Songwriter Interviews

Jason Michael Carroll

by Shawna Ortega

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Jason Michael Carroll has walked the walk. Growing up the son of a preacher, his father helped many families through rough times, and Jason bore witness to real-life tragedies that will take the kid right out of a child.

Add to that his dulcet voice and a true romance over which bodice-ripper novel writers would salivate, and you've got yourself the makings of a fine country singer/songwriter.

Already Jason's success has shown him the inside of Billboard's Country Music Top 10. And that was just with his debut album. His new CD promises to keep up the momentum. And if there comes a time when he's just fresh out of material for another one, no worries. He's got plenty set aside.
Shawna Ortega (Songfacts): I popped in your new CD when I drove to San Diego on Sunday - 6 hours from Phoenix to San Diego - and I didn't take it out the entire time.

Jason: Really?

Songfacts: I loved it. Talk to me about "Susie Q." Where did the inspiration for that come from?

Jason: You know, I cut my teeth in bars as far as entertaining. And anybody who's ever hung out in a honky tonk knows that there's all kinds of drama that goes on there. From the bartenders to the waitresses dating some jealous boyfriend who's sitting at the end of the bar while she's flirting with all the guys to get tips, who knows. (laughs) But you see all kinds of stuff. I kind of look at songwriting as religious, spiritually, almost. The fact that I think songs are out there waiting to be written. And you can either force the idea, and almost screw it up if you really force it too much, or you can try to receive it the way it's intended. So my songwriting experience is, usually when I'm writing by myself, I just kind of let the idea come, and if it's a roadblock or whatever I may try to hammer through it for a minute, but then if I don't get anything I'll just leave it alone and come back to it a couple of weeks later.

I was writing with Brian Davis and Vicky McGehee, and I said, "Guys, I wrote this song a while back. Tell me what you think." And I remember playing the first verse the exact same way that you hear it on the record for them. And they said, "Jason, we gotta finish that." And what's funny is I went back to see when I started that song, and I started it February 15, 2005. And we just finished it about a month before this last studio session, I think in November of last year, 2008.

Songfacts: Wow. I find your idea fascinating, that the songs are just out there waiting for somebody to find them.

Jason: The reason I say that is like "Alyssa Lies" on my first record. A friend of mine wrote a poem about child abuse, and I remember reading the poem and thinking, Man, that would be a strong song. I'm a dark writer, actually. I write a lot of dark things. But I thought that child abuse might be too dark for me to even write. So I tried to leave the idea alone, and I remember coming back to it a couple of days later. I was like, Man, I can't do that, I can't write it. Couple of days later I saw a story on the news about the exact same thing. I thought, Somebody somewhere is trying to get me to write this song. And I wrote the first verse and the chorus in a week and a half, and after that, every two weeks pick it up, put it back down. It took me two years to write "Alyssa Lies." So that's where I started believing that that's how it is.

Songfacts: And so, with "Alyssa Lies," is there any personal experience that you've had with that?

Jason: My dad was a preacher, so I saw some of the families that he helped that went through abuse and that kind of stuff. I mean, there's all kinds of things. Just dealing with that from your own experience… My dad was a very strict person. Now, was it to the point of "Alyssa,"? No, but that man had a little something to do with His will. And it was really something that I felt, after seeing it on TV, that somebody was wanting me to do.

Songfacts: It's so prevalent. It's so prevalent. Back to "Susie Q," the song that is playing, is it "Why Lady Why" by Alabama?

Jason: (laughs) Yeah.

Songfacts: Is it? I got it right!

Jason: We were trying to think of a good song that you would hear in about every honky tonk, and that's the one we were thinking of.

Songfacts: It fits perfectly. "We Threw It All Away." Is that about something that you have gone through?

Jason: Absolutely. It's kind of a continuation of "Living Our Love Song." "Living Our Love Song" is a song about Wendy and I - my wife now. We dated for a while in high school, under the radar. She was a little bit younger than me, and her mom and dad found out and they sent her away to college, out of state, to get her away from me. And it worked. Because she got married, and I got married, seven years went by. She got divorced, and here I was divorced with three kids. And I remember her coming to a bar and us hitting it off like we'd never missed a day. And so I remember dating for a while, and then I think I'd just signed my record deal when we found out she was pregnant with J.W. And I remember she was graduated from college, successful x-ray tech at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, and here I was a country music singer, just seemed like I'd achieved my dreams of getting a record deal. And then from both sides we were both hearing, "You've thrown it all away, all your hard work. You've thrown it all away." And that's where the song came from. But it turned out to be having the children that we have, Wendy's a great step mother to my oldest three, and she's a great mom to Junior. It's really been one of the best things that's ever happened to either one of us. Even with all of our success outside of our careers.

