Jakko M Jakszyk: The Progarchy Interview

When Jakko Jakszyk was 13 years old, he saw King Crimson play at Watford Town Hall — and it changed his life. Embarking on a globetrotting career that’s crossed paths with, among others, Level 42, The Kinks (he replaced Dave Davies for a week) and Steve Hackett, Jakszyk eventually found himself singing and playing guitar with founding members of Crimson in The 21st Century Schizoid Band. Which led in turn to The Scarcity of Miracles, a “King Crimson ProjeKct” with guitarist Robert Fripp and sax master Mel Collins — culminating in an invitation to join the current, career-spanning version of the band in 2013.

Since then, Jakszyk has been the voice of King Crimson in concert, tackling epics originally brought to life by Greg Lake, Boz Burrell, John Wetton and Adrian Belew with remarkable aplomb. And, if that wasn’t intimidating enough, simultaneously playing some of Fripp and Belew’s most challenging guitar parts. Oh, and co-writing knotty new Crimson pieces like “Suitable Grounds for the Blues,” “Meltdown” and “The Errors.” As a result, his undeniable melodic gifts, assured lyricism and instinct for the musical gut punch now have a bigger stage to play on than ever before.

All of this has beautifully set up Jakzsyk’s new solo album, Secrets and Lies. Released by Inside Out/Sony on October 23, it melds the yearning melancholy of 2007’s The Bruised Romantic Glee Club with the ferocious attack of present-day Crimson; fellow members Fripp, Collins, bass/Stick maestro Tony Levin and master drummer Gavin Harrison contribute along with Mark King (Level 42), Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf Generator), John Giblin (Simple Minds, Brand X) and even Jakszyk’s daughter. It’s a poised, exhilarating album, a thoroughly compelling showcase for the man’s hard-won talents and thoughtful, well-honed viewpoint.

Having heard Jakko Jakszyk in concert three times with King Crimson (including the best rock concert I’ve ever attended), it was an undeniable thrill to speak with him about Secrets and Lies, his progress in the court of the Crimson King and more!

How the solo album took shape:

“I’d met Thomas Waber of Inside Out – I think it was at the launch of the album that Steve Hackett put out that I sang on [Genesis Revisited II; Jakszyk sings “Entangled”].  And then I kept bumping into him ’cause I did a number of gigs with Steve, and then there were some other events.  And whenever I saw him he said, ‘Look, if ever you decide to do a solo record, we’d be really interested in working with you.’   I wasn’t sure it was a good idea; it had been such a long time since I made another one.  So, it was partly down to him and his installing confidence into me, really.

“And then I made the decision – for the past seven years we’ve toured in biannual chunks; we do two months here and two months there throughout the year with Crimson.  There’s lots of stuff: rehearsals and getting stuff together, so it becomes a full-time job.  And then, this year was only one chunk of touring, in the middle of the year.  So I thought, ‘This is probably a good time to do it.’

“And I’d already written some songs.  I’ve written a load of stuff [for] Crimson, some that has been accepted as part of the repertoire.  But there was a handful of others that I’d written that when I took to Robert [Fripp] – we started to have this in-joke where I’d play him some stuff and he’d say [assumes a West Country accent as he quotes Fripp] ‘I love this!  It’s marvelous!!  Ideal track for your next solo record!!!’  Which is not too subtle code for, ‘We’re not playing this, mate!’  So, I had a basis of an album there, material-wise. So I started recording it, I think, last summer, as in 2019, in between the Crimson tours.  And writing lyrics and doing stuff while I was away.  And I started on it in real earnest in the autumn – almost about a year ago.”

Secrets and Lies’ takes on obsession and betrayal:

“The opening track, which is called ‘Before I Met You,’ is based on a book by Julian Barnes [Before She Met Me]. And in that book, it tells the tale of a middle-aged man, I think he’s a college lecturer.  And he meets this woman who’s a fair bit younger than him, and he leaves his wife and family for her.  But he starts to get really obsessed with her and starts to fetishize objects that she might have had earlier that morning – a pen that she was writing with, or a cup or something. 

“And he starts doing this very weird thing where – when she first left school, she became an actress, and she made a handful of mediocre movies.  And although that was way in her past, he becomes so obsessed with her that he finds them.  He finds little cinemas around London which are showing these old films.  And he sits in the dark watching these, getting really wound up – because there’s his new love filming these love scenes.  Which of course are not real, anyway; and anyway, they were before he even knew she existed!  So, it’s a tale of a guy being so obsessed with someone that he ends up destroying the very thing that he loves.

“In terms of betrayal, there’s a song called ‘It Would All Make Sense.’  And it’s autobiographical, a song that happened to me, but something that happened to me a long time ago.  So, totally with the benefit of hindsight and distance, you can write about it!

“But I guess it’s something that’s – unfortunately, many of us have been through.  Which is the suspicion and the clues that someone you’re living with is having an affair.  And the clues get more and more blatant, and more and more real, but you’re less likely to believe them, ‘cause you don’t want to.  And you confront them and they deny it, and then you’re placated by that, because you don’t wanna believe it.  And then other people say, ‘No, no, this is really happening.’  So hence the chorus of that tune.  ‘It would all make sense; all of that makes sense much more than the stuff you’re telling me.'”

