For Jelly Roll, music has been an ever-present source of comfort. With his music — especially his latest album — he’s looking to be that comfort in the lives of others.
The 38-year-old singer spoke to ET’s Kevin Frazier and Rachel Smith at Topgolf in Nashville and opened up about his debut country album, Whitsitt Chapel, and his emotional, raw Hulu documentary, Jelly Roll: Save Me.
For the celebrated, burgeoning artist, music has been his lifeline and close friend during some of the tremendous trials and challenges in his life.
“I think at some point in life, everything in life has let me down. But music was always my constant,” he shared. “Like, when I had nothing else, I had a boombox. When I was incarcerated, I had a set of headphones and a little radio.”
Jelly Roll’s lived a textured life — from addiction and life on the streets as a thief to time behind bars — and it’s not something he’s shied away from. He buries his emotions in his music.
“In the darkest moments of my life, at my father’s funeral, it was music that helped me cope,” he recalled. “Music was always there to give me a hug. So I just want to do that for people.”
“I’m constantly writing songs to show people that it’s okay to be a work in progress. It’s okay to still meet yourself in the middle,” Jelly Roll said of his approach to songwriting. “But I also wanted to make sure this time that I added the hopefulness to it and the tempo. I had some tempo changes. I wanted to be more uplifting, more major keys.”
For Whitsitt Chapel, which is out now, Jelly Roll made a decision to move away from some of his more “sad, daunting songs” and instead he wanted to record some music that would “give people a reason to move around.”
For Jelly Roll, connecting with his audience and making a difference for people is the ultimate reward.
“There’s no amount of celebrity or money that will ever mean more than the lady I just saw in the parking lot that’s from Antioch, Tennessee, and asking if she takes a picture and just told me her brief piece of her story and what she’s overcome in life and how I inspired that,” he shared. “You could throw billions of dollars at me, it’ll never have the effect that I get, that feeling, when fans tell me the music helped them.”
And now fans can get a better perspective in the new documentary Jelly Roll: Save Me, streaming now on Hulu.
Reflecting on the documentary, Jelly Roll admitted parts of it made him “uneasy” when he rewatched it.
“Watching it back, I was like, ‘Man, I really was raw.’ Like, I let these people really film the real. And it was uneasy and uncomfortable, in a good way,” he said. “Because I believe that the only thing that creates change is when something is just a little uncomfortable.”
“There’s a famous phrase in recovery that says you’ll only have the power to change when the pain to remain the same is greater than the pain it takes to actually change,” he added. “So it was cool to watch that, and I think that the honesty is what’s making the documentary connect. Because I think they’re seeing real, up close, raw stuff.”
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