When they’re both asked who came up with the idea for this project, Sellers leaves no doubt, nodding her head toward Jackson while delivering a short, firm response: “She did.”
Physically tired after devoting time to obligations and appearances at AmericanaFest 2019, Jackson was energized by watching Sellers perform. “I had never seen her play before. Didn’t really dive into her music at all before,” Jackson confesses. “And then afterward, I did, and became like a huge fan. I just was an instant fan like I’m sure everyone else was in the crowd that saw her for the first time. She just killed it.”
When the pandemic struck in 2020, it gave other musicians a reason to go on hiatus, “which I totally respect because touring is exhausting and sometimes you feel like you can never get off the carousel,” continues Jackson. “I still needed to be creative. But instead of doing … what I normally did to be creative like tour, I was able to think outside the box and I just asked her [through direct messages on Instagram] if she wanted to collaborate on a song with me, which I probably would have never done if I was on tour.”
Sellers agreed to provide harmonies on a demo for “Hush”, the song Jackson wrote for her younger sister Audrey, who recently had been involved in “a toxic relationship.” They also worked on “Has Been”, written by Shannon Wright, the wife of Sellers’ frequent co-writer Adam Wright.
After hearing both demos, Jackson’s label was so impressed that it wanted the pair to record ten songs within a two-month time frame. The pair shared more tunes when Jackson (mentioning “As You Run”) made a three-hour drive to visit Sellers (“Fair Weather”) in Los Angeles, “smack-dab in the middle” of the pandemic. “In that one day, in that one hour,” according to Jackson, “it was kind of like they just all surfaced and we’re like, ‘Here we are,’ and ended up using them [on the album].”
Once both artists had enough songs ready, co-producer Sellers put together the band that included Ballinger, the album’s producer and superb rock guitarist who’s been in a personal/professional relationship with her for more than five years. “Ethan and I were particularly wanting to do a more rock-leaning thing. That was one of the things Jade and I had in common, that rock edge in our solo music,” Sellers maintains, referencing Jackson’s “Waste of Time” as a song she loves that “reminds me of ’90s rock in a way but not in a throwback way. But it has that spirit to it.”
Two fellow area musicians were enlisted — Rich Brinsfield (bass) and Matty Alger, the drummer who provided his East Nashville studio called the Cabin to make the record. They joined Ballinger onstage for the Jackson+Sellers showcase at the Cannery.
The only major glitch in the process? Jackson, who broke her back in 2012, seems to relish telling this painful story on herself when they were mixing the record last December at the Cabin, where snow and ice made for miserable conditions. “So when you’re in the studio, you’re sitting there, especially when you’re mixing, you’re not standing up, you’re just like listening, listening, listening,” Jackson shares. “So I’m like, ‘OK, we’ve gotta move our bodies. Let’s go outside.’ And I was in my socks.”
While Sellers elected to stay inside, “I got the guys to come outside,” Jackson continues. “There’s this deck, and it was all icy. And there was this bench, and I was like running laps, and I was just being an idiot. And I was like, ‘Hey, come on guys; we’re on the track team.’ And I jumped up on the bench and …”
Needless to say, it didn’t end well for Jackson, who “fell fast and straight down on my butt and on my injury. I blacked out for a second. Luckily, Ethan had a bunch of icepacks for his cooler, so I just stuck those in my pants for the next few days and, yeah, now I need to go to a chiropractor. I just haven’t taken care of it yet.”
Promising to limit her outdoor activities to lots of walks, Jackson can appreciate why this story still tickles Sellers. “It’s always funny when someone else falls,” the victim declares. “Then … I feel so bad. But when you see someone in that state, I don’t know why; it’s just freaking hilarious.”
Whether it had anything to do with the album’s name, Breaking Point and its title cut seem appropriate. “When she first heard the song, she felt like I had written it for her, like something that happened to her,” explains Sellers, who co-wrote “Breaking Point” with Adam Wright. “But also because for us, it was a breaking point in our creativity. The breaking point can be a negative thing or a positive thing. You know, we can take the pandemic or breakups or bad relationships or whatever, and it can be a negative thing. But it can also be a restorative or regenerative thing.”
Initially concerned that she might not be articulating herself properly, Jackson, who dreamed of a music career ten years before landing the record deal, makes her final thoughts on the album sound positively and profoundly clear.
“I just feel like since I started, I’ve always had all these goals and things,” she notes. “And I’ve always just been really hard on myself. And I feel like this was the first time I just did something for joy, for fun. It was such a different experience that I hope to inspire musicians just not to take themselves too seriously and just go out and play with people because you love them. You love what they’re doing, and they’re accepting of you and if something doesn’t go right or you feel like you’re stuck, then just go in a different direction. I wish I would have known that then.”
By utilizing that information, all signs point toward a bright future for Jackson+Sellers. “We haven’t made any definite plans, but we like working with each other,” Sellers asserts. “We’re going to be best friends whether we work together or not. And we enjoy writing with each other. So we don’t see this as a one-project deal.”
With their two-of-a-kind line of thinking, count on Jackson+Sellers to add more winning numbers.
Jackson+Sellers Play Americana-Fast:
Two for the (Game) Show Edition
How many of the same random questions can each of you answer in 60 seconds? Since this is tailored for duos, let’s have only one in the area at a time so the other won’t hear your answers, then we’ll reveal them together for comparison’s sake.
Who’s the boss?
Jackson: I think we’re a team.
Sellers: Is this like trivia? I don’t know that. (laughs) I know what that is, but I don’t know.
Who’s the boss in Jackson+Sellers?
Sellers: Oh! I thought you were talking about the TV show. Um, who’s the boss? Ethan [Ballinger, their co-producer]. No, just kidding. (laughs) I guess Jade would say me, probably, but both of us?
In honor of the Suzi Quatro cover, who’s the Wild One?
Jackson: Again, similar. We’re kind of similar. We both have our ups and downs.
Sellers: Oh, uh, Jade, for sure. Just because she’s more, she’s gotten more … she drinks a lot of caffeine. She’s always on.
Who’s the more competitive between the two of you?
Jackson: I don’t feel competition between the two of us.
Sellers: Oh. With each other? I don’t think we are competitive. In general? Maybe Jade.
Who’s more levelheaded?
Jackson: Probably Aubrie. (laughs) I’m kind of all over the place.
Sellers: Me? (laughs)
How do you settle arguments?
Jackson: Listen to each other. We don’t really argue, so …
Sellers: We don’t argue. We’re pretty good about just talking about everything. We’re good communicators.
Favorite movie-star or TV couple?
Jackson: I grew up without television. It’s not part of my life. I love Johnny Depp. I love Edward Scissorhands [with Winona Ryder].
Sellers: Just in general? We grew up on The Notebook [starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams]. It was like our romantic era. But that’s not TV. That’s a movie. Is that OK? (laughs)
This is the third and final article in a post-AmericanaFest series of interviews with artists who appeared in Nashville from September 22-25. See photos here, and read the wrap-up and more AmericanaFest 2021 coverage at PopMatters.