Growing up in rural Oklahoma presented its share of challenges for singer-songwriter J.D. McPherson.
“I went to a small school and there were 11 people in my class. The 11 people I went to kindergarten with were the 11 people I graduated with,” he says via phone. He and singer-songwriter Nikki Lane play the second annual Touchdown Music Fest at the Lee R. Jackson Track & Field Complex in Akron on Saturday, Sept. 9, before the Akron Zips home opener. Lane starts things off at 2 p.m. and McPherson follows at 4:45 p.m.
McPherson likes to say that discovering punk rock helped keep him out of trouble.
“It was a weird time for me," he says. "One thing it did do that I feel grateful for was giving me time and isolation to focus on the things I was interested in. I spent a lot of time drawing and listening to music and reading about music.”
And discovering Buddy Holly made him embrace the roots rock sound that he’s mined on two (and soon-to-be-three) studio albums.
“It brought a lot of things together for me,” he says of Holly. “I was interested in guitar playing as a sport because of my older brothers. They were older than me. I had a healthy dose of Allman Brothers Band, Zeppelin and Hendrix when I was a teenager because that’s what they listened to. I really liked it and liked all the guitar stuff. I started getting into the Ramones and Stiff Little Fingers, which is arguably anti-guitar-as-a-sport type of music. When I found Buddy Holly, everything clicked. It had the youthful exuberance and simplicity of the Ramones but I could identify with a guy from Lubbock, Texas too. He wasn’t from Queens or London.”
With 2015’s Let the Good Times Roll
, the follow-up to his 2012 debut, Signs & Signifiers
, McPherson established himself as someone who could take early R&B and rock sounds and update them for modern times. The album has a great energy and the songs come across as really raucous and upbeat.
His latest effort, the forthcoming Undivided Heart & Soul
, comes across as an even grungier affair.
“Playing shows in larger venues, sometimes the instrumentation feels better when it’s a little louder and fuzzier,” he says when asked about his grittier sound. “I’m also feeling a little bit constricted by trying to write for certain instrumentation. Also, life experience. I’m not the same person I was five years ago. I’m writing concurrently so that contributes. Fear is also a great motivator and constrictor. You write something and you’re worried about putting it out. It’s a weird boa constrictor to try to fight off.”
“Lucky Penny” benefits from an infectious guitar riff that McPherson has always wanted to turn into a tune.
"I’ve had that riff for a very long time," he says. "It’s just something I would noodle around with. It’s so bafflingly simple. I showed it to a couple of producers but they didn’t like it. But then plugged into a fuzz pedal and immediately it came to life."
A particularly efficient songwriter, McPherson says he records almost every song he writes.
"I want to say I’ve recorded 99 percent of the songs that I’ve written," he says. "There’s only one song I wrote that I haven’t released. It’s like, 'No. This isn’t going to go.' I tend to write during the project. Since I moved to Nashville, I’ve been writing with other people a lot. [The key to a good song] has to do with how it’s recorded. My band is really wonderful, and we can usually squeeze something out of a song."