Singer/songwriter Jeremy Lister entices his listeners with soft-spoken angelic and harmonious vocals. His charming personality and joyful pop-folk acoustic musical style make every track a delight. The career demands of touring, recording, and performing in his past have seasoned him into the unique artist he is today.
Jeremy grew up in a very musical family of singers and musicians. As a child, he loved hearing his mother sing hymns and alto lines with her beautiful Karen Carpenter-esque voice. Jeremy’s father was also a singer and a guitar player. Jeremy would often sneak his father’s prized guitar out of its case wanting to learn how to play, something his father was particular about due to its value. In high school, his dad gave him his first guitar to entice him into playing his own instrument.
You can listen to Jeremy’s story on The Creative Push podcast here!
Jeremy’s grandfather, Bill Shaw, sang as the high tenor in a Memphis-based gospel quartet called “The Blackwood Brothers,” a group that he says Elvis wanted to sing in early in his career. Bill was still singing in the nursing home before passing away a few years ago, at 93. Jeremy explains, “I was really fortunate that I got a video of my grandfather and me singing ‘I’ll Fly Away Together’ about a year before he passed away,”
Jeremy grew up in Madison, Mississippi 30 minutes outside of Jackson. His dad, a preacher, was a music minister at the time and that experience offered Jeremy a unique musical environment growing up. When he was very young, he tried to emulate his mother’s vocals while singing in church unknowingly learning how to harmonize. In his first audition for the children’s choir, Jeremy surprised everyone with his self-taught singing ability. He explains, “When I was four while matching the piano key pitches I would add my own harmony lines to what they were playing. My parents asked me how I was doing that and I didn’t know, I was just doing what I heard my mom do.”
Jeremy sang and played trombone and guitar throughout grade school, and was a huge fan of Jeff Buckley, finding inspiration from his music. His older brother Richie, is also a musician, singer, and bandmate who has been involved with Jeremy musically since childhood. Outside of music, they have a side hustle selling their own hot sauce from the peppers they grow called Blister Hot Sauce, inspired by their love of spicy cajun food. Jeremy’s baby brother is also a gifted singer and drummer. The three brothers work independently on their own music careers and together were in the well-known acapella group, “Street Corner Symphony.”
Jeremy attended community college with plans to transfer to The University of Mississippi with a degree in music education. He felt he needed a backup plan in case his music career didn’t pay off but dropped out to join the band, Geronimo Rex as lead singer. Their style, progressive rock meets “The Beatles,” combined odd time signatures with catchy melodies and harmonies in the songs they performed. After their five-year run with considerable acclaim as one of the most popular bands in Mississippi, the limelight burned out and Jeremy knew he wanted to continue growing his career in music.
In 2003, Jeremy moved to Nashville as a stepping stone to New York where he planned to eventually get into the art scene. Things moved quickly, on his third day in town, after performing at a random writer’s showcase he met the musicians for his new band. He was able to get both an agent and interest from a record label immediately. Within a little more than a year, he was flying across the country with Capital and Atlantic Records before signing with Warner Brothers in 2005.
Jeremy worked with Warner Brothers and Warner Chappell Music in what was called a “360 deal,” a low-risk opportunity allowing the label to decide if they want to keep working with you after your first album and tour allowing them to see your overall potential. Jeremy wrote hundreds of songs over a five-year span flying to London and Los Angeles and working with well-known industry producers Martin Terefe (Jason Mraz, James Morrison, and KT Tunstall) and Greg Wells (John Legend, Taylor Swift, Adel, Twenty-One Pilots, Keith Urban, Deftones, Pink, Katy Perry, and OneRepublic). Finally, in 2007 his first LP was released “Just One Day,” but the four-song LP didn’t count as an album so there was no salary advance.
Eventually, Jeremy partnered with two buddies, Ian Fitchuk and Justin Loucks, to record “The Bed You Made.” He flew out to L.A. for a showcase with the president of the label, then learned the executive had decided to resign and his album was going to be shelved. Fortunately, the label gave him the rights to the album so he was able to work on promoting the album on his own. Jeremy grew frustrated with the way the music industry worked but is thankful today for the experience he gained with co-writing, studio recording, and touring.
A month after losing his record deal, a friend from Jeremy’s high school choir contacted him about auditioning for the acapella reality TV show, “The Sing-Off.” When he and his brothers made the audition they began touring and playing on network TV as the “Street Corner Symphony” to millions of people eventually winning second place in the competition. After the show ended they rode the wave of fame for about three months.
Jeremy started using alcohol and other substances in his early teens discovering that they helped with his anxiety when he was around people. He says when he was intoxicated it felt like he had found himself because he was able to get out of his shell and let go. Although alcohol and other substances helped with nervousness on tour and on TV, over time his substance use turned into an addiction.
Jeremy’s substance abuse became serious, reaching a critical stage while on tour with the TV show “The Sing Off.” It got so bad Jeremy says he would wait for everyone to get off the bus before getting out of bed because his dependency caused him to shake uncontrollably. Privately he would drink vodka and hot tea for breakfast, throwing up the first one but maintaining each day to settle his nerves while trying not to get too drunk. He admits, “I was just like, how did I get here? Because as an addict you don’t ever see that coming. I was very deflated and people were really, really worried about me at that point.”
