Interview: Jameson Ketchum

Jameson Ketchum

After the release of his popular book called Name Dropping: Seeking Creative Truth Through Trendy Altruism and Punk Rock, I was able to connect with author Jameson Ketchum for a great conversation. In this interview, we discussed how this semi-memoir came together, the bands he spent time with including Taking Back Sunday, The Used, and Fallstar, as well as what other projects he has in the works. Jameson Ketchum’s book is available now on Amazon for purchase, and I’d highly recommend everyone interested in what goes on during tours check out this great book.

So first of all, thank you for your time today, Jameson. I really enjoyed reading through your new book called Name Dropping: Seeking Creative Truth Through Trendy Altruism and Punk Rock, and hearing your life experiences also in this kind of semi-memoir style book. So what are you most proud of looking back on this now published work?

Thanks for reading it! I think when I first thought about this, I thought, “Man, I think I’m just proud that it’s done.” And now it’s out there. I signed my contract with my publisher a little over two years ago, and so obviously, the pandemic threw a wrench in things. I didn’t really know what to expect as far as how long this process takes. So there’s a big relief that it’s out and done, because it started to feel a bit like a dream. But I think also from the people that have read it, I’ve already gotten messages saying just that it’s entertaining, they enjoy it, or they feel encouraged by this part or that part. And I’ve never…I’ve worked with so many artists, but I’ve never been the one that put my own thing out there for my project. So to have that personal thing that you made…I can’t think of anything better to be proud of.

That’s great. I’m glad you are already getting positive feedback from people. So, in your book, you describe several of your experiences interacting with bands, especially in the Christian rock and punk scene, which is pretty prevalent in our scene. What did you learn about your experiences in general as you went back and wrote them out?

Yeah, I think the biggest thing was when I started writing it, I didn’t know if it could be a book, because I didn’t know if I had sort of a connector that was going to make it a book, other than just a bunch of standalone stories. And some people have called it like a series of vignettes and stuff too, which I’m fine with. But I think as I neared the end of it, I was like, this is about the impact of music. So growing up in the church and listening to stuff, like DC Talk and The Newsboys, everything that was big in the 90s. I always thought there’s a very clear distinction between Christian music and non-Christian music. And I definitely don’t think that anymore. I mean, there’s stuff that is CCM (Conservative Christian Music). But I think when I got into bands like Sleeping Giant, or For Today or The Chariot, and realized it’s not that hard line between these two things, and for bands like that. That you could be angry, you could have tattoos, you could look a certain way and say certain things, and you could also do the big thing, with that being that you could question things. And it’s not like, “Oh, this guy really went off the deep end and probably doesn’t go to church anymore and stuff, because he’s really asking a lot of questions.” So I think getting that encouragement of, “Oh, you can ask stuff.” And there might be times where you’re not totally sure. And that’s fine, too. I think that was a big thing to learn. What I keep saying is, the biggest thing that I learned about faith, as far as music is related to it, is that it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” And it’s okay to explore that. It doesn’t matter what you’re making. If it’s music, or books or a podcast, it’s okay to explore that.

That makes sense. And it comes through nicely through your words, and you piece it all together. Just from an outside observer, I really got something from it, too. 

Thank you, that’s awesome!

So as people begin to read through these collections of stories that are out in the public now, what do you think readers are going to find most surprising about its contents?

Yeah, I hope in some ways, it’s just the entertainment factor. I hope they’re just fun stories that people will pass along. I feel like there’s such a…community for just passing along those types of, “Hey, I met this guy backstage and he was really cool. He gave me a cookie, and now I like that band forever.” That type of thing is really cool to me. So, I hope there’s entertainment in the stories that people can pass along. And then maybe on a more serious and more like business scene note, to never burn a bridge. Like, how important networking is really. I mean, really any industry. But early on, I remember a friend telling me, saying the music industry is as small as your smallest High School, and word gets around. So don’t be a jerk, basically. It seems really simple, but anytime you experience it, you’re like, “This isn’t for me.” So, just realizing that in any industry, being a good person, networking, not burning bridges, asking how you can help others too obviously, and not looking out for yourself. 