Songfacts: Don't you just love it when people stick their noses in your business? "You threw it all away!" It's like, Oh my gosh, just go away.

Jason: (laughing) Yeah, but how many times do people hear that? All the time. And I love it when it works out. And, "This may not have been what you would have done, but it was best for us."

Songfacts: That's right. The best revenge is living happily. So there. And your wife's name is Wendy?

Jason: I call her Winn-Dixie every now and again.

Songfacts: (laughing) Oh, nice. I find it interesting that you say you really write darkly, because the demo CD that I listened to is really upbeat.

Jason: I'm a happy person. But for some reason when I sit down to write, especially when I write on my own, the songs that I write can be taken really dark. I do a lot of it. I don't know why. At 21 years old, one of my first bands had just started playing one of my songs that I wrote out live, and as we started playing my songs out, I started noticing that people were really getting into them. And getting noticed and playing your own music and not losing a crowd is a big deal. So here I am playing some of my own songs. I remember a couple of folks walking up to me at several different bars where we played, and would ask me in between our sets, "You're only 21, where did all that pain come from?" And I'd just kind of shrug my shoulders and shake my head, "I don't know." But it's kind of what I've done.

One of the first songs that I ever wrote was about a man who had a drinking problem. It was called "You Next To Me." I want to grow old with you next to me. And my uncle, my dad's brother, had a drinking problem. At that point he'd already ruined three marriages because of it. And that's where I got the idea to write the song "You Next To Me." I want to grow old with you next to me.

Songfacts: Yeah, it's all around you, it's all out there, all you have to do is pay attention, and it sounds like you do. Is that song on any albums yet?

Jason: No, but it's kind of funny, there's a song called "Stray" that we play live that's not on any records anywhere, and it's one of my most requested songs at every show we ever do. The very first time I ever wrote in Nashville, Tennessee, I got to write with one of my idols, Mr. Radney Foster [check out our interview with Radney]. And we wrote this song called "Stray," my very first session in Nashville. And I remember writing that song and putting as much emotion into it as possible. It's a pretty dark song, but it's one of my most requested songs live, and it's not on a record anywhere. So I kind of joke around with people that I'm like Tupac, I've got a whole unheard library.

Songfacts: Can you tell me what "Stray" is about?

Jason: "Stray" is basically about a relationship. It can be from the man's standpoint, or from the woman's standpoint, but in this case, "Stray" is written from the man's standpoint, talking about how last night I saw you standing by the window in our room, you had your hair down on your shoulder and the moonlight kissing you. Basically painting this beautiful portrait, there she is by the window in the moonlight. And then, "I could hold your perfect body, but I couldn't reach your heart, and that fire that burned between us slowly faded in the dark, you're gonna stray, and I know it. You don't want to be here is perfectly clear, and you think you've got it hidden away, but I know you're gonna stray." And the second verse talks about, "I don't know who he is, I don't even know if there is somebody, I don't know when it's gonna happen, but I can tell you're gonna stray." And it's kind of funny, because I pitched that song to be on my first record, and my label came to me with the saying that "we're not gonna put it on there, because it's a little degrading to women, because it says something about her leaving." And it's kind of funny because most of the people that request that song at my shows are women. (laughs)

Songfacts: I don't see how that's degrading at all. That's just insane.

Jason: It's country music. It's real. And it's kind of funny that they made that comment about it and the people that request that song the most are the women that come to my shows.

Songfacts: I hope that you keep insisting with your label that they do, because labels are wrong a lot of the time.

Jason: It's really cool, though, because the fact that we do have that fan base that's becoming - for lack of a better word right now - rabid about my music. And they're really getting into what I do, it's very flattering. And even songs that are not on records, but they want to hear them anyway, it's just amazing to me.

Songfacts: And they probably sing along to every word, don't they?

