows, incorporating many alumni members and guest stars, and they were very well attended and well received.  We filmed them for eventual release on DVD and CD, Lord willing.  We’ve also been doing a “This Date in ApologetiX History” feature daily on Facebook.

At the risk of sounding like I'm hyper-spiritualizing it, although it’s definitely worth celebrating, we don't deserve any congratulations for the longevity, because it’s totally by the grace of God.  I wrote about that in our newsletter recently.  It's kind of like congratulating me when one of my favorite sports teams wins; I can't take any credit. It reminds me of this quote I read from Steven Van Zandt, right-hand man to Bruce Springsteen, in the October 2017 issue of Classic Rock:

"Slowly, everybody who had a choice took it: they went to college, or the military, or got a job. Eventually it was just him (Bruce) and me who were stood there, the last outcasts that didn't really belong anywhere. People always tell me how persistent we were and stuck to our guns, trying to romanticize the whole thing. The truth is we couldn't do anything else. We were completely incapable, so we had no … choice."

It also reminds me of this quote from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16-17:

"Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn't preach the Good News! If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust."

Not that I consider myself in the same league musically with Steven or theologically with Paul. But, to quote Paul again, "by the grace of God I am what I am." I praise Him for the opportunity and ability to do this, however long He allows it.




S4L: Let's rewind the clock a little bit. When did you first get the idea to put together a Parody band and those you gathered around that formed the earliest incarnation of the band do you remember what the response was to this idea?

J: I started writing parodies as a kid, long before I ever heard of Weird Al.  Based on what I’ve read, he seems to have been inspired by the same stuff I was — Mad Magazine and old novelty/parody records.  So I’d been writing parodies all my life by the time I got saved a couple years after college, but I never thought of parody-writing as one of my marquee talents. 

However, about six months or so after I became a born-again Christian, I was looking for a way to help me memorize all the stuff I was learning in the Bible, so I started writing the parodies, mainly to teach myself and possibly to teach others.  I had sung in garage bands and bar bands before coming to Christ, but I had set music aside after that, including any aspirations I had of ever being in a successful band or doing music for a living.  I was really content just to work at my normal job and read my Bible. 

I just wanted to be prepared for whatever God had in store for me.  I was dreading that He might want me to be a missionary, but I wanted to be ready.  I never dreamed that He would actually use all my rock and roll experience and dreams of the past and have it become my ministry and my job in the future.

So, anyway, I was attending a local Bible study and eventually started performing some of my parodies there.  I eventually met some other musicians there who liked my parodies, and we started getting together every week to eat, pray, read the Bible, and jam.  We did that for almost two years before one of my Christians co-workers, who had heard our group and liked it, suggested that we play out at a local Christian coffee house that had opened recently.  He left a news article about it on my desk.  I told him, “We’re not good enough,” and he said, “Who IS?” 

We wound up playing at that place on March 27, 1992, and, much to our surprise, the show was really, really well received. Pretty soon we were playing there regularly, and people would come up after the show and ask us to play at their churches and other opportunities.  We didn’t care about money or crowd size.  As we like to say “We've played for free, and we've played for three.”   But God gradually grew the ministry.


S4L: Do you remember what the first ever Parody you wrote was?

J: As far as Christian parodies, I know that two of the first were written to help me memorize the books of the Bible in order.  For the Old Testament, I wrote a parody of “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones, and for the New Testament, a parody of “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon.  But there were a bunch.
 


S4L: What constantly amazes me about ApologetiX is that you have, over the years put out 50 albums, countless singles (their latest is a new version of "Triune Godhead", a Parody of "
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones backed by "An Old King in the New Age", a Parody of "Anarchy in the U.K." by The Sex Pistols!)  etc all without the aid of a "proper record label". Did you you ever shop around to see if there were labels interested in signing the band or right from the start was it a case that we are going to do this without much industry support?

