A Conversation with Farmer Jason (Ringenberg)
Mike Ragogna: Hey Jason, looks like things are pretty “scorching” on your new album Christmas on the Farm. See what I did there?
Jason Ringenberg: …
MR: Uh-oh. Soooo what are your favorite moments on the new project and why did you record a Christmas album at this point in your career?
JR: I had such fun recording this record. My favorite moment was at the end of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” We cut it live with two harmony singers Molly Felder and Dave Roe from Johnny Cash’s old band. The parts were so difficult to execute live but somehow the magic coalesced. However, Dave was getting pretty grumpy by the end of it. When we played it back we could hear him saying in his Tennessee drawl, “Y’all are some mean sons o’ bitches.” We were in stitches hearing him say that at the end of such a classic sacred song! Of course, we had to erase it. But I still have a version of it…
I believe this is the perfect time for me to release this project. I now have enough age and family experience to grasp how important Christmas music is to kids and their parents.
MR: What are some of your favorite personal Christmas memories?
JR: I grew up in rural Northern Illinois so Christmas was definitely “wintry.” We used to all load up in Dad’s old ’65 Chevy truck and go to a wild area north of our farm to cut a tree. Once we saw a herd of whitetail deer, which were quite rare back then. I thought one of them REALLY was Rudolph! When it jumped over a fence it looked like it was flying.
MR: Did you ever go through a “Christmas music is corny” phase and what motivated you to record this latest project?
JR: No, I always loved Christmas music from childhood all the way to the present (I am 56.) I have often noticed though that there aren’t a lot of Christmas albums for kids other than the usual TV show generated releases. So I decided to dive into the snowbank and make a contribution.
MR: Other than for your farmer skills, you’re highly respected for your high energy and attitudinal work with The Scorchers. What do you think of your musical legacy so far and why the change in persona?
JR: I believe Jason and the Scorchers had an impact on the music world way out of proportion to our commercial sales. I am proud and honored when other artists cite us as an influence. While that doesn’t pay the mortgage, but it does seed a certain validation for what we did. I started Farmer Jason as a vehicle to entertain my own young daughters in 2002. To my surprise and delight the character took hold and now is the main driver of my career. I love doing it. I have the best gig in the world. I honestly feel that way.
MR: When you look at the state of Americana and rock these days, what are your thoughts?
JR: I really don’t know much about the rock scene these days, although I do enjoy hanging out with rock dudes when our paths cross. A few years ago I did a festival as Farmer Jason in Finland. SLIPKNOT was playing there as well and on the same flight as me. We talked quite a while. It turned out the singer once worked security at a Scorchers show in Des Moines, Iowa, back in the ’80s! The music business can be a very small world.
I do, as expected, stay up more on what’s happening in the Americana world. I have watched that genre grow from a boutique term to a very valid force in music. A lot of those artists are doing fantastic work.
MR: What’s the best advice you were ever given and did you follow it?
JR: My Dad was a simple hog farmer but he had a worldly wisdom all his own. He said to me early on: ” You had better enjoy playing music, because you won’t make any money doing it.” Hmmm….
MR: [laughs] What advice do you have for new artists?
JR: Make the music business work for you–NOT the other way around.
MR: Will there ever be a Farmer Jason and the Scorchers project down the pike?
JR: Well, Jason and the Scorchers are doing two shows at the Kennedy Center in April with Bowen McCauley Dance Company in Washington DC. They are choreographing an entire program using our songs and a simple story I wrote about the inner journey of a young Southern musician. We will play live while they do the program. I am REALLY looking forward to that.
Regarding the “FARMER Jason and the Scorchers” idea…you just never know. There is not a lot of difference between a room full of toddlers and a room full of drunken rockers. Both spill their drinks and cry a lot…