Joshua James Jackson’s debut album, Livin’ the Dream, features 12 songs that examine the life of a working musician. The ironic title offers us a glimpse into Jackson’s lyrical and musical approach. “I wrote [the song] ‘Livin’ the Dream’ a long time ago,” Jackson said, “but it feels relevant to my musical experience. It represents the dichotomy of the person you present to the world, visually and on social media, and the experiences you’re really having. I’ve done gigs that looked amazing in YouTube videos, but were challenging in person. When you’re in a band, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into things that don’t go anywhere, so it’s good to have a sense of humor along the way.”
On his musical journey, Jackson has played country, rock, soul, jazz, R&B and folk music. Those styles all show up in the arrangements he crafted for Livin’ the Dream. “I like to cover a lot of ground,” Jackson said. “I honed most of these songs by playing them live with my band, the Dream Team. Working them out, in front of a crowd, is my favorite way to put things together.”
Once the songs were ready to record, Jackson drove up to the OK Theater, in Oregon, with the band. They cut the basic tracks live with producer Bart Budwig. “I’ve played on records Bart made in that studio, and I love the sound he gets,” Jackson said. “He’s the Vibe Captain. So much of the job is getting people in the mood where they can be creative. He’s a master at that.”
Jackson finished the album with the help of Travis Hendix, the band’s bass player, in Oakland, and producer Jeremy Lyon, at Dimed Records in Bodega. He planned for a March 2020 release, but the lockdown happened, so he put it off until last September.
Every track on Livin’ the Dream sounds like a hit. “Still” is a galloping rocker with hints of country music in the lead piano and a touch of R&B in the accents played by the horn line. Jackson sings it with a bit of self-effacing humor, describing the interaction between himself and a member of the audience: “Hey man, what’s your new band called? Sorry I haven’t caught it yet.” A Motown-influenced backbeat gives way to a wild, jumping-jive chorus on “West Coast.” It’s a jaunty tune, depicting the start of a new relationship, with Jackson’s cheery vocal goosing the tempo into overdrive.
“Weed ’n’ TV” is a country rocker with sizzling steel-guitar accents and a honky tonk piano break. It talks about the addictive qualities of TV in a world full of uncertainty. The title track is a tender R&B ballad, with Jackson’s mellow tenor conveying the tension between the joys of life on the road and the realization that success may never arrive.
Jackson began his musical journey in Santa Rosa. “My grandfather lived next door,” he said. “When his band practiced, I’d go over and listen. I liked his electric bass. He taught me how to play it when I was seven. He also took me to see Tower of Power. My dad grew up in the East Bay. He loved funk and soul, and helped me buy records. I went to a public school that had a good music program. I was in my first band in fourth grade.”
In high school, Jackson joined Fishbear, a group that blended ska, rock, jazz and electro into their own eclectic sound. “There were six of us,” he said. “We tried to write everything together, in an egalitarian way, which meant a lot of arguing for teenage boys. None of us went to college, in favor of doing the band—rehearsing four hours a day, four days a week.”
When the band broke up, Jackson became a freelance player. “I was in the Boots, the Crux, Frankie Boots and the County Line, and the Church Marching Band, a group that mixed funk, Balkan music and other things,” he said. “Eventually, I quit them all and started Sharkmouth, a progressive rock trio, with drummer Libby Cuffie and keyboard player Nate Dittle. I sang, wrote the songs and played bass. We managed ourselves, booked gigs, and toured far and wide. We made a self-titled EP that we sold at shows and put up free on Bandcamp. I moved down to Oakland, and the band slowly morphed into my current project: Joshua James Jackson and the Dream Team.”
During the process of completing the songs for Livin’ The Dream, Jackson performed as a solo act, booking and managing himself. “I was doing my first tour of England and didn’t have any recordings to bring with me,” he said. “I made a quick EP, with my friend Travis Hendrix engineering. I made a few CDs to sell at the gigs. Then the Covid lockdown started. I flew home into the pandemic. At first, I kept working on Livin’ the Dream. I did a few livestreams, but eventually lost interest in that. I’m a live-music guy. I had to find other ways to feel joy, so for the next two years I drifted away from music. It’s only in the last year that I’m kinda finding myself again.”
Jackson continued, “Right now, the biggest challenge is to get back to the momentum that carried me through, doing all the boring things you have to do to maintain your musical and performing profile: booking, promoting and rehearsing. I’m learning to do all of that again. In the past, I’ve made a living as a musician. My goal is to play as much as I like and make as much musical art as I like and have it pay for my friends and myself.”
Jackson and the Dream Team will play a Birthday Party Show on Friday, Dec. 22, at The Stork Club, 2330 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Listen to Jackson and the Dream Team at: joshuajamesjackson.bandcamp.com. His work with Sharkmouth is at: sharkmouth.bandcamp.com/album/ep. His YouTube channel is at: youtube.com/c/JoshuaJamesJacksonmusic.