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Interview with ApologetiX lead singer/songwriter, J. Jackson

ApologetiX together
ApologetiX together
Photo used with permission from J. Jackson

August 15, 2014 Today, I have completed an interview with the lead singer and songwriter for the band, ApologetiX, J. Jackson. To me, ApologetiX is legendary… So, I’m honored to be bringing you this interview. Now that the sucking up is out of the way, let’s get on with the interview.

Tyde Moore: “Hi J and thank you for taking the time to do this interview, it is a real honor. The first question is probably something you have been asked thousands of times before, but I think it is important for our readers who are less familiar with your work. Why does ApologetiX only do parody songs? Why don’t you write completely original songs of your own? Also, give us a little background on ApologetiX.”

J. Jackson: "The honor is all ours. The guys in the band, including myself, do write original songs also, but God has opened an effective door of ministry for us doing parodies – for 22 years now – so we’ve been doing that. Our main goal is to reach the lost and teach the rest, and we’ve found that doing parodies is a great way to get the message out there in a memorable manner. I started writing the parodies shortly after I became a Christian 26 years ago, as a way to help me memorize Bible verses and stories. I never thought of it as a career back then, but I’d been writing parodies since childhood, and it was a natural extension of me, I guess."

Tyde Moore: “You guys don’t make very much money doing parody songs do you? How can fans help support your ministry?”

J. Jackson: "You know, it’s amazing. We’re in no danger of getting rich, but God always provides for our needs. We have plenty of squeaky times, but God always give us this day our daily bread, you know? In recent years, with the economy and the music industry in such decline, it’s been tougher, but God has provides us with some very generous fans, and we’ve become more dependent on fan support. They can make donations on our website at http://www.apologetix.com/store/store-donate.php and we also have introduced “downloads for a donation” where fans can get new songs from us (we usually put out two new ones every couple of weeks) at the store on our website for a donation of any size."

Tyde Moore: “You must get a lot of negative responses from people who say that secular sounding music is of the devil. But your lyrics are completely Christian, so how do you respond to these types of accusations? To me, the lyrics are what matter because the lyrics are the message. Right? I don’t understand people who say that Christian Rock is evil, can you explain this to us and also tell us your response to these accusations.”

J. Jackson: "Believe it or not, I'd say we've had a 99% positive response to our music from both Christians and non-Christians, although we have encountered occasional backlash from both Christians and non-Christians. We have received thanks and encouragement from pastors, church leaders, teachers and missionaries from the whole spectrum of Christian denominations and from all over the world.

As a band, we realize that rock and roll music is a very powerful tool and can be used for good or evil -- just as a gun can be used to enforce the law or to break the law. The Bible says that every good and perfect gift comes from God. And I'm sure we can agree that music belonged to God before Satan distorted it for his purposes. Consequently, ALL music belongs to God -- not just classical or easy-listening, etc. Even though all people are created in God's image, Satan attempts to distort that image ... but God can reclaim that person. The same thing goes for music.

And God told Peter in Acts 10:15: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." At the time, God was referring to Gentiles, but He had just used a vision showing Peter a bunch of animals that were impure by Old Testament standards. But that verse demonstrates that God can indeed change something that used to be unclean for His purposes.

Jesus said to judge a tree by its fruit ... and we have over 22 years of fruit by which to judge the ministry ... countless people have told us they've been able to witness to friends with our music, they've been able to memorize scripture through our music, they've been able to get the OLD words to those secular songs out of their heads because of our music ... and most importantly, people who've told us they've seen people saved through God's using of our music.

Music is a language just as Greek is a language. The Greeks who developed that language were pagans, but that didn't stop the writers of the New Testament from writing it in Greek. When they wrote the New Testament in Greek, they were not yoking themselves with unbelievers; they were merely using the music as a tool.

God made human beings, and God made music. Human beings become sinful by the things they say and do. Music becomes sinful by the things it says (lyrics) and does (the feelings and actions those lyrics stir up in the audience). But God can change a human being and make him a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) filled with righteousness. God can do the same thing with music."

Tyde Moore: “Just one more question about your parodies, then we will move onto a different topic. How can a songwriter like myself write a parody song? What I mean is, how does one legally do this? How would we go about registering the copyright, filing the performing rights organization form and how would we pay the original songwriter? There has to be a lot of steps to doing something like this, right? I have thought about writing a parody in the past, but it seems scary. I would hate to get sued.”

J. Jackson: "Believe me, if we didn't believe what we were doing was legal, ethical and moral, we wouldn't do it. Actually, in 1994, in a case involving 2 Live Crew’s parody of "Oh Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parodies can be a "fair use" of an original song, and that opened up the doors for many parodists – not just Christian ones but political parodists, humorists, etc.

Now, that doesn't mean a person can come along and just change a word or two and call it a parody or a new song. Furthermore, a person can’t just steal the melody of a song and use totally different words that don’t spoof the original in some way; the Supreme Court laid down some specific guidelines. You can and should read the ruling yourself online before proceeding."

