“I’m sure it sounded like crap,” explains Jonathan, of their first time playing together. “But we played for three hours and thought it was the most incredible thing ever.” Their skill set has evolved considerably since then. These days, the Nashville band Jonathan Jackson + Enation — which also includes longtime friend, bassist Daniel Sweatt — has independently released music that’s popped up on TV and charted in the top 10 on iTunes’ rock chart. In 2011, their ever-sprawling grassroots fan base also buoyed them on to win a national AOL competition, which featured the trio on a Times Square billboard.
The brothers first dipped their toes into music “professionally” as members of Scarlet Road, a classic-rock band with their father, country artist Ricky Lee Jackson, and his brother Gary. Jonathan just was 14 and Richard 17 when, decked out in leather, they performed songs such as U2’S “Bullet the Blue Sky” to adult concertgoers at venues like the Whiskey a Go Go. These trials by fire helped tighten up their live shows. “Sometimes the audience just didn’t care, so there was a real fight to get people’s attention and do something they’d remember,” says Jonathan. “I wasn’t out partying — I was studying how bands like U2 do the things they do.”
Acts such as U2, Pearl Jam, and Peter Gabriel not only shaped Enation’s confident sound, but also informed their desire to create music that lingers. With their dad’s blessing, the brothers decided to make music a full-time occupation, and they recruited Daniel, whom they met socially. He made his Enation membership official with — what else? — an epic jam session. “Within a month of meeting each other,” Daniel marvels, “we were playing music together.”
That was 15 years ago. And as a nod to that enduring synergy, Radio Cinematic will be the first Jonathan Jackson + Enation album produced to sound like their invigorating concerts. Why now? Says Richard, simply: “Well, we’ve just never been able to capture that energy before.”
The word “Enation” is technically a botany term referring to an outgrowth on a plant. The band immediately took to its metaphoric meaning, as it applied to both their live and recorded performances. “It means to bring forth, give birth,” notes Richard, “the idea that you can actually have an idea that inspires and encourages.”
To that end, the band has worked to raise money through their music with charities such as the anti-human trafficking organization NOT FOR SALE and The Syria Project, in support of refugees. “We feel like we have something that’s special,” says Daniel. “We owe it to people to try to get this out there, raise awareness for things they might not know.”
That theme of illumination resonates through Radio Cinematic, co-produced by Greg Archilla (Matchbox 20, Collective Soul) and Patrick Dillett (David Byrne, The National) — starting with its first single, the sprawling, swelling “Everything Is Possible.” Jonathan hammers out the most of the band’s melodies and lyrics himself, before roping in his bandmates to bring those songs to life. His chorus for this cut — “I wake up every day and feel brand new / Love / Everything is possible with you” — is at once vague and subversive in elocution. “Love has a fight in it. It’s not passive. It’s fierce,” he says of the track’s reliability. “There’s this proverb: Love is stronger than death. ‘Everything Is Possible’ takes that idea of rebellion and applies it to love.”
It will be followed by “Cinematic.” The track unfolds intimately — a tug of war between simmering piano and soaring falsettos. More specific in its assertions of love, it revisits “new beginnings by colliding a love story with our musical journey as a band,” says Jonathan. That is perhaps Radio Cinematic’s most intriguing magic trick: its uncanny ability to look forward by first looking back.
“The philosopher G.K. Chesterton once wrote about entering your second childhood,” says Jonathan. (He’s a big reader whose musical output is frequently inspired by the several books he’s reading at any given time.) “There comes a point when you’re an adult, where you’re given an invitation to rediscover the beauty and wonder of life, of what exists all around you. With Radio Cinematic we’re also exploring the paradox between sight and sound and how they’re connected.”
From Jonathan Jackson + Enation’s inception, its members innocently asked big questions about life, and contemplated how their music would fit into it. When playing clubs such as The Roxy as a kid, Jonathan says, “The drug for me was music — this endless mystery to learning more and experiencing more.” Now, even as celebrated musicians, a youthful optimism and curiosity continues to simmer in them. “If you look around at the world, the hardest thing to do is to overcome the darkness that is around us — to break through that weight,” Jonathan says. “It’s the role of the artist to push back against that.”