UTG INTERVIEW: Jared Deck Discusses “17 Miles”; The Song & The Distance

jared deck

“In the end, it’s about facing myself and making the decision to be great at what I do, put my foot to the floor, and drive like hell to my destination.”

Oklahoma’s Jared Deck has been making music in various forms for some time, but as a solo artist, he’s really only just begun. His newest single, “17 Years,” would lead you to think quite the opposite, though, as it offers a confidence and control that only a seasoned veteran would typically have the experience to project. Deck’s own brand of MidAmericana is immediately accessible with a sound that should bring such greats as Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp to mind, or even newer rising stars like Jason Isbell.

We had the chance to speak with Deck about his musical upbringing and how it all led to where he’s at now with his solo work, post-cowpunk bands and the like. Read through our full conversation below.

To begin, can you tell me a bit about where your love for music began? Did you grow up around it?

Western Oklahoma has never been much of a cultural hotbed. All I knew was what I heard, and I heard my mother play the piano. Hymns and spirituals were why I begged for lessons. Like most Bible Belt kids, I sang and played in church from a young age.

Do you remember an exact moment when it clicked for you that becoming a musician was something you wanted to pursue?

In a town of 1,200 people, big dreams are tough to realize. My family owns a farm and the town grocery store. Growing up, it wasn’t easy to see down the road. At 22, I played my first show with a thrown together band at a college festival. I felt alive on stage for the first time and discovered the artistic connection a musician makes with the audience. I’d seen more dreams crash than take flight, but in that moment, I was able to admit that the dream was worth the risk.

Before we dive into your current work, can you tell me some of what you did with your previous band and maybe break down the specifics of “cowpunk”? That’s a genre I’ve never heard of in my life.

Cowpunk was part of New Wave that combined country, punk and rockabilly. It included Rank N File (with Alejandro Escovedo), The LeRoi Brothers, X, and Dwight Yoakam. My prior band, Green Corn Revival, was an indie rock take on that ethos. GCR released two albums and an EP, played SXSW twice, and worked as Wanda Jackson’s backing band when she released her Jack White-produced album, The Party Ain’t Over. The music was great, but complicated and stressful on stage. By the end, I needed to simplify and focus on songwriting, rather than arranging a seven-piece band.

So where does your love and interest in country/Americana music stem from and when did that start?

My love for Americana stems from my love for the people who opened my ears to it. In rural Oklahoma, country music is inescapable. My first exposure to Americana and folk music came in college. My mentor, Bill Haney, dragged me to every nursing home in Western Oklahoma, singing southern folk songs. Later, the Jennings family took me to my first Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, OK, where I saw Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Pete Seeger, and Arlo Guthrie. For six years after that, I learned spirituals playing piano and leading the choir at a small, predominantly African-American church in Clinton, OK. I studied music in college, but the musical education I received from these experiences is just as irreplaceable.

Who are some artists, within the genre or otherwise, who you feel inspire what you’re creating currently?

I’ve admired Alejandro Escovedo since I saw him at the Blue Door in OKC years ago. A former cowpunk artist who transitioned to a solo Americana artist. In June, Alejandro showed up to an impromptu show of mine in Amarillo. It was surreal seeing him in the audience. Afterward, we visited and he said, “You have a powerful, beautiful voice.” An unforgettable moment. The success of John Fullbright, a fellow Okie who takes songwriting to another level, inspired and challenged me to excel. And Beau Jennings, my favorite Oklahoma songwriter, recently released a record and documentary inspired by Will Rogers. Beau has a vast catalog and it’s all fantastic.

And what made you decide to branch off on your own and start working on solo material? What have the pros and cons been of that for you so far?

The music I wrote before was heavily arranged, without room for error. I had written or at least knew every part and noticed every mistake. It was stressful. About a year ago, my writing began to change. I found beauty in simplicity and returned to my musical roots. Over the winter, I faced myself in my writing and decided to retire Green Corn Revival. So far, I can’t say there have been any cons. I feel my writing has improved. I’m more relaxed and enjoying creating and performing more than ever.

What’s the story behind “17 Miles”? What’s the track mean to you and what do you hope listeners get from it?

“17 Miles” is a race against time that every musician faces and takes on the love/hate relationship between big dreams and small towns. I live exactly 17 miles from my hometown and sometimes question whether that’s been beneficial or a hinderance to my music. Am I holding on to something that’s not there or has home been the right place all along? Can I reach my goals from here or do I need to let go? In the end, it’s about facing myself and making the decision to be great at what I do, put my foot to the floor, and drive like hell to my destination.

As far as the other musicians involved with the instrumentation on that song, are they a constant band for you or are they people who you got just for this particular track? How did you choose who to work with?

Travis McKinzie (drums) and Brandon Cink (guitar) regularly play. My wife, Jacy Deck (piano), Chris Wiser (organ), and Fred Hanradt (bass) came for the session. Wiser is half of the Grammy-winning kindie rock duo, Sugar Free All Stars, and Hanradt plays bass for Aranda. I’ve tried to build a team that strives for excellence and that I trust to be honest with me. Chad Roper (Charlie Hall, Aranda) wrote the bass part and assisted in arrangement. Of course, the relationship developed with my producer, Wes Sharon, has made all the difference. Wes understands songs and the people who write them, and he has helped me find a voice I didn’t know I had.

And is “17 Miles” just a standalone single for now or will this end up on an album of some sort? Anything you can reveal about that?

Wes and I are in the beginning stages of producing a full-length album. “17 Miles” will likely be on the record, possibly with a new twist. Overall, it’s important that this record portrays the road that so many in rural America travel. I call it Midamericana–the sound of our world between the big cities, where dreams are born and die. It’s the hopeless optimism in our stories and the bumpy rhythm of Route 66. Where I come from, we don’t study culture, we live it. We work hard, play harder, dream high, and fall a lot farther. From the oilfield to the farm, and from our triumphs to our tragedies, these stories are worth telling–and I hope to do them justice.

I see you’ve got a few shows lined up. Any full touring plans in the works?

I’m currently booking fall in a few states and planning a large scale tour to promote the new album.

As for the foreseeable future, any other goals or plans you’re looking forward to? Anything you’d like to mention that we didn’t discuss?

My goal is to continually excel as a songwriter and human being, to grow into the man I’d rather be writing about. I want each new song to feel like graduation, like I’ve grown from what I’ve lived through.

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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