Tyde Moore: “What do you think about how Pandora is trying pay songwriters and performers less than what they’re already getting? Songwriters are already getting the short end of the stick, don’t you think?”

J. Jackson: "I’m probably the wrong person to ask about that, since I write and perform parodies, and many songwriters and performers would probably view me as a parasite in the first place. We’ve never been very concerned about getting royalties for ourselves, because our goal has been to get the message out there to as many people as possible."

Tyde Moore: “So, what project(s) is ApologetiX working on right now? Can you tell us anything about it and some of the songs on it?”

J. Jackson: "This year, we’ve been producing a steady stream of singles – about two songs every two weeks – and the songs and artists spoofed range from the 1960’s through the 1990’s. Although we’re always open to spoof songs from the 1950’s and songs from today. We’ve done that before, and probably will be doing that again. "

Tyde Moore: “What has been your most difficult project to work on and why?”

J. Jackson: “Well, spoofing “Bohemian Rhapsody” requited a lot of vocals. And writing and producing the 10-song 80’s medley we did in 2011 was a time-consuming project. But they were both very rewarding. As far as writing, usually rap songs take the longest, because they have the most words. But it’s very satisfying when they’re finished.”

Tyde Moore: “Share a story about one of your experiences while touring or recording with ApologetiX, anything interesting off of the top of your head. I know it is a dumb question, but I have a feeling that you have some interesting stories that you could share.”

J. Jackson: “Well, there are a million stories I could probably share. Here’s one off the top of my head:
Back in 2009, we had a 40-foot tour bus hauling a 25-foot trailer. One on trip to Arkansas (1000 miles from our start point), the trailer hitch deteriorated, and the trailer almost came detached three times. All three times, it was by divine providence that we happened to stop and discover the problem. Even though we got it repaired midway through the trip, the repair didn’t last, and it became too dangerous to drive. We were 60 miles from the venue, but the concert coordinator dispatched a pick-up truck with a good trailer hitch to come and pull our trailer.
Ironically, the driver of the pick-up truck was the cousin of Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, the lead singer of the 70's southern-rock group Black Oak Arkansas, the band named after a town just five miles down the road from where we were playing. To paraphrase their hit, this time it was Jim Dandy's cousin to the rescue.”

Tyde Moore: “Do you have any advice that you would give to new songwriters? Advice for new artists?”

J. Jackson: “Be yourself and not set out to just write or play music that you think people will like – you have to write and play music that you like. And you have to have the attitude that you’d do this even if you never get paid or never get famous. And, of course, commit everything to God.”

Tyde Moore: “I remember some time ago, you were having difficulties with your bus and you asked for fans to pray for you. How did that ordeal turn out? Also, around the same time your bus troubles started… my wife, Krista had some operations and was going through some very difficult times. I didn’t know you, but I decided to respond to your bus troubles and ask for your prayers for Krista too. You were kind enough to respond to me, we really appreciated your prayers in our time of need. It seems that you respond to a lot of your fans. How would you advise other artists to interact with their fans? It is important, but it can be time consuming. Do you have any tips on how to handle this? A lot of artists don’t take the time that you take to interact with fans, I really respect that about you. Why is doing this so important to you?”

J. Jackson: “Well, being in a touring band, there are always difficulties with vehicles. And being in a Christian band, it’s amazing to see how God works things out. We’ve had a number of vehicles over the years, including several buses, but we’ve had more mechanical troubles than I can even remember. But the Bible says “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of every one,” and I’ve seen that play out in the band countless times. As far as interacting with fans, our fans are our friends, and we need all the friends we can get. If we can’t take time to answer their emails, why should they take time to listen to our music? Now, there are times when the amount of incoming emails is overwhelming, but I do try to answer them all, although some slip through the cracks. Some emails are easier to answer than others, because some are brief and others are very long and require a detailed answer (like this interview LOL). And if we can’t take the time to pray for our brothers in need, what kind of Christians are we? I mean, how long does it take to pray, after all?"

Tyde Moore: “Last year one of the people responsible for making Christian Rock so popular, Pastor Chuck Smith, passed away. Were you familiar with his work and would you like to share anything about him?”

J. Jackson: “I used to listen to Pastor Chuck on the radio when I was a new Christian. I always liked his teaching … and the pregnant pauses he would make when he’d speak. We’ve played at many Calvary Chapel churches over the years, and one of our guitarists, Tom Milnes, is actually taking courses to become a certified minister through Calvary Chapel."

Tyde Moore: “I would ask who inspired you as an artist… but I have a feeling you would have to lay out your entire discography track by track. ApologetiX has a lot of music released, would you even be able to name some of your favorite tracks and tell us why they’re favorites?”