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, a lot of tried and true strategies that kind of can overlap into multiple industries, not just in the music industry. So you kind of picked up on that before it’s too late, so to speak. So let’s talk a little bit about how this book is organized. The foreword includes the title, “He Will Reign” by Sleeping Giant, and several other chapters are introduced with a song, for example, “Careful Now” by Copeland. But what was trickier, the writing of these stories from memory, or choosing a specific song to kind of match the mood or the circumstances of each chapter? 

Definitely writing stuff from memory. When I started writing it, I thought, “Oh, there’s these four or five stories that I need to keep remembering that I want to write down, because I want to share them with people that were there and just haven’t haven’t done it on paper.” And then four or five turned into, you know, 10 or 12, and so on. So each new one, I think as I wrote it down, really kind of played back in my mind and as I put the words to paper. Each one of those unlocked a new one. So every time I was like, “Oh yeah, on this tour, when this happened, and this fan had to come up and save us…or that band did this,” kind of spiderwebbed to the next, and it was a really fun process, because it was just reliving stuff, and a lot of stuff I kind of forgot about. I journaled a ton, especially during touring. But I got really lazy about it. It started with how journaling always starts with, “The sunset was so beautiful,” and just as many details as you can get. And then it just evolves into bullet points of like, “I saw this band today. Pretty cool guys.” And I said, oh man, I’m so glad I gave a little more detail. But I will say as far as the songs go (in the book), some of the songs were <difficult to choose>. They were meant to encapsulate what the story was about, or a song that was constantly being played in the van at the time, or when this thing happened. And then I hope that some of the others were just something that were almost just embodied. Or what I felt when I was writing it. That’s what it felt like with “Careful Now.” I mean, I don’t know anyone that dislikes Copeland. So I’m glad you picked that one, because it’s an easy target. But I think the idea that a band can write a song about something so specific and so personal, and then I hear it and I take something else completely different from it is pretty magical. And I think I learned early on to not ask a band what a song is about, as much as I want to know. 

Yeah, I’ve kind of come across that a little bit with interviews that I’ve done with artists and stuff like that, or by asking them to re-rank their albums and questions like that. Some artists are more open to that discussion than others. Some will say that it’s up to the fans, you know?

Yeah, I did this series with Chris Conley from Saves The Day, and we just did a discography dive and just went through each one <album>. And yeah, anytime there was something when it would get to an album that was my favorite, I’d kind of hide my excitement. But then he might tell a story where I don’t like that, and I didn’t want to tie that into this record that I love. So it’s hit or miss, but that idea is just so cool to me.

Can you talk a little bit about the more difficult things that were hard to do from memory? For example, like if there’s something you need to fact check with a band, did you have to go back and forth with them, or how did that work?

Not too much. So, the nice thing is that a lot of the book is about touring with the band Fallstar in there. So thankfully, I’m still good friends with all those guys. We’ve all been in each other’s weddings and stuff. So it was easy to just call up one of them and say, “This happened like this, right?” And at the same time being such good friends, they might say, “I don’t know, but that sounds right to me.” But with some of the bigger bands, I feel like I notified every single band that’s in the book of the project, sent them their section or their chapter, and kind of let them get back to me, or not. So I feel like if I had to get permission on every line, or go back and forth, that would have been tough and obviously the point of the book is to go from memory, but positively.  I don’t feel like there’s much negativity in there either. So I thought even if somebody says, “Oh, I don’t know if it happened that way…” I’m still painting them in a pretty good light.

So, it’s more like telling the story throughout and your experiences too. And that can be up to interpretation too, as is.

Yeah, exactly. And I hope that’s the case. That’s how it comes across. As more of this is a fan in the crowd, yet they heard and saw this, and this is what I got out of it. It could be wrong, but yes, it’s all up there.

So what role does music have in your life to this day? Are there certain artists you’re really drawn to that really stand out as being influential or inspirational to you?

Yeah, and I talked about burnout in the book, as well. And I’m sure you’ve experienced this too where music, especially when you’re a teenager in your early 20s, is so important. It’s so big to you, and it’s tied to people, relationships and stuff. And that kind of goes away a little bit over time, or it changes a lot. And so now I feel like it’s few and far between when I discover a band that kind of gives me that feeling again. But I will say that there’s four that I keep citing: Selfish Things, Cory Wells, Have Mercy and Can’t Swim. And each one of those, just over the course of the last four or five years, I think they just came along. And I mentioned this with letlive, in the book, that certain bands come along at just the right time. I can think of bands that I love today that I know, I didn’t love them the first time I heard them. I’m the biggest Taking Back Sunday fan. And I remember a friend in high school showing me, and it wasn’t for me at that time.

