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Jaren Johnston The Cadillac Three interview

We talk Legacy, UK audiences, new music and more with the band’s frontman.

The Cadillac Three
Credit: Joseph Llanes

The Cadillac Three have worked hard over the past few years to build a fanbase here in the UK and that effort has most definitely paid off.

The band were here earlier this month wowing sold-out crowds and we witnessed just how popular they are, and fantastic live, at O2 Forum Kentish Town.

Before they took to the stage, I caught up with frontman Jaren Johnston to talk about the band’s growing fanbase in the UK, discuss The Cadillac Three’s latest album Legacy, and to find out when we can expect new music.

How has the UK been treating you?

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It’s been great. This is our third show in the UK this run. We did Cardiff, Nottingham and now London. It’s been great. The UK has just been a crazy thing for us. We have no idea why it’s gotten this big but it’s getting pretty big. It’s exciting!

What have the crowds been like for you here?

Very rabid and excited! One thing that we’ve noticed is that in America there’s a lot of people holding up phones but here you don’t see as much of that. You see people looking at you and singing along to every word. They’re taking it in up here (point to eyes) and not on their phone. I think it’s really cool.

You mentioned before that you’ve no idea why The Cadillac Three have taken off in the UK. Do you have theories about why you’ve struck a chord with UK fans?

I don’t know. We were talking to somebody about it and we were like ‘maybe it’s because there’s a little bit of an honesty thing in our music’. We just kind of write what we live. We write our life experiences and maybe people like the honesty. We’re kind of blending two genres of music that a lot of people don’t really do. We’re taking Rage Against the Machine and putting the banjo or maybe a lap steel. From a songwriting standpoint we’re doing something that you would have heard Hank Williams Jr do or Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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That’s pretty neat to put all that together and I don’t think there’s a lot of people doing that, especially as a three piece the way we do. We have no bass player just lap steel, drums and guitar. Maybe it’s just different enough and familiar enough to make people like it. I don’t know. I’m not mad at it (laughs).

UK audiences are well-known by Country artists for knowing every single word to every single song. What’s that feeling like when you look into the crowd and see people singing the words you’ve written?

Last night we were on our bus on the way here and T.J. And John from Brothers Osborne, who are out here playing with us, were talking about it. This is their second time over here and they’ve never played shows this big here. They were like, ‘people listen to records man and people sing along to songs that aren’t on the radio’. That’s when you know you’re doing something that’s really exciting somewhere when they’re not just singing with the single and they’re singing the third song on the album or a B-side. I that’s exciting. People still listen to records over here, which is awesome.

The Cadillac Three

Credit: Joseph Llanes

What’s the set list looking like for this tour? Will we be hearing any new material?

Honestly we never make a set list, we kind of just get out there. Normally Neil and Kelby and I will sit here and fight about what we’re going to open with and then it’s kind of a free for all from there. There’ll be something from every record. We have three now so it gives us a lot of ammo and we play about an hour and 45 minutes usually. There’ll be a little something from everything. We might play something new, who knows?

Let’s talk about Legacy. I feel the album is quite different to your previous releases. It shows, in some ways, a more sensitive side to the band. Going into the record, was there any kind of concept for it?

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It’s one of the things where we were just writing songs on the bus and then you start to listen back to the demos and you’re like, ‘if you listen to this next to that, and that next to that, this is starting to sound like a record. Maybe we should book some studio time?’ And so we did. How Legacy actually ended up on that record is Neil was at a songwriter’s round in Nashville at the Bluebird Cafe. The girl that I wrote it with was playing it and she goes, ‘I’m going to try to sing this. I wrote it with Jaren from The Cadillac Three’. Neil thought it was weird because he hadn’t heard the song and she played it. He was texting me saying, ‘what the hell? This is great. We should do this Legacy song!’ I was like, ‘oh I never thought about it for us’.

I was just about to have a kid and all this stuff and so we listened to the song on the bus and we were just like, ‘It makes perfect sense’. It’s something out of our comfort zone. For every record, some of my favourite things that bands did is when they go somewhere they haven’t gone before and they took a chance. Legacy would not have been something I probably would have sang last record or the record before but now it makes sense. It’s neat to play that on stage and not be comfortable and be kind of scared that it’s not heavy and it’s not what we did on the past record.

We did that and Love Me Like Liquor with Lori McKenna, which is so cool because this dark kind of really country Pink Floyd side of us. Listening to Pink Floyd was a huge part of growing up but also listening to Country. Then you hear Ain’t That Country on the record and that’s the most country thing we’ve ever recorded, like genuinely country and western. I think we did a lot of things this record where it kind of accidentally just started happening. We started finding these tones in the studio, it was starting to sound really cool and we just went with it from there.

You’re prolific as a songwriter for both the band and other artists. How do decide which songs to include when you’re putting an album together?

It’s weird now we’re more conscious of giving away songs. We all look at them and think about, ‘should we think about this?’. We’ll hold songs for ourselves for a while now before we give them to the publishers and tell them to go run with it a little bit or before I send it to Keith Urban. Sometimes it’s very obvious. The end of their Legacy record when we were about to go in and finish it, we still needed three or four songs.

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We brought our buddy Angelo Petraglia out on the road with us. He’s an old friend and I think he was famous for the Kings of Leon stuff at the beginning and he made that band what it was. We worked with him on our old band. He came on the road and we wrote nothing but Cadillac songs that weekend. I said, ‘we’ve gotta finish this damn record’ and we wrote Demolition Man, Long Hair Don’t Care, another one called Country and Western, and probably one other. We cut four of them and finished the record. We knew right then going in that that’s what we were going to write.

Other times you’re writing a song and it obviously isn’t a Cadillac song because I’m singing about something that’s not really me or we wouldn’t want to play the rest of our lives. That’s what you’re really looking at, you don’t want to play a song for the rest of our lives if it’s something you really hate (laughs).

The Cadillac Three

Credit: David McClister

When it comes to giving songs to other people, have you been surprised at the way someone has interpreted one of them?

Most people still stay pretty close to my original demo. Usually a lot of times a demos is the way it sounds. Mine sound kind of dirty and different than other people’s stuff, that’s half the reason that they’re cutting the recording song because they want their stuff to sound like that. Like Tom Petty always said when he was writing songs for Stevie Nicks or whoever, people would come and ask him to write a song and he’s like, ‘they want you to write a song because they want to sound like you. They want you to do what you do for them’. I’ve always been very pleased with hearing people’s interpretations of our songs. I’ve listened to one or two where I’m like, ‘you didn’t quite nail it’ but you can’t really say anything (laughs) so you just say ‘great job!’

What’s 2018 looking like for you?

Once we finish the tour we’re going to be off for a month and a half except for some studio time in December, we’re starting on the new record already. We start back January 18th for headlining dates in the Stats. Then we’re going out on tour with Luke Bryan, then a bunch of festivals. We’ll come back over here for some festivals but we can’t say what yet. I think we’re doing a big headlining thing over here next year, even bigger. We’re just going to keep going!

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I think the next year is going to be a really fun thing for over here and in the States. Even Germany and we were just in Paris and Northern Ireland, it’s all growing in such a cool way! They’re playing catch up with the UK basically but it’s very exciting.

The Cadillac Three’s album Legacy is available now. Watch the video for Dang If We Didn’t below:


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