Jacksonville, Florida-born and Nashville-based Jordan Fletcher recently released the EP True Stories which sets out to fulfill and exacting standard of really telling things like they were and are in his life. However, the EP is just the beginning of an autobiographical road that he’s embarked on after making a personal choice to explore more of his experiences through music. That was due, in part, to uncertainty regarding his musical future and the forthcoming birth of his son, and a desire to explain himself through his music to a future generation. The decision led to this EP, Produced by Dave Cobb, but will also expand into a full album release later this year.
For Fletcher, the experience of writing these songs has been personally motivated in the sense that he finds it cathartic to discover the ways in which the songs will grasp the truths he’s looking for. But the reactions from audiences since releasing the music have confirmed for him that the themes that he writes about such as personal loss, enduring love, and establishing your values, are things others can definitely relate to and find meaningful. One of the biggest examples of this has been the song “Firebird” about his late father’s car, a song specific in tiny details but effortlessly accessible for audiences. I spoke with Jordan Fletcher about the decision to become so autobiographical and the discoveries that he’s made along the way with True Stories.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I know that this EP has a lot of special meaning for you. How have reactions been so far?
Jordan Fletcher: It’s been great. A lot of the songs, like “Firebird” and “I Know You Are But What Am I” have been showcased in various ways. In general, I’ve been getting really good responses from people about how the songs affected them and what the songs meant for them.
HMS: Do you think grouping these songs together as an EP has helped shine a light on its themes of personal storytelling?
JF: Yes, and this is kind of the precursor to a full album. The EP is called True Stories, and it’s the beginning of a full autobiography that I’ll be putting out later in the year as an album. I think it’s been a really good taste without giving too much away.
HMS: That makes sense because I got the feeling that there was a lot more to tell here.
JF: The hard part now is whittling down songs because for the past couple of years, I’ve just been getting to tell my story. We now have a whole bagful of songs that are all true. To have that standard can be pretty tough but we’ve still got more songs than room on the album, which is a great problem to have. But I think the EP is, in its own right, its own body of work since they show range in sound and content.
HMS: Something else I noticed is that if you think of your life so far as a timeline, this EP gives a little piece of each time period.
JF: Yes, that’s true. If you look at “Firebird”, the story starts when I was nine years old, when my father got sick. Then “Still Those Kids” is my wife and I’s story in high school, and we’re still together. Then “I Know You Are But What I Am I” is a grown-up marriage argument. Then “Rather Be Broke” is a resolve and that one love song that I feel ties it all together. It wasn’t intentional, but it is actually in chronological order! It’s so freeing to tell your story and get to be heard. The concern isn’t necessarily whether people are going to like it, since I’ve been trying to get this message across in a way that I like. That’s freeing and then some people gravitate towards that.
HMS: It seems like there have been different times in music when that was more acceptable and less acceptable, just speaking your truth, but in the past few years, there’s been a big opening up regarding telling your own story in songs.
JF: Getting to do this project with Dave Cobb felt like a perfect marriage of what we wanted to do. The way that he approached it was live tracking when it was recorded, and that barebones aspect allows it to breathe. It’s a good thing, but also if there are any shortcoming in the songs, they are going to be out in the open, so it puts the pressure on the artist and Producer to make sure the songs are right since there’s nothing to hide behind. It’s cool because you get to see if a song’s really worth it in that arena.
HMS: I can see how the Production approach is in keeping with the themes. They aren’t overly Produced, many-layered tracks so the story speaks more directly. It’s great that you and Dave had the same vision for that.
JF: That was a blessing because it pushed me further in the direction that I already wanted to go. I had the fear on my end that if it was less Produced it would be less accepted, but to have a group of people saying, “Let’s go 100% in this direction.”, was great. I asked Dave what I should do to prep for this album. I had said before that this project was supposed to take any listener to where I’m from, Northeast Florida, and he’s from the same part of the world, coastal Georgia. So he said, “The only thing I can tell you to do is go back home and spend some time there. Go back home and reconnect, then bring that with you.”
HMS: Was there a time in your life when you would have found it hard to talk this much about your life in your music?
JF: Absolutely. Even today, there are songs that no one is ever going to hear because they would be too much. I think every artist has their own level in terms of how much they want to open up. But for me, I was at a crossroads when Covid hit, with me and wife discovering that she was pregnant. I wasn’t in a position to assume that I’d get to do music much longer, or not full-time. There were a lot of things going on in my head, since I didn’t know if I had much time, and I had also discovered that I was having a son, and I had lost my dad as a kid.