Songs on “the shifting grounds of contemporary politics:”

“[‘Uncertain Times’] was, again, was something that happened to me.  The Brexit debate in England became incredibly divisive, and it split up families and friends.  You get to a point where problems, be they political or personal, are invariably nuanced and complicated.  And the trouble is that you reduce an issue to black and white like this, right or wrong.  And it becomes a divisive concept, I think.

“On the day of the results, when it was announced that the Leave campaign had won, there was a place in Hammersmith in West London called the Polish Center, where I used to take my adoptive father when he was in his 80s.  And it was a place that I have a great nostalgia for, ‘cause it’s a cultural center, and it’s got a café and a restaurant.  And the night of the result it was covered in racist graffiti, which was discovered in the morning.  This is a place that had been there for 56 years, partly in tribute to the contribution of the Poles during the Second World War.

“So, it was pretty upsetting, and I uncharacteristically posted something about it on Facebook.  And everybody was very nice and very sympathetic, but after a while it started to get shared.  And then people that weren’t my ‘friends’ in inverted commas started to read it, and for a couple of weeks I got really abusive emails, all along much the same lines.  Which were ‘We won.  You lost.  Why don’t you eff off home?’ 

“Well, I’m the son of an Irish woman, born in London, so I’m not sure where they want me to go; but it seemed that I was getting abused because of the incorrect letters in my surname!  And of course, it’s divisive, simplistic populist politics [which is] popping up all over the world, not least in Britain and America of course. And you have leaders that are just pumping out half-truths, untruths, downright lies.  And appealing to this kind of populist notion of very simplistic answers to complicated questions.  So, the song’s kind of about that.

“The other political song on the record is the thing that I wrote with Peter Hammill [‘Fool’s Mandate’].  And Pete Hammill actually was also partly responsible for me making a solo record.  ‘Cause I kept bumping into him, and he kept saying, ‘Have you made your solo record yet?’ And I said, ‘No.’  ‘Well, have you even started?’ ‘Well, no, not really.’ ‘Look, you ought to; this is your moment!  You must do it!’  So in the end, the last time he said it to me, I said, ‘Listen, Peter, I will make a solo album on condition you contribute; you’re on it.’  And he said, ‘Of course!’

“So, I sent him this track.  He said, ‘Have you got any unfinished tracks?’  And I had a series of instrumental things that I was using as a kind of base to play guitar over on these videos that I do for PRS Guitars or some of the events that I play at.  ‘Cause when I’d seen other guitar players do it, they were either kind of  straight ahead rock things or fusion things.  So I always tried to do something a little different.

“So, I had a collection of different ethnic-based pieces; this is based on traditional Middle Eastern music.  And I sent that to Peter, and he sent back multi-tracked voices, bits of guitar, and a lyric that was kind of ambiguous.  It could have meant anything, I guess.  And it was about an individual, and what he might regret and what he might not regret.

“So, the combination of the stylistic nature of the music and that kind of vague lyric – I ended up writing it about an English politician called [Arthur James] Balfour, who at the turn of the last century was desperate to get the Arab nations onside, ‘cause the English were trying to defeat the Ottoman Empire.  But at the same time, he was a Zionist, so he was negotiating behind their backs! 

“And I was kind of intrigued by the number of unpleasant political and violent hotspots in the world, and how if you trace their origins, invariably there’s an Englishman [chuckles] at the bottom of it!  So I ended up writing about that.”

Exploring “the tangled threads of family history:”

“You know, my background story is an ongoing thing, and I’ve discovered a lot more.  in fact, exactly in the past twelve months, there’s been an extraordinary amount of discovery.  I think it’s part of the reason I called the albums Secrets and Lies, because I discovered a lot more of both of those things.

“Actually on the album, there’s a thing called ‘The Borders We Traded,’ which is about my mother and myself, and how my mother abandoned me and went to another country – hence utilizing the geographical location as an additional metaphor for that separation. 

“And I talk about two places really in that; one is where she ended up.  My mother was quite a famous singer in Ireland in the ‘50s, and she came to England for her career.  But she ended up getting married to an American serviceman; and I’m sure she had an idea about what America was like from many of the movies she must have seen at the time.  But she ended up in a place called Bearden, Arkansas.  And no disrespect to that location, but I’m not sure that’s what she was expecting.

“And so, I remember standing in Bearden, Arksansas when I first went there, to meet her for the very first time.  And it was a very weird experience, where you’re standing in this place.  And it’s quite a culture shock for someone that grew up just outside London, and had a reasonably cultured upbringing, and went to the theatre and worked in the arts.  So, there was that really weird moment of thinking, ‘If she hadn’t had me adopted, I’d have been brought up here.’  And how much of who I am is innately who I am, and how much of it is subject to location.  It’s that whole nurture/nature thing, I guess.

“So that song really was about that.  And then there’s an instrumental that my daughter wrote, which I’ve kind of stuck them together, just because it felt like she kind of wrote it out of nowhere.  And it’s this kind of connection to Ireland; it’s this very Celtic, Irish piece that she’s somehow channeling out of some kind of DNA or something, I don’t know!”

[The tale of Jakko M Jakszyk’s long and winding road to King Crimson follows the jump!]

Continue reading “Jakko M Jakszyk: The Progarchy Interview”

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”