Jackie Lee readies debut LP, talks Eric Paslay cut & romance: Exclusive

Jackie Lee

Newcomer Jackie Lee witnessed his debut single "She Does" bow at No. 1 on the most-added playlist upon its release earlier this year. That already places him far ahead most aspiring country singers, and he's absolutely blown away by the success so far. "I've surrounded myself with people in my life that have no problem keeping me grounded about anything," he shares exclusively to NashvilleGab. "I feel like if we had a #1 record, they'd be like 'what's next?' I am very thankful for a great promo team over at Broken Bow. They are completely the reason that song was #1 most added when we came out. I'm so thankful for them."

As he's been hitting the ground running the past several months on his radio tour, he's been swamped with an overwhelmingly positive response to the song, especially in a live setting."Last month, we really started to do radio shows. The first part of the radio tour, pretty much from June to the end of November, we were in radio stations doing interviews and doing all kinds of different stuff."

He adds, "Then, here lately, it's turned into getting to do shows in front of live audiences. The response has been overwhelming. People are so nice and seem to be liking the stuff. It makes me really happy." As the lead sampling, plenty of grueling thought and long hours went into decidedly exactly what the first radio release should be. "It was a big deal. New artist, new single, there's a lot of pressure," he says. "There’s a lot of hidden pressure there, as well. You never want to get it wrong, no matter what stage in your career you are in, especially in the very beginning."

He recalled of the phone conversation with his Broken Bow label head: "I was in a bus going through Wyoming on our way to California, and Benny Brown called me up and said ‘well, you ready to pick it?’ We talked and he told me his favorite three and I told him mine. The one song that was the same was ‘She Does.’ I told him, ‘I feel like that would be the best representation of myself, what I like to do. Let’s do that.’ He said, ‘OK.’

Kenny Chesney originally had "She Does" on hold but ultimately passed on it. The romantic track—penned by Kelley Lovelace (Carrie Underwood & Brad Paisley's "Remind Me," Randy Houser's "Runnin' Outta Moonlight") and Neil Thrasher (Jason Aldean's "Night Train," Reba McEntire's "What Do You Say")—is the first offering from Lee's debut LP, expected in 2015. "I do feel like we’re pretty much done. That’s another thing as a new artist, you have all the time in the world to work on your first record. I do hope people like how we’ve pieced it together and the songs we’ve found and the songs I’ve written. I feel confident with it and I know the label feels good about it. I just hope everybody else likes it.”

If you look at the country charts, at any given week, you'll see numerous young male singers. Lee was quite aware of this and set about to make his music commercially viable but different enought to get him noticed. He explains, "One thing that I love in songs is a big melody. That’s one thing when I go write or if I’m listening for songs, I try to find that in each and every song. I try to find that kind of melody that will set me apart from the next song being played on the radio. It’s almost like when a female looks for a song. I feel like female songs really stretch and have melodies, sometimes more than a male song does. I look for those tendencies in a song. That’s what separates me from most of the pack anyways. I try to find songs I can dig myself into singing wise."

As he was writing and gathering outside cuts, he says he listened to literally "hundreds" of demos. "The way it goes sometimes, whether you’re in a pitch meeting or been given a CD with 11 or 12 songs, I’ll live with them for a few days. Sometimes you listen to the first verse and half of a chorus and you’re done and move on to the next one. Say I go for a run and I have a song that I want to listen to, I can listen to one song for the complete hour I’m on the treadmill. I obsess over a specific song and make sure if I want it or not. It’s representing you and where you want to go in your life. I try to find songs that sound like a hit for now and always 20 years from now."

And before he heads into the studio to lay down vocals of a confirmed demo, he says, "That part for me is about different every time. Sometimes, I’ll hear a song and I’ll be like ‘I’ve got to cut this. I’ve got to call them right now and tell them I want that song. It’s very urgent.’ Sometimes, I want to live with it for a bit and I will hear the song, put it on hold and then I’ll listen to it for three or four days and get it in me."

With mainstream terrestrial country radio leaning more and more Top 40, Lee details his process of incorporating his traditional roots into his music. "My producer Carson Chamberlain is country to the core," he says. "He came to town playing with Keith Whitley and played with him for many, many years. He’s just a huge country music fan, in general. It’s a fusion between what he does and what I do. It oddly meets in the middle. I’m huge country music buff, too. My dad knows every single bit of trivia you can have about it. I grew up knowing that stuff."

But Lee says his influences stretch further than just country. "In high school, I listened to Maroon 5, Boys Like Girls, stuff like that. When we get in a studio session together, I don’t try to make him do something different, and he doesn’t try to make me do something different," he says.

"She Does" is a decidedly romantic tale, a core component that's been a part of country music from the beginning. Lee shares his thoughts on why: "Country music is the most pure, conversation of lyrics you’ve ever heard. You can understand what people are talking about in a country song. Country boys like to talk about what they know. That’s what country artists have talked about since the beginning, their life and what’s going on."

Jackie Lee 2

Many fans might not know this, but Lee audition for American Idol's eighth season. "I was sixteen, and I tried out. I didn’t make it, though," he recalls of the experience. "I had sung in church my whole life, and my dad came in and asked ‘hey, you wanna do this?’ It started off as a whim. That was the first time it hit me like a ton of bricks that this was the only thing I was supposed to be doing with my life. It didn’t work; I didn’t make it on the show. It hurt me, but it motivated me. That’s when I really started pursuing a music career."

His audition song? “When a Man Loves a Woman," originally recorded by Percy Sledge. It was later popularly recorded by countless other artists, including Michael Bolton, Art Garfunkel and Barbara Mandrell. Lee says the song has pretty much held the same value to him, as an artist, through the years, "At 16, it holds the same light for me as an artist. There have been several things that have changed in my mind of what I think I need to be doing, that kind of stuff. That’s the core for my music still; that soulful style like Michael Bolton or a Bob Seger that I’ve always wanted to portray."

As for when fans can expect his debut album, he admits "it really depends on how ‘She Does’ does at this point. Hopefully, it does well. I would think early summer." Of course, Lee also reveals a few album details, specifically collaborators. "A guy named Justin Wilson, at the time, has had a couple hits since my song’s come out. At the time, he had nothing going on and was one of the ones that just worked. Ashely Gorley has been one of my good friends for a couple years now. Wade Kirby, too."

"I cut an Eric Paslay I’m super pumped about. I don’t know if it’ll ever be a single, but it’s definitely on the record. I’ve cut a lot of Neil Thrasher songs. I’m probably the biggest Neil Thrasher fan in Nashville, and I’ve been able to write with him several times. It’s filled with people I completely respect."

As 2014 comes to a close, he looks ahead with New Year's resolutions, well, kind of. "My mom always asked me to do this every year, to set five goals to achieve," Lee says. "One of mine from last year was to play the Opry, which I’ve been able to do twice this year. That blows my mind. I haven’t set down to do the list year this year. I do love to set goals. I do hope 2015 went like 2014: sky high."

Oh, and if you are want to get him anything for Christmas, just say no to Turbo Man (the signature action figure in the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring Jingle All The Way). "I don’t want that," he jokes. "I want a nice camera so I can take it everywhere with me this next year and just capture everything so I don’t miss it."

Grab a copy of Lee's current single "She Does" on iTunes now!

[PHOTO CREDIT: Broken Bow Records]

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