Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

JD McPherson: When punk meets country

Cattle-ranch kid free to play, finds Lydia Jenkin.
Musician JD McPherson is performing in New Zealand Saturday, February 27.
Musician JD McPherson is performing in New Zealand Saturday, February 27.

There's something effortlessly dynamic and fun about great rock 'n' roll, something perfectly encapsulated in JD McPherson's latest single Let The Good Times Roll. It's a song that also helps to sum up McPherson's attitude towards music, and the slow and steady way the Oklahoma native, who grew up on a cattle-ranch, has built a following across the world.

"People growing up in a rural environment generally do one of maybe three things: one, they find an honest living and never leave; two, they find a dishonest living and never leave; or three, they draw, paint, play guitar, do something creative, and get out as soon as they can," he laughs down the line from Nashville.

"Growing up down there, there's really not that much to do, except for work or get in trouble, so you try to find something to keep you occupied, and luckily I had really great parents and a cool family, and I had a lot of time to pursue my primary interests, which were art and music."

He spent many hours drawing, painting, making videos, practising guitar, and "reading every rock magazine I could get my hands on".

"Eventually I started a band. And we had quite a prolific high school career," he laughs. "We had three punk bands, all with the same members, on different instruments, and so we made a lot of tapes and a lot of flyers, and made a lot of T-shirts with puff paint, and we played exactly two shows."

He went off to study art when he finished school, gaining a degree in open media and trying his hand at all sorts of disciplines - experimental film, sculpting, mixed media, and eventually was offered a job teaching at middle school in Tulsa.

He proved a little too left-field for the school, teaching about Andy Kaufman, organising an avant-garde art programme and introducing a mixtape club, and was eventually asked to leave.

That proved to be the push he needed to make music a more full-time occupation.

"I have a wife and kids, so I would never have made the decision to leave the teaching position to play music full-time, so it was really lucky that that happened to me."

He'd continued playing music the whole time, collaborating with different people, writing his own material, even recording.

"I'd kind of made a record in the background ... Signs and Signifiers, and that was not really intended to fall into many people's hands, that was more a labour of love, something for myself that I just wanted to complete. But as luck would have it, after my job ended I was given the opportunity to do some touring, and one thing led to another, and I met a manager, and a label, and there you have it."

His teaching career and wide-ranging creative interests still have influences on his particular brand of rock 'n' roll. Films, books and even Shakespeare work their way in - a slightly trippy experience of watching Fraser, thanks to some strong cold medicine, eventually led to a song inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

He also sees plenty of his high school punk enthusiasm influencing the '50s rock 'n' roll style he's become known for.

"I think I was really lucky that there weren't really any specific music scenes in my town as a teenager, so there was no one to tell me that I couldn't listen to punk and rock 'n' roll ... I felt like it was okay to like Eddie Cochran and The Clash so it all kind of flowed together for me. I think I do still play a kind of punk rock - I told someone the other day that we're a punk rock band who care about tone."

Who: JD McPherson
Where and when: Performing at the Tuning Fork on Saturday, February 27
Listen to: Let The Good Times Roll (2015), Signs and Signifiers (2010).

- NZ Herald

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