Yeah, some things are not there for you at that time period. A band can get introduced to you and then you go back through a deep dive into discography and you’re like, “Oh, my God, what was I missing??”

Yeah, and I feel like as much as I don’t ever want to just sound like an old, jaded fool, or something. But I hear bands like that and I tend to think that as long as what happened to me at 15 or 16 with music is still happening to that 15 or 16 year old today, great. I don’t have to understand it.

That makes a lot of sense. And the point that you made about that 20-something age…I mean, I was blessed with the emo glory days of Taking Back Sunday, and stuff like that coming out when I was in college, basically. So it kind of just meshed well with going to concerts at the 930 Club on the weekends away from college.

Yeah, it’s so funny, because I do feel like anyone that’s semi around our age, I always think of these bands. I always tend to think it’s bigger than it is. I mentioned The Used to somebody that was maybe a year or two younger than me. And they weren’t into them. And I was like, “Oh, that’s right. This isn’t for everyone.” Every time I just assume anyone in our age bracket, you know?

Yeah, it’s almost like dips and dives. And sometimes these bands will have a great record, and they’re back in the forefront. And then sometimes they’ll kind of go away for a while. But yeah, I actually saw MCR open up for The Used as the very first band when The Used were headlining the 930 Club, and I still have that picture of My Chemical Romance being the first band, with these terrible haircuts and leather jackets <Laughter>.

Oh, yeah, I remember seeing them open for Story of the Year. And yeah, there’s just bands that you would never put above those bands. You never know who’s gonna blow up like that, right?

Absolutely, and looking back, I should have probably bought the original vinyl from their merch table. It would be worth a lot more today. But anyways, let’s talk a little bit about your upbringing as a child. Did religion play a significant role, first of all?

Yeah, I think it did. As a little kid, and this is probably a lot of people’s stories, but church was boring when it was just an obligation, and me and my brothers would always play “hangman” on the back of the donation envelopes. It was just the thing you kind of had to get through, and I didn’t really even think too much about it I think until maybe Junior High when I started reading certain books and getting into Christian music that I remember kind of thinking there’s a cool side to this. There’s a more edgy side to this that doesn’t have to be old people in church, singing hymns. So yeah, it was fairly predominant. And thankfully, too, I don’t have any sort of big, judgmental stories that go into a non-denominational church. It was all pretty light. So it played a part for sure. I’m just glad I don’t have any sort of those big types of hot button issues.

Right. And so what about music and relationships? Did this do more with the shaping of who you are today?

Yeah, I think so. And I think that’s ultimately again, something as the book wrapped up, I was realizing more and more, how much that music played a part. We all go through that time of not wanting to admit that you listened to Papa Roach, or you listen to DC Talk, or something. And I think that type of thing is going away now, and or I’m just too old to worry about it. I hope it’s kind of just going away. I think that type of criticism and gatekeeping, and all that stuff is starting to go away. So I think it still plays a huge part. And I wouldn’t have written this book without it. I wouldn’t have been working in music, and striving to get this name and that name for so many years, and then becoming a publicist and trying to help bands like that get bigger. So, as the book finished up, I was like, “Oh man. This is a lot bigger than I knew!” If this wasn’t here, I have no idea what the last 15 years would have looked like.

Sure, and I think genre lines in general are blending pretty quickly. I mean, it’s more important that you write good songs, than being wedged into being a rap artist, rock artist, or a metal artist. It seems like people are blending a lot of that together. And honestly, it’s a fun time to be a music writer, you know? 

Oh, yeah. The fact that there is something called emo rap…I’ve never heard that when we were in high school. So yeah, I love that. There’s kind of no rules to it.

Yeah, definitely. So what are some areas of writing you’d still like to explore as you progress in your career and writing paths?

I think a few years ago, I kind of had a goal out there, and now it sounds ridiculous. Now that I know what goes into the process of putting a book out, but I just thought, “Okay, well, here’s the genre as a book that I like, but what if I could just do one persona?” Even if I decided on three of them. My first book was a short novel, which was more like, “emo drama.” And then this book is nonfiction. I’m also about 30 pages into a comedy I hope to put out. So yeah, wanting to put out something like a comedy, or maybe even a thriller, or something along those lines rather than the smart thing, which would be to continue in the lane that I’ve started. I thought, “What would that look like?” But it’s a huge goal. And I keep having to stop myself from thinking about it currently, because the book just came out last week. And not only do I want to focus on that, but I don’t want to overwhelm myself and then just throw everything in the trash because I was stressed out one day. 

