Following on the heels of a critically and commercially successful album and a torrid touring schedule, Jamie Kent has been drawing big-time notice. As he and his band waited to take the stage at L.A.’s Hotel Cafe, he chatted with us about his creative process, band gear, and bonding with the crowd.
The HUB: Hey Jamie - tell our readers a little about yourself.
Jamie Kent: I'm an independent artist out of Nashville, Tennessee and I'm a road dog. I spend about 150 days a year on the road playing shows around the country. I've released four albums under my own label and have had some success. I charted at number 16 on the Billboard country chart with my album All American Mutt and I've had some good press from Rolling Stone who featured me as an Artist You Need to Know. And I've gotten to play with some cool folks like Huey Lewis, America, and The Doobie Brothers—cats like that.
The HUB: As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, what's your creative process like with so much time devoted to touring? Do you work new things out on the road?
Jamie Kent: It's typically a three-step process. When I'm out on the road playing shows I'm usually in the idea-generation and collection process. Listening for turns of phrase, catching melodies that might come into my head— I store them in the Hook Book [app] on my phone. When I'm back in Nashville, I usually write three or four days a week while I'm home. I don't love to write on the road; I just can't seem to get into a groove that way. I also love co-writing with people, so when I'm home I tend to book writing sessions three or four days a week. Then in the winter time, I usually pull back on shows and go into the studio to record.
The HUB: Do you gig in Nashville or do you take that time to let your hair down and relax?
Jamie Kent: I don't do much relaxing. I also run a concert production company; we put on shows with Bose at South by Southwest and a couple of concert series around the country. Then I also work with and for a company called First Note Play. We're developing a kind of roadshow tour, throwing it back to the days of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis hitting the road together with one band. It's like taking over a city, kind of like a circus. We're developing that for a regional tour in the Southeast.
The HUB: Let's talk about your shows and the bands you work with.
Jamie Kent: Some of my favorite shows are the ones we do with Bose at South By Southwest. We do them on a riverboat. These shows are a testament to the flexibility of the Bose systems. We usually have a pair of F1s on the roof and a pair of L1s in the bottom of the boat. The theme has been the New Nashville Showcase, highlighting all of the Americana, rock ‘n' roll, soul, and R&B bands coming out of Nashville right now. There's a big scene that isn't just traditional country. We bring that to South By Southwest and kind of show it off.
The HUB: How big are the shows?
Jamie Kent: It's become a buzzed-about event, but [the venue] only holds about 200. But we'll get like five- to ten-thousand RSVPs for it. And 800 people will line up three to four hours beforehand to try to get in.
The HUB: Wow, that's a good turnout. How are you doing this? Facebook ads?
Jamie Kent: Without Facebook ads. We use this one platform called DO512.com for South By Southwest that dominates everything else.
The HUB: How many bands usually perform?
Jamie Kent: There are usually about four full bands and we alternate them with acoustic acts.
The HUB: Do you soundcheck them?
Jamie Kent: Line check. We have a great sound guy and the L1 and F1s more than take care of it. Last year on the main stage we had a pair of F1s and a pair of Compacts pointing in as monitors.
The HUB: When you tour do you bring an L1 with you or do you rent?
Jamie Kent: We always keep an L1 system in the back of our van. If we're doing bigger shows, we'll bring the F1s along. We love them both; I've been touring with the L1 for six years and I swear by that thing. When we tour with the L1, we can get it all in the van, merch and everything, so we don't need a trailer. If you get any other system, you've got to get in the monitors, the subs, so you have to get a trailer. You save money by doing the band-van Tetris, figuring out where all the pieces go. Once we get to the full-sized rock venue or bigger club, then we bring the F1s. Everytime we play on either of those systems, people will come up to us after the show saying, ‘What are you playing through? Why does it sound so good?'
The HUB: How long have you been a Bose endorser?
Jamie Kent: Five years, I think.
The HUB: So you've been playing with them longer than you've been endorsing them?
Jamie Kent: That's right. I think I was the second Bose endorsee.
The HUB: What's your usual band configuration?
Jamie Kent: Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, upright bass, and drums—that's the usual lineup; sometimes we have pedal steel is in there too. Probably half the gigs we play as a trio. Then for some gigs we bring in the second electric [guitar]. My bass player is a monster and he can pull off some crazy solos.
The HUB: He fills in the spaces.
Jamie and the band soundcheck with Hotel Cafe's house system, a pair of Bose F1s.
Jamie Kent: Right. We did a 20-date tour with Huey Lewis in June and July this year and we did all those trio style. People freaked out over that!