J: I never expected much interest from labels, so we never pursued it.  Parodies are a niche thing as it is, let alone CHRISTIAN parodies.  However, we actually did have a few labels who eventually expressed interest, but by that time we had our own system for producing CDs and getting them distributed, and we’d heard enough horror stories about big labels.  And God graciously allowed us to come along in the internet age of digital music, where it’s easy to get your music out there  via MP3s, Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, etc.

S4L: Has not being a part of a record label actually allowed you as a band to have a far more sense of creative freedom in that you can basically do what you want to do and not have to be governed by the whole "sales" mentality that labels tend to have?

J: Oh, yeah.  I don’t think the typical marketing mentality would see much sales potential for a song that recited the genealogy of Jesus or the names of all the kings of Judah in order, the subject matter of two of the early songs.  Or for an entire album about the Minor Prophets, which we did in 2016.  But there was all kinds of KINGDOM potential for things like that.  We want to write about the entire Bible, because we believe in 2 Timothy 3:16.

S4L: When you are setting out to begin a new project do you have a clear vision of what you are going to do or is it a thing that is entirely dependent upon the Parodies and styles of music that you are writing at the time?

J: Sometimes, we have a vision for a specific concept album like “Handheld Messiah” (the Christmas story), “Easter Standard Time” (the Easter story), or “Minor League” (the Minor Prophets).  Other times, we want to do a CD of songs from a specific era like “You Can’t Say Euphrates Without the 80’s” (early 80’s pop and new wave) or “Apoplectic” (90’s alternative music). Many times, it winds up just being an eclectic collection of whatever we’ve been up to at the time and may have songs from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.



(One Way is featured on Biblical Graffiti from 1999)

S4L: Looking back over the vast collection of albums and Parodies that you have done, and in our previous interview you said often your favourites are the ones that are often the most recent, but I wondered if you actually have say five specific favourites that you have done excluding any of the recent material?

J: Oh, man, that’s like asking me to think about all five of my children and choose a favorite!  But I’ll tell you one song that will always be special to me — “One Way,” (see link above) our parody of “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies.  You see, a little lady name Lisa Thompson heard that song on the radio during an interview I did with a station in Nashville TN in early 2000.  She liked the song and the interview so much that she ordered the CD online.  I would send out a personal thank you to everybody who ordered online, and she sent a reply, and that turned into a correspondence (she and I are both writers), and eventually a courtship, even though we lived 650 miles apart.  We’ve been married now for almost 18 years.  So, getting back to the analogy about my children, they don’t exist without that song. 

S4L: Over twenty five years there have been personnel changes for one reason or another (nothing too dramatic or Rumours like I trust!) so who is currently in the line-up and how long have they been a part of the group?

J: Keith Haynie has been our bassist since October 1995.  Jimmy “Vegas” Tanner has been our drummer since October 2005, and he’s also our studio engineer.  Tom Tincha joined us on lead guitar in 2008.  Wayne Bartley joined us as our other lead guitarist in 2014, and he does our studio mixing now.  We also still have Todd Waites and Chris VonBartheld on keyboards.  Both of them are semi-retired — they live in different states from us — but each of them tours with us as needed and records with us frequently.  Tom Milnes is another semi-retired guitarist who still frequently records with us.  And Bill Hubauer still contributes occasional keyboards for us.  That’s one of the great things with doing all this studio stuff; we can get so many of our semi-retired guys active again.  After you’ve toured with guys, you miss having them around.  This way, we still get to interact with them frequently.  And we’ve even had cool stuff like Bill “Moose” Rieger, who was our drummer from 2001-05, come back as a guitarist on some projects.  And he brought his son, Jake, along to play bass.

S4L: ApologetiX has changed a fair bit over the years with the introduction of female vocals to the mix. Your daughter Janna is one of the vocalists on over 20 ApologetiX songs isn't she? How pleased have you been to be able to see her use her gifts and abilities in this way and play a part in the life of the band?

J: That’s been amazing. Believe it or not, the lyrics for some of the parodies she has sung for us were written before she was born!  I don’t know what I was thinking writing lyrics for songs with female lead singers back then — but obviously God knew what He was doing. But the most important thing for me with Janna, and with all five of our kids, is that they love the Lord with everything they have.  If they do that, I’ll be happy.  I’ve told Janna before that my verse for her and for all of my kids is 3 John 4:  "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” The rest is all gravy.

