Jackson MacIntosh Says Performing Is Like “Trying to Break a Glass with Your Mind”

Jackson MacIntosh Says Performing Is Like “Trying to Break a Glass with Your Mind” Photography by Panos Georgiou

Jackson MacIntosh’s musical trajectory has been a seemingly haphazard one. The Montreal-based musician, who also works as the bassist in TOPS, picked up that instrument “opportunistically” so that he could go on tour with a friend. In addition to playing bass, MacIntosh worked as a producer with Homeshake, producing records on a DIY, trial and error basis. While recording with Homeshake, he admits that he would desperately Google manuals for instruments and recording processes. 
Despite the musician’s professed lack of organizational skills and focus, his first record, My Dark Side, is polished nonetheless. It’s whimsical and bittersweet, with reverb-heavy guitar, chilling harmonies, and winding bass lines. MacIntosh adopts classic rock motifs as a conduit for  themes of listlessness and falling out of love. My Dark Side is out now via Sinderlyn Records. You can catch Jackson MacIntosh at Union Pool on March 23. 
How did the idea to produce your own solo album come about?
I suppose the first time I really thought about it was when I was out… I think I was out drinking with Dave [Carriere] and Jane [Penny] from TOPS. We were talking about album titles. You know, sometimes you’ll talk about the fictional title of your future autobiography or something? It was that kind of thing; we were just joking around. And for some reason, I thought it was really funny, the idea of having the title of my solo album be My Dark Side. 
And I’ve always written songs and made demos and stuff on my own. And I have another band called Sheer Agony, and there were just some songs that didn’t really work for that project. I had demos, and I was like, “Why don’t I just do it? I can play all these instruments. Why not actually just try and put them out?” 
I had this vague idea for a record called My Dark Side. And over the course of two years, [I] just chipped away at it. It was something I didn’t really expect to come to fruition. I finished a set of songs for a new Sheer Agony record that hasn’t come out yet, and realized I had a whole other record’s worth of songs. So I sent them off to the people at Captured Tracks, and they said, “Great, let’s do it!” So it’s been this nice, semi-accidental, serendipitous thing up to this point. 
What inspired My Dark Side?
I was pretty influenced by this Momus record, Timelord. I don’t know if [the album] is sonically influenced by it that much, but it’s this very...it’s so clever to the point where it’s almost annoying. As much as I like a lot of [Nick Currie’s] stuff, he’s also a real strange individual. [But] that record is this kind of sad, break up record. In a way, he’s being less clever on that one. Because you really just sit down, you hit a note on the piano, and it kind of wanders along in its own way. That influenced the record in a funny, indirect way.


What is the scene in Montreal like? Does the scene affect your work?
For years, I was involved in a studio called Drones Club with a number of other [Montreal-based] musicians. We all shared equipment. A lot of the instruments on the record aren’t mine, they were just something that happened to be around, and that someone was willing to let me use. 
I haven’t really been in Montreal very much in the past year or so, so I feel desperately out of touch with what’s going on there now, but it’s generally felt like a fairly supportive community of people. There’s a lot of musicians [in Montreal], because it’s relatively affordable. People can make music full-time without necessarily making a lot of money doing it. [This] feels like the case less and less in most other cities, and even less and less in Montreal. 
You’ve worked with TOPS as a bassist and Homeshake as an engineer. How has your history of collaboration affected your solo work?
The people that you work with teach you how to do stuff, or in some cases you figure stuff out together. When Peter [Sagar] and I were recording for Homeshake, neither of us had any clue about how to record drum machines or synthesizers. We’d be frantically Googling the manuals for the synths, like, “Oh God, how do we do this?” It’s a real trial-and-error sort of thing. Like, “Oh maybe don’t absolutely smash the tape machine with every synthesizer.” 
TOPS has a really involved songwriting process. I hadn’t really seen anyone be so careful about songwriting before. They examine every step along the way, and it’s really democratic: if something isn’t good for one person in the band, it gets thrown out. And I just thought it was really cool to be with people who would spend three straight days on one three-second transition. [When] you spend five hours talking about a transition, it’s going to change the way you think about transitions. 
How did your musical background in bass and production influence your work? 
Bass is really just something I picked it up opportunistically, because I wanted to go on tour with my friend Elise Barbara, and she needed a bass player. I was like, “Oh yeah, I can play the bass. Definitely! No problem!” So I did. But like, originally, I was more of a guitar player. 
You play bass for a few months straight on a tour, [and then] when you’re listening to a record or making a record, it’s like, all of a sudden the bass is a lot more important to you. Actually, [that’s] always something that I’ve done that’s been pretty integral [to my process]. I would say [I work on] songwriting first, and production second. And then the actual performances—I can be sloppy a lot of the time. 
What does sloppiness versus perfection mean to you?
I can only remember feeling really happy about a song I’ve recorded once or twice, and they weren’t the songs that people ended up liking or caring about. So...perfection just doesn’t really come into the picture. It’s more like I’m working on something and having a really good time, and then because I’m working with a tape machine, I’ll be like, “Oh! I’m out of tracks! I guess I can’t keep having fun playing an instrument on this.” Or I’ll try and add one more part and just be like, “I guess it’s done.” It’s a weird flow of things, and then it just ends. 
What do you hope listeners take out of this record?
I gotta admit I didn’t really think about them. I didn’t necessarily make the record thinking it would come out. [But] I read this interview with Robyn Hitchcock [vocalist and guitarist of British psychedelic rock band The Soft Boys] once, and he said something like, “Part of the problem with me is that my music is kind of like a baby crying in the background, where you can’t really ignore it because you can’t just let it keep on crying and not pay attention to it.” I think with this record, I wanted something that didn’t need to get paid attention to at every possible moment, but would be interesting nonetheless.
How does it feel to be doing vocals and songwriting instead of bass for another band?
It’s a lot more fun [laughs]. I like it a lot. [But] I also like playing in somebody else’s band. You can kind of drift off if you’re playing with someone else. You don’t have to be as totally focused. I was at a wedding the other night, and I was talking to one of the other guests who was a musician as well, and she was saying that she can’t have a drink before she plays, because she feels “locked.” When you’re performing, it’s like you’re trying to break a glass with your mind—or do it with your voice. 
So yeah, [playing solo] requires this much greater level of focus, and also I have to organize things for once, which is not necessarily my strong suit. People don’t talk about the organizational aspect of being a musician, but it’s constant emailing! You know, all this very unglamorous stuff, where you’re filling out tax forms and emailing people. When I’m just playing bass, I don’t have to do that as much. [Laughs]. 
Does it feel unnatural for you to do this?
No! It feels pretty normal. It feels pretty good. The performing part is really great, and when I don’t do it for a while, I start to miss it. But yeah, I don’t think anybody likes the organizational aspects of anything. It just comes with the territory of being alive in a very bureaucratic society.
What’s next for you?
There’s a lot of exciting stuff coming up. I stopped drinking, so I’m really excited to go on tour sober. That’ll be really cool. I’m really excited that I have a release show in New York with AdHoc, and just getting to play these songs and have people know them. 
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