Ony Ratsimbaharison is a local musician, writer, and blogger and member of the band fk. mt. Jasper asked Ony to write a regular feature profiling local bands — getting at what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how it’s going. If you’d like to see your band profiled in What Jasper Said, send Ony a message at JasperProjectColumbia@gmail.com with the word ONY in the subject heading and she’ll, you know, take it under consideration.
Local psych-rock group, Jackson Spells, aims to embody the subconscious, subjective reality in their recently released full-length titled 2.5, reshaping the format of their band as a two-piece with keys and drums. They first formed in 2014 as a trio, after John Watkins’ and former member James Wallace’s band, The Unawares, disbanded. They intended to take their music in a new direction, and after adding Rob Cherry as their drummer, they decided to change the name to Jackson Spells. Currently, the band consists of Watkins on keys and vocals and Cherry on drums, a change that prompted the duo to write a new album.
Their sound is a mix of arty horror with a grand piano sound, a choice that Watkins says makes him able to bring out the bass notes more. He is no stranger to eccentric and unconventional bands. “In the late 1980’s to early 90’s,” Watkins says, “I had a jazz rock band called Brainchild. We thought we were bad-asses. We had long hair and wore robes. Wow.” He tells us more about his current band and their songs in the following interview.
You can catch their unique sounds on September 18, along with Boo Hag and Los Perdidos, at Tapp’s Arts Center for the book launch of The Incredibly Strange ABCs by cartoonist Tommy Bishop.
How did you come up with the name Jackson Spells?
I was relearning the piano at the time, and I just imagined a kid, named Jackson, learning how to spell. Then I thought about Jackson Spells having multiple meanings, and that appealed to my more mystical side, like a town named Jackson having to deal with witches spells. So I pitched it to the mates, and it stuck.
What is your songwriting process like?
When writing a new song, I begin with piano or guitar, and if it’s the guitar, I transpose it to piano before being superimposed with the vocal melody and lastly, I work on the lyrics. Then I take the song to Rob, and that’s where we work out an arrangement, and sometimes at that point lyrics may need to be edited to fit with the finalized arrangement.
My love of horror films often colors my lyric choices. My lyrics are led by suggested vowels and consonants that come to me when I’m writing the vocal melody. So from there, it’s kind of like a crossword puzzle, filling in the blanks with the right words. For the past year or so I have been using William Burroughs’ “cut up” method to help me write lyrics.
Who are some of your main musical influences?
David Bowie, Nick Cave, and John Cale.
My music has been compared to a lot of bands and artists that I never listened to. And that’s OK with me.
What is your overall philosophy as a band, if you have one?
Our philosophy is: Write. Record. Perform. Repeat.
Where can people find your music?
Our sophomore full-length album, entitled 2.5, is now available on Bandcamp.com.
The first album is also on Bandcamp and available on 12” vinyl.