Aaron Jurd discusses his journey from rock bottom on debut EP 'Changed'

10 December 2020 | 2:45 pm | Mallory Arbour

Aaron Jurd talks about his debut EP, his journey from covers to artist, and how his dark past is behind his inspirational songwriting.

Aaron Jurd is an independent singer-songwriter from the east coast of NSW. Last month, he released his highly anticipated debut EP, Changed, which debuted at No. 5 on the iTunes Country Albums Chart. Four tracks – Set Me On Fire, Hard To Breathe, Changed and If You Were Mine have all been released as singles over the past two years, but Whiskey Blues is a new original and the EP also contains a piano and strings stripped-back version of Aaron’s first single, Set Me On Fire. All charted in the Top 20 on iTunes Country and helped him to take home the highly sought-after APRA AMCOS TSA New Songwriter of the Year award.

He graduated from The CMAA Academy, performed at the Official Opening Concert of the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Golden Guitar Awards with O’Shea, all in 2018. He has also written songs with award-winning artists including Gina Jeffreys and Allan Caswell.

Thinking like an A&R person first off – what do you think separates you from other artists, what makes you unique and why should people listen to you over other artists?

I like to write from the heart. Everything I write about, I've been through or known of someone very close to me that has been through that, and I draw on that. So, a lot of the personal experiences is what draws people to me. The other thing people at shows say, that, my voice – and I'm thankful for it – is a god given talent. That's probably the other thing I hope that people can relate to. I love listening to people that put the emotion and soul into the music, and you can really feel that they've been through what they're singing about. I try to reflect that in my songwriting, performance and singing as well.

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As a listener – not even as an artist – when you're listening to music, and then you see that person live, you want to be able to relate the to it. It's such a letdown sometimes, if you love someone and think so much of their music, and then you see them live and it's like, “You must use a lot of auto tune!” [laughs]. I don't mean to sound critical, but that's how I feel sometimes as a listener. Singing live, we all hit bung notes and might be singing something off key occasionally – that’s part of singing live – but I think, if you can really draw the audience in and they like the sound of your voice, that’s a positive thing.

I find it special too when sometimes you’ll listen to a recording of a song, and you like it, but it doesn’t have the same impact it does/did when you hear/d it live – and vice versa – but something makes you fall in love with it and completely changes your perspective.   

I'm the same. I love when that happens. More times than not, that happens with me with stripped down acoustic versions of songs and, if I buy an album or EP [with] a stripped back, acoustic or piano version of a song, they always end up being my favourite. Which is why I wanted to include something similar on this EP. I love versions of songs where everything's raw and really intimate as well. When you can change the style of it and it still sounds good, that's when you know it's a good song too.

Your EP is called Changed, is the title a reflection of how you changed during the process of making the EP or something else?

I thought, with the title of this EP, I wanted to reflect my musical journey. I’m still learning as I go along. I’m changing. It's been an on-going period of change in my life because I wrote my first single Set Me On Fire when I was at rock bottom. I had a lot of things been going wrong for a number of years and I couldn't seem to get everything right. Everything I did fell apart and people I put trust in ended up burning me, which is how the metaphor of ‘set me on fire’ came along. It’s all sort of come from that.

Changed, the actual single, I wrote that as the resolution to Set Me On Fire, because I'd turned my life around, surrounded myself with people I wanted to be surrounded with and changed my mindset. I thought, “I can do this. I can do whatever I put my mind to. If doors keep closing, I'm gonna keep pushing through because you always get other ones that open.” I'm still a pessimist at times – that's just me – but I tried hard to step back, look at the bigger picture and make a go of whatever it is I might be doing. Not just musically [but] in my life. I think it's important to have goals and work towards them.

When you’re in a feelgood mood, is it then difficult to channel those feelings of being vulnerable and personal on stage to convey the message of Set Me Of Fire? Surely, that’s got to be tough.

It was to start with. The day it was released, I wanted to throw up, I so nervous. It was basically all my emotions and thoughts I've been feeling for the last three or four years all on paper for people to judge, criticise, and whatever else they wanted to do. The biggest compliment I can get is some people love it. That’s awesome. It’s still the one at shows that people reflect, relate and respond to the most.

I think because I did it off the bat, it sort of broke me in a little bit too where now, when I do it live, I put all [that emotion] out there. People accept it, so that makes it feel more acceptable to sing about and, even though I feel vulnerable singing it on stage, I could be helping someone that's in the audience.

That's what keeps me going. Every time I sing that song, I have to teleport myself back because I want to give everything in the performance. The first time I got sent the piano version of the song, I teared up. It bought back so many memories and how far I've come.

A lot of people have said that you write quite depressing songs. Why do you think you’re drawn to the dark side of your psyche when it comes to your songwriting?

I think part of it is probably because [I’m a] Scorpio. I'm that person [who’s] always there to help anyone who needs help. I'm happy to lend an ear, give advice and everything like that [but] I'm not one to want to receive that for myself. I rarely open up to people completely. We seem to forget about ourselves and I make up for it in what I write. All my feelings come out in the writing, so I think that's why.

