The
CalArts Alumni Magazine
Jade Jackson’s second album, Wilderness. Cover illustration by Audrey Jackson. Jade Jackson’s second album, Wilderness. Cover illustration by Audrey Jackson.

Walking Through the Wild

“Jade Jackson may be the next big country-rock star,” proclaimed a full-page write-up in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year. By all accounts, her career is taking off. After releasing her second country-rock infused album, Wilderness, she’s been touring extensively, participated in a performance and conversation at the Los Angeles Grammy Museum, and will play at the Stagecoach festival in April 2020.

The Pool caught up with Jackson as she was enroute to rehearsals with her band. In a few days, they would perform at the Nashville Americana Festival before heading out for a lengthy European tour. “I’ve never played in France or Belgium,” says Jackson. “I’m super excited about that.”

While Jackson has dreamed of recording and performing since she was 13—“All I wanted to do was start a band!”—it wasn’t smooth sailing to get here. In a way, CalArts was her backup plan. She remembers thinking, “If this music thing doesn’t work out, I don’t want to be a waitress for the rest of my life.”

“CalArts was so freeing,” she says. “Faculty don’t push you into a certain category or genre.” But her CalArts experience was also complicated when she broke her back in a rope swing accident during her first year. Jackson was resigned to pivot her career towards producing and working in studios. “I gave up on all my dreams after the accident,” she says.

Yet, in her third year, musician Mike Ness (of Social Distortion fame and a long-time family friend) called, offering his support. Ness ended up producing both of Jackson’s albums. “Him believing in me rejuvenated my dreams. Now I’m back to plan A.”

For Wilderness, which was released on ANTI- Records, Jackson enlisted her younger sister to illustrate the cover art. Audrey Jackson is in her final year at CalArts. Her cover design combines personal symbols of the sisters’ childhood with themes from the album. She explains that the wine bottle dripping onto a heart alludes to “anxiety and pain that comes with an alcoholic environment.” The angels trumpet plant is “absolutely beautiful but ironically, extremely poisonous and toxic.” The borage plant is included because “we grew up being told that if we were ever afraid, eating the flowers from the borage would give us all the bravery we needed.”

When Jade Jackson is not on the road, she returns to the small town of Santa Margarita, CA, where she and Audrey were raised. There she works waiting tables in her parents’ restaurant. The economic realities of being a musician in 2019 are challenging, even with a record deal and burgeoning success. “You just have to make it work,” Jackson says with determination.