“I think it resonates with the fans when you just tell the truth and be who you really are.”
Jacob Bryant is one of the most sincere people I have ever met. The 26-year-old singer has released four EPs to date, and each one is as equally honest and raw as the next. Bryant’s ability to balance toe-tapping honky-tonk tunes and gut-wrenching melodies in the key of traditional country with a modern twist is not only impressive, but also only part of what makes him exactly what country music needs right now. He’s as real as they come, country to his core, and more talented than I think even he realizes. Bryant also has an incredible work ethic that’s far beyond admirable and inspiring, as he persistently fights and grinds his way through an industry that continually tries to commercialize him.
“I’ve always just tried to be Jacob Bryant. I don’t try to be anybody else. I’ve just always tried to be me. One thing I’ve always prided myself on is I’ve never had a lesson, no one’s ever taught me anything. I learned how to play guitar and sing listening to bluegrass albums over and over and over, and my sound kind of came from a little bit of everything – Keith Whitley, Earl Scruggs, all of it – I would say a lot of my songwriting is where the more Chris Young, Brantley Gilbert, ya know that kind of thing, comes in because Brantley was one of the first people I’d heard do modern southern rock country, other than Aldean. I just try to be me,” Bryant explained to me during our interview at Joe’s Bar on Weed Street before he took the stage to open for Cody Johnson on April 22nd.
Jacob Bryant grew up in Jasper, Georgia, where he learned to play guitar at age eight while watching his grandparents play in a bluegrass band. “I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to be cool like my grandparents and play guitar.” Bryant explained to me. He later sang in a praise and worship band at church, and after high school hit the road to play gigs where he could. Unfortunately, the singer/songwriter has experienced more than his share of pain and suffering along the way due to the passing of his mother, which resulted in his own battle with drugs and alcohol, as well as a marriage that eventually ended in divorce. After conquering his demons, Bryant took control of his life and continued on with his music career, knowing that’s what his mother would have wanted for him.
“I remember waking up and looking in the mirror and not even like knowing who I was. I was just like, “man, who are you? What are you doing?”
It was Bryant’s emotional turmoil and internal struggle to overcome his addictions that led to two of his most vulnerable songs to date, though, and allowed him to work through his grief.
‘Save My Soul’ was written about my battle with alcoholism and drugs and crap after my mom passed away. With the withdrawals and stuff, it was definitely hard to open up and be more vulnerable and let people in that deep, ya know? Like I always said, I just try to be as open and honest with my fans as possible. Tell the truth, it’s more interesting. That’s the motto. But it was hard to dig down deep and say those things because it was something that I was very embarrassed of, but at the same time I think both ‘Save My Soul’ and ‘This Side of Sober’, those two songs that we released have been our top selling songs of all time.”
Sitting and talking with Bryant, it was clear the impact all those years of anguish have left on him. What was also clear, though, was that he is no doubt a stronger and smarter person because of all the heartache he’s endured. Songs like “Save My Soul” and “This Side of Sober” may be full of sorrow, but they’re more real than 90% of the songs on country radio right now because there’s a genuine and painful truth behind them that stems from Bryant’s ability to pull from his own personal torment. Hearing Bryant talk about his past and tell me the stories behind those songs was eye-opening, to say the least.
Bryant’s personal journey isn’t the only aspect of his life where he’s struggled, though. The Georgia native has had to wrestle with who he is as an artist and repeatedly being told no by an industry that seems to be more interested in trying to change him rather than accepting him and appreciating what he brings to the table. So many of today’s male country singers hail from the beautiful state of Georgia and have seen success, but for Bryant it’s only been a constant uphill battle.
“For me it has been hard. I don’t know why. I guess because I didn’t conform to the Nashville scene, I didn’t do the modernized country, and I’ve built everything from the ground up organically. We just never tried to follow the packs. Whatever everybody else was doing, I went the opposite. I just feel that’s what God told me to do, and what my heart told me to and I just stick with it.”
Taking the road less travelled may take him longer to see the kind of success his peers are currently seeing, but at least when he reaches that level he can say he earned every last bit by staying true to who he is and where he comes from, the same way his idols before him have done. In fact, on Bryant’s recent EP he has a song titled “Country Went to Hell” that pays tribute to country legends like Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Keith Whitley, but also points out the problem with Nashville. As the song goes, “Nashville wasn’t interested in the kind of music Cash, Haggard and Jones were making, and when those icons left us all too soon, well that’s when country went to hell.”
I asked Jacob about the song and he responded by telling me, “I think there was a bitterness toward Nashville just because ya know, nowadays you turn on the radio, and like I respect FGL (Florida Georgia Line) and Sam Hunt because they did their own thing, but there’s a lot of other ones that, they try to just do what everybody else is doing just because it’s the hot thing, and that song to me meant do your own stuff. These guys were that big because they did their own thing, so that song to me isn’t necessarily a bitterness toward Nashville. It’s just a kind of be who you are and set your own pace kind of thing.”
