Singer-songwriter Jerry Hull creates, performs and produces his own music. That is precisely what the Memphis-born piano player has done on his debut album Heaven Help Me. Hull has written a slew of originals over the past year or so. Of course, he saved the best for the album.
Released Jun. 28, 2015 as an MP3, Hull’s new compilation contains 14 upbeat melodies that ring with honest musicianship. Hull, who has been heavily influenced by Elton John, is a skillful piano player. He delves into pop territory with the confidence and savvy of a seasoned pro. Check out the single, “It’s That Girl” and you’ll agree that the track is a hit just waiting to happen.
Currently based in England, at times, Hull’s imagery can be thoroughly American, like with his “Astronaut Armstrong,” about Apollo 11. Hull tells a sentimental story that will surely bring tears to his listener’s eyes. He has that ability. “Working for The FBI” is another standout from Heaven Help Me. The album download is available at Amazon, Spotify, iTunes and several other locations.
Jerry Hull will tell you that Elton John, the man and his music, has been an inspiration to him. Yet, hints of “The Boy from Oz,” Peter Allen and others, including Burt Bacharach and Billy Joel, can be heard in Hull’s songs. Musicinterviewmagazine.com recently spoke with Jerry Hull about Heaven Help Me, his music influences, Elton John and future plans.
Interview with Jerry Hull
I usually categorize songs that I’ve created into two types: conceptual and imaginary. Although both different, they are almost always recursive. “It’s That Girl” was an imaginary piece that simply came to mind, as my songs frequently do, with lyrics and music simultaneously, most often in a quick thought. From there, my imagination kicked in and based on my love for nostalgia, this time 1960s London, I began to place myself and perhaps anyone else like myself, as a man traveling through London’s underground, or subway. I accidentally find, maybe by fate, that I continue running into the same attractive girl. The premise winds up being, after seeing this lady so many times and obviously imagining how nice it would be to have her in his life, he finally gathers up the courage to ask her out to tea, or dinner.
All of this imagination did not happen at once. Instead, it built gradually, by the fueling of lyrics alongside melody, the love of nostalgia, romance, fun and a bit of sexiness that needed to come out quickly, which often occurs in my songs. I write the lyrics, melody and arrange all of my music. I also play all the instruments for my songs and produce, mix and master the recordings under my own label, JERRY HULL PRODUCTIONS, INC. 2015©.
Having written hundreds of songs in your career, what was the motivation behind “It’s That Girl?”
The build-up of the songs that I’ve created is maybe 185 or 190 so far and that’s just in the last 18 months. I think they are a culmination of life’s experiences and the need to catch up and do what I wished I had of done when I was younger. That is, to sit down patiently, write good songs and then record them. I think after all these years that the ideas have cooked from simmering and being bottled up. Now, in the last few months, a bounty has spewed forth of so many songs and ideas that my mind cannot keep up with them all. So, I just pick the ones I have a strong feeling for and go with it, never taking that for granted. Basically, the same motivation holds true behind all of my creations, that is, to produce as many songs as possible before I get too old.
Regarding “It’s That Girl”, some of the reasons for desiring such a song surely came from the need to reminisce about my childhood memories, American TV in the 1960s and media culture. Shows like “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Gidget” and “That Girl,” with Marlo Thomas, are embedded in my memory from those early impressionable years. Those were fond times from a much loved era. The premise of these shows embraced a carefree and fun loving style, an innocent way, as well as romance. Social norms of the times now seem sadly forgotten and replaced with what appears to be a colder pallet of the heart. Those ideas and notions still live on strong within my mind and perhaps were some of the motivators that riveted my imagination.
Your debut album, Heaven Help Me, which was released in June, has been called “an unexpected delight” and the initial single, “Hollywood,” “irresistibly arresting.” Can you tell us a little about the album and how it was recorded?
“Heaven Help Me,” the sixth track on the album, deserved to be the driving force, thus became the album’s name. I feel it had the strongest emotional presence dynamically and held an extremely important and expressive message that came forth when I engaged a very difficult and somewhat dark place in my life. So much so, I find it hard to talk about in person but seemingly not quite as difficult here. It was a very low point that dragged me down to near ruin. Then, an almost spiritual light showed itself to my psyche as I slowly cried for help. At the time, I felt the need to express it in the form of words, melody and raw emotion.