Jason: Every word of it. It's so cool. I've got a song called "The George Strait Cover Band" that I wrote with one of my best friends, David Stallings, he's from Durham, North Carolina, and he's actually my production manager now. I brought him on the road with me because I want to have him out here, and we wrote a song together one night. My mom has been begging me to use my sense of humor in a song, and I've been trying to think of a way to do it. I came up with this idea of going to New York City and seeing a band that played George Strait songs almost as well as he did, and they were called The George Strait Cover Band. And it talks about "I never thought I'd hear a sound like that from a band that was wearing backwards baseball caps." The chorus, each time it comes around it's a different George Strait song, one after the other. They sang "True" and "I Just Want To Dance With You," and then they sang "Marina Del Rey." And went on "The Chair," "Right or Wrong," this is where "The Cowboy Rides Away." I mean, it's just really cool how it all kind of melded together. But that's a hugely requested song at all my shows, too, and that's not on a record anywhere.

Songfacts: You'll just have to keep a list and just release a whole record of unreleased songs.

Jason: Like I said, I'm like Tupac. Hopefully a long time from now, after I pass, they'll be like, "And Jason Michael Carroll, who passed away several years ago, here's his brand new record!"

Songfacts: Gotta like that. Tell me about "That's All I know." That's a fun one.

Jason: It is. And the coolest thing, I got to write with Paul Overstreet and Casey Beathard. Casey Beathard was last year's CMA writer of the year. And not only that, but he's a really cool guy and he's been really good to me. A lot of these A-list writers have been just super nice to me, and great guys. And I really appreciate that. Casey and Paul were no different, they were great. And I remember going and writing with them, and we came up with this idea to take a whole bunch of nothings, a whole bunch of things that mean absolutely nothing by themselves, and putting them together. And when we started doing that, we realized that all of these nothings, all these little tidbits of whatever, meant everything when they were put together. Like, I know there's a sun - okay. And I know there's a moon. All right. (laughs) I mean, the lyrics to that song are so simple, but it's just basically things, what you believe in, things that are common knowledge: I think honesty's right - I think everybody would agree with that, I think lying is wrong - okay, everybody will agree with that. I think Willie and Haggard wrote some awfully good songs - whether or not you're a country music fan, everybody pretty much knows Willie Nelson. So we just took all these little nothings that meant pretty much nothing on their own, and put them together, and it turns out to mean everything by the time the song's over with. And I think that's one of the coolest things about that song.

Songfacts: And who came up with the melody for that one? It's got that nice rolling feel to it for me.

Jason: It does. It's really cool, because I had mentioned that I did not have a 6/8 kind of beat song on my first record, and I really wanted one. Partially because I always try to comply or play to my crowd, and a lot of them dance. So that's what I wanted to do with this is give them a dance song from me. It's kind of cool because... I have always taken credit for this, because I'm a huge fan, that's probably one of the coolest songs I've written. But "I think God drove around with the radio on in a ragged old truck just like mine."

Songfacts: Yeah, what does your father think of that line? (laughs)

Jason: You know, he thinks it's great. And honestly, it's not meant to be disrespectful. People in the country always say "we're in God's country." But walking around on a farm, I mean, that's about as peaceful as it can get out in the country. Walking around on a sunny day, driving around on a farm in an old raggedy truck, it doesn't get any better than that. There's no feeling like it in the world. And that's where that came from.

Songfacts: Perfect. "Let It Rain," and then I'll let you go.

Jason: Like I said, I'm a dark writer, and "Let It Rain" showcases a little bit of that. I was writing with Tommy Lee James [interview with Tommy Lee] and Terry McBride. And Tommy Lee and I were sitting in the studio waiting for Terry to show up - he was a little bit late that morning. So I was just setting my computer up, and Tommy had set his computer up on top of his keyboard. And he said, "I'm just gonna check my e-mail while we're waiting on Terry." And he just kind of played this little melody back and forth as he was checking his e-mail. I said, "Dude, what are you playing?" He said, "I don't know." I said, "No, it was something like this," and I kind of hummed back what he did. So he kept playing that, and by the time Terry McBride showed up, Tommy and I had the first verse written. And we decided to go with "Let It Rain," which, it's a very cool song to me.

Songfacts: It's emotional.

Jason: Yeah, it's emotional. I love to pour emotion into a song. It's easier to do in a dark one... I've got a song about my ex-wife leaving me that I've not played for a lot of crowds, but it's got a pretty dark ending on that one. As a matter of fact, I've never played it for a crowd in general. I've played it for a very few friends of mine. But yeah, "Let It Rain" really came together nicely. It was just the way the emotions poured out in it. I mean, you can feel that song when you listen to it. We get a lot of requests for that song to this day, and unfortunately it's one of the hardest songs to sing, so if we're at the end of a run, like after Day 4 or 5 of a 5-day run, sometimes I can't do it, because that falsetto part. (laughs)

Songfacts: It's interesting that you wrote that with Tommy, because he writes darkly, as well, a lot of times.

