Dr. Jason Lee McKinney is a very busy, and very talented, man. He’s a college professor and he’s the frontman of a band that just released a triple EP.
The Jason Lee McKinney Band released Sacred, Southern and Soul in April. They’re three very different EPs but they each touch on a different inspiration for the group. We chatted with the band’s frontman about the new music, playing for the troops and more.
Nashville Noise: You’re a busy guy. Not only are you a musician but you’re also a professor. How do balance the two?
Dr. Jason Lee McKinney: There is a lot of tie in. The school I teach at is a music school and I am the chair of the music business department… That being said, I am very busy… I teach 18-21 credit hours a semester and then we are on the road an average of 2-3 days a week. Family time is at a premium when I get the chance.
You also just got back from a month-long tour overseas for the armed forces.
We toured Africa and the Middle East, even played for the troops on Memorial Day. That was amazing! [Our biggest takeaway was] just gratefulness that these truly young people put their lives on the line for others — for us. I mean a lot of the troops we met that were on missions were going to prom a year ago. Kind of mind blowing.
What an amazing opportunity. Before you left, you released a triple EP. That’s a lot of music to release at once! How’d you decide to do it that way?
The main reason we decided to do it that way was [that] on past albums people would always ask, “Are you roots rock? Are you country? Are you soul?” The answer is and always has been “Yes!” an emphatic “Yes!” So for the Triple EPs we decided to clearly delineate our influences out… We are showing what everything else we have ever done has been made of.
I love that the title of each EP really shows what you can expect. Sacred is your more faith-driven one. How do you hope people feel after listening to it?
Hope is the key word. I want folks to hear the aspiration of more than themselves. As we all spiral towards our end, not to be morbid, I feel it is important to remind ourselves there is more to life than just what we want. What pleases us is not the greatest way to be human. It is a really big universe and we are, as a species, quite small, quite young and quite infantile in our knowledge. I think it is prudent and humble to acknowledge the mathematical and logical certainty of a deity.
Southern is your more country EP and it’s heavy on storytelling. Is there a favorite story you have on the EP?
“See You Soon” is my favorite. Our original guitar player, John Thomson, was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer during the rehearsals for our Play Something You Believe album. He was married with a baby girl and another one on the way. He fought for a year at MD Anderson but late December 2015 his wife called and said we should all come say our goodbyes. I went to visit him and we talked for hours. It was almost easy to forget the Elephant (as Jason Isbell wrote about) for a while until it came time to actually part. It is really strange saying goodbye to
I went to visit him and we talked for hours. It was almost easy to forget the “Elephant” (as Jason Isbell wrote about) for a while until it came time to actually part. It is really strange saying goodbye to someone for the last time. You don’t know what to say or how to say it. I eventually awkwardly said, “Goodbye I guess.” John looked up and said, “Naw man, I’ll see you soon.” That moment moved me in so many ways. I was sad for losing him, I was grateful for knowing him, and I was rejoicing in the hope of that statement.
Wow, that’s a beautiful story. The last of your three EPs is Soul. It has a really unique sound. What influences impacted the creation of that one?
Growing up I lived in a household where my dad listened to country music, my older brother was into rock and my mom was into soul. The soul thing has always been a big part of my musical palette.
Now that these are out, what’s next for the JLMB?
We are releasing a documentary on the making of SSS in the next month. It is a really cool 25-minute documentary that weaves recording footage with interviews, etc. We are also in [the] mixing phase for releasing a full-length concert of the armed forces tour.
Stay tuned for more from the JLMB and download their triple EP via their official website.