There’s something powerful about the way sparse vocals can paint powerful sensory experiences. I can practically taste the apple pie in this verse from “Time to Dream” by Jacksonport:
reflecting in the eyes
of my father’s home
the spirits flying high
the smell of apple pie
and packing foam
John Fatum is the songwriter behind Jacksonport. Word on the street is he’ll be releasing a song every month this year. What a stellar way to live out 2020 as a songwriter. He’s traveling the US in “Little Nipper” and self-producing his music. The music nomad has a crisp, warm voice and a humble style that we fell in love with. We caught up with Fatum to learn about “Time to Dream” and his career at large.
What led you to start making music?
When I was 4 my twin brother started taking Suzuki piano lessons… I was overcome with jealousy so my mom signed me up too. Percussion lessons started at 9, which was an act of exploring my masculinity in addition to playing ice hockey. Singing, however, didn’t start until I went to college, the Eastman School of Music, to study drums… I failed the singing portion of an aural skills exam and was so freaked out about the possibility of having to pay for an extra semester of college in order to graduate that I started singing wherever I walked each day to become more comfortable. I started entirely with spirituals and jazz standards.
Do you have a process that helps you write music or lyrics?
My philosophy now is to stay as present as possible to where I am, and who I’m with. Let myself enjoy all the details around me, even the ones that frighten me or make me feel uncomfortable. Then when it comes time to write, I let it happen real fast. I try to finish the whole song in one sitting, and then I’ll allow myself a few days to edit the lyrics.
What inspires you?
People inspire me. I love figuring out how people think, what drives them- where their creativity might possibly come from. I know contractors/ construction workers who are some of the most brilliant and creative people. Soldiers who are some of the most empathetic and kind. Teachers, parents, baristas, retail workers. They are just as intriguing to me as “creative types”. Natural beauty inspires me. The vast and fearful force of nature plays a nice constant juxtaposition to the human experience.
How does your hometown influence your music?
I grew up in Chicago and spent summers in Jacksonport, Wisconsin for which this project is named. I am a Midwesterner at heart. We are kind, we genuinely care about our neighbors. We are tough, to survive the brutal winters and summers. I think midwesterners are wise because they move slower than those on the coasts.
Do you write with others? Often? Does it help your process to be social or does it hurt it?
I do not write with others. I am part of a band called “The Rad Trads” where we arrange together but write separately. I would say being social is the most important part of my entire writing process- it’s the experience gathering part. But when I sit down to actually write a song it’s an experience of quiet and solitude and deep focus and thought. I would be intrigued to try though …
Tell me about “Time to Dream”–where did it come from? What’s it about?
I wrote just the words first, as a poem. I almost always write words at the same time music, so this was unusual. I wrote it at a gas station outside of a motel on tour – somewhere in Ohio, I think. I was part of a writing group that was turning in something that could constitute a song every week, and this was stream of consciousness poetry. I was thinking about home, and they are sort of vignettes- an abstract painting if you will. I’m very drawn to abstract paintings, and sometimes I try to write that way.
You say on your website that you’re releasing a song for every month of 2020–do you have any ideas or ‘will the words come’?
I’ve recorded all of them now! Most are mastered and finished – the last few are “in the can”, ready for overdubs and mixing. I’m always writing. “Chicago” is the next single, and I just recorded one called “Everything but love”…
Any touring plans?
Nothing announced yet although it’s in the works. I’m lucky to have lots of wonderful friends touring and will be opening solo in support of some of them. Stay in touch and I’m sure I’ll play most of the country over the course of 2020.
What advice would you give to new songwriters and musicians?
Write and play. There are no rules- don’t be afraid to be original and let your freak flag fly. If you try to be like someone else, they’ve already done that better than you ever could. Be yourself to the best of your ability.
Anything else you’d like to get out in the open?
I’m looking for a used pickup truck that I can modify into a touring/camping vehicle – let me know if you have any leads!