Onscreen, he’s known as Avery Barkley, the bad-boy rocker on the hit ABC musical drama “Nashville.” Offscreen, he’s Jonathan Jackson, and he just might be infiltrating the airwaves with more than just his “Nashville” songs soon enough.
Jackson’s spot on the country-infused TV show has landed him a record deal with Loud & Proud Records, Billboard can exclusively reveal.
The Daytime EMMY-winning Jackson, who first broke through in the acting world as a series regular on the show “General Hospital,” was no stranger to the music world even before his “Nashville” gig. Along with his brother Richard (drums) and bassist Daniel Sweatt, Jackson fronts the rock act Enation, which has been in commission since 2002.
For Jackson, finally breaking into music as a signed artist, rather than doing all the work independently, is a breath of fresh air, though he’s thankful for what has come before.
“It felt like the perfect timing for everything,” he says of the record deal. “The last decade, really, I’ve had an amazing time just working really hard developing a sound and continuing to write songs and play everything. So I’m really grateful for the time that we’ve been doing things independently, but at the same time it feels great to have this happen.”
Working on a TV show like “Nashville,” which features vocals from its cast members (as well as the occasional songwriting credit, too), is a fairly effective way for musicians to get their names out there, whether the program takes off in a big way — see: “Glee” — or not. As such, Jackson figured right off the bat the show would at least gain his music more exposure — though he didn’t necessarily see a record deal on the horizon immediately.
“Being a part of a show like ‘Nashville,’ [with] the music side of it, I knew from the very beginning that it was extremely important and that they were obviously putting a lot into it,” Jackson says. “It was pretty easy to see that at the least, I would get more exposure as a singer. For years, I’ve thought about a project or a way where I could do acting and music together, and I never really thought that would happen. Then ‘Nashville’ came along, and it was like a dream come true to marry both of those worlds.
“At the same time, the last however many years of my life, I’ve started to get to the place of not having expectations about how things are supposed to turn out and really just try to live day to day. So I haven’t thought about the specifics much, but I knew the exposure was there.”
The deal with Loud & Proud puts Jackson in a direct relationship with label head Tom Lipsky, who told Billboard he’s incredibly excited for the opportunity to work with the actor and his band, recounting their first meeting. “It was a combination of his music and how charismatic he was,” Lipsky says. “His band did a private showcase for my team — about a 45-minute set — and I came away thinking [Jackson] was an absolute, unequivocal rock star.”
“Tom has been extremely enthusiastic and supportive,” Jackson notes of Lipsky. “He has a unique model of transparency with artists, and especially since we’ve been doing it independent as long as we have, we felt good about his vision. They have a great track record with promoting their bands and having a long-term vision for careers.
Enation’s previously-released music, which includes tunes steeped in indie/alternative rock traditions, will certainly inform what Jackson accomplishes as a newly-signed musician, though his experiences on “Nashville” will have some bearing as well. “It’s definitely a furthering exploration and development of what we’ve been doing in Enation,” he says of the band’s direction. “Being on ‘Nashville’ and working with some incredible people like T-Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller — so many wonderful, incredible musicians that I’ve been blessed to play with and observe — that has continued to shape the process of arranging music, writing music.”
A timetable for an initial release has not been set, though Jackson, like most of his ilk, says he’s been recording and demoing music for quite awhile, with the record deal giving those sessions a “concentrated vision.”
As for “Nashville,” which returned for its second season last September to strong ratings, Jackson can reveal very little about what’s to come moving forward — relenting only that “a lot of good drama is in store.”