Getting Real: A talk with JC Brooks


“Get ready to listen to me ramble”

This is how Jayson Brooks of JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound started off our phone interview. Which was of course not at all the case – the frontman of JCBUS was as charming and delightful as his public persona would make you think, with just a sprinkle of self-deprecating humor to boot.

For the uninitiated, JC Brooks and the uptown sound is an indie soul band out of Chicago, headed by charismatic and energetic frontman Jayson Brooks. It’s hard to say exactly what category the band fits into – R&B, punk, soul, funk, garage-rock – the group covers all of them without batting an eye.

For the New Girl fans out there, you might recognize JCBUS from the band’s poster which is currently hanging in Nick’s bedroom. Turns out Jake Johnson, the actor who plays Nick, is a fan of the band as well as a friend of guitarist Billy Bungeroth. The band sent the artwork to the show, not knowing if it would ever be featured, until they got a text from a friend who was watching.

I suggested that perhaps a guest appearance might be in order, and for any New Girl producers out there, Jayson would be amenable. “I think a cameo’s a great idea. But what might happen is that the episode will be so popular that it’ll become ‘the New JC Brooks’ with occasional appearances by Zooey Deschanel” he joked. I know I’d tune in.

The attention the band is receiving from the show is well deserved. The hardworking group put out their most recent album, Howl, this past May. The personal and emotional album was inspired by a break-up between Jayson and his ex. “I was writing emotionally about my life on this album. It’s about an ex – I was ready to love he wasn’t” says Jayson. “I had tended to stay away from personal stuff previously, and had tried to write more in a certain style, but on this album I was writing about my life, and people can relate to that.”

It’s something that comes across organically in the live performances especially – the feeling that you know exactly what he’s singing about. There’s a moment in his show when he’s singing the title track off the album, when JC literally hooooowls into the microphone, starting low to the ground, and moving up to his full stature of 6’3’’ (minus the hair) under an illuminated moon on stage, and it’s just downright chilling. “We howl for love.” You kind of want to howl right along with him.

If you’ve ever been to a JCBUS performance, you know how fun and energetic and over the top they are. I asked Jayson how much of the live performance is him and how much is a role that he’s playing, “a lot of it is me playing a role. In real life I’m not a ‘center of attention’ person, I’m more of a ‘hover around the edges and make sure everyone is okay’ kind of person. My friends tell me I’m like a sheepdog.” He approached performing as frontman to JCBUS as he would approach an acting role – he studied up, “I went to classic clips of performers like Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, studied up on the history of soul.” But he says that as time has progressed the JC Brooks frontman has had more and more Jayson infused into him.

Despite JCBUS’ remarkably astute degree of self-perception and awareness, the performer did expose a more vulnerable side, which of course just made him more endearing. He admitted that Chicago is one of the few places where he still gets nervous before performances, “The warm and supportive greeting that we get from crowds in Chicago makes me want to give them a performance that makes them feel good in return, which can sometimes be nerve wracking.” (By warm and supportive Jayson is talking about the hordes of fans and friends who walk up to the very front of the venue, grinning goofily, and wave at the lead singer as he’s performing – it’s adorable until it’s a 6’5’’ guy standing in your line of sight.)

Jayson says that he looks for “faces he can lean on” in the crowd that help calm his nerves and perform with the aplomb for which he’s so well know.

And then he goes “that phrase made a lot more sense before I said it.”

Which made me laugh because I would never have realized that it didn’t quite jive. The same way that Morgan Freeman can narrate anything and make it into a documentary, JC Brooks can say anything and make it sound downright deep.

Posted on by Celeste in interviews