Caleb Landry Jones has been piling up the acting credits in recent years, and the accolades. He memorably and creepily tried to lobotomize Daniel Kaluuya in 2017's Get Out, played an eager young Army specialist in the 2020 Afghanistan war drama The Outpost, and just took home Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival for his work in the new Australian film Nitram, where he plays the title role. But Jones has always been a musician, too, dating back to his youth in Texas, and in 2020 that restless creative streak inherent to his acting manifested as a hunk of idea-packed pop and rangy psychedelia on The Mother Stone, his Sacred Bones Records debut.
Jones just keeps creating, whether it's playing a robot built by Tom Hanks in the upcoming sci-fi film Finch or writing, singing, and playing guitar, keys, and drums on his brand-new slab for Sacred Bones, Gadzooks Vol. 1. Re-teaming with producer Nic Jodoin (Night Beats, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), Jones on Gadzooks delivers a caterwaul of bent Beatles homage, off-kilter electronic warble, schizophrenic vocals, and stabs at everything from carnival music to acid rock in between. It's a trip. Caleb Landry Jones spoke with AllMusic about making the record, balancing the competing motivations of acting and songwriting, and the will to build something so defiantly free of category.
AllMusic: One of the things I like about Gadzooks Vol. 1 is that it exists as one big document. Like everything tumbles into the next idea constantly.
Jones: Oh, that's good. Yeah, the album was, I should say the project, initially runs at around, I think, a little over two hours. And so we took that and split them up into two records. And this is the first of that. And so I'm glad that you see it as that. The songs were intentionally, you know, in a pretty different order, when we recorded, but we spoke very early on that. "Let's not stick to this order." Let's allow ourselves to be free with cutting it up and moving some things around, delivering something that we were both pretty happy and proud of.
AllMusic: It's like an assemblage, in that sense.
Jones: Yeah. And so these are, these are several tracks from that, that assembly. I was hoping that it worked in that kind of way. That it flowed, I suppose. A few of the tracks were directly -- there are two tracks, I think, that were directly recorded back to back. And they probably sound the most back to back. In fact, there's four of them, two in separate places, the last two songs, and then two in the middle there. So we kept this conversation the way it was going, or this structure, in the way that it was, because it worked back to back in that kind of way and needed each other. So one couldn't exist without the other; it felt like.
AllMusic: A track like "Gloria," it's in the center. And on the record, it's only 39 seconds. But it almost feels like it could have been 39 minutes, you know?
Jones: Yeah, I mean, that was originally a part of something else that at some point we'll release, you know, the song as it was intended. And you'll see that that's one of, like, two other parts of a different song that probably won't come out on either record. But there was an immediacy to that when we were putting it together, Nick was mixing it, and I was going through our older mixes and trying to come up with an order to this thing, because it was just, it was too big.
AllMusic: It's cool to have those peaks, you know? Like the first track is real brief. And then it sort of expands, and then contracts again. "This Won't Come Back," the last song on Gadzooks, is over 20 minutes, right?
Jones: It's very much, you know, there's a structure only based on the one before that. You know, lay one thing down. And literally the next thing is only because of the thing before that, and just kept going with that. It allowed something to happen that I didn't know would be good or bad, would work or not work. But I needed to do it that kind of way.
AllMusic: I guess it just felt intrinsic. It had to happen that way.
Jones: Yeah. So by the time we were done with all the music, we got to that point at the end, and yeah, I needed to probably shut up for a little bit -- stop singing, and it felt like we needed to allow something else to happen that hadn't happened yet on the record. And we very much did that.
AllMusic: Let me ask a little bit about those vocals. Because it's interesting how many different voices appear on the album. It's like you've got this low-key Lennon thing happening here and there. But there are other voices that appear too, like characters on a stage. Is that something that you're drawn to as a vocalist?
Jones: Oh, no, I'm not, I'm not really thinking about it. Other than, you know, I'll sit down and start playing the piano. And as soon as something grabs me -- as soon as I place a little something that, you know, shocks something else to happen, either the song progresses more, and there's more chords to follow, or there's a vocal that starts, or you know, I just kind of don't really don't overthink it much at all in that respect. I think I'd also get bored, probably doing one all the time. It's probably also a necessity, to keep myself interested. But I think it's really just a complete response to whatever the music is that I'm playing.
You know, like, I might be playing some chords on the guitar. I'm going "Oh, man, that feels really kind of grungy." And then you start singing it, you know, kind of maybe more in that way, or you go opposite and yeah, it comes out with an English accent or something.
AllMusic: You sang, played guitar, and piano, and percussion on this thing, right?
