Jim O’Ferrell, veteran and vocalist for The J.O.B. remembers recording MP3s during his time off between wartime missions on his Toshiba laptop and sending them back across the ocean to band mate Jason Crawford. He remembers giving guitar lessons to fellow soldiers and writing music. He remembers playing talent shows in his camp and being the only one playing original songs. This isn’t how every soldier spends their recess, but then again, every soldier doesn’t return from deployment to lead a Top 40 nationally charting band.
The J.O.B. began “as a vehicle to record the powerful songs Jim had written between wartime missions” but has since grown into a hard-hitting alternative rock band. Fast forward to now, the four-piece band made up of O’Ferrell (vocals & acoustic guitar), Crawford (lead guitar), Eric Bandy (drums & percussion), Jared Merrill (bass guitar) and Michael Hegner (live sound engineer) has accomplished so much, including five albums, three charting songs and multiple live performances ranging from television shows to packed saloons.
How did the band come about and how much writing did you do overseas?
Jim: When I first went overseas, I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be touching the guitar for a long time. However, once we got into a pace, I started picking up a routine and realized I had the time. I started giving guitar lessons to soldiers around me, I played variety shows and did a lot of writing. When I came home between deployments, that’s when Jason and I decided to get together. The first album Jason and I did, Stranger, chronicled all that I wrote while I was overseas. The second deployment was different. I didn’t give guitar lessons; my role was different. We weren’t really all that high-tech over there and when I could, I’d record stuff on my Toshiba laptop and send Jason the MP3 files.
How unique was writing music and playing guitar during downtime? Did anyone else share that passion?
Jim: The two trips were different… At the variety shows there was a lot of karaoke, but I was the only one playing original music. I never really won any of those because everyone wanted to hear karaoke.
How much inspiration do you still draw from those times?
Jim: A lot. It’s always there. It’s a life influencing thing. But everyone has different experiences. Two people could be in a foxhole and when the firefight is over, those two people could’ve experienced different things. It stays with you. I still write soldier songs; at least one or two on every album. There’s one on our upcoming album about a homeless veteran. There’s 40,000 veterans living on the streets of America at any given time. There’s a lot of “Beer For My Horses” and “America’s Gonna Kick Your Ass,” but there’s nothing reflecting the less glamorous side. We like bluesy stuff and to get people’s feet moving, but as artist I think that’s important.
How special is it for you to play at places like Fort Bragg and share your music with other veterans back here in the U.S.?
Jim: One thing about being a musician is that we write, perform and try so hard to connect with our audience. When we get in front of a veteran audience, specifically VFWs or military vets, there’s already a level of connection. Whenever we play our soldier songs, you can feel it in the room. We played a place up in Warrenton, Va. last month. One of the things that happened that blows me away: we’re on the road and I’ll look out into the audience and a soldier that knows me will catch up with me and it’s so good to know that they’re still alive and with their wives and children. To see them in the audience is phenomenal. It’s a family reunion in a sense. When I look out and see them singing “Nowhere” for example, which is about transitioning with PTSD, they’re singing the song and know the lyrics. It chokes me up.
What’s the most satisfying part of being a musician?
Jim: There’s so many great aspects. It’s like asking, “What do you like more about the beach, the ocean or sun?” First off, I like my band, band mates and what we do. When we finish a song and play it on stage and play well, we look at each other and bat fists, that’s what amps you up. There’s a lot of validating aspects. Sharing those moments with my band feels good.
Jason: I enjoy embracing the creative process. From figuring out which amps to mic we’re going to use. From where the bridge is going to happen to how many bars. I love digging into the details of the songs and the recording. To me, that’s the part I really dig. I love performing in front of people because that’s where all that’s manifested.
You guys are charting on the Top 40, playing Morning Shows! Was there a moment in the past where you felt that everything officially took off?
Jim: I’ve been playing my whole life, but once Jason and I decided to start a band, this was the first band I’ve been in. After we did our Stranger project between deployments, we decided to run with it. I didn’t have any recording experience or band experience, so this has been a learning process for me. I think we turned a couple of corners. Chance, our fourth album, is when we found our producer Rich Stine at that point in our career was pivotal. He became the Obi Wan Kenobi of our recording process. He’s producing our sixth album and I think finding Rich was one of those milestones. I think Portraits is when the lightbulb went off in my head as a songwriter. My personal process and song structure came together. Also now, with the roster we have, this is the most important moment for us in time. We have the winning team, a good sound and a great attitude. This is our stepping off point.
So this is your moment?
Jim: The way Elon Musk looks at Mars, I look at this band.