Cris Jacobs Reflects on Growth, New Experiences, and ‘Color Where You Are’
Color Where You Are is more than just the title of Cris Jacobs’ latest album; it reflects the Maryland native’s current creative process after arriving to a new station in life as a husband and father.
“Time is more constricted when you have a child,” Jacobs acknowledged. “You have to really be efficient about picking your moments to get things done. For me, it was a big growing up experience to be a parent, a husband, and a homeowner.”
Even through his changing priorities, Jacobs – who has toured with the likes of luminaries including Steve Winwood and Sturgill Simpson – struck gold in his newfound efficiency, with a 10-track effort that offers a diverse taste of Americana by melding together shades of soul, country, rock, blues, and more.
This time around, Jacobs was sure to focus on moments of inspiration, learning to capture his best creative ideas while juggling his newfound responsibilities.
“You just need to start being able to treat it like a job if you expect to have any sort of success or quality,” Jacobs noted. “When you’re dealing with writing songs and calling up the muse, it’s a fickle process. If you sit around and wait for it, it may or may not come. If it does, you may not be ready to catch it. It’s even harder when it hits you, and you’re in the middle of changing a diaper and have no way to capture it.”
“Every song is important now,” he continued. “I really try to get the best out of it.”
Art imitating life
“The way that I write songs is from a more abstract and subconscious place. So, the things that are going on in my life are going to find their way through,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs recalls a slew of stream of consciousness concepts that he would record on his phone – phrases, ideas, and sentiments – with the intention of digging deeper into those ideas as opportunities would arise. Many of these ideas dealt with the state of the world and his role in making it better.
“Me being a father – and the world being what it is – woke me up to concentrate on the values and foundations I want to show my daughter that I stand for, and that I feel are positive contributions to society in a world of lots of negativity and division,” Jacobs said. “It was a wake-up call in a good way; it made me ask, ‘What’s going to be my response, and what’s going to be my way of showing, by example, how I think a person should be?’”
That comes into play on songs like “Afterglow,” which tastefully and objectively addresses the emotions stirred up by the world’s current sociopolitical climate, and the importance of our reactions to the events happening around us.
“That song started out as an angry feeling, where it was a battle cry type of song to me. Then, I just started thinking about after the storm, when the sun is coming up through the clouds,” Jacobs remembered. “It got me thinking about all of the conflict and negativity, and being forced to stand your ground. I recognized that standing that ground is going to yield a stronger, more positive outcome, which will be more beautiful than whatever forced the situation.”
Another song that addresses the state of the world is “Under the Big Top,” which reflects on the disconnect humans have begun experiencing as a byproduct of the information age.
“(‘Under the Big Top’) is a response to the constant barrage of information, and the small-mindedness, instant gratification, and lazy mindedness I think it’s causing us,” Jacobs said. “We’re further away from the ability to look within, because we’re so inundated from outside ourselves. As connected as we are, it’s made us disconnected from the things that are important.”
There’s more to Color Where You Are than world awareness; for example, the funky, twangy “Rooster Coop” was a chance for Jacobs and his collaborators to flex their creative muscles and have some fun in the process.
“I had the whole tune mapped out in my head,” Jacobs remembered. “I didn’t have any lyrics, but I had the whole melody. We jammed on it, recorded it, and I sat with the instrumental track for about a month before I was able to squeeze out lyrics. When it hit me, it was a fun one to write.”
Jacobs’ collaborators include Richmond, Virginia-based musicians Dusty Ray Simmons (drums) and Todd Herrington (bass), with whom Jacobs has a long history. The pair performed with DJ Williams Project back in the mid-2000s, and would regularly gig alongside Jacobs’ first band, The Bridge.
As years and various projects have come and gone, the old friends linked up once more. This time, they joined forces.
“I was able to get those guys in my band. It was a hope of mine. I always kind of admired them,” Jacobs noted.
Rounding out the lineup are guest keyboardist Daniel Clarke, as well as guitarist Jonathan Sloane, a Washington, DC native with what Jacobs describes as “monster chops.”
“I was always super impressed with him. His voice, playing, touch, style, and ability to serve a song,” Jacobs said. “That’s what I can say about all of these guys. They can do it all, but they don’t do it all at any given moment, because they understand serving the music and the song.”
Jacobs, too, focused on tastefully employing his own talents as a guitarist and songwriter on Color Where You Are. The sum of all parts is a volume built on authentic storytelling and organic musicianship, marked by the chemistry between the artists in the room.
“The songs for this record were brand new. Except for one, they had never heard them prior to being in the studio with headphones on,” Jacobs noted. “I feel very blessed to have those guys. To find a group like this, with this musical chemistry and personal chemistry, is a rare and special thing.”
That natural energy shines on songs like “Buffalo Girl,” which came together in just a couple of takes and was the first song cut in the studio for Color Where You Are. “Ghost of Evangeline” developed in a similar fashion; the tender ballad was tracked as a live take, vocals and all, with no overdubbing.
“You always want those moments where you capture the magic, and you’re not trying too hard to get there,” Jacobs said.
Continuing the magic
Jacobs intends to create more special moments as the band stays on the road in support of Color Where You Are, including this Wednesday, May 15, when they arrive in Nashville for a performance at The Basement.
“We have a lot of fun playing these songs. It’s not a slick, overproduced, over-rehearsed thing; just a bunch of musicians who love playing together, and who are really good at what they do,” Jacobs said of the live show. “We just like a dynamic show, and we like to surprise ourselves. Hopefully, that comes across to the listeners.”
After the tour concludes, Jacobs’ plate will remain full. He has already begun chipping away at song ideas for a follow-up to Color Where You Are, which he looks forward to including in the next chapter of his already-impressive catalog.
“Hopefully one day, there’s a huge body of work that shows an evolution and true snapshots in time. That’s all you can ask for, in my opinion,” Jacobs said. “There’s not that ultimate creation, where you can sit back and say, ‘I did it. I’m done.’ Any true artist will tell you that. Each (release) has its place and intent. Accept that for what it is.”
All the while, Jacobs continues to grow within his current station in life. With a second child due in September, the singer-songwriter is sure to stay just as busy on the homefront as he has in the studio and on the road.
“It’s a full plate, but I’m a very lucky man,” Jacobs concluded.
Stream Color Where You Are below, and learn more about Cris Jacobs by visiting him online at crisjacobs.com.