Jeremy was spiraling out of control, and would sometimes get lost onstage during tangents or forget lyrics to songs. At a certain point, the band started receiving emails from fans requesting that Jeremy get help. He admits he didn’t know what to do and had become worried about being able to live without alcohol. At the end of 2014, Jeremy went into the ER five times for liver and organ issues. The doctor told him that if he continued his lifestyle of substance abuse he would likely die within the next year.
“I had sort of trapped myself into thinking I couldn’t have a career, I couldn’t have friends, and I couldn’t be courageous without the comfort of alcohol and other substances I was consuming.” –Jeremy Lister
Jeremy went to his tour manager and bandmates, who were all extremely mad at him at that point and shared that he needed help but was unsure of what to do. He knew that if he went into rehab the tour would be canceled and that would financially cause a lot of issues because he was the lead singer of the headlining act. He made the difficult decision to stick out their last month and a half of touring despite the doctors warning over his gallon of vodka-a-day addiction. They finished their tour with the last show at the Ryman, which he doesn’t remember, and he played a block party with his other rock band, American Hotel before confronting his addiction head-on.
The night after his last show, he gathered up some benzos (benzodiazepines), locked himself in a room, and began a horrible three-day detox on his own. He explains, “I’d never, ever suggest anyone do what I did. Go to the hospital because I could have died. I had Ken Burns and the National Parks on the TV on repeat. As I was shivering in bed, dry heaving with other awful things happening I would roll over and see all of the beautiful images. I kept thinking to myself, if I live through this, I’m going to go see all these places in person someday.”
Since his recovery, Jeremy has received help through the 12-step program and finds it extremely fulfilling to help others who are struggling with substance abuse. He has incorporated a healthy lifestyle through running and being outdoors in nature. He has traveled to 27 National Parks showcased in the videos he watched while detoxing and continues to explore more places he anticipates visiting in the future.
“Now when I am in a place where I would want to self-medicate in my past I say to myself, I’m going to explore this and sit in it for a while to see what it looks like. It always passes even though sometimes it’s a little slow because I am just having a bad day. This kind of thinking has also helped me immensely as a person but also as an artist.” –Jeremy Lister
Now after being sober for six years, Jeremy has an incredibly healthy outlook on life. He finds inspiration in self-discovery and recovery has changed his mindset from a decade ago when it was all foreign to him. He finds a new joy in writing positive feel-good songs that are coming from a real place within himself. He says at times he still has anxiety but rather than reaching for an immediate fix he has learned it is OK to feel a certain way and to ride it out.
At the end of 2019, Jeremy signed a publishing deal with Big Yellow Dog in Nashville. As an artist, he continues to write and has released four albums with his publisher over the past two years. He writes almost every day, often allowing his subconscious to do the work. He has become a fan of mindfulness and meditation applying those principles when starting a song. Sometimes he has an idea and knows what he is going for but more often he prefers to get quiet and wait to see what comes to the surface. He is also a big fan of “free association writing,” or writing nonstop until he gets a full paragraph. Other times he records a melody in his head on his phone and allows his subconscious to work the magic. He says many times just allowing his self-expression and feelings to take over without thinking too deeply produces good lyrics. At times when he is going through something very emotional he knows “That is what I want to write about!”
Jeremy understands the importance of being in a great headspace, having healthy relationships with other people, and being mentally healthy. When he gets stuck he turns off the critic in his head. Feeling good about himself and keeping up with his recovery is key.
“The critic has many voices for me. ‘You’re an imposter.’ ‘That’s been done before.’ ‘Nobody cares.’ ‘You’re too old.’ I quickly have to turn that voice off in my head because I know where it can take me. I don’t want to start asking myself, what’s the point or why does it matter?” –Jeremy Lister
You can watch the artist interview with Jeremy on YouTube below.
Moving forward Jeremy prefers to create intentions rather than setting goals when planning out his career future. In the past, he often found that his goals didn’t go as he had hoped so he now enjoys riding the wave of life to see where it takes him. Staging his plans as intentions allows him to be enthusiastic and open to what could come from the things he hopes for, and it allows him to be along for the ride without stress.
Jeremy has become well known for his rich songwriting and his distinctive vocal range. Over the years he has worked with prominent and talented artists in the music industry like Alison Krauss, Meghan Trainor, Amy Grant, and Chely Wright among others. His 2013 single, “Set Us Free,” became the theme song for the MTV series “The World Of Jenks.” His song “How Will You Remember Me,” was featured in the final season of “Modern Family” in 2020, and premiered during the Oscars.
With COVID-19 this past year Jeremy has been able to develop systems to aid with his struggle to focus, and he finds working with others through Zoom has really helped with his productivity. He has had a lot more time to focus on his lyric writing with the slow down. Cowriting keeps him writing and makes him more accountable. “If I have a co-write, I actually show up and do the work. About 80 percent of what I write today caters to film and TV. It’s great to write with a producer through a Zoom call so they can immediately start building tracks from what we are working on,” he explains.
With the downtime of 2020, Jeremy learned how to use Logic software to record vocals and guitars from home. He got married in November, admitting he confessed his love to her earlier while playing the song “LOVE LOVE, ” released in 2019 while in Belzoni, Mississippi. Together they have enjoyed their quality time together at home with their dog during the lockdown