Jason: Absolutely. And I think that's one reason we kind of clued in together. It was really cool.

Songfacts: Yeah, that was a nice little collaboration. Is there any other things that you would like me to know about?

Jason: Nothing other than I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

Songfacts: Back atcha. Thanks, Jason.

Jason: All right, darlin'.

Jason Michael Carroll talked to us on March 19, 2009, as he was gearing up for his first Country Thunder appearance
Check out jasonmichaelcarroll.com for everything JMC.
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Comments: 11

  • Donna Perry from Buffalo NyI absolutely love jason. Hes mentioned in concert hes jason michael carroll but back home hes just jason..well im from ny and to me hes just jason.. i go on the road a lot to see him. Places i nvr even heard of.. so to me.. hes just jason. An ordinary man. An honest man. A sincere man a funny man.
  • Adrianna from KansasThanks for all your awesome music and background on your songs. You are truly a amazing man.!
  • Travis from Chickasha,oklahomaThe story to Alyssa Lies is that it was inspired by a poem that a friend of his wrote. He thought about it and told himself that he wasn't going to write it. Then two days later he turned on the television after coming home from an 18 hour drive and the story on tv was about a high speed chase that a father and his daughter were in with the police,the father had kidnapped the little girl and was on the run. So he told himself ok,I am supposed to write this song. And the rest is history!
  • Kyle Krull from Fergus Falls MinnesotaWhat is the full story on alyssa lies
  • Student from A SchoolHi im doing a report on a song of social comment at school and i chose to do Alyssa Lies if anyone could explain to me whether it was about his daughter or whether it was on tv about someone else that would be great thankyou greatly ME!!!
  • Anonymous from Southern Ohiome and my girls fav. song is living our love song and my fav is were im from cause that reminds me of my home were im from ha that song reminds me of what i have and wen im out working on the farm nothing else madders. i got my dip in and my john deere go to work. ha love your music.
  • Amanda from WisconsinI've seen JMC live twice, once in 2006 and again in 2009. This interview brought back many memories of those shows. I even remember when he performed The George Strait Cover Band in 2006 (he didn't perform it in 2009). I'm not much into country music anymore, but he's one of the few country artists i still listen too. Thanks for the memories, Jason!
  • Alex from San DiegoI just saw you at the Typhoon Saloon and I enjoyed every moment of it. I would have love to hang out even more after you all were finished singing but I had a final to go home and study for and take at 8 am and I had been drinking and laughing all night with you all, so I thought it be best to get a couple of hours of sleep. But I wanted to know if you were going to ever post your happy to drink song. That by far was the best song or at least for me because growing up I was told by my father about country and how it had a dead dog a broken down truck and wife/ girlfriend leaving... It was a perfect song. But yeah I just wanted to know if you will ever have that song on your site or anything. Thanks again for the great evening.
  • A Fan In OhioI actually had no idea that he recorded The George Strait Cover Band! I'd seen performances of it on YouTube, but never before have I seen the actual recording of it. I've only been to two concerts, and i've not been able to meet JMC in person. I've heard he's a very down to earth person, and I keep getting jealous because he's my idol. I can't find any other person/group of people who I have thought this highly of. I sit here, typing this,with a JMC T-Shirt on, smiling away, and mainly because I got my JMC fix for the night. Even when the concerts aren't there for him, they're not his headlining shows, I still enjoy the fix of excitement I get just from singing to the songs, and hoping that maybe the next time I come, I'll have met him. I have both albums,and I wouldn't be as attached to his music today as I am now if I hadn't heard Alyssa Lies, I Can Sleep When I'm Dead, Anywhere U.S.A, and Let it Rain from his first debut album. I hope before he passes away, though, that he does have an album out of the songs that never made it to the records. Even if they're just put together from fans requests. I still to this day can't stop listening to his music,and i highly believe that it's going to last for the rest of my time on this earth. He could go to the edge of the earth, and i'd find a way to get there for a concert if i could.
  • AnonymousThanks for this info on JMC. I feel like I know more about him. I think he has a heart and is a wonderful voice. Thanks, again. A fan in Missouri.
  • AnonymousThank you so much for this GREAT interview. Very well done!
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