AC Jones came out of the gate quickly. Her debut single “Buses and Trains” climbed to number 33 on the Music Row Country Breakout chart, which was followed by her sophomore single “Mr. Moon” charting at number 57 on Billboard’s Country Indicator chart.
With that success, she proved previous naysayers wrong, and walked on with a newfound confidence and a true sense of artistry.
Admittedly concluding a tough stretch of embracing herself and learning to love who she is, Jones is preparing to make 2020 a big year with the release of a new EP that takes listeners on a journey to finding that love for herself again.
Read along as Jones gives insight into her new EP, as well as taking on music full time, the success of her first two singles, making 2020 a year to authentically express herself as an artist, and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences that have shaped your sound?
AC Jones: My family was big into 90s country when I was younger, so artists like Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and more have certainly had an influence on my personal style. The Eagles were also a huge introduction for me into the world of unique lyricism and melody creation. When I first started writing country songs, however, I’d say that one of the biggest influences was Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. My voice always had a similar timbre to hers, which is why I think I gravitated toward her and her melodic style. I really admired her and Kristian Bush’s songwriting. I’d listen to Sugarland songs and dissect the way they poetically described feelings of love, loss, and personal achievement, and think, “Gosh, I want to be able to write like that someday.”
PC: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
AC: To be honest, that realization was a hard one for me to finally come to. I think I always really wanted it from the moment I started performing, but I always somewhat convinced myself that I could never do it. I went through so many ideas of what I wanted to pursue, and at one point, finally landed on wanting to be an M.D./Ph.D. I went to college, got my B.S. in Biochemistry (all while playing shows on the weekend) and was looking at grad schools when I found myself unable to fill out all of the applications. I loved the sciences, but just couldn’t dedicate the rest of my life to it knowing that I had this huge passion for songwriting. It was at that point that I realized I wanted to give 100% at pursuing a career in music.
PC: What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to release music for the first time with “Buses and Trains”?
AC: The biggest one: fear. I’d given up so much to take a chance on a very difficult road, and this, to me, was the first test of how I’d be received as an artist. I was scared that no one would play it and that the release would be proof that I wasn’t fit to be in the industry. I’d had some very cruel ridicule about my voice in the recent past, and I was afraid of being criticized again. Take away all of those fears though, and I was excited. I’d never had a song on the radio before, and this was a huge step forward for me. It was one of the first moments that I really felt like an artist.
PC: What did it mean to you to have “Buses and Trains” chart at number 33 on the Music Row Country Breakout Chart? Is there a certain level of validation that comes with having that success on your debut release?
AC: I still remember getting the call. I was sitting in my garage wearing an A.C. Jones test-run T-shirt (I had just gotten a sample in that day from the shop and tried it on to see if I liked the design and shirt material) when the phone rang. I sobbed. For me, it was an incredible moment of validation. Not only did I release a song to radio, but it had been embraced by radio, and I could not have been more thankful. Something like that makes all of the pent-up fear, self-doubt, and questioning sort of melt off of you. It was a huge milestone for me both career-wise and personally, and I found myself walking with a little bit more confidence into industry events.
PC: Your second single “Mr. Moon” details what comes across as a personal heartbreak. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
AC: I was going out to a party in Nashville one night, and I was determined to not let the hurt get in the way of me enjoying the evening. I happened to sit down face-to-face with a songwriter I had been working with, and out of the blue, he looked at me and spoke the hook -“Mr. Moon, you’ve been walked on too”- to me. It was one of those moments where everything in the room just stops. I tried to hold it back, but in the middle of this party, I just started to cry. Those words hit so much deeper than he had realized. He looked at me and said, “You should write that.” The next day we got together with a third co-writer and penned the tune.
PC: Your new EP The Campfire Sessions was recorded on the road in the midst of a tour. What drew you to record the songs in that way?