For having no support from country radio, Bryant’s managing well for himself. He’s built quite a following of fans who have stumbled upon his music via YouTube and Spotify, and now he has over 150 thousand followers on social media. Listeners are no doubt drawn to the genuineness and realism in the singer/songwriter’s lyrics and the authenticity in his music. Bryant writes what comes naturally to him, what’s in his heart, and he doesn’t forget where he comes from in the process. All of his songs touch on some period of his life and the things he’s experienced, whether it be about his addictions, heartbreak, or just growing up in a legitimate country lifestyle, as opposed to what some people today think country is. On his 2016 Up In Smoke EP, Bryant kicked things up a notch with songs like “Between the Rows” and “Country Went to Hell” while still showing his sensitive side on other songs like “Rain” and “A Woman’s Touch.”
“A guy that I looked up to a lot growing up was Brantley Gilbert, and he always said, ya know when he tries to write he tries to write a chapter of his life. As a writer, I’ve tried to be like that. I’ve tried to be open and honest with my fans and write about what’s going on right then in my life, and I feel like that’s what I tried to do with that record,” Bryant explained to me when I asked about the recent EP.
During our interview, Bryant also disclosed that plans for a full-length album are already in motion with hopes of a release date around Christmas. He and his extremely talented band (seriously, their guitar player slays like nobody’s business) “branched outside the box a bit for it,” as Bryant said and are very excited for fans to hear it. He also has a cut with Luke Combs which will be featured on Combs’ debut album. Until then, though, fans are enjoying his previously released EP’s, every single one of which are full of radio worthy songs that country music needs to hear. Each one is better than the last and covers a different chapter of Bryant’s life. While some people tend to steer away from songs that deal with darker subject matters (with few exceptions, of course), Bryant doesn’t shy away from telling it the way it is. And while this is most definitely demonstrated on songs like “This Side of Sober,” “Save My Soul,” “Just Enough Jesus,” “Holding onto Home,” and “To Late to Turn Around,” it’s Bryant’s song, “Sometimes I Pray” that I think pulls on the heartstrings the most and makes the listener really think.
“That song is written about my mom passing away. After I kind of got started in music I sang in a praise and worship band in church, and I remember being really close to God at one point in my life, and then when we went to write that song it’s one of those things as I go and look back at it, I really fell off when I used to have a relationship with Christ and stuff. The idea of the song is, ya know maybe I might pray a little more, a little differently if that wouldn’t of happened, being a traumatic experience…but that’s another one, like I said I was just trying to be as vulnerable as possible, and my good buddy Josh Phillips, who technically wrote most of that song, just took what I said and put it into words and then we tweaked back and forth until it was what it was, and so that one’s a tough one to sing every night.”
“Sometimes I Pray” is an incredibly moving song that’s also more relatable than one might think. No matter which religion you practice or which God you believe in, at one point or another I think we have all questioned our faith and thought that perhaps we could pray a little more than we maybe do. Songs like “Sometimes I Pray,” as well as “Savior’s Shadow” by Blake Shelton and “Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson are so special and so significant because they remind us that even though horrible things can happen and we may feel completely alone at times, in the end it’s our faith that gets us through those dark periods. I think unfortunately songs like those I just mentioned can get “forgotten” about because maybe they touch on a subject some of us don’t want to think about or maybe because they’re simply too deep for some people. These songs and others like them are completely absent on country radio. While mainstream country might not think those songs are important to the genre and music as a whole, I whole heartedly believe there should be a place for them, and Jacob Bryant agrees.
“F*%$ yes, absolutely!” he exclaimed when discussing the topic. “I think the songwriting aspect of it is what’s more important to me now than it ever has been because a lot of these artists, they can sing their asses off. They just sing about feet on the dashboard and tanned legs and bonfires, and that’s all fine and good but we’ve heard it ten million times. I want to hear something that makes me feel something.”
Artists and people like Jacob Bryant are very rare, not just in the music business, but in life in general. In an industry and society where practically everyone is trying so hard to be like someone else they know, Jacob Bryant is a guy who’s just trying to be himself. Through his music he opens himself up and exposes his darkest pieces because as an artist that’s what you do. Music is supposed to touch people, and how can one be truly touched by music if the person making it isn’t completely honest in the process? If you don’t find yourself deeply moved by Bryant’s music, then you don’t know what it means to truly appreciate music in its fullest capacity, and because of that I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for you because music that is as powerful and raw and emotional as Jacob Bryant’s is special and hard to come by.
I walked away from my interview with Jacob Bryant feeling impressed, inspired and in awe. His authenticity, resilience, humbleness and his charisma are all only a fraction of what make up this remarkable human being, and I hope he gets the attention and credit he deserves from country music sooner rather than later because there is no artist out right now more real than Jacob Bryant.
“I love my fans like I love my family because if it weren’t for them I couldn’t pay my bills. So they deserve to know who I really am, so that’s the way I look at it.”