Jones: Yeah. Nic, the producer, and Travis, the engineer, we were mixing the other record at the same time, right? So we had the A and the B studio going, sometimes at the same time, and Nic would be flying in between the two sometimes. But we put everything down that I can put down on my own, you know, whether it's guitars, keyboards, and the drums, and the vocals, you know, anything I can do on my own, we do. And then we bring in my buddy, Robert, he came in and put bass on and some guitar that I can't play, some ideas that I wouldn't have, put that on the tracks. And then we get into doing strings and horns and working with Drew Erickson, like on the last record, and get together with him. We probably just worked 10 times as fast just because Nic and I had already done an album together.
AllMusic: Do you feel like there's an opportunity to do some of this stuff live going forward?
Jones: Yeah, there is an opportunity to do this stuff live. And I've been thinking about other albums and how to make them more, I guess appropriate, something more practical, I suppose. In some ways to be not as studio-oriented. I just hate when you go see a band and they've got 12 things going on that don't happen on stage, because they're all programmed in. So I've never wanted to be a part of that. Unless you're a one man band and you're looping everything, you know, it's a different way. Yeah wouldn't want to go see Chicago and then the horn guys aren't there.
AllMusic: Where do you think your music intersects with your work as an actor?
Jones: I found on some jobs, I've found myself writing music, and I found on other jobs, not doing it. But also, I think, there's some characters that are really taking everything out of you. And then other characters where they're taking parts of you out of you. But there's still other parts that you're not working out in any kind of way. And so I find, I've been on jobs where music's been the only way to work those things out while I'm working. But for the longest time, I'd kind of bottle it all up, not touch an instrument while being in Los Angeles. And hopefully I'd get a job, and I'd go do the job. And after the job, if I was able to go back to my parents' place for a bit, I would, and I try to unload as many songs as I could write, you know? But then I started trying to make music in studios, and it became this thing of not touching it and kind of depriving yourself of it, and then getting maybe a month or a few weeks, or maybe three months or four months. And I'd find myself just unloading. And everything that would come out from all the experiences and places I was coming from at the time.
AllMusic: I read that you were writing songs while you were shooting Finch, your upcoming film?
Jones: Yeah, I think it's probably because I was playing a robot, and I was kind of a child, more or less, for a large part of the film. And I think there were other aspects that I was going through that I was able to bring into the film, that was supportive to the role. But then there are also things that I was kind of going nuts about that I needed to get out, and I wasn't able to get it out in that kind of way for the character, you know? Because the character had to be kind of beacon of positivity, kind of an ever curious kid, and so it meant that the dark stuff, the stuff that was twisting me up, more or less, came out more so through the music. A little bit in the role, too, but not so much.
AllMusic: You're doing a motion-capture role with Finch. So, like songwriting, is it an out of body experience? You know, your real self is in there. But then it's like, you're representing yourself in different ways.
Jones: Yeah, I think different mediums bring different things out of you. Music allows for a very intimate kind of cosmic form of communication that happens, kind of a conversation between myself and the piece. And I think with acting, there is this too, but it feels, it's a little bit more on and off. Because with music, you're going by your own schedule. I can pick up a guitar whenever I want and noodle around with a keyboard or whatever, but I think with film, you can work on it in a different way. And you have certain opportunities to really go to some of those places with other people. And it's wonderful. But there's also the other side of it, that's off camera where for me, I still, you know, I still try to figure out what the heck it is I'm doing and what it is. And you find it, and let it happen, and embrace it. It's just different, what it asks of you, the medium, I think. And then it just depends on what the piece is that you're that you're doing, and what part of the puzzle it is that you're fixing. It calls for different things. Sometimes you need it all to resonate from the same place. It's just the same thing, like a keyboard draws, I think, certain kinds of songs from me, and the guitar draws, you know, other kinds of songs from me. You know what I mean? And if I start with the drums, you know, that's gonna draw a particular thing from me, of course, be more rhythmic. Sometimes, different characters, it's like this kind of way, too.
AllMusic: Just going back to the top a little bit, I was thinking about how much I like that Gadzooks has its own sound. There's gotta be a certain freedom in it not having to call it anything but your own. it's blessedly without category.
Jones: I'm glad you see it that way. Unfortunately, or fortunately, you know, if something's unpredictable, I think most of that just comes from boredom, or, you know, some attention disorder, of wanting to flip the channel faster, maybe not wanting to watch the whole program, maybe getting to the next idea, you know, quicker. And hopefully, it's done in a way for the audience to be able to go with it, and hopefully want to go with it.