“I’m in my robe just playing guitar all day!”: Jared James Nichols on the pandemic woodshedding that led to his new EP

The blues-rock titan on cruising with wrestlers, embracing acoustic guitars and how he’s had to be careful with what he wished for.

Jared James Nichols is a man on a mission. With the launch of a new, high-energy EP and scheduled tours with some of the rock world’s biggest names, we caught up with the plectrum-averse blues-power firebrand to find out more – and to learn whether his new status as Gibson Brand Ambassador confers diplomatic immunity when playing Stairway in guitar shops.

The last time we met you were in the middle of a global tour. The world is a very different place now – how have things been for you?

“Well, at the start of the pandemic we were on the road – we were yanked off that tour and had to go straight back to the USA. I got home and the only way I could process what had just happened, the only thing I knew how to do – was to play my guitar and write songs!

“I signed a record deal with Black Hill records out of Nashville and I holed up – practising my guitar for hours every day. Just working on every aspect of what I do. I always used to joke, ‘Hey man if I had a whole year to just hunker down and shed…’ and the next thing I know I’m in my robe just playing guitar all day!

“I wrote around 35 songs before going into a studio here in Nashville. We got to work and tracked like a traditional modern band would – everybody acoustically isolated, recording their parts one at a time, and no one dug it! At all!”

Jared James Nichols
Image: Eleanor Jane

That’s a common lament: it can be very rare for an artist to feel that their recorded work matches the intensity of a live show.

“The biggest struggle I’ve always had is translating how I play live to a recording. I’ll be the first to admit the records I’ve made up until now don’t capture it fully – although I love those recordings and I’m proud of them.”

“At this stage the songs were sounding too clean, too fabricated – the whole year I was trying to dig into exactly what I want to say recording-wise. So we changed tack and went to Blackbird Studios which is often described as the only real rock ’n’ roll studio left in Nashville. Jay [Buchanan] of the Rival Sons had strongly recommended Eddie Spear, as a producer he did a great job on their music, and others too like Jack White.”

“Eddie and I hit it off straight away – we’d talk on the phone for hours every day sharing music and influences, this was before we even met! He got me straight away, he shares a love of danger – remember that time I told you I don’t even use a tuner? People still give me shit for that and I don’t care – Eddie has a similar mindset!

“So we get into this world class studio – just beautiful. We set up together in the same room as if we were going to play a show. Blackstar had just sent me this fresh Artist 100 amp which is like an insanely loud plexi so I had that with a Klon in front of it. Eddie told us to play our instruments to the threshold of what we could bear. Turns out that’s pretty loud. “

We cut two songs that day and the way that Eddie mic’d things up, as simple as possible with the results going straight to tape on the same machine that Ozzy had used for Blizzard of Oz. It was the fucking sickest thing I have ever done. But it takes experience and musicianship to capture a sound like that. Eddie did an incredible job.”

Jared James Nichols
Image: Eleanor Jane

Tape works with you when you’re well-rehearsed and against you when you’re not. How did you prepare for the sessions?

“I will say this, before we got in the studio I said to the band, ‘Guys, I’m booking us two weeks of rehearsal time and I’m going to be there every single day just going after it. Come with me’. So for two weeks we were shedding. Not just playing the songs but grooving together. If we hadn’t done that then this would have been a very different experience – it just wouldn’t have worked!

“It was scary man – Eddie would press a button and we were rolling, it’s not like Pro Tools where you can hit the spacebar and go again. There was no computer in the room, no screen just speakers and Eddie and his big controller with big buttons. Yes, it was a new kind of terrifying!”

Jared James Nichols
Image: Eleanor Jane

There are some particularly chewy acoustic textures going on in the intro to Saint or Fool. How did you achieve that sound?

“I’ll be real with you, the acoustic guitar is a world of its own to me coming from a fully electric background. You know, an electric guitar is like a shield for me, all that power and volume feels protective. The acoustic… well, there’s nowhere to hide!

“A bunch of the songs did start life on acoustic before being transferred to electric. I like that bare-bones approach when I’m capturing the initial idea. Gibson gave me this beautiful J-200 – it’s a wonderful guitar and I love it. The day we were tracking, Eddie suggested that we kick off that song with the acoustic – I’d left it at home, but the studio had a J-200 from 1949! Dude… I picked the damn thing up and it was shaking off my body! This is another cool thing about being in Nashville – that guitar had been used on thousands of records over the years, it had been played at the Grand Old Opry, The Ryman, by the time it saw me it was thinking, ‘What’s up kid?’

“Now, if you listen back to the track you’ll hear that the acoustic sounds weird and lo-fi , you might think it’s been run through a plug-in or something but no. We recorded directly to tape. Then we took the tape and unrolled it off the reel, then we took it outside and we stepped all over it. Scraped it into the ground.

“I was watching it rip and tear, you know tape is pretty tough but we did a good job – then Eddie took the tape back inside and very gently put it back on the reel, he’d repair any tears or breaks very crudely and then keep going until it was done. So that texture you are hearing is the tape being just crushed. It’s a totally analogue effect and it was so cool”

Jared James Nichols
Image: Eleanor Jane

Speaking of analogue effects, there are some beautiful electric guitar sounds on this record that are a departure from your previous Klon-only approach to pedals.

“That’s right. I had a Leslie speaker going on, an original Echoplex too. Yes, I’m getting a little bit tasty now. I’m still very gung-ho straight into the amp, I still do that, don’t get me wrong – there will be no deviation from the rawness.

I get sent pedals and other cool things to try, and before my attitude was, ‘I’m busy, I’m on the road, I’m not messing around with this crap!’ But now I finally had the chance to dig them out and see what I could do!

“One of my friends who was Prince’s guitar tech back in the day built me an actual pedalboard – it has a two-amp switcher, the Klon, the Funky Vibe, an octave fuzz, a Tube Screamer, an Echoplex and a wah. That’s a lot of crap for me! I haven’t turned into The Edge just yet though.”

“These new songs inspired me to try some effects – and the pedals I’m using are there to serve this music. The board was put together after we finished recording and I’m looking forward to getting out there! I can honestly say this record is the closest I’ve been yet to the sound in my head!

Jared James Nichols
Image: Eleanor Jane

You have been a vocal fan of John 5 and have toured with him in the past. Rumour (well, Instagram) has it that you’re going out on the road together again?

“Yes indeed! John’s a sweetheart. He’s like us, he loves it, and it comes across. He has this onstage persona that makes people think he must be some crazy guy – especially having played with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. I saw him play with Manson at Ozzfest when I was a kid, before I even started playing guitar and he was just mind blowing. I was thinking, ‘What the fuck is happening here – what is this?’

“Last time I toured with John we shared a bus together and he was always playing the guitar. Like non-stop. I would wake up to hear a metronome going and John would be running scales while watching cartoons. This would go on all day. Then he’d get changed, go into the venue for sound check with his guitar strapped on and play. He’d eat something for like, five minutes and then start playing again. Then he’d play a two-hour show – absolutely destroying it. After the show I’d find him back on the bus with the metronome – tick, tick, tick.

“I have never seen anyone play as much guitar as John 5. It inspired me to take practice seriously – trying to find an extra hour in the day for it. It’s that level of dedication that makes his playing so proficient and so clean. I like it loose and greasy and old-school, whereas he has this laser precision. We work very well together and I love the guy.”

Jared James Nichols
Image: Eleanor Jane

And the KISS Cruise – the mind boggles – what is going on there?

“I have no idea… It’s funny, I never would have thought that I’d ever be playing gigs on cruise ships! But I did Bonamassa’s Blues Cruise, I did Rock and Wrestling which was insane – wrestlers party hard!

“Months ago a friend of mine told me “Paul Stanley really digs what you’re doing” which came as a surprise – like, how?! My first proper gig as a kid was KISS and Aerosmith and I’ve been a fan all my life so it was very cool to be invited to join them. Obviously, this has been rescheduled from last year and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s happening over Halloween – can you imagine that? Six nights over Halloween on a cruise ship with KISS and all their fans! It’s going to be insane!

Gibson recently announced your appointment as brand ambassador – how did that come about?

“Okay so Cesar [Gueikian, Gibson CEO] asked me to come over. He said, ‘Jared I have Greeny [Peter Green’s iconic Les Paul that was subsequently owned by Gary Moore and is now with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett] – come over and play it!’ So obviously I drive right over! I got to spend a day with that guitar. Kirk gave his blessing! How cool right? It was absolutely surreal.

“Cesar and I were just talking about the future. Drinking a beer, staring at Greeny, chatting, sharing our hopes and dreams for the coming years. As I was driving home he called me and told me to expect a text in a little while – that’s exactly what happened, I got a text from a dear friend of mine at Gibson offering me the chance to be the latest brand ambassador.

Jared James Nichols
Image: Eleanor Jane

“What this means in real terms is solidifying the partnership – so yes of course I have a few guitars with them now and the endorsement means a lot to me but this is about knowing that the company will take care of me as an artist in the long term. You know, I’ve always been a Gibson guy through and through: dude, even if they hated me I’d still be playing Gibson guitars – they just work for me!

“And Gibson are doing the coolest stuff right now. I tried the Korina Flying V and Explorer they just came out with which are insane, the Murphy Lab guitars are killer too, but I’m just as interested in the Epiphone series as the expensive stuff that can be out of reach for many players. My Gold Glory signature which just came out, it’s so much better than Epiphones have been in the past. The quality is excellent.

“Of course, now when Bonamassa calls me up every he starts every conversation, ‘Hello Mr Ambassador!’ That’s what he calls me now! Seriously though, I couldn’t be prouder to represent Gibson Guitars, it’s a dream come true.”

Jared James Nichols’ Shadow Dancer EP is out 17 September on Black Hill Records. His US tour with John 5 starts 10 August.