The world is about to get a different taste of Jason "Slim" Gambill, the pigtailed guitarist for Lady Antebellum, his upcoming solo album Fake Jazz & Theme Songs.
As the title indicates, the Colorado-raised, USC-educated Gambill's own music comes from a different kind of stylistic country, and there's nothing fake about the jazzy terrain he explores on many of its 10 tracks. One of the songs, "54321," which Billboard premieres exclusively today (Aug. 15), includes saxophonist Jeff Coffin.
"The first record I ever made was a kind of instrumental jazz, funk, horn-section when I was about 19-years-old, so this is almost circling back around to where I started," Gambill, 42, tells Billboard. "The fact that I'm a sideman in a country band is one of the last things I ever thought I'd find myself doing. Jazz and blues, and classic rock, is what got me into the guitar bug and practicing and learning. It's more home for me, honestly."
The idea for Fake Jazz & Theme Songs was born when a friend of Gambill's asked him to mentor at a student festival during the spring of 2018 in New Mexico. "He wanted me to play some of my own stuff," Gambill recalls, "so I said, 'I guess I could write some music and cut demos for the house band.’ One thing led to another, and I couldn't do it halfway. I ended up making an entire record of my own. It was a pet project that became a passion project."
Fake Jazz… features just one vocal tune — "Over Getting Over You" with singer Candace Devine — while Coffin, currently a full-time member of the Dave Matthews Band — appears on two of the tracks. "54321" is titled after the arrangement of the song, which switches time signatures from 5/4 to 4/4 and then 3/4 over the course of the song.
"After I wrote the whole tune, it was something I thought would be cool with some soprano sax on it," explains Gambill, whose credits include John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, Maroon 5, Peter Frampton, Stevie Nicks and the Last Call with Carson Daly house band. "He's untouchable, not just on saxophone but any woodwind instrument. He's the guy. So, I had him come in and play on it and his soprano took it over the top and into that happy music, jam band thing. It's a bit of a favorite because it surprises me."
With the album due out Sept. 6, Gambill is lining up his own shows, including Birdland in New York City and other jazz clubs. But, he's quick to add, those always take second priority to Lady Antebellum and its schedule — and he's happy for that to be the case.
"I can't really express what being with Lady Antebellum has done for me," says Gambill, who worked with Charles Kelley's older brother Josh Kelley before joining the band. "Talk about a great set of coattails to jump on. Musically, they're so good. They write songs that the world connects to…and they give us enough space to do our thing with them.
“At the end of it all, my personal home base is on the stage. With [Lady A] I get on the stage in front of thousands and, in some cases, tens of thousands of people and just rock,” he adds. “They're not holding me back. It's not, 'Keep it passive and mellow, Slim.' That's not their thing. For 90 minutes every night I can throw down. That beats working for a living."