There’s a lead singer of a Canadian band whose first album lyrically dealt with what he was going through when battling bulimia, anorexia and drug addiction. A large criticism of their follow up album was the lack of those issues that many fans said originally connected them to the band. He addressed that, explaining how he had now recovered and it was unhealthy for him to delve back into that dark period in his life. If you're in a good place for an extended period of time, are you worried you won't have anything to write about and/or you'll be unable to connect to your current fan-base?

A little bit. I think life is a roller coaster, we all experience ups and downs, and [just because] a lot of my recent stuff I've written has been happier music, doesn't mean it's going to be that forever. Life is full of hurdles, so whenever I drop down again, I'll be writing about that sort of stuff and hopefully help people that are feeling that way again.

A lot of friends, when they’re sad, they want to listen to happy music. I'm the opposite. So, I think there’s always something for someone to hear. Even in relation to the other artist. He might not be writing something for those people that originally started listening to him, but he might be gaining another fan-base by writing what he's going through at the time. And then it's not to say he's going to be writing that forever.

Artists I listen to, I always love – it sounds bad – if they've gone through a breakup or some turmoil, [as then] they write the best songs. They're so meaningful, and you can relate to them. That's one of the good things about being an artist; there's always some positive to come out of a sticky or bad situation, you can turn it into a song that can speak to people and help people through their rough times.

You got your start performing in cover bands and duos around the Newcastle area almost a decade ago. I’ve spoken to artists with similar beginnings who’ve said being in cover bands hindered them creatively from working on their own original music. Is that how it was for you?

I was still was writing originals when I was doing the covers, [but] covers to an extent, definitely suppress you as an artist if you're singing songs you don't necessarily like. If singing songs you do like, and they're reflective of who you want to become as an artist, I don't think there's anything bad in that.

I love listening to cover bands. A lot of people have a negative outlook on cover bands, and they think they're not talented [but] there's some really talented singers and musicians that play in cover bands – that's their thing and there's nothing wrong with that. Me personally, I always wanted to become my own artist with my own image and brand. But, even performing in a cover band, I still tried to make the songs more me anyway so that artistic licence was still there, so to speak. It wasn't a generic, straight down the line, exactly the same as the original. I always tried to change it, even just a little bit.

I’ve been writing songs since I was 15, but I never expected to release them as singles or, let alone, be on radio or anything like I'm doing now. I dreamt about it, but just didn't think it would happen. I didn't think people would want to hear it, but I've been releasing singles the last two years, and now the EP.

So, in a way, would you say that performing in cover bands helped you to figure out who you wanted to be as an artist?

Yeah, definitely, to an extent. Performing in cover bands, you sing everything in them, because you're trying to please a crowd that listens to everything. You’re singing blues, then country, then rock, then pop – you’re singing everything! So that definitely has helped make me the artist I am as well.

There are so many sub genres of country these days; I didn't really know exactly where I fit. I'm influenced by so many different types of music, it's hard to pinpoint an exact genre. But it's a process. It happens the more you experiment with music. The more you play, you start to realise where you start to gravitate towards, and what you prefer to perform and sing as an artist, then that obviously turns into what you start recording and what direction that's going down.

I grew up on a lot of rock music – that’s basically what my parents listened to. They didn't really listen to country music, so I wasn't introduced to it until I was 16 and that's what started me on country music. It's mostly what I listen to now. But my playlist and music tastes in general is so broad. It ranges from rock, like, Guns and Roses and ACDC, then to country, and even more traditional bluegrass country. It changes a lot, but as long as it's a good song, I don't really care of the genre. As long as I can relate and get into it, I don't think it really matters.

What was the name of the song that first got you into country music?

It was Welcome to The Future by Brad Paisley. It was playing on CMC, and it just drew me. Just the whole, what it was written about, the music and Brad himself as an artist, just how he put all the emotion into the song. By the end, I thought, I need more of this. I guess I have him to be thankful for.

I read a quote where you said that you always knew you wanted to get into music, but didn’t know how to make it happen. Now that you’re a charting recording artist, what advice would you give to others who share that same dream?

It's a hard industry, the music industry. There's not much money in it. You don't get much return at a starting out level. We can't all be Keith Urban [laughs] who can just rely on music. One of the most important things is, find people that are similar minded to you. I think a lot of the time, people can get caught up, like someone might offer them something, like, they can do this or that for them, but they've got a different vision to what the artist has or the band or whatever scenario it is.

I think it's important to try and find people that want the same for you as you want for yourself. It's so easy to get side-tracked in the industry because it's so heavily flooded as well. There are so many artists and bands trying to offer a piece of the pie, so it's a matter of staying true to yourself. Don't try and be someone else, be your own artist and find people that are willing to help make that happen for you.

It's a learning process. I'm still learning now. And, as humans, we're all learning until the day we die. But you've got to go with the gut feeling. I've made mistakes in the past, too. We all do that. But as long as you learn from your mistakes, and can keep trucking forward, that's the main thing.

Keep up to date with Aaron Jurd on his Facebook page here.

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