The HUB: How did you get that booking? You're not the kind of act you might associate with Huey Lewis, at least based on his most well-known work.
Jamie Kent: Huey's got a history that involves a lot of Americana and country stuff. He was first in a band called Clover with John McFee from The Doobie Brothers, that was like a straight Americana band. They were the backing band for Elvis Costello's first record. So he's always had that love of Americana. We played a show about three years ago and Huey happened to watch it. He liked what he heard, and invited us to open up most of his summer tour dates from that point on. Our show is different enough that it stays fresh for them, but we're still appealing enough to a general audience.
The HUB: Being in a little different musical space probably gets the audience's attention more. Too often the openers are light versions of the headliners.
Jamie Kent: It does help. One of the things I take pride in is crafting a show that's a series of moments. It's not about how many songs we're playing, it's about how many moments we can create. You're also influenced by connecting with other band's fans. That's one of the things Huey loves about us, we make an effort to connect with his fans. You're trying to bring them into your show, to get them fired up so when he walks on stage, he doesn't have to work to get them to that point, they're already there.
The HUB: Let's talk about some of your other gear. I noticed you have a Telefunken M80. You tour with that regularly?
Jamie Kent: All the time; I swear by it. I got it a couple of years ago after seeing someone else use one. Because my voice is kind of on the lower end, I like my mic to be EQd with some presence and crispness. That what I love about the Bose systems too: they have that sparkle. I think I first heard the mic used by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers. It's such a Swiss army knife—at least for me it's [the mic choice for] acoustic, voice, strings. This was when I was living in Massachusetts and learned that Telefunken was right down the road in East Hartford. I ended up meeting their artist rep and he invited us to come play in their lab where they make mics.
The HUB: It's interesting that Telefunken's most visible mic these days is probably the M80 dynamic, considering the company's so closely associated with classic condenser designs.
Jamie Kent: Right. I sang through the Copperhead on my last album!
The HUB: What model Gibson do you play?
Jamie Kent: It's a J-200. I also play a cool new Martin Streetmaster 000-15M on the record. They just debuted it at NAMM. My guitar needs to sound incredible, but I've always craved a cool look too. They've really upped their game with this one. The aged mahogany has an amazing distressed look. It has a lot of high end and is a great balance and contrast with the Gibson. It's also great for fingerpicking.
Jamie warming up with his Martin Streetmaster 000-15M backstage at The Hotel Cafe.
The HUB: Do you go direct?
Jamie Kent: I use an L.R. Baggs Venue DI. It's got the three things I want in a DI. I'm pretty low maintenance, but I want to be able to tweak my EQ'd sound. It's got a great 5-band EQ and it's got the tuner so I don't have to have a tuner pedal. The boost switch works really well for switching back and forth between fingerpicking and strumming really hard. I can keep the volume constant and just hit the switch. I used to find that when the sound guy adjusted for the change, on the next song I'd find I'd need to stop and have him change the monitor, and that just ruins the moment. So this just allows everything to flow really smooth.
The HUB: I was curious, do you guys use the presets on your ToneMatch mixer in the L1 system?
Jamie Kent: Yeah, absolutely. My ToneMatch has the steel string with piezo pickup and I just pop it in right there and it's ready to go and I tweak accordingly. I also put a little slap-back tape delay on my voice and just a touch of reverb. It's pretty cool having a full digital mixer that'll fit in your hand.
The HUB: How do you go about choosing the gear you end up using?
Jamie Kent: A lot of it is word of mouth. For me, sound is first, but close behind it is the look. I want to craft a performance in which the gear and the music are consistent.
The HUB: Any other gear you want to mention?
Jamie Kent: My bass player plays a Chadwick Folding Bass. It comes in a mini coffin suitcase and the neck pops off and folds into the body.
The HUB: That must make it a lot easier to pack.
Jamie Kent: Yeah, and you can fly with it. It's sized perfectly to be under the flight dimensions so it doesn't cost any extra. And it sounds great. In the studio we A-B'd it with a 1950s studio bass that everyone plays, and we liked the Folding Bass better. It has great punch.
The HUB: Does he put his clothes inside it? [laughter]
Jamie Kent: No, but you know what he does do? He uses the L1 system as for his bass amp. It's just got amazing tone. Especially using the B2 [Bose bass module] it's got that hit-you-in-the-chest low end, but it's also got that clarity. So many people have come up to him asking, What are you running for your bass rig?' That was one of our secondary discoveries about the Bose systems.
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The HUB: Very cool! Well, thanks so much for your time, Jamie. Have a great gig!