By Nicholas Jason Lopez
In the wake of his previous singles “I Don’t Mind” and “Still Awake,” Folk-rock singer John Gardner, perhaps better known as Common Jack, has unveiled “Fresh,” the final single leading up to his EP ‘Lake Song,’ slated for a Fall 2020 release via Black 17 Media (Sony/The Orchard).
“Fresh” lyrically embraces what it’s like to showcase your vulnerable and “uncool” side while in love with someone and lose your attachment to perfection, all delivered in a wry, deadpan tone.
The idea to form Common Jack came whilst Gardner was upon a two-year world tour with the actor-musician Broadway show, “Once,” based on the namesake 2007 indie film that starred Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglová. He played his own shows in his free time, while he also performed in “Once” to sold-out houses across Japan, Canada and America.
He expressed his doubts of further musical pursuance to Hansard in a conversation in Los Angeles before Hansard told him, “It’s frightening to lift our voice, but it’s always worth the effort. Shortly after, Gardner left “Once” and started to record what would then become his 2019 EP ‘Canyons In The Dark,’ which amassed 1.5 million-plus Spotify streams on the strength of the single “Viñales.”
The Music Bugle had the chance to chat with Common Jack about the release of “Fresh” and more.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Common Jack – Beyond the lockdown and inability to see friends and family all the time, I’ve been forced to become way more self-reliant. I was in the middle of recording an EP when New York City became the global hotspot of the pandemic, so instead of putting everything on hold, I forced myself to become more proficient with recording software and mixing techniques. I think it’s important for artists to have some familiarity with aspects of music outside of the songwriting and performing – like mixing/recording/marketing/distribution, etc. – because it makes our work more well-rounded and sustainable, so in that sense, I’m grateful for the forced lockdown.
Music Bugle – What made you go with the name Common Jack?
Common Jack – Honestly, I just think my real name is boring. I wanted to create a moniker that alludes to my real name, but serves as a means for collaboration and a full band vibe. I’m not really a solo artist, but I’m also not part of a four-person band that functions as a single unit. I like that fluidity, for now. For what it’s worth, my parents almost named me Jack after one of their best friends, so I’ve always liked that name and wanted to use it somehow.
Music Bugle – What inspired you to write “Fresh”?
Common Jack – I’ve been so obsessed lately with the idea of letting the idea of perfection go because, like, it just doesn’t exist out here in reality, so I wanted to turn the traditional concept of a love song – “You’re so perfect, you’re so beautiful, you’re so kind, blah blah blah” – around and examine how we’re all flawed and no relationship is without its own tensions and conflicts. Learning to love someone or yourself in a way that embraces the weird, uncool or ugly parts is such a powerful thing when you experience it firsthand. It’s those messy bits that make life really worth living.
Music Bugle – Who are some of your musical influences?
Common Jack – My original songwriting holy trinity was Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. I’m a white guy with a beard and an acoustic guitar, so that’s not surprising in any way, but right now, I’m really loving what Matt Quinn of Mt. Joy and Matilda Mann are doing with their songs. Matt Quinn does some really interesting things with lyric phrasing that create really nice shapes within songs. His voice is also just incredible and Matilda Mann is just so honest and uncomplicated in her delivery. It’s so inspiring.
Music Bugle – What was your childhood upbringing like?
Common Jack – I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. It’s a rural area, so my backyard was basically a forest, so my favorite memories of my childhood were summer days when my parents would essentially let me roam wherever I wanted to go, as long as I was home by dinner time. It was really good for my imagination. My mom was an opera singer and my dad was a folk music enthusiast who had instruments lying around the house. Whenever I was bored, I’d try to teach myself how to play one of them. It worked with piano, guitar and mandolin. Not so much with the violin, though.
Music Bugle – What’s something people should know about you as a person, away from music?
Common Jack – I love growing houseplants. Like, I really love growing houseplants.
Music Bugle – Where do you see yourself in a year’s time, career-wise?
Common Jack – I have no idea. Ideally, just sitting in my bedroom still making songs that reach people in a meaningful way.
Music Bugle – What is your favorite set of lyrics from a song – either your own or someone else’s?
Common Jack – Favorite lyric of mine: “I heard a voice begin to shout that both sides are to blame/I never thought I’d argue ’bout a Nazi USA.” Favorite lyric of someone else: “I hate you for what you did/I miss you like a little kid,” from Phoebe Bridgers in “Motion Sickness.”
Music Bugle – What would you call your biggest source of motivation?
Common Jack – I am always trying to write a song I’d like to listen to if someone else wrote it. So I think that’s my main goal.
Music Bugle – What excites you about your particular genre?
Common Jack – Good storytelling will always wind me up. Unexpected lyric twists are always fun too. Adam Melchor has a verse in his song “JEWEL” that talks about a rooster in his backyard that crows all day instead of just at dawn. He ends up connecting it in a deeply personal way to this lover he’s singing about and it’s so absurd and funny and heartwarming. When I heard that verse, I went, “Damn, I wish I wrote that one.”