 

S4L: On the subject of family, are ApologetiX part and parcel of your daily lives as a family, are they all involved in some way in helping to run things like the website, the store etc?

J: My two oldest daughters, Janna and Heather, have sung on our recordings, as have Keith’s daughters, Sarah and Abby, and Jimmy’s daughter, JulieKeith’s wife, Krista, and Jimmy’s wife, Eve, have also sung on our records.  Eve has even mixed sound for us a number of times, and she helps Jimmy coordinate activities at the studio.  She’s also a great photographer and has helped with that.  All of our wives have helped out over the years at the merchandise table at concerts, too. My wife, Lisa, helps me with designing covers for our new singles and albums, putting everything together for our digital songbook, editing all kinds of things that I run past her, and being a patient listening ear when I am trying out new parody ideas, especially when I have multiple possibilities for a  potential line in a song, and I need to know which sounds the best.


S4L: A glance at all of your output over the past twenty five years shows that the band have never been afraid to tackle some of the biggest songs and turn them into parodies. I know we spoke of this previously but do you hear a song and think "oh, I'd love to do a parody of that!" I also love the fact that with many of the parodies there is almost a kind of teaching moment. I was listening to the live version of "Cheap Birds" (Parody of "Freebird") the other day from the 'Hits: The Road' album and was again blown away by the thought of how valued we are in the sight of God. Is that the kind of thing that you are always seeking to do?
 


J: Oh, there are so many songs I’d still love to do. We’ve done about 600 already, but there are so many more.  And we have parodies already written or started for hundreds of others, and we’re always getting new ideas.  Thankfully, there are also so many things from the Bible and Christian life that we still want to write about, too!  Yes, we want every parody we do to have something in it that makes it worthwhile from an eternal perspective.  As one of my favorite lyricists, Steve Taylor, sang many years ago, “If your music’s saying nothing save it for the dentist chair.”  Our mission statement remains to reach the lost and to teach the rest. 
 
S4L: Is there any style or artist that you still want to Parody?
 
J: Absolutely.  But I don’t want to spoil the surprise. 


S4L: As a native of Pittsburgh you constantly ride that rollercoaster of emotions when following the Steelers. I liked how Big Ben (Quarterback for Pittsburgh) a few weeks ago came out and questioned whether he still had it after having one of his worst games ever and followed it up with EIGHT great wins in a row. In the 25 years you have been a part of ApologetiX have you ever had one of those moments when you questioned whether you still "had it" and whether you could continue doing what you do? If so, what or who was it that brought you to a position of confidence in the gifts and abilities you have that has kept you going for so long?

J: Oh, yeah. Many times over the years.  Sometimes, I get no parody ideas, and then it’s like God turns on a water faucet, and I can’t fill up the buckets fast enough.  Also, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought or prayed “Lord, was that parody a waste of time?  Did it mean anything to anybody besides me?”  And then the next day somebody will tell me it’s their favorite song.  I had that happen years ago with a co-worker in the 1990’s who had recently become a Christian.  One day I prayed about a specific song and wondered if it served any purpose, and the next day that co-worker told me that was the song the Lord  used to bring Him to Christ!  No kidding!  I saw that old co-worker just a couple weeks ago at the store, and he reminisced about that song and how it said exactly what had been on his mind. 

 

S4L: Having a new album out are you already planning for what's next? Will ApologetiX be as busy as ever in 2018? Do you have any tour dates lined up?

J: Oh, yeah, we basically have enough songs for a new CD already, but we’ll probably plan to put one out in late March, Lord willing.  We’ve already released eight new songs in 2018, and there are many more in various stages of production.  We definitely are as busy as ever, at least in the studio.  And I’m as excited as ever about what we’re doing.  No tour dates lined up yet, but we’ll see if anything works out. 


Check Out the ApologetiX Website for more information about the band, the Parodies and the albums that are available.

Bonus: A Few Links 
To Some ApologetiX Parodies:




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