I wondered, “What if something happens to me? I’m still trying to figure out who my dad is at 28. I want him to know who his dad and grandpa were. Even if nothing does happen to me, I want him to know why he was born in Nashville.” Since I was working with these great people, I just felt like it was the time to tell my story, or at least start to. Then around that time, I got a new publishing deal and record deal. It was crazy, as if divinely inspired. What’s art if you’re not expressing yourself? At that time, I felt like I had to tell something for my son. I don’t know that there’s a better reason to open up. It’s also really cathartic for me and I’m blessed to have people around me who are okay with that.
HMS: I think that even when songs express personal things, people will often surprise you by finding ways in which they totally relate. I found all the songs on the EP relatable.
JF: “Firebird” has been the biggest example of that with me. The first verse is about this black 1969 Pontiac Firebird with manual transmission, it’s very specific. Not a lot of people have that car, but a lot of people have something in their lives that means something to them because of who owned it before. I didn’t realize that when I was writing it. I was writing it for me. It wasn’t until I put it out that people said, “That reminds me of my grandma’s Buick LeSabre.” People have taken this super-specific song and injected their lives into it. It’s been so encouraging to hear people telling their stories and saying, “You put into words what I’ve been feeling.”
HMS: The situation of that song is definitely something to plug into. It can expand to the bigger idea of all possessions that we might have from those who are no longer with us.
JF: That’s what you hope. As an artist, you think about, “What do you want your message to be?” I want all this to feel accessible. I don’t want anyone to feel like anything’s out of reach. The other thing is the idea that “If I can do it, you can do it.” I’m a college dropout with the attention span of a gnat and I managed to do this. I want this album to do for people what Jack Johnson’s album In Between Dreams did for me during a really chaotic period of my life as a 9, 10, and 11 year old. It allowed me to escape and softened the edges of some of the sharpest experiences I’ve had in my life [losing my dad]. That’s the “why” of doing this for me. The “why” of music can’t be money, and can’t be fame, because all that stuff doesn’t really matter. It’s the emotional stuff that lasts.
HMS: When you knew that you want to do a project about true stories, and the songs would have to be true, were you then harder on yourself to make sure that everything in every song was as real as possible?
JF: The answer to that is that the songs do that for me. For me, writing is super cathartic. It’s like a therapy session. Not every story that people might come up with is worth telling. You have to establish that a story is worth telling. If you can dig in and find the part of the story that’s worth telling, and has life in, and you can peek into that emotion, it’s not glamorous. So much of the language that I use is common, and I don’t try to make it slicker and cooler than it is.
The song itself will have more value than the words that I use. I think a lot of my songs are smarter than me, because they have a life of their own, and I just have to get out of the way. In the Country sphere, this music has always been the peoples’ genre, so it doesn’t need ego or arrogance, it just needs to speak to human experience. A lot of my songs come from broken places and the light at the end of the tunnel, so there’s not a lot of ego to stand on.
HMS: The idea of using common language that anyone can access reminds me of Johnny Cash’s goals as a young man, when he was first becoming prominent, never use language that might push people away. Even as an older man, he was constantly trying to avoid being ego-driven. You can hear what he has to say in his book, Man in Black.
JF: It’s something I think about a lot because humans are humans. There’s a bit of an ego in trying to be a songwriter or singer. I dropped out of college and moved my family to Nashville to do that, and that can feel narcissistic. I feel like you have to experience these ups and downs to get better at your craft.
HMS: I noticed that you did an acoustic live play video of “Firebird” and put it up. Was it hard for you to perform “Firebird” in that way, or was it more like playing the original version of the song?
JF: I played that one at my grandmother’s house. I think that’s important for all these songs, because there’s the factor of how I feel when I play them. I also need to make sure that even when I’m playing the songs by myself, they are impactful. I wanted a full album that I felt could stand on its own two feet, with me and an acoustic guitar. That song in particular was one I played in the house where my dad grew up in Florida. It was important for people to see that since it was a connection to that story. The whole album is about that area of the world since that’s where the stories are from. Playing that song there was the whole thing coming full circle.
HMS: Was it emotional for you to play it there?
JF: Yes, I’d say so. It did cause me to tear up because I felt like I was talking to my dad, since the whole song is talking to him. He doesn’t know about any of my music since he passed when I was 11. Back then, I just had a drum kit that I banged on in the garage and he tried to teach me how to play the guitar. He had an old Jim Croce tab book and I remember him trying to sit down and teach me. He also had an Eric Clapton tab book and an Ovation guitar. I was a little ADHD kid who wouldn’t sit down for more than two minutes. The fact that this is what I do for a living now would be a crazy thing if he could see it.