John Davidson and Jacob Bryant have grown from friends who skipped class at Pinson Valley High School to write and play music to John and Jacob, a five-piece band that plays their own blend of country and rock music at shows and festivals across the United States and the United Kingdom. Doors opened quickly after they moved from Alabama to Nashville four years ago with a publishing deal with Major Bob Music, a number one single, “Done,” for The Band Perry and “Be My Girl” was featured on the television show “Nashville.” They open shows for Kacey Musgraves and played at the Grand Ole Opry.
The band includes Jake Thrasher (Davidson’s cousin) on bass, drummer Trevor Davis (also from Pinson) and Austin Smith on keyboards and drums. They live together in a van on the road and in the same house in Nashville. There is chemistry in the energy and harmony of their music with guitars, drums, trumpet and harmonica, and the fun they have playing together draws in the audience and makes them part of the music.
Each band member has the word “Wildcat” tattooed on his arm from their “Get ‘em Wildcat” chant before each show. The ritual began as a joke in Louisville, Kentucky and it is now the band’s mascot and T-shirt design.
We talked with John and Jacob before their show at Callaghan’s on June 26, their first time to play in Mobile.
TSR: Most of you have been friends for a since you were kids in Pinson and still do things together outside of music. There are pictures of each of you holding bullfrogs at night. What is bull-frogging?
Jacob: Sometimes at night we go out with beer and flashlights and catch frogs. We shine a spotlight and everyone takes a turn getting a frog. The light blinds them and they freeze.
Austin: The frogs are harmless, like big softballs. We take a picture of them, kiss them, then place a bet on how many hops it takes for them to get back into the water.
John: That is real. Some people saw the pictures and didn’t like it so we had to keep clarifying that we didn’t hurt the frogs.
Jacob: Everywhere we go we try to do something. In Minneapolis we rented canoes, in Colorado we went hiking and whitewater rafting, and in South Dakota we went to Mount Rushmore and Deadwood.
TSR: You are in the pre-album phase of writing and adding in new songs. What are the plans for the next album?
Jacob: We have been on the road and touring hard, but we are always writing and making demos. We are going into the studio with Josh Leo on Tuesday to start working on a second record and we will record “Do Me Like You Do.” Going into the studio with a producer is a big deal for us because we self-produced our first album, John and Jacob. We want to expand and get better and Josh seems to speak our language and know how to get the sounds that we want. If Tuesday goes smoothly, we will set more dates and record more songs such as “To the Moon” and “Oh, Melissa.”
Jake: Experience and playing on the road together has made us a better band and it shows in what we are writing now. We met Josh after my uncle showed him a video of us and he really liked it. He understands what we do.
Austin: Josh is a parts guy and he listens to the music we listen to. He is good at figuring out guitar licks, which is important for us. We are moving into a new stage of building our songs more intelligently, putting in more space, and having only what is necessary. He will bring more out of our songs than we could do ourselves.
Jacob: If we recorded the first album again, it would be totally different because there is a lot that we would change.
TSR: You produced and released your first album, John and Jacob, on your own and you still don’t have a label. Does that matter right now?
Jacob: There are pros and cons. The con is budget and resources. The pro is that we can do whatever we want without other opinions if a label was in charge. Right now if we want to put a reggae song out for free on iTunes, we can do it.
Jake: We don’t stick to any genre. I think that is what we are about. We aren’t married to just rock or country.
Jacob: We make music that we all love. Someone will have an idea and everyone helps flesh it out. And we do have a song with a little reggae that came out of nowhere. I like going through songs in old voice memos on the phone to find something I haven’t heard in a while and realize it is good.
John: Or we write a country song for another artist to pick up for country radio and Jake says to keep the song for us. “Onto Us” was a straight-up country song and we never would have played it, but Jake heard it and liked it.
Austin: Making a full band demo can bring a song to life with energy. You can hear the parts.
TSR: Do the songs change after you add them to the set list?
Jake: Almost every song goes through changes and many of the songs on the record have slight differences now as we play them over and over and find little ways to make them better.
TSR: You just announced another tour to the U.K. in the fall. There is video of the crowd in Glasgow singing with you the last time you were there. What does it mean to have those fans beyond the U.S.?
Jacob: They love us in Scotland and that was a cool show. For the last song, we unplugged, walked out, and everyone gathered around us and for an acoustic version of “Breaking the Law.” The whole place was singing. It was unplanned and it was crazy, but the crowds were like that every town went to.
John: An interview with Bob Harris of the BBC, a song on Nashville, and opening for Kacey Musgraves blew it up for us in the UK. People also remember us from when we played with The Band Perry in 2012. The fans are so loyal and they keep coming back.
Jacob: The Kacey shows were good for us because she has a listening crowd. We got the job after her manager came saw us play at Music City Roots and now we all get along so well.
TSR: We saw your show at WorkPlay in Birmingham last December and it was the first time you wore the matching suits. Now they are your look. How did that start?
Jacob: We were toying with the idea of getting suits but we didn’t want to look like the Beatles and Jake didn’t want to look like the Blue Man Group.
Jake: Someone said let’s get all black suits because it will be cool, but I thought it would be uninspired and we would look like the Blue Man Group. I found a burgundy suit that looked good and everyone liked it.
Jacob: We can personalize the suits with shirts untucked or tucked. Are we buttoning them up all of the way to the top because Jake is?
John: Jake wears a bolo, Trevor and Austin wear ties, Jacob wears a bow tie. I wear a vest.
Austin: We have trapped ourselves into wearing the same thing when we are on stage. Blue suits may be coming.
Jacob: There is no air conditioning tonight, so let’s wear the suits.
John: I have a big stain on the shoulder of mine from the guitar strap.
TSR: Are there any other matching clothes you wear?
Jacob: Underwear, socks, and toenail polish.
Trevor: We just got navy blue and white vertically striped shirts for an outdoor show next week.
John: We look like we work at a hotdog stand or at a parlor shop.
Jacob: It’s more like the Beach Boys. If you can get T (Trevor) to talk during an interview, that is a sign that it is going well.
John: I am proud of T. over there. When everything was going off the tracks, he stepped up and said the shirts are about the stripes. He nailed it.
Jake: Trevor is the Joe Walsh of the band.
TSR: You recently opened for Chicago in front of a big crowd for Loessfest in Iowa in May. How do you pronounce Loessfest?
Jacob: We still don’t know. Before we walked on stage, everyone told us different ways to say it. We weren’t sure what was correct, so we had to say it real fast.
John: It was an awesome crowd. We sold it out.
Austin: (laughs) It was nice for Chicago to close for us.
Jacob: Playing on the main stage at Stagecoach Festival in California in April was the biggest stage we have played on and one of our best festivals so far. Those are the times when we stop to take it in and wonder “What the hell are we doing here?”