Interview By Kristen McCallum
After seeing one of JackLucy’s performances at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City’s Lower East Side, I decided to meet up with the Pittsburgh native in her Harlem neighborhood. After a quick chat about our natural hair, we got right to it.
ELIXHER: Who is JackLucy?
JACKLUCY: JackLucy is my alter ego. She’s a carefree, strong-willed musician. JackLucy is a conductor. When I’m on stage I feel like someone else but it feels so much more like me, or the part of my identity I was still trying to find. When I started performing solo shows around 19, separate from the band I started in high school called The 3rd Degree, I went by my family name. Well more like a nickname which I won’t disclose! Based on my experiences, starting with my first label meeting at 19 with Columbia Records up until I was about 26, I got to see and feel a side of music (if I can still call it that) that wasn’t about music at all. So I decided to change my name to “JackLucy.” I felt like if I were a Jack, an all American white boy singing the same exact songs I’d have a deal already and labels wouldn’t think twice about my following. If I were a Lucy, a feminine and possibly dainty girl, one wouldn’t think twice about making a box that works for me. So, I put the names together. I’m neither one of those but together I am all of it.
ELIXHER: Does being a queer woman of color play into your identity as an artist?
JACKLUCY: It does. Calling myself “JackLucy” is my way of reclaiming my identity as a queer woman of color along with the other things that I am. I’m a sister. The oldest of six. I’m a daughter, my mother’s favorite (don’t tell my sister Sarah). I’m the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family. I’m an athlete and I’m vegan on most days (although my friends laugh every time I say that). All of these things affect my identity as an artist. But how the world initially interacts with me based on what they see, offers me a whole different set of tools to creatively draw from. Perception is powerful. Interpretation is relevant.
ELIXHER: When did you realize you were musically inclined?
JACKLUCY: Immediately! I was born into a musical family. I didn’t fully realized that I had the skill to play music myself until I was in the 4th grade. I took up the flute because my mom played. In the 6th grade, I switched to the Alto Sax because my dad played. My new found love for music had me picking up every instrument I possibly could. In the 8th grade I taught myself how to play trumpet by spending every lunch period in the back room of band class practicing until I became first chair and played trumpet on “Pomp and Circumstance” during my graduation ceremony from the 8th grade. I continued to pick up and try as many instruments as I could. At 15, I found a guitar in the band room with only 4 out of the 6 strings on it. I borrowed it for the summer and taught myself how to play on those 4 strings. I wrote my first song at fifteen. I don’t remember it but it was something about being a millionaire. By the time I was 17 I could proficiently play 10 instruments. I didn’t truly consider that I might have a singing voice until about 17. I come from a family of amazing traditional gospel singers. And since I didn’t sing that way I figured I was better off playing an instrument.
ELIXHER: Who are you, separate from the artist? Is there a difference?
JACKLUCY: Now that I’m thinking about it…I’ll be honest with you; they are probably two different people. Like Beyoncé and Sasha Fierce. With JackLucy, I’m making my statement. Without JackLucy I could say I’m a 33-year-old woman from Pittsburgh who was born into a Christian family raised by an amazing single mother. I was super athletic. Wanted to play on the 2000 U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and/or possibly become a doctor because my mother’s a nurse. Although I come from a musical family being a musician wasn’t good enough unless I was doing it for the church. So I ran from it. I was a very shy person growing up, didn’t really speak much outside of my family. My only real communication with the world was through music. When I was growing up I didn’t know how to accept who I was. But once my alter ego was created and I took on the persona of JackLucy, I began to take ownership of who I really am and have always been. So maybe, there really isn’t a difference after all.
ELIXHER: So are you starting over?
JACKLUCY: Well, no. Starting over to me means that I would have to forgo the lessons I’ve learned, experiences I’ve had and the progress I’ve made. Actually, I’m just becoming more of JackLucy; I’m more comfortable with being me. I’m not afraid to tell my story. I’m not afraid of my identity. And by that I mean a Black queer female artist. I’m more aware of what is acceptable for me, from me and others. Starting over would be a step back for me, I think. As to say I did something wrong in the past and need to start from scratch. This is more of a continuum, really.
ELIXHER: Interesting…so what phase is your EP from?
JACKLUCY: The songs on this EP are actually fairly old. A lot of these songs I wrote when I was in my late teens. Putting these songs to CD almost fourteen years later was a way for me to end that chapter. The EP is called “1827” and I recorded it in January of this year in an L.A. apartment (#1827) of an awesome friend of mine; also drummer/mixed and co-producer on the record, Eric Downs. He took his bedroom closet doors off and rigged them up in his bedroom to make a vocal booth. For five days straight I slept in his room and he slept on the couch. Like clockwork he would wake up around 8 a.m., knock on the bedroom door and say, “Are you ready?” I would sit up, stretch my arms, grab a sip of water, walk about six feet to the makeshift vocal booth and reply, “Yes, ready.” We set out to track as many of my old songs as we could before I had to fly back to New York. Long-term, the music is going to sound a little different but right now this is what I needed to ship. I still really enjoy performing these songs; but I needed to close a chapter.
ELIXHER: What song is the most personal? Which one is closest to your heart?
JACKLUCY: The most obvious one is “Father,” but the other ones are close to my heart in different ways. But when I think about it, all five songs on the EP are about the same thing to different degrees though. In one way or another I’m looking for love and trying to figure out who I am in those relationships. I wrote “Father” after I was finally able to forgive my father for not being around. When I was 26 I ran into my father on the street begging for change and he stopped me to let me know that he was sorry and that he loved me. I was able to let a lot of things go after that. I realize that his struggle had nothing to do with me. He had to release himself from that struggle in order to be here for me. The chorus in “Father” is the words he said to me on the street that day. He has been sober now for almost seven years. He’s one of my biggest fans aside from my wonderful mother, siblings and nieces.
ELIXHER: What’s the end goal for JackLucy?
JACKLUCY: There is really no end. I want to continue to progress and make some killer music to share with the world. You’re catching me back from a hiatus, and it’s moving pretty quickly. It’s been an inactive 6-year lull. Now I’m on a mission to carve out an Urban Folk genre. This very noteworthy pocket. There are a lot of artists already creating Urban Folk but not putting this identifier on it. I created the genre title because I consider myself a folk singer with a twist.
I also want to encourage young Black girls who are playing guitar, aspiring to be singer-songwriters and that may exist outside of the box to do just that…be themselves. I’m working on performing shows with two different styled bands and being the conductor with my guitar. The bands might be a rock band and an Indian style band. They are performing the same song but are kind of battling it out. The show would feel like an orchestral singer-songwriter show. It could also be a bluegrass band and a hip-hop band. Think about it, I’ve got Jack and Lucy, two different types of entities merging together. I’m working to create symphonic memories and conduct elastic sound waves. That’s JackLucy.
To stay updated on upcoming projects and shows, visit jacklucyfm.com
Kristen McCallum is a writer living in Washington Heights, NYC. Growing up in a Jamaican family has made coming out quite the journey. Determined to finally find her place in the QWOC community, Kristen feels new to all of this but it still feels like home. To see more of her work, including her original poetry, visit her website at www.kristen-mccallum.com.