Interview | Jamie McLean Talks Band, Business, and Biking with FFS

Jamie McLean Band is no stranger to music. Cutting his teeth as a musician, touring the globe as the guitarist for artists including The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Aaron Neville, Brett Dennen and more, McLean has honed his art. Now, he’s releasing his new record One and Only, an 11-track collection of gritty alt-country combined with Tom Petty-channeling heartland rock & roll. Produced by Wilco’s Ken Coomer at the Sound Emporium in Nashville and features contributions from Sam Bush (NPR, Billboard, No Depression) and Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band), One and Only is an accumulation of everything McLean’s worked for.

For Folk’s Sake caught up with McLean to talk about how he defines success, the ever-changing music industry and the importance of getting out and enjoying your surroundings, whether you’re at home or on the road. Read on below, and catch McLean on tour now.

Who is Jamie McLean Band?

I always say I’m the last guy to know. The music is so close to me and such a part of me that I’m a bad critic of what I do. Jamie McLean Band plays solid roots, blues, soul, rock and roll. I’d like to think we take a bit of everything from a lot of places like New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis, New York to make a little gumbo of our own. We’ve been lucky enough to tour with some of our heroes like Gregg Allman, Taj Mahal, Dr. John, Tedeschi/Trucks Band, Los Lobos and more. I grew up outside of New York City playing in a band with my brother Carter McLean who plays drums at Lion King on Broadway. I moved to New Orleans to join Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and that band and that city really shaped me. It’s the closest thing I’ve found in the US that feels like a foreign country. To have Mardi Gras Indians running around and drinking in the streets and parades just because it’s Sunday or Monday or Tuesday… they know how to have some fun and the streets are oozing with soul.

How do you define success as an artist?

Happiness. If you’re not happy what is this whole thing about? Is the miserable millionaire a success? To be able to make a living writing, recording and performing music is such a joy to me and in that I feel successful. Obviously everyone wants to play bigger rooms, play for more people, sell more records but I honestly feel so lucky to simply be able to do this full time. To see people at the shows dancing and singing, having fun and forgetting the world for a moment is everything to me. I’m in the happiness business. Everything else is secondary.

What’s something you struggle with in the music industry?

The business itself is convoluted. There is a lower barrier to entry with home studios and digital streaming now but no one seems to have a plan to take the ball and run with it. I love that anyone can get music out there but it’s similar to what’s happening with everything in our world. We have EVERYTHING at our fingertips. How do you choose? You have 1,000 movies and shows in your Netflix queue, you have a stream of information coming at you on social media that is literally endless. Sometimes it feels like everyone is on the wrong side of the megaphone.

If you had to choose just one of your songs to play for the rest of your career, which one would you choose?

Great question. Right now it would be “One and Only” mostly because you can just strum it on an acoustic guitar on a front porch. The best songs you can strip down to someone singing it by themselves. “Summertime on Main Street” is a close second.

What inspires you and your creativity outside of your music?

I really make an effort to get outside and enjoy my surroundings. Whether it’s on tour or at home or on a vacation I find things present themselves to me when I’m not really looking for them. There’s been so many times when I have a song that I’m writing and I can’t seem to finish the lyrics. I’m 80% there but I can’t get it across the finish line. I usually go for a run or a bike ride or a swim in the ocean and try to get out of my head a little bit. More often than not the lyrics just show up unannounced while I’m not thinking too hard about it. It’s amazing what a little quiet and peace of mind can bring.

Jonathan Frahm (@jfrahm_)

Photo: Evan Felts