For Caleb Landry Jones, Writing Songs Is Survival

The “Get Out” and “Three Billboards” star reflects on acting, music and responsible cannabis use.
For Caleb Landry Jones, Writing Songs Is Survival
Courtesy of Jacqueline Castel

When Caleb Landry Jones and I connect by phone on a balmy Monday morning, the mood is light and giddy. The acclaimed film and television actor has just released his debut record, “The Mother Stone,”and he couldn’t be more thrilled. 

Caleb held off crafting his long-awaited debut until he’d found the right creative team, a team he discovered with the folks over at Sacred Bones, a Brooklyn-based independent label. With Sacred Bones, Caleb finally had the love and support to make the album he wanted to make, one which takes the listener on a complex journey and plants its flag firmly in the realm of psychedelia.

When did you start your journey into music?

Caleb Landry Jones: Music has always been something I’ve been drawn to, but it wasn’t until I started playing an instrument that [the interest] really started to grow. The more I played, the more it became something I used to get my feelings out.

After Robert [Hudson]—who plays bass and guitar on the record—went to college, I started playing guitar and piano more, and started writing songs and recording them on the computer. Once I realized I could write a song and record it, it kind of became a thing I never wanted to not be doing. I didn’t realize how much fun recording could be.

While I was exploring music, I got an acting job on the movie “The Last Exorcism.” The film opened up what acting could be for me [as a career] and gave me a few thousand dollars. I’d had two or three acting jobs already by then, but with music, I couldn’t get a gig, so it felt right to put that [movie money] toward getting out to New York or Los Angeles for acting. It seemed more likely that [acting] was going to get the ball rolling first.

It’s cool you had two parallel artistic paths happening at the same time.

Caleb Landy Jones: As a teenager and pre-teen, I was always just playing with Robert, and I never thought in a million years I’d get to make a career out of acting. It wasn’t until I made five thousand on “Exorcism” that I thought, “Okay, here’s your one chance at doing something.” Acting felt like something I knew I could do inside and something I knew I could show other people I could do if I could just get the chance to show them. With music, I could show someone a song, but no one would think I actually played and recorded it.

Flash forward to your debut album, “The Mother Stone.” What motivated you to create this record?

Caleb Landry Jones: In terms of getting the record out, it’s because of Jim Jarmusch, and Jim putting me in touch with Caleb [Braaten] at Sacred Bones. And then if it wasn’t for meeting up with [producer] Nick Jodain, we wouldn’t have a record at all.

I’d been waiting for twenty-something years to meet someone that felt good, someone who was going to support me. Someone, who in turn, I could support and we could work together. A mutual friendship as opposed to the nightmare that I hear so much about with other labels like Capitol, Columbia or Sony. If [the label ] has another band that sounds like you or that they’ve put more money into…I was just always worried about some kind of BS. But I think that’s just me having paranoia of big business. In talking to Caleb, it just felt right.

I wanted somebody who was going to dig the record and think it was as funky as I did, and also someone who wanted to help get it out there. I’m in hog-heaven getting to put the album out. It’s taken a long time, but I’m glad I waited.

For the material itself and the songs themselves, was there an overarching motivation behind the creation?

Caleb Landry Jones: It’s all in the record, but it’s not really one thing. I wish it was. It would be a lot simpler to talk about. Sometimes, I write about the smallest thing. I’m writing about something that’s very literal, but the only way I’m able to communicate it is by something that may be strange to someone else. To me, it’s pretty simple. Then other times, I’m trying to put words that don’t go together because it makes me smile. It’s a hodgepodge of a bunch of different stuff. Mostly, I think it’s a subconscious thing, and most of the time, I’m unaware of what it is I’m writing until I’m able to step away from it and I read it like a poem.

Were you ever creating between scenes or in your trailer while filming a project?

Caleb Landry Jones: Never in the trailer, never on set. Just when there would be a few days [off] here and a few days [off] there. Sometimes on a film you’ve got a week or more to yourself, so it was more during those times where things were happening.

Sometimes, the acting is enough to where I don’t feel the need to [work on music], but usually if there’s a lot of down time, I find myself [working on music] for whatever reason. Either out of boredom or going a little mad. I find it feels like the songs are kind of resting there, waiting to be opened up. Then it’s just about sitting down and doing something about it, and which song comes out first. It’s not really a process, more of a necessity.

The inspiration hits you and then you act.

Caleb Landry Jones: When you’re getting too stressed, anxious or paranoid and some feeling has really got you and you need to get rid of it…If I can, I’ll do something about it [through music]. If I’m in the middle of acting, I’ll do something about it in the scene. Sometimes I just find myself in a space and my head will be a little messed up and I’ll realize, “Oh, you didn’t write a song in a while.” Usually after I [write], I feel a lot better. Then I feel I can keep going and do what I was probably contractually hired to do.

You have two beautiful ways to express yourself. In the scene or through song.

Caleb Landry Jones: And I feel like shit if I don’t do anything about [the expression]. Because then, it’s just eating at you.

In music, sometimes something will make me feel like grabbing a guitar versus grabbing the keyboard. Usually whatever instrument I pick guides a lot of the song. A piano allows me to go a few places I can’t on the guitar. But when you’re really pissed off, you just grab an electric guitar and do some bar chords and something comes of that and you feel a little better. Maybe you also said some stuff that you won’t write down, but maybe you have it and it gets put into the song. Recording while you’re writing feels really exciting for me. We tried to keep a balance of that on this record. You know, the songs are written, but none of the counter melodies to anything were written except for maybe a handful. Finding [the counter melodies] through the keyboards keeps things alive, too.

How does cannabis play a role in your life and/or creative process?

Caleb Landry Jones: When I started writing music, I started smoking marijuana with friends and stuff like that. I would smoke while I wrote songs and then would stop when I recorded the songs. Weed helped me push some things I normally wouldn’t have tried in the beginning of the songwriting process, and then I’d sober out by the time I was putting [the song] together. I think marijuana can be very, very helpful, but everything in moderation.

Follow @caleblandryjonesmusic and check out Caleb’s debut album “The Mother Stone” now available everywhere.

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