NASHVILLE BASED POP/SOUL SINGER/SONGWRITER
JT SPANGLER IS PUTTING THE FINISHING TOUCHES ON
TWO THINGS DEAR TO HIS HEART—A TREEHOUSE MILES
AWAY FROM CIVILIZATION AND ‘WHAT’S A LITTLE HEARTBREAK,’
HIS FULL LENGTH DEBUT THAT EXPLORES
HIS LIFELONG PASSION FOR R&B
* * *
After Relocating to Music City Last Year from Los Angeles—
Where He Launched His Career with Three Earlier EPs and
Became a Busy Touring DIY Artist—He Hooked up with
Some of Nashville’s Top Session Players (Whose Credits
Include Etta James, Taylor Swift, The Band Perry and Brad
Paisley) To Record His First Full Band Project
Later this year, if you’re grooving and singing along to JT Spangler’s (www.jtspangler.com) infectious ten-track pop/soul excursion What’s A Little Heartbreak and need to ask him about those classic R&B influences and how he got those horns to sound so cool, you might have a hard time reaching him on his cell.
No worries—he’s probably just chilling in his treehouse, finding fresh new inspiration for his songs and other writing endeavors miles away from civilization. Not a metaphorical treehouse, but the real deal—an approximately 150 square-foot sustainable housing unit with a bed and a sink, suspended 12 feet up in an elm tree. He’s currently building it on the 50 acres of off-the-grid land he purchased in Southwest Tennessee.
The Louisiana-born singer, who moved to Nashville in 2012 after launching his career as a recording and touring singer songwriter in Los Angeles, is a modern day, musical version of 19th Century author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Seeking a quiet, peaceful place miles away from the nearest human being to recharge his creative and spiritual batteries, Spangler found his literal and proverbial “Walden” a few hours outside of Music City, where he recorded What’s a Little Heartbreak with some of Nashville’s top session cats, including guitarist Gary Burnette (Etta James, Taylor Swift, Chris Tomlin) and keyboardist Tim Lauer (Brad Paisley, The Band Perry, Brooks & Dunn).
The album, the multi-talented singer/songwriter’s first full-length release after establishing himself as a popular recording and touring DIY artist via the EPs Love Songs For No One (2007), The Vienna Circle Sessions (2009) and Songs for the Holidays (2010), was produced by Stephen Gause, a former top touring tech for Contemporary Christian greats like Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman who has produced, mixed, and engineered for hundreds of country artists and singer songwriters. Gause’s studio credits include Kathy Mattea, Nathan Angelo and Derek Stroker.
“People think I’m joking when I mention building an adult treehouse, but I’m dead serious,” says Spangler. “For me, the best part of the experience of being there, or staying on the land right now with no power, water, gas, internet, or TV is getting back in touch with my hindbrain — that part that’s totally neglected in a city. When I’m standing in the grass, hearing only the sounds of nature, it’s indescribably peaceful. I’m lucky to have created a life that allows for this kind of freedom.”
Besides being able to choose the best musicians and producer possible to help him realize his vision for What’s A Little Heartbreak, another byproduct to the success Spangler originally cultivated on the L.A. club scene (including hotspots like Hotel Café, Room 5 Lounge and Genghis Cohen) is the freedom the singer has to further delve into the R&B side of his artistry. Growing up in a very musical family in Hammond, Louisiana, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, he didn’t hear the typical zydeco or jazz associated with the region—but he was a huge fan of Motown, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and ‘90s pop/soul stars Brian McKnight, Boyz II Men and Babyface. Another obvious influence on his first acoustic recordings is James Taylor.
“Once I began writing songs that I felt were worth recording and performing,” he says, “I began doing the typical guy with guitar singer-songwriter thing because it was the purest way to present them. It was easy to go on tour with no overhead and to play gigs and never lose money, and to make music for a living. As I began writing more soul oriented material, I realized that it would be hard to be a soul act with just an acoustic guitar. But this is where my interests lie and this has always been my favorite music. On some of the new songs, I would think, ‘this chorus needs people singing behind it’ or ‘I can hear a killer horn section here’ or I would hear obvious spaces between the chorus and verse for some other musical textures. Many of the tracks on ‘What’s A Little Heartbreak’ have layered vocals and interesting vocal harmonies that allow me to sing in a way I could never do in a stripped down setting. Doing these kinds of vocal embellishments, I could really let the Donny Hathaway [part of me] breathe.”
For all the planning and expectation that went into the sessions for the album, it’s ironic that one of its most dynamic tracks, the brass infused “summertime driving around song” “All Alright” was written by Spangler (with his frequent co-writers and Nashville-based friends Justin Halpin and Jeffrey James) just two days before he was set to go into the studio to record. “We were getting close and I thought there might be room to add a few more tunes,” the singer says. “We wrote it on a Saturday and I sent it to Stephen, who said he wasn’t sure about it on first listen. Then he woke up Sunday morning singing it, which we both took as a sign it was meant to be on the record. I’ve always liked the process of collaboration and it was nice to get together with Justin and Jeffrey recently, drink a little whiskey and listen to the song again and love it just as much as when we first wrote and recorded it.”
Other tunes of note are the moody breakup song “No No No” (which uses horns in a darker, more emotional context) and the “sexy, grown up, smoky jazz bar song” “Take My Time.” Spangler is also proud of the fact that this song, written with his friend Aaron Beaumont, has been incorporated into Beaumont’s gay rights themed musical “Behind Closed Doors,” which enjoyed sellout runs in Los Angeles.
Spangler’s musical trajectory is all the more fascinating considering that he didn’t pick up the guitar till he was in college, studying engineering and playing football for the small university of Montana Tech. Though his brother, dad and uncle play guitar, his aunt is a classically trained opera singer, his grandfather has been playing guitar for over 70 years and his great grandfather was a fiddler, Spangler had a practical streak that told him to forego his emerging musical dreams and get a “real job” (in process controls and automation engineering in the oil and gas industry) right out of school. It made sense considering that his musical experience during college consisted of getting together with a couple of friends and classmates and playing covers and a few originals at sandwich shops and pizza nights—usually being paid with food!
“There was never a blinding flash that told me I should leave the corporate world and move to L.A. to pursue music,” he says. “But I got to the point where I was tired of sitting at my desk and I wasn’t sure I was cut out for it long term. Considering that I was still young and single, I could try music and if it doesn’t work out I can always come back to engineering. I recorded the first EP and did a lot of bar gigs back home before heading west. For some of the time I was pursuing music, I did freelance work instructing electricians in the oil and gas industry how to work safely, but once I moved to L.A. in 2008, I was focused on the typical lifestyle of doing open mics, meeting indie artists and asking them how they released their music and got gigs and realizing that musically I wasn’t that far away from being where they were.
“Though one of my goals in 2013 is not to set any goals,”’ Spangler laughs, “I am excited about the release of ‘What’s A Little Heartbreak’ and look forward to moving even further in the R&B direction on my next project.”