On Sept. 14, 2019, practical strangers Jade Jackson and Aubrie Sellers appeared as solo artists on the same AmericanaFest showcase bill at Nashville's Cannery Row as fellow punk rockers at heart Orville Peck, Amy Ray, Sierra Ferrell and Jason Hawk Harris. At the next AmericanaFest allowing crowds in Sept. 2021, Jackson and Sellers returned to the same venue as Jackson+Sellers, a tight-knit musical duo forged during the pandemic.
Every step from that pivotal night in 2019 to the Oct. 22 release of debut album Breaking Point took place at the intersection of melodic, guitar-driven rock 'n' roll and harmony-laden, story-based country music.
The first leap from strangers to collaborators began in Sellers' inbox while both artists were stuck at home in 2020.
"We didn't actually meet in person that night (during AmericanaFest in 2019), but we followed each other on Instagram," Sellers told Wide Open Country. "That was the first time we had seen each other play or anything. I was living in LA at the time, and Jade is from California, three hours outside of LA. She messaged me to sing on a song, 'Hush,' which ended up being on the record. It turned into an actual collaboration rather than just me singing harmony on her song."
Jackson wrote "Hush" about her younger sister, so she was seeking finishing touches on a song even more personal than past autobiographical material.
"I was writing for my solo record, and I sent this batch of songs to my team," Jackson explained. "They came back with little notes on each song. 'Hush' was an important song to me. Most of my songs, I'm like, 'Oh, whatever, I write a lot. They can go any which way.' 'Hush' was for my sister and for my most special person to me. So when they tried to tell me what direction that song should go, I got pissed.
"I don't get mad very often," Jackson continued. "I was late for work and everything was compounding. I fired off one of those emotional emails. I was like, 'Actually, I don't think this song should go in that direction. I think it's a song that should go like this, with very strong female harmonies. Someone like Aubrie Sellers.' I name-dropped, and I sent it out. I was getting ready for work still, and I was like, 'I talk the talk. I should walk the walk and message her.' So I just did it to be brave enough to do that because I set that off, and then she immediately responded."
That chance digital encounter led to more than "Hush" and a handful of subsequent collaborations. Anti- Records, an Americana subsidiary of Epitaph Records and Jackson's label home, dug the instant musical connection and offered to release a full-length album.
"It all happened real fast," Sellers said. "From when we met to the time the record was finished was only a few months."
Jackson and Sellers became close friends quickly, making the story behind "Hush" and another song about Jackson's sibling, "As You Run," all the more sweeter.
"These two songs written for my sister, it's the first time [I've written] a song for my most cherished person," Jackson said. "So to be able to sing them with my other most cherished person to honor this cherished person is such a beautiful vibe."
It should be no surprise to anyone who's followed the members of Jackson+Sellers' careers that they're two peas in a pod. Jackson made a name for herself with lyrics gripping enough to win over producer Mike Ness of Social Distortion, who's Exhibit A that punks and West Coast country-rockers typically treasure Johnny Cash the storyteller over misinterpretations of the Man in Black image. Sellers, the daughter of Lee Ann Womack and Jason Sellers, already blurred the line between outsider rock influence and family tradition with her solo releases.
"We both grew up on country music," Sellers added. "[Jackson] loves Hank Williams as far as his songwriting, and I grew up on George Jones and Ralph Stanley and obviously I grew up in the music industry in Nashville. I called my previous records garage country because they have a little bit of that twang and I have a little bit of that in my voice."
As Jackson+Sellers' bio puts it, both artists "united in their desire to write a record that reflected their expansive musical interest from '70s rock to raucous roots to indie pop," with the end result being "a masterclass in unexpected vocal harmonic convergence, the likes of which have not been heard since Krauss and Plant."
To better grasp the duo's shared influences beyond country music, look no further than the three songs on the album not written by Jackson or Sellers. The tracklist begins with a high-octane reimagining of roots music great Julie Miller's "The Devil is an Angel" and ends with a cover of Suzi Quatro's snarling proto-punk stomper "The Wild One" and an even more defiant song penned by like minded-peer Shannon Wright, "Has Been."
Sellers and Ethan Ballinger co-produced Breaking Point in late 2020 at The Cabin recording studio in East Nashville.
Breaking Point Tracklist
1. "The Devil Is An Angel"
2. "Breaking Point"
3. "As You Run"
4. "The World Is Black"
5. "Waste Your Time"
7. "Fair Weather"
8. "Wound Up"
9. "The Wild One"
10. "Has Been"