Never Take Life For Granted; An Interview with Darren Jackson of Kid Dakota

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About three years ago while vacationing at his parent’s house in the Black Hills, Darren Jackson (aka Kid Dakota) slowly opened his eyes every morning as he laid in bed. He proceeded to look around and exhale a deep breath that built in his chest. For nine months, Jackson’s mental stability wavered into dark terrain as he worked to heal from a horrific bicycle accident. Some of the injuries that the musician included a fractured pelvis and blunt force trauma. There was severe nerve damage that had occurred, which made Jackson wonder if he would ever walk again without any signs of trouble. The crippling depression that Jackson was feeling led him towards writing songs that formed his latest album Denervation.

There was a time when Denervation was not going even to be released. Jackson had compiled some rough recordings and sent him to friend/reoccurring partner John Kuker. Kuker was impressed with the demos and told Jackson to come out to his studio in Minneapolis so that they can flesh out the songs. With the duo piecing together their vision for Denervation and tracking for three days, Kuker passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. It took Jackson two years to have the strength and courage to finish what he and Kuker began. Overall, Denervation is an intensely personal record that addresses the subject of loss from diverse perspectives.

We recently caught up with Jackson to talk more about that day when the accident took place. We also discussed the difficulty of writing the album, his relationship with Kuker, and about some of the stuff he’s working on currently.

If you don’t mind me asking, could you retell what happened on the day of your accident?

It all began on a lovely summer’s day in Spearfish, SD. I was going rather fast down a large hill with a stop sign at the bottom. Rather than stopping at the sign, it was customary for me to blow through it without so much as slowing down. On that particular day, however, there was a car approaching on the intersecting street. I was unable to see said car because the foliage at the corner of the intersection was blocking my view. By the time I noticed it, it was too late. I had only had this particular bike a couple of weeks, so I was unaccustomed to the sensitivity of the breaks. When I slammed on them to avoid hitting the car, the front tire caught and I could feel the back tire coming off the ground. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back in the middle of the road.

Did you ever think that you were never going to leave that hospital bed?

It wasn’t the hospital bed that I thought I would never leave but rather the makeshift bed that my parents set up in their office. I was confined to that bed for three months!! I knew that someday I would leave the bed, but I was so broken, that at times it was hard to imagine ever leading a normal life again.

How difficult was it for to write Denervation, mentally? Was it in a lot of ways a great part of the healing process?

It wasn’t difficult in the least because, as you suggest, it was part of the healing process. Writing and playing music were the only things that kept me sane through the ordeal.

Do you still feel the effects of that horrific accident today?

I do. My right thigh muscle isn’t as strong as my left, and the sensitivity in my right leg is mostly gone. The upside is that if someone were to torture me with cold or heat on that limb, I wouldn’t notice it at all!!

Before his unfortunate passing, Kuker worked on several albums of yours. What was about him that you two worked so well together?

In addition to being a brilliant, kind, and hilarious person, John wholeheartedly believed in my music. Every time he would call me on the phone, he would begin the conversation by singing one of my songs to me with alternate, and typically silly, lyrics. He was entirely immune to musical fads and could assess the quality of someone’s writing in a matter of moments. It’s one of my greatest honors to know the Kuker thought I was a good songwriter.

How often do you think of Kuker these days?

I think about Kuker on a daily basis. He was one of my best friends, and I miss him dearly.

At the end of the day of the last recording for Denervation, what were the emotions like for you?

Pride and gratitude. I imagine that a lot of people would have thrown in the towel, not only on music but also life, after experiencing that kind of accident. The fact that I came out the other end and was able to turn it into something positive gave me a real sense of accomplishment. I was also filled with gratitude for those people, most notably my parents, John, Matthew Kazama, and my other friends, who stuck with me throughout the ordeal. Without their help, I would have never been able to make that album.

You pursued obtaining a Ph.D. in philosophy and film. What was it about the two fields that inspired you to go for them?

I believe that film has changed the way people think about perception and I feel that philosophy can help explain the nature of this transformation.

You will be releasing your album So Pretty in May. What was it about this album that you felt made it so special, besides being your first with Graveface?

Well, it wasn’t my first release with Graveface. So Pretty was initially released by LOW on their label, Chairkicker’s Music Union. The reason I am releasing it on vinyl with Graveface is that it’s out of print, numerous people have expressed an interest in a vinyl release, and it’s one of only two albums in my catalog that isn’t currently available on vinyl.

For the new music that you are working on, you plan to release them immediately. What was the reasoning behind going this direction?

The concept of “the album” is outdated. The album came about because of certain material constraints. A 12′ piece of vinyl, cut at 33 rpm, can only hold about 40 minutes of music, which is roughly 8-10 songs. This material limitation is the origin of our concept of “the album.” With the advent of the internet, and now streaming services, artists are no longer subject to those largely arbitrary material restrictions. If an artist wants to wait twelve months to release their ten song masterpiece, that’s their choice. What’s exciting about being an artist in the age of the internet, however, is that we are no longer beholden to those limitations and can release music as frequently as we desire!

With everything that has happened these past few years, do you find yourself being more appreciative of being able to play music?

I do. Simply being alive is a gift. Being able to play music is something I will never take for granted.

Kid Dakota’s Denervation is out now via Graveface Records.

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