We left off in Part I of our look back at the history of Steve Carlson and Jensen Ackles’ friendship and musical collaboration somewhere around 2009. We saw Steve play a few times in between – once at a con in New Jersey, if I’m remembering correctly, where I actually took a picture for a change!
In 2011, Jensen and Steve did a little jam session that was one of the highlights of the Nashville convention. Jensen was still clearly nervous about playing and singing in front of people (but not as nervous as he was for his first jam with Jason Manns). Here are a few of my recollections about that first ‘public’ performance of Steve and Jensen:
Steve shared more backstory to how the two friends ended up playing together, and even doing some recording. Whenever they were both in town they’d get together at Steve’s house and the guitars would come out. Apparently wherever Steve is living, something gets turned into a makeshift studio – when Jensen and Steve lived together, it was the hall closet, wired up and soundproofed with foam, and probably looking very …. Interesting. In Steve’s place before that, it was the garden shed, similarly outfitted but alas, sans air conditioning. Steve would lure friends out to record there and they’d emerge sweat-soaked and bedraggled, asking plaintively, “was that okay?” (And hoping it was so they could come out of the garden shed!)
I remember they played a really haunting version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” full of emotion – if I heard that one now it would be even more emotional, post Supernatural finale. They also played the first song that Jensen had learned to play, “If I Had a Million”, which they actually recorded at one time with Steve on mandolin, but there’s some backstory there so they swear no one will ever hear it.
Steve and Jensen also played “Bad Company,” one of my favorite songs. Jensen said that the crew had asked The Impalas (the cast and crew band) to learn that one because it was so perfect for the show – “I was born, six gun in my hand…” He should totally sing that again one day.
I also remember that Jensen asked the fans to excuse the mistakes. And then didn’t make any.
We talked to both Steve and Jensen the following year about the song and video they made together for “Angeles” from the CD Steve had just released. Jensen said Steve had asked if he wanted to do a song for it and Jensen said, tell me which song of the ones I’ve played that you’ve liked, and that was the one. He also reminded us at the time that “I’m not a musician, I just kinda play for myself.”
Pretty sure he can’t say that anymore!
They made that little impromptu music video for ‘Angeles’ after Steve suggested they shoot something because if they didn’t, the fans would just take the song and compile their own on YouTube, which, valid. So they shot some of it in the ADR truck on the Supernatural set, and Jared Padalecki filmed some on his iPhone.
[When I talked to Jensen a few weeks ago, he said the process was similar for the video for “City Grown Willow” – he and Steve shot it in two hours on an iPhone and Steve put it together, and a buddy in Austin did the video editing for them. Pretty amazing how it turned out!]
When we chatted with Steve back then, we asked him about songwriting – he said that he and Jensen write well together because they’re both very visual, and things tend to flow and come together quickly. We wondered, does he ‘see’ the scenes in his head before writing a song, like some writers do?
Steve: Not always. Sometimes I see things. Most times I feel things. Words come forth like little messages from a place I hold sacred but have no idea of their origin. I’d like to believe it starts with my soul and then runs through channels of my mind that have several other influences, including life experience and inspiration.
We also asked him about what it was like performing his songs and seeing people singing along, singing the words that came out of his head, as it were.
Steve: It’s probably the most rewarding thing. I love it. It means everything. When I say everything, I mean that literally. The whole reason I love writing music so much is to convey my feelings and when I see somebody singing words that originated in my mind, that means they either understand me or they are feeling the same way… or it’s just a catchy melody that sticks in their head till the point of which they remember the words. Either way, it’s a pretty amazing feeling
We wondered, how did it feel, the first time that happened?
Steve: I felt overwhelmed by it. When a large group of people take over a room with the melody of your lyrics, it’s beyond magical… it’s euphoric.
And about that Angeles video –
Steve: We shot almost the entire thing with our iPhones. We wanted that raw, sort of underproduced feel to it. It was all very casual. These guys spend their entire day under lights and in front of cameras so the point was to make it fun and light hearted. Something that the fans could enjoy watching rather than a slideshow on YouTube.
We also asked Steve for his thoughts about the jam session. What did he enjoy about it?
Steve: That it was small and intimate. I think that setting plays a major part in what made it cool. I also don’t think Jensen would have felt comfortable in front of any larger group of people. Which in turn would translate to both of us performing. I don’t think at this point (and this may change) that J wants to pursue a career in music… that being said, he loves music. Filming a TV show is done in parts that are never shot in order. You film different scenes at different times. Most theater actors will tell you that they love the stage more because there is resolve. You have a start and an end. You get a reaction. That reaction can be like a drug. It can motivate you to press on even through bad performances.
(Which I haven’t seen yet from either of the Radio Company members, btw).
At the time, Steve noted that Jensen felt more comfortable playing in front of a small group of people in a more intimate setting, but it wasn’t long before he took the leap to performing on an actual stage in front of thousands of fans instead of fifteen or twenty. I will never forget the first time he came out onstage during a Saturday Night Special and belted out Sister Christian, turning into a bona fide rockstar right in front of our astonished eyes!
He seems to love that type of performing too and both he and Steve are versatile enough to rock out in front of a packed house or make a gorgeously intimate record like the new Radio Company.
We ended our conversation with Steve back then talking about art and how important it is to slow down and take the time to appreciate art, to take your time to tell a story.
Steve: I think the best thing any artist can do is to continue to hold their ground and focus on their integrity. And the best thing the people enjoying that art can do is to continue to support it.
Radio Company Vol. 2 was No. 3 the morning of its release, according to Jensen Ackles’ IG post from Toronto yesterday – so clearly many of us are doing just that!
If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, put in your order! I loved Vol. 1, but honestly, I love Vol 2 even more. ‘Dead To Rights’? Perfection. And I have a feeling Steve and Jensen and Radio Company are just getting started!
You can read Jensen Ackles’ thoughts on
fandom and Supernatural in Family Don’t
End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When
You Are Done, links on the home page or