And I’m sure you’re not writing for a commercial purpose, at this point. You’re mostly writing to kind of explore who you are. And if people gravitate towards that, it’s great. So, what’s your overall feeling on that?

Yeah, that’s 100% true. Some of my favorite books, “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, or “The Artist’s Way” by Steven Pressfield all talk about not only what are you writing for, what do you create it for, but also the idea that some stories and some books are sort of made for you. I felt like this was my first one. And with this one too, it was just that I have to get it off my brain plate. Even if it comes out and tanks, or it doesn’t come out the way that I want, there’s just something about needing to “clean this room” out in my head. So that it can be empty and clean. And maybe this book does fine, and then now that it’s off my plate, maybe the next one will be huge because I cleaned out that room. So yeah, you’re right about commercial purposes. I mean, you’ve got to pay the bills and there is some reality there. The whole idea of if you’re creating something to only make money, then you’ve already lost. I totally understand that. But you have to be realistic as an adult that has bills, a family, and you have to think what’s the best use of my time if I have talents in these areas. What’s the best use of those? So it’s tough. You don’t want to sound like a “sellout,” but you’ve got to be realistic too.

So since this book is so closely tied to music, and as a FYI, I gave this similar question to Mike Henneberger, with the most influential records in your lifetime. So basically, it’s the question of: if you could bring five albums to a desert island what would those entail?

Yeah, with the desert island thing, I always think that this is something, hopefully, I’ll not get tired of. So, first, Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American. I’m sure that one gets mentioned a lot. That might have been the first album where I realized, cuz that came out when I was in Junior High, that a band can put out an album where every song is good. Like, I never would’ve even considered skipping a song. Back in the era of when you’d buy an album because you liked two songs, and you knew that you probably won’t even listen to the rest. Next would be Saves the Day, Stay What You Are. That one completely changed my entire musical direction in life. Everything I listened to before that was Korn and Limp Bizkit. Same story with Dashboard’sThe Places You Have Come To Fear The Most. I got that and Stay What You Are on the same day, and both just completely blew my mind. It completely changed everything. For my heavy record, I did Oh Sleeper’s Son of the Morning, just so I could rage on the island. And then Anberlin’s Never Take Friendship Personal, which is another perfect album. 

Awesome, that’s a great collection. I’d probably want to visit that island too, at some point!

I had this goal for a long time to get every album that I considered like my favorite, and influential on vinyl. And it’s taking a while because I’m not there yet at all. 

So, any last words for the people that are enjoying the book, or a quick little pitch to “sell the book,” so to speak? 

I keep saying it’s for anyone who really enjoys music. You know, a big part of it is feeling like I finally got into an industry that I was so in love with for years. And then once I was there, constantly dealing with imposter syndrome, and constantly waiting for someone to figure out that I shouldn’t be there. And I think putting this book together, and having all these stories in one place…I’m really trying to look at that and say, ”No, look at that. You belong there. You were fine. You didn’t need to freak out.” So it’s a healthy dose of that. And then for music fans, Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, Anberlin, letlive, The Used, and New Found Glory. All of these bands are talked about and “name dropped.” And there’s stories about all of those bands. So yeah, I feel like it’s just for any music fan that’s our age, and then hopefully for younger fans that want to get into the industry. To help them start a blog, start a podcast, or whatever. I hope there’s encouragement there as well. And “@namedroppingbook” on Instagram has been my main “hub” for everything. And the book is for sale on Amazon now, and it’s only $7.99

Yeah, I saw that! And it’s actually doing pretty well on the Christian Rock Book charts. It’s number one right now! 

That was number one? That’s awesome! I didn’t even know that those rankings existed. And I had my publisher send it to me. I was like, “Is that good? And how specific is the genre we’re talking about?”

Yeah, you should definitely screenshot that before it goes away! <Laughter> It was great connecting with you, Jameson! I wish you nothing but the best, and I’m sure we’ll be in touch soon about your future work.

Thanks, Adam. Take care!