Q&A With The Madison Letter’s Clayton Jones

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The Madison Letter hams it up with the crowd after a show. (Click to enlarge.)

A couple of weeks ago, we interviewed The Madison Letter frontman Clayton Jones for this Tunes from the Dam blog. Now, here are a few more nuggets from the multi-talented musician:

Q: You met in college. How old were you when you started The Madison Letter?
A: I would’ve been 18 still at the time, just about to turn 19. I’m the youngest in the band. I’m 23 now. Tyler (Ross) is turning 24 in a couple of weeks here and Mitch (Schrock) is 25, so there’s one year difference between all of us.

You all graduated from Greenville College (Greenville, Ill.). What did you guys study there?
It’s definitely known for its music program. I studied music business and the other guys studied audio engineering. Industry stuff we can tie into our craft.

How has having a college education helped you guys?
Honestly, you really don’t need a college degree to pursue music. I would say studying music helps out most if you’re going into teaching, but studying music in school I think for me — just the relationships you build with people there who are up and coming and learning their craft at the same time as you — is the most valuable thing. But you definitely have to take what you learn in school and apply it. Music is all about just doing it, you know. You’ve got to be out playing, out writing. You know if I were a songwriting major or something like that, either I write great songs or not, you know. And it’s the guy that’s writing the great songs who is going to get the publishing deal.

How long have you been based out of Nashville?
We moved down here last summer. We all graduated school back in May of ’13 and moved down as soon as we all could, and so it’s going on a year right now.

How have you built your network in Nashville so far?
We moved down here along with several other friends from school who graduated our year as well, people getting into audio engineering or booking, or what-not. So all these people entering the business at the same time as you so (helps you) build up your team over time. Everybody’s kind of making their own advances in the industry and you can feed off each other and stay friends and help each other out.

What’s the worst thing going on in pop music right now?
(Thinks a while…) I guess with a lot of the dancy club songs and stuff, definitely the lyrics. Within pop music sometimes lyrics can get watered down. There’s not stuff that really has much of a substance to it, you know. But there are a lot of songs on top 40 radio that do. I think that’s one of the easy things to slip into; you know, the easy listening real basic lyrics is what people connect with quickest as well.

How does The Madison Letter rise above that?
I think being able to blend those two things — having a song with substance but a song that’s super catchy and really selling the lyric of the song through the melody is definitely the best scenario.

The Madison Letter Finds its Voice

TML Frontman Clayton Jones says
First Album 
Will Showcase ‘Niche’

The Madison Letter is Clayton Jones, Tyler Ross and Mitchell Schrock

The Madison Letter is Clayton Jones, Tyler Ross and Mitchell Schrock

For fans of The Madison Letter, the wait is almost over.

The trio’s first full-length album release is expected this summer. And according to frontman Clayton Jones, it will feature a cohesive voice The Madison Letter has been crafting since its formation 4 years ago.

“It should be coming out in July is what we’re shooting for right now,” Clayton said during a recent interview with BeaverDamUSA.com. “This is really our first focused album that has one sound that we’re really driving home. We finally found our niche, and I’m really excited about it. This is kind of like the big ‘this is who the Madison Letter finally is’ sort of thing. So that’s really exciting, and it’s taken all this time to kind of develop that kind of sound and release songs in different areas of pop-rock.”

Besides Clayton, who plays guitar and keyboards, The Madison Letter consists of drummer Tyler Ross and bassist Mitchell Schrock. The band, which currently calls Nashville home, has two EPs under its belt.

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Clayton wrote eight of the 10 songs on the new album. The other two, he co-wrote. “I think that it’s going to be an album where not many people are going to be skipping over songs; there aren’t any filler songs on it,” he said. “I think every song going on this album has its own place. It’s all in the same vibe. There’s nothing way leftfield or anything, but each song has its own character to it, and that’s the great thing.”

Clayton explained the task of choosing the songs for the album. “We narrowed down from 40 or 50 of my favorite songs I’ve written over the last couple of years to find those 10 we really wanted to do. So we really whittled it down a long ways,” he said. “This album is kind of like a pop rock thing with some pop R&B soul overtones to it — kind of some sing-rappy, real percussive, almost kind of rap-like singing sometimes. It was a lot of fun.”

The band has already released the first single, “Don’t Wanna Miss It.”

“We’ll be releasing another single in a couple of weeks called ‘Stop,’” he said, noting that the album’s title is still up in the air.

Regardless of the title, fans will appreciate the groove. “There’s a lot of big tempo kind of stuff that really makes your body rock back and forth,” he said, “But there is one real ballad, called ‘Never Going to Be Together.’ I pretty much played the whole thing myself, just me and the piano until the last chorus; and the band kicks in and really ends on a real epic high level. So the song just grows the entire time until the end and it kind of explodes.”

The bandmates met at Greenville College in Illinois. Clayton studied music business, while Mitch and Tyler studied audio engineering. Following graduation, they packed up and moved to Nashville.

It might be easy to think a pop act would have a hard time getting traction on Music Row. Not so, Clayton said.

“Man, I love it. I love the thought of it, because every single time I go to a writers’ round or something, nine out of 10 times you’re going to see a round full of all country songs and all country artists trying to pursue that genre of music,” he explained. “And I love being able to personally get up and whip out a pop song that’s just not country at all.

“I think that definitely helps me stand out here, which hopefully takes us far in this town. But I think also with the fact that country is becoming more pop, me having my pop sensibility in just my writing you know allows me to be able to write better pop-country music as well.”

He added, “I think as I grow my name as a songwriter and establish myself more, hopefully a lot of country writers will be looking to me to help with that real pop edge to their more down-home country style. Top 40 pop has definitely gone a lot more electronic in the past years. And that’s what’s mostly there, but you’ve kind of got the more rootsy — you know like Mumford & Sons, like 4 on the Floor –type banjos and stuff in the pop world too.”

Clayton compared being in a band to a marriage. “We’ve been through a lot of stuff over the time we’ve been together,” he explained. “Just relationally we’ve all grown tremendously. People talk about being a band is just like being in a marriage but X-amount more people than just one. So it’s definitely something that you learn a lot about yourself. For me personally I’ve learned more about myself from being in this band more than maybe anywhere else.”

Among other things, he said he has learned “what areas I’m selfish in, when I get selfish, when I’m impatient.

“You just kind of learn what your shortcomings are and things you aren’t good at, and you really learn how to become more selfless and really understand people on a deeper level,” he said. “You learn how to let certain things go, and really learn how to work with other people in close quarters like that, so I think that’s stuff I’ve learned relationally with the guys. Stuff I’ve been able to apply all across the board with all people I meet.”

If you’re not familiar with The Madison Letter already, you will be as they continue their musical ascent. And you will definitely want to see this marriage succeed.

Related: Q and A with Clayton Jones.

Visit The Madison Letter’s web site and listen to “Don’t Wanna Miss it.”

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