Songfacts Interview: JD Wilkes on ASL, Angry Punks, and Doing What You Love

Published March 14, 2016 by April Fox

The first time I heard Legendary Shack Shakers, I was sitting at a little tattoo shop called Freaks & Geeks in West Asheville, waiting to go under the needle for the first time. If you had told me back then that one day I’d be interviewing the lead singer and songwriter for the band, I would have laughed–but not too hard; after all, there was some guy with a sharp implement working dangerously close to some of my favorite body parts.

As coincidence — or fate, if you believe in such things — would have it, my conversation with JD Wilkes somehow looped around to tattoos and angry punks, and as I was transcribing everything, I found myself stopping several times to consider his words as they related to things that I’ve been going through. And in the end, what it comes down to is this: be who you are, embrace what you love, and then go out and make the absolute best of it that you can. Pretty simple, really, but sometimes it takes some guy swinging from the rafters to make you remember it all.

“The best way to be counterculture is to live a life embodying the things that you mourn the loss of without drawing attention to it in a literal way.” -JD Wilkes


After I spoke with JD, I caught the Legendary Shack Shakers at the Grey Eagle, and in the middle of his hyper/interactive stage show, something about JD’s hands caught my eye: he was signing, using American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate during some of the songs. I’m not nearly fluent enough to have any idea what he was saying, but there was no doubt that he was signing to the audience. I’ve worked a lot with children with special needs, and a very dear friend uses ASL quite a bit in her work, so I had to follow up with Wilkes to see what the signing was all about. He was gracious enough to fill me in, saying in part, “It’s another visual. ASL are basically hand gestures, so that’s fun to watch if you’re in the audience. But to me it’s also ‘secret information’ being communicated, which is like my mystic, southern lyrics and garbled CB/auctioneer vocals.”


To find out the stories behind some of my favorite Legendary Shack Shakers songs, hear what music influenced JD as a child, and get his thoughts on punk rock, modern country music, religion, ASL, and more, read the full Songfacts interview here. For more photos from the Grey Eagle show, click here. And be sure to check out Legendary Shack Shakers new album, Southern Surreal. It’s spectacular.


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