For multi-hyphenate Caleb Landry Jones, making music isn’t just another form of self-expression — it’s the medium through which he digests life’s never-ending twists and turns.
“I learned very quickly, within the first six months that I came to L.A., that if I’m not writing music continuously, stuff gets a little weird,” Landry Jones tells Variety in his signature southern drawl. “If I make those songs… I’m in the right mindset and what not to tackle another challenge.”
The Texas native — who is best known for his work as an actor in films like “Get Out” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and was awarded the Cannes best actor prize this year for “Nitram” — has tried to live without songwriting before, and it failed miserably. In 2019, Landry Jones decided not to bring his guitar to the set of “Finch,” a post-apocalyptic film starring Tom Hanks in which Landry Jones plays a robot named Jeff, in order to keep his focus on acting. But that didn’t last very long.
“I found about a month in that I was starting to get this feeling that I didn’t like, and I could either do something about it positively — like try and play some music or draw — or I could go to a bar and drink and play pool,” Landry Jones says. “It was just some stuff that I wasn’t able to solve while I was there, and the only way I knew how to solve it was try and make some music. Making a few songs made me feel better, and then I could focus more on the movie.”
What Landry Jones didn’t expect was to be flooded by an explosive rush of creativity. Although his debut album, “The Mother Stone” (which released in May 2020), wasn’t even finished yet, those cathartic guitar sessions would eventually turn into his second full-length project. “Gadzooks Vol. 1” — out Friday via Sacred Bones Records — is a psychedelic dive into the inner-workings of Landry Jones’ brain, a dizzying and sometimes disorienting journey that leaves one lost in thought. Traditional song structure is almost nowhere to be found, but Landry Jones’ timeless croon paired with fuzzy guitars, ever-changing drum patterns and intriguing piano and string instrumentals (courtesy of Drew Erickson) make for a surprisingly captivating listen.
After filming for “Finch” wrapped, Landry Jones rushed back to L.A.’s Valentine Recording Studios — a historic studio that specializes in analog recording and has produced albums by the Beach Boys and Frank Zappa — and got to work with producer Nic Jodoin to get his creative frenzy recorded.
“I tend to not write things down, so I was very eager after I was done filming to record it so as not to lose any of it,” Landry Jones says of the songwriting and recording process. “It felt very, ‘Okay, let’s do this now. Okay, let’s try this. Ah, what do you think of that? Does that sound good? Nah, that sounded terrible. Let’s try this. What’s Caleb doing? Oh, he’s probably smoking.’ It probably only took two months.”
Landry Jones speaks with an old-timey flair, calling television shows “programs” and making references to Gomer Pyle from “The Andy Griffith Show.” Some of his sentences come out more like riddles, and that style easily transfers to his music.
“Sometimes I think I know what I’m writing about, and then a few years go by and I realize I’m probably talking about something else quite specifically, just in a very strange way,” Landry Jones says of the song “California,” when asked if it was a rumination on the Hollywood lifestyle. “I called it ‘California’ just because I say ‘California’ so many darn times in the song. But I really hate songs about California, so I don’t know why I did that, like ‘Californication’ or ‘Hollywood’s Bleeding’ or something.”
Songs like “Yesterday Will Come” evoke the off-kilter whimsy of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” while harder cuts such as “Bogie” summon Jack White à la early the White Stripes. But album closer “This Won’t Come Back” is in a unique lane all its own — particularly because it’s 20 minutes long.
Landry Jones says “This Won’t Come Back” percolated after the album was already finished. “It felt like time for an experiment,” he says.
The resulting piece of music is both calming and anxiety-inducing, eliciting the feeling of being a kid lost at a carnival: scared yet full of wonder. Five minutes in, the song descends into static-filled instrumental chaos complete with piano notes that deliver a circus-like melody, and its ambient stops and starts carry on throughout the track.
Landry Jones says the purpose of the song — and the album overall — is to spark creativity in listeners’ minds, however that may manifest.
“I’m hoping it’s something that you feel like you’ve gotta run alongside to look at its face, and hopefully it’s also something that helps you to go into your own thoughts, especially within the last 20 minutes of the record,” Landry Jones says. “Hopefully, [it] brings them to a better place within the medium that they’re using while they’re listening to it, whether it’s thoughts or working on something.”
Landry Jones acknowledges just how much his acting and music careers have grown to complement each other, and he hopes it stays that way.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make any of these albums if it wasn’t for the films. Some of the jobs over the last few years have financed those albums,” Landry Jones says. “Instead of putting money into a house, I’m putting it into these records.”
However, he doesn’t have plans to tour anytime soon — and perhaps he prefers to retain some mystery when it comes to his musician persona. When speaking about his influences growing up, Landry Jones mentions that he snuck into a Radiohead concert as a teenager — and “never really listened to them again afterwards.”
“I got the fix or something,” Landry Jones admits. “It’s like sometimes, I work with actors and after I’ve gotten the chance to work with them, I have no desire to see them in a movie ever again. I think it’s the same thing — you’ve admired their work for so long or something, and then you see them do it. Even if you’re really taken back and it’s really amazing, there’s a little less mystery to it.”
If given the opportunity, would Landry Jones ever want to combine his two passions? It’s not something he’s necessarily striving for, unless National Geographic is involved.
“I’d have no problem with playing a musician, but I haven’t felt any desire to, I suppose,” Landry Jones says. “I’d love to put some movie to music or something, as long as it was right. Like if National Geographic came to me, I would in a heartbeat, absolutely — what is this, 20 minutes on what kind of bird? Absolutely. A few keyboards and I’ll give you it in a week, easy! But I don’t think it works like that.”
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