I laid the album out like a roller coaster ride of emotions. It is fun-filled happiness and optimism set to a fast pop rock march, like in “Hollywood” and “It’s That Girl,” to jazz/blues, set to a mediocre pace, or Americana set to honky tonk rock and roll with sentimental film noir reminiscing, like “Let Me Be” and “Working for the FBI.” The album also contains romantic and sweet melodic love ballads, such as “Her Kiss” and “She’s Everything To Me,” to the very moving stories of childhood heroes, including “Astronaut Armstrong” and “Doctor Saterfield.” It then moves back to a smoky jazzy relaxed feel and onto orchestral splendor in “November Snow” and “Infinite Autumn.” Those are just some of the 14 tracks. In the last couple of years, I wrote the lyrics, music, arrangements and recorded and premixed the music, usually without the vocals. I made a selection out of the total, based on what I felt best represented the pallet of a similar song family, as well as my personal thematic setting. After adding my vocals, it was all mixed to a mastering stage where I finished the polishing process with different plug-ins through my digital audio workshop, which is run through a very powerful set of PCs.
The song “Astronaut Armstrong,” about Apollo 11, is quite moving. How did you come up with the melody?
As with most, they come out of my head, like bees flying to honey. This one, however, was a concept, based on what I wanted to do with subject matter that is not only very near and dear to me but to many people around the world. Despite being a concept and subsequently turning into a tribute based on my childhood and the man himself, its melody came as notes from the recesses of my mind.
What keyboards, instruments and equipment were used in recording the album?
I used an Akai MPK88 and a Casio CDP-120. Both are 88-key weighted pianos. I use mostly a variety of vendor VST’s through Kontakt and Native Instruments, as well as several others. All the instruments you hear on my album are sampled libraries being played and arranged through my pianos. I tie all of this together through my PCs via a mic and midi interfaces. I use a very reliable RODE NT1A. All of it is set up in my studio in Hull England, UK, with a cup of tea, a biscuit and my rescue cat, Princess Tasha.
You were born in Memphis, Tennessee, yet you’re currently based in England. How did that come about?
Ultimately, romance and falling in love. I had been working as an architectural designer in Memphis and was attending an international product show. It’s there that I met a young lady; we decided to exit the show to have dinner. A couple months later, I found myself taking vacation to England for the first time, in The Black Country, near Birmingham. I have always been fascinated with England for many reasons since childhood. I read many things about the area and heard how it had a striking resemblance to the southern part of the US, which is where I am from. Who would have thought that shortly after arriving, I would run into the same young lady who I became so interested in?
Years later, I’m still living north of that area in Yorkshire, in Hull. Yes, HULL, like my name, HULL. I’ve lived there as a citizen for 14 years. I have never been happier and settled in my life. Perhaps, this is the reason for such a bumper crop of songs. Apart from those details, the life here and the experience of a change of culture and having the luxury to view both countries juxtaposed, enables the creation of my songs to afford a taste of life from both sides of the pond.
Using just one answer, who has been the biggest influence in your life as a musician and why?
That is easy. Sir Elton John. Because at a very impressionable and formable time in my life, 13 years old to be exact, music as well as everything else to a boy of that age was just beginning to blossom. Music had always been in my background, as a baby in church services, which revolved around praise and worship, singing, music playing, guitars, banjos, pianos, organs, tambourines, etcetera. I would fall into my slumber while hearing my five sisters practice their songs and my father accompanying them on guitar. All those years, during the sixties, The Beatles were in their heyday and of course made such an impact on the world. English rock and roll had already been a part of my life long before I ever heard of Elton John.
Of course, in the early 70s, I heard “Bennie and the Jets” and later “Rocket Man.” I wanted to be a superstar and play and sing like Elton. Shortly after, I begged my father to buy a family piano, making a deal with him that would include staying in that summer while being off from school and learning my first few songs. I not only learned a few hymns that were taught to me by my piano teacher, but I secretly taught myself how to play “Burn Down the Mission.” Elton John’s musical genius, piano style and vocal flair are a great influence to this very day and continue to be.
Yes, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John. First album I ever bought and my all-time top personal favorite that not only continues to influence my music today but holds a very special meaning in my life.
What are Jerry Hull’s plans for the future?
To continue making as many high quality albums as possible. I mean, the way I see it, I could make 14 more albums with 14 tracks each in the next seven years with 180 songs. I have plans for the release of my second album launch before Christmas 2015 and shortly after I have plans to possibly do a few local appearances with friends here in Hull. Then of course, it will be on to album number three. In between, I will be doing radio shows, interviews, live and pre-recorded, as well as online publication interviews like these hopefully.