Few states have been cranking out musical talent like Alabama these days. Jason Isbell, Alabama Shakes, and even Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires may ring a bell, but one group that is sure to have a presence on the national scene in the coming year is The Pollies. Based in Florence just across the Tennessee River from the legendary musical town of Muscle Shoals, The Pollies succeed in bringing their own Southern sensibility to a sound that is grandiose and enchanting in a way that bleeds originality. Their sound is not just catchy, but it also lingers with you in the way any great band should. On September 25th they release their new album, Not Here, via Single Lock Records/Thirty Tigers. If you listen to the infectious riffs, soaring choruses, and organ playing, it should come as no surprise that the album was co-produced by Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes. The album’s opener is “Jackson”, a gorgeously strummed song that hones in on a historical figure while speaking to the complicated times we live in, and of which we are excited to premiere on Glide. To get an idea of what went into this beautiful song and the album as a whole, we talked with The Pollies lead singer and songwriter Jay Burgess.
“Jackson,” from the very beginning, is a pretty “in your face” tune (lyrically and audibly). What compelled you to write it?
I’ve always been infatuated with certain movements in history. You know…like what if it never happened? What happened to bring it to a conclusion? Jimmie Lee Jackson’s story was one that I had not heard before. To me, it’s a missing piece to a massively important time in our country’s history. Mr. Jackson was one of the many who stood strong for what he believed in— without violence. He believed that you could make a difference through your voice and non-violent action. To my knowledge, he was the only one in his family who had a paying job. He was a Reverend in his small town in Alabama. Before Martin Luther King came to Selma, there was a march that ended violently. Many people were injured. Many died. Mr. Jackson took his mother to that march. As the protestors were walking across Edmund Pettus Bridge, the cops turned the lights out, and proceeded to violently reprimand any protestors. Mr. Jackson took his mother to a nearby cafe to hide. When he heard the policemen enter the cafe, he told his mother to stay hidden while he confronted them. They killed him in that cafe. His mother survived and would march with Martin Luther King and many others in the third march to Montgomery.
Why did you choose to open the record with “Jackson”?
It was the best starting point for the record. It shows a man and his family going through unexpected life occurrences and surviving them. It’s what the human race has had to do since the beginning…yet it seems that every time something happens to us it’s like we’ve never had to make our way through it before. We’re too quick to grab the super glue and hope that it holds together the mantle of what we want our life to be. Sometimes the best thing to do is throw away the pieces and build a new one.
Tell us about the writing process— is the final version much different from the first version you wrote on your own?
This song is an exception to the way I usually write. It started with words. No progression, no melody. Just a story. All and all, it hasn’t changed since the day I started writing it. It was one of the more easy tracks for the band to pick up on. It is one the more simple songs I’ve written. With that being said, it was one of the most complex recordings of a track I’ve ever done. I wanted everything to be huge. A massive production. We spent more time on this song than any other on the record. The initial tracking of the band was planned differently to leave room for the other instruments we used. Reed (Watson, drums) played just snare and kick drum in initial tracking and we overdubbed the big tympani-sounding percussion after. We recorded a string quartet multiple times to achieve a big orchestra sound. In certain places there are five-part harmonies and the big acoustic is 4-5 of us in a room at one time playing differently tuned guitars. It was the first time that me and Ben (Tanner, producer) had ever done some of these things. It was more experimental than anything.
Most of your fans will recognize the song— it’s been a staple of your live sets for a couple of years now. Do you feel strange playing it in loud bars or crowded music halls? Do you feel like people “get it”?
I don’t think they understand it just yet. I’m sure in the live atmosphere it’s hard to really comprehend anything lyrically. I think they can feel a certain uplifting emotion when we play it. As long as they feel something, I’m happy.
What do you hope people take away from the song? Do you think it carries any extra meaning today in our current politically charged world?
I think it does now. When I started writing it, we were dealing with a lot of the racial tensions we are now…or at least we weren’t talking about it as much. I think it shows that the more we work together as a human race and not as sub-genres of people, the more progress we will be able to make.
Give a listen to our exclusive premiere of The Pollies’ “Jackson”…
The Pollies release Not Here on Single Lock Records/Thirty Tigers September 25th. For more info check out pollies.net.