AC: Back in May, I started working with a producer in Nashville on a studio EP. I knew that the music probably wouldn’t be ready for release until late 2019 or early 2020, but I wanted to get some music out into the world before that. Between being on tour and going back and forth to Nashville to work on the studio EP, there really wasn’t time to book extra studio time. The band and I were staying at KOA Campgrounds in between shows, and we had been enjoying all of our late night bonfires together. That got me thinking- what could possibly be more country than singing songs around a campfire? I spoke with my road manager and audio engineer to see if it would be feasible, and they found a way to make it work. I had a huge catalog of songs, and not all of them could go on the studio EP, so I picked a few of my favorites to use for the Campfire Sessions EP. I’ve always been a fan of the raw and real, and this EP was a way to showcase the music and voice in all of its imperfect authenticity.
PC: “Losin’ Less” is one of our favorite songs from The Campfire Sessions and deals with the struggles that can come with progressing along your path. How much of that song was a message to yourself and something you needed to write and hear?
AC: I can’t begin to tell you how many potential opportunities have come my way that never happen or are cancelled last minute. It’s just the way the business is sometimes, but it can really leave you feeling like nothing is working out in your favor. “Losin’ Less” was certainly a message to myself and others to say that facing a setback does not equal a lack of progress. When you net out all the “wins” and ‘losses,” you start to realize that despite the setbacks, you’re still moving forward. Maybe it doesn’t feel like you’re winning, but if you’re losing less, you’re certainly getting closer every day to your goal, and that’s something to be proud of. So take every “no,” “not now,” “you’re just not what we’re looking for” and more as just one “no” closer to your “yes.” It makes me look at the ups and downs of what I do and smile at them rather than stress over them.
PC: You’ve said “A Sinner’s Hymn” is the most “soul-exposing song” on The Campfire Sessions. What is it about yourself that allows you to express that vulnerability, and is it cathartic for you to release a song of that nature?
AC: For me, music has always been an avenue for human connection. What you have to say (however difficult it may be to admit) may just be the exact thing someone else needs to hear. I’ve never viewed vulnerability as a weakness, so I think that makes it easier for me to let my guard down in my writing. It’s certainly cathartic. There are some emotions and feelings that I just can’t express in conversation, so I write about them. Writing becomes my way of sorting out the thoughts and feelings in my head and dissecting why I think and feel the way I do.
PC: You’ve opened for a handful of major artists, including Marty Stuart, Molly Hatchet and The Oak Ridge Boys. What can you take away from those experiences that can help you in your own career?
AC: When I opened for the Oak Ridge Boys, I actually had the chance to speak to them backstage before the show. I can’t even begin to express how kind and welcoming they were. Their humility and friendliness was so apparent. Right before I took the stage, one of them pulled me aside and gave me an inspirational pep talk. While I won’t disclose what he said to me here, I will say that I walked out on that stage with my head held high. It made me realize that if I am ever in his position one day, I want to be able to give that same inspiration and confidence to someone else who is starting out in his or her career.
PC: You’ve mentioned that you will be release a studio EP in 2020. What information can you give on that EP, and what can listeners expect to hear on it?
AC: Be prepared to feel empowered. The past few years, I went through a somewhat difficult journey of becoming myself again and finally figuring out how to love who I am. I think there’s an incredible strength in embracing who you are and deciding that you are good enough without needing that affirmation from someone else. That sentiment is really prominent throughout the entire collection of new music. The producer and musicians that I worked with did an incredible job of marrying my old school way of writing melodies and lyrics with a modern, radio-forward feel. I can for certain say that I have never been more proud of a release. I am simply buzzing with excitement about getting this music out in the world.
PC: Along with releasing your next EP, what are your plans for 2020?
AC: For 2020, I’m looking to release at least one of my new tunes to radio and to tour extensively throughout the United States. I’m planning on recording and releasing Campfire Sessions Volume II this summer while I’m on tour, and would love to make the release of such an EP an annual occurrence. For 2020, I’d also like to try and put together a Christmas tour for the holidays. I do a benefit every year for the Salvation Army back in my hometown, and I’d love to take that on the road at some point. I feel like 2019 was a year of establishing a foundation, and 2020 will be the year that I start to build upon that. More than anything, I feel like 2020 will finally be the year that I am able to fully and authentically express myself as who I am as an artist, and I’m really looking forward to that.
*Images courtesy of AC Jones Website*