J. Jackson: “My earliest influences were the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and Broadway, plus anything my three older sisters were playing on the stereo or on the radio. That opened the door for everything else, and I do like just about everything else. My favorite tracks are usually whatever ones we’re working on at the moment, because there’s such a thrill in bringing a new project to completion. But one of my favorite tracks has got to be “One Way,” our parody of “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies. Yes, it’s cool because Weird Al’s drummer, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, plays on it, and it’s got a million words and has a great message, and I love the way it turned out, but the main reason it will always be a favorite is that it was the song God used to bring my wife, Lisa, and I together – even though she lived 12 hours away from me at the time.

In January 8, 2000, I went to see a friend of mine preach at a Sunday night service in Irwin PA. At the time, my first wife had left me, and I was facing life as a divorced man. On the drive to the church, I started singing my prayers, and I found myself singing "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me." After I came home that night, I decided to read a psalm, and much to my surprise, it was Psalm 138, the one that contained that verse.

That night was the night that a lady named Lisa Thompson in Mayfield KY purchased an ApologetiX CD online. I sent her a thank you note, as I used to do to everybody who ordered one in those. Little did I know that the email exchange that would ensue would result in Lisa and me becoming friends, then fiancees, and finally husband and wife, on June 3, 2000. The Lord has definitely perfected that which concerneth me, and He did it very quickly!

I'm pretty sure Lisa had never purchased a Christian CD online before, and the only reason she did was because she had heard an interview with me on the Nashville station on WAY-FM, 2.5 hours from where she lived. She said the broadcast was fading in and out, but she could hear enough to know that I seemed like I was pretty funny, and they played our parody of the Barenaked Ladies song "One Week" (our title is "One Way"). She said later that if it had been any other song, she probably wouldn't have ordered, but she liked that song, and that's what prompted her."

Tyde Moore: “Do you and the other members of ApologetiX have to take up careers on the side to support your music career? Do you or any of the other members have solo projects or other bands that you play for? Have you guys ever considered taking up other projects, like maybe creating songwriter demos for Christian songwriters? I know I would a demo of one of our songs from the Parodudes!”

J. Jackson: “Most of the guys in the band have other jobs in addition to this. And all of our wives work either full time or part time. Other members of the band have certainly played or sung with their local church worship teams. As far as doing demos for others, well, you never know!

Tyde Moore: “It looks like you are the only original member of ApologetiX left in the group. Have any of the past members of ApologetiX achieved success outside of ApologetiX? Can you tell us a little about each current member of the group? What makes these guys tick?”

J. Jackson: “Yeah, I’m the sole survivor LOL. But Keith Haynie’s been with us now for 19 years. He’s quiet but very funny and very dependable, both as a bassist and as a friend. His family and mine go on vacation together, and he’s my roommate on the road. Jimmy “Vegas” Tanner’s been with us on drums for nine years, and, in addition to his considerable drum skills, he’s really come into his own as a recording engineer. We do all of our stuff at his studio, Red Apple Audio Workshop, now, and I love working with him! Jimmy approaches every song we do with such enthusiasm, whether he liked the original band or song or not. But there are few things he doesn’t like. Tom Tincha joined us six years ago, and his guitar talents were as readily apparent to us from the first concert as they are to anybody who listens to our recordings with him on them. Tom’s a very honest guy, and I appreciate that. Chris VonBartheld joined us on keys just a little over a year ago. He’s very literate and knows a lot about many topics. Chris is our first native New Yorker, although he lives in Pittsburgh with us. We all live in a yellow submarine, you know.”

Tyde Moore: “I for one think you have a great voice and you write some great lyrics… I would love to hear an album of completely original songs from ApologetiX, maybe a special release apart from the parodies or even an original song or two added into your parody albums… Is this a possibility in the future?”

J. Jackson: “Thanks for the compliment. Yes, I could easily see us doing some original stuff in the future, but whatever we do has to be top-notch, or people will think, “Oh, I see why they never did original stuff before! LOL”

Tyde Moore: “Well, I guess that will just about wrap this up. Before we end it, would you like to share anything about your latest release? Do you have anything you’d like to say to our readers that I didn’t give you a chance to yet?”

J. Jackson: “Our latest CD is called “Singles Group” and features the first 13 songs from our singles releases in 2014. It just came out in July, but we’ve already released enough singles since then to compile a second volume we hope to have out in the fall. I think our singles this year are some of our finest work. We’ve gotten a lot of ApologetiX alumni involved in these projects, and it’s been fun working with them again. We’ve also gotten other singers and musicians who are friends of ours involved, including my oldest daughter, Janna, who has sung lead on several of our songs now. My message to any of your readers who’ve made it this far into the interview is “Wow! Thanks!”

Tyde Moore: “Thank you again for your time J, it has been a real pleasure and honor. We wish you and ApologetiX the best with your music in the future. Your ministry is such a blessing to so many of us, God bless you!”

J. Jackson: "Thank you very much for the opportunity to do this and your patience and persistence is pursuing this interview. We weren’t playing hard to get … honest"

Be sure to follow ApologetiX on Twitter and Facebook.