Jack Schneider Bridges A Musical Generation Gap On Debut Album, Best Be On My Way
A guitar slinger, singer, songwriter, producer, guitar collector and tape machine enthusiast, newcomer Jack Schneider has packed a lot of living into his new found home in Nashville. The city isn’t all that new to him though. Born in New York, Schneider grew up in Georgia, picked up the guitar at three years old and started making trips to Nashville in high school. In 2019, he graduated from NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and promptly joined Vince Gill’s touring band. Schneider fills us in today on his journey, and the making of his debut album at Nashville’s legendary Sound Emporium studio with established Nashville musicians as well as a couple of recent college grads. Listen for more tracks on upcoming Local Brew Hour shows and tune in to 89.5 WMOT tomorrow at 6:30am or 6:30pm to hear, “Josephine” on the Daily Local Brew. Best Be on My Way is out now.
AnaLee: You’ve been wearing a lot of hats lately, and I don’t mean the Stetson variety, although those are cool, I’m talking about bouncing between playing acoustic guitar in Vince Gill’s band, writing and then co-producing your debut full length album, Best Be on My Way and taking care of your guitar collection! Let’s start back in your high school days when you started coming to Nashville and ended up working at Gruhn Guitars. Tell us a little about how your fascination over fretted instruments began and how relationships you formed during that stint at Gruhn started this current musical journey you’ve been on, both on the road and in the studio.
Jack: My fascination with guitars stems back to some of my earliest conscious memories. My mother was a painter, and she and I used to spend a lot of time looking at visual art together. She used to teach art history and had an extensive knowledge of the making of paintings. A lot of those lessons stuck with me, how to read into a work of art and see texture, shape, color, definition, space, the nuances of artistic intentionality. I quickly learned that while I couldn’t apply such lessons to my own visual abilities, I could hear those nuances in sound, specifically in the resonance of an acoustic guitar. A lot of this was subconscious for much of my adolescence, but by the time I reached my teenage years, I came to realize that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get my own instruments to sound like the records I loved. There was an inherent difference in regards to the shape and sound of my guitar versus that of, say, the guitar Neil Young played, or Bob Dylan, or John Denver. I started acquiring knowledge of acoustic guitars - any lessons I could get my hands on helped me connect the dots and piece together an understanding of how instruments work, how sound travels through wood and wire and out into open air. I managed to contact a legendary guitar builder, the late Carlo Greco, who taught me a lot about the impact that braces under the top of a guitar have in regards to its ability to resonate. I even visited his workshop and saw firsthand what he was teaching me about. But even Carlo was unable to answer some of my questions about context, about nuance, and about the evolution of the acoustic guitar.
The person I realized I needed to meet was George Gruhn. I’d read all of his newsletters, watched all of the videos of him I could find, and decided I wanted to meet him. I convinced my parents on a whim to drive me from Atlanta to Nashville to meet him, and we immediately hit it off - I guess maybe our brains function somewhat similarly. We both connect dots between things, and by talking to George, I was able to fill in missing gaps in my understanding of the sonic qualities of the acoustic guitar. He exposed me to the finest instruments I’d ever seen, and I could hear the differences between them and the guitars I owned. It took years for me to dissect why, and that is the big reason I decided to intern for George Gruhn during my college summers. I had the responsibility of archiving a large collection of very rare and very special instruments. That was about the best sonic training I could have ever had. I had just finished a course at NYU called Critical Listening in which I learned how to identify and interpret different frequencies, decay times, resonances, etc. Then handling a collection of nearly 500 rare and special instruments, I applied the lessons I learned regarding sound to the specific instruments I was handling. That knowledge I gained still serves me to this day. Aside from all that, probably the most significant relationship I formed through working for George - besides my friendship with George himself - was my friendship with Vince. George introduced us and we connected immediately. All of the things he taught me about made sense to me, like how to play guitar by understanding what notes not to play - that was a big lesson I learned from Vince and one that I resonated with right away. George and Vince have both become two of my best friends, and I firmly believe that I’d be nowhere if not for them.
AnaLee: Tell us about your guitar collection, acoustics, electrics, other stringed instruments, and do you have one trusty guitar that’s always with you?
Jack: I’ve bought and sold a lot of guitars, mostly to learn from them. I sort of needed to cycle through instruments to distill as much from them as I could and learn what suited my particular touch and ear best. Some instruments that I’ve owned over the years that served me well: a 1966 Fender Telecaster with custom-order maple fingerboard, a 1945 Martin 000-18, a 1952 Gibson Southern Jumbo, a 1961 Martin D-28, and a 1963 Gretsch Duo Jet 6128 - some crazy stuff.
At this point, I’d say that there are three instruments in my collection that are sacred to me. The primary acoustic guitar I played on Best Be On My Way is my 1956 Martin D-28, dubbed “Big Jim.” I bought Jim from David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. It used to belong to a rancher out in Montana. Someone long ago put a massive celluloid pick guard on it that dampens the top and deadens the treble response. That’s why I love that guitar so much. It essentially has its own natural equalization and compression built in to its acoustic resonance.
My main electric guitar now is a 1952 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top. Man, I love that guitar. I’m not really an electric player, and I like for my electrics to respond like acoustic guitars. That’s what’s so special to me about this Les Paul. It’s a first-year example: the shallow neck angle flattens the fingerboard in a way that makes me hear the way the strings hit the frets, very much like an acoustic. I put La Bella flat wound strings on it, with a wound third, and that puts it exactly in the right sonic world for me.
Lastly - and probably one of my favorite guitars I’ve ever played - is my main guitar now, a 1937 Gibson Nick Lucas Special. I’m gonna be paying this one off for a long time, but it’s worth it. For my particular ear and touch, it’s the best match I’ve ever found. It has a maple back and sides, and a super deep body (almost twice the depth of an L-00), but with the narrow waist of the body. It’s just perfectly in tune with itself. You can hear the sense of depth in the way it responds: the maple reduces overtones, so you get this strong and articulate fundamental, and instead of hearing overtone, you hear depth. It’s pretty surreal and magical.
AnaLee: You assembled quite a crew to record the album at Sound Emporium, fill us in on the rest of the folks you worked with and what that experience was like for you.
Jack: I wanted the record to exist almost as a black-and-white photograph of a moment in time. We didn’t edit or overdub anything, really. We just sat in a circle and played songs. The record, in many ways, sounds exactly like what it felt like being in that room at Sound Emporium. The band consisted of Vince Gill (harmony vocals and guitar on "Nothing Left To Show” and “Farewell Carolina”), David Rawlings (guitar or banjo on nine of the ten songs and even sang harmony on “Marietta” and “Tennessee”), Stuart Duncan (fiddle and mandolin), Dennis Crouch (upright bass), my dear old friend Liv Greene (harmonies all over the record and banjo on “Don’t Look Down”), and my young friend Griffin Photoglou (drums on “Del Rio Blues”). Wes Langlois, my close collaborator with whom I co-produced and co-wrote the record, also played guitar on a few songs and played harmonica on “Tennessee.” Mixing was done by Matt Andrews at Woodland, all analog and never hitting a computer until the mastering process. The lack of digital involvement in creating this record meant embracing all of the imperfections, and retrospectively I am so glad we created the record this way. Flaws and all, it exists as a document of that moment in time. It is real and authentic, and I have faith that as I grow, it will bring me much joy to be able to go back and hear the way that things happened as they happened.
AnaLee: Have you always written songs as well as played guitar? Talk a little about what inspired the songs that became Best Be on My Way.
Jack: I started writing songs when I was a teenager. Before then, I would compose melodies in my head, hum them, and play them on guitar or piano, but I only started putting words with them around the age of twelve or thirteen. During the pandemic, I had so much time on my hands that I just made up my mind to write every day. Perhaps it was an escape from the difficult reality of the uncertainty of existence. The songs that showed up were, unsurprisingly, about a sense of journey, or forward motion, and I guess that was my way of going somewhere spiritually while stuck in my little world for the better part of half a year. Wes and I wrote all the songs on the record together - we share a lot of musical roots and heroes, and that makes collaborating very natural, since we utilize the same set of compositional parameters.
AnaLee: The video for the song, “Josephine” has on old school film aesthetic and I wouldn’t expect otherwise knowing of your love for all things analog. Tell us about creating the video and who the dancer is? And the video for “Don’t Look Down” is just you and, is that Liv Greene? Tell us about that one as well.
Jack: The video for “Josephine” was filmed and directed by my friend Jess Dimento. She is one of my very favorite visual artists, and an incredible photographer. I essentially gave her very little direction, except that I wanted it to be done exclusively on film to match the sonic texture of the recording. She suggested filming a dancer and I immediately loved the idea. The dancer is the exceptionally talented Ava Namar.
Yes, the “Don’t Look Down” video is just me and Liv. My friend Annie Loughead came to the studio that day to capture some press shots of me in the studio working on this record. We had some time to kill waiting for David to get there to work on some of the other arrangements, and the one mic was already set up. Liv and I played that song just kind of for fun, and Annie happened to film it. We rolled it on tape just for posterity. It was kind of a spontaneous thing, and I never expected that that song would even end up on the record. In the mixing stage, we loved the recording so much that we printed a version to 1/4” tape, and it was David who encouraged the inclusion of that song on the record. What is cool to me is that the version on the record is the same version as the one Annie filmed. So the video you see is the exact same moment and rendition that is included on the record.
AnaLee: I read that you and Wes Langlois recently opened for legendary songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot? What a thrill that must have been! Tell us a little about that experience, if you’ll be touring to support your album, and if you have any hometown shows coming up.
Jack: Gordon is one of our personal heroes. Never in a million years would I have imagined I’d get to meet him and open shows for him. It was a magical experience, truly. He was incredibly hospitable to us out on the road, and was quite encouraging of our songwriting and musicianship, which is high praise coming from him. We plan to play as many shows to support the album as we can. I’m working with Bobby Cudd, my booking agent, on lining up some shows into next year. It’s looking like starting in January we will be doing a monthly residency at the Station Inn here in Nashville, and we’ll be making our Grand Ole Opry debut later this month, on November 29.
AnaLee: The photo of you that I used here is a self-portrait. Is photography a hobby or another form of professional creativity for you?
Jack: Photography has always been a hobby, but since making this record, it has become more of a creative output than ever before. As I mentioned earlier, my knowledge of visual art is a component of everything I do, and I’m now enjoying applying some of those lessons to capturing the world around me. It also orthogonally informs my other creative pursuits - it makes me a better songwriter by forcing me to constantly look for decisive moments to capture, and it makes me a better producer by helping me learn the nuances of technology to intentionally make decisions about the way in which moments are preserved or documented. I bought a Leica M3 not long ago, and that camera has changed my life, not just as a photographer but as an artist. The new batch of songs I’m working on relate to the feeling of looking through the viewfinder on the M3 - trying to capture what I see and frame everything with intention before hitting the shutter button. I want these songs to be composed and edited with precision before I even contemplate the means of capturing or recording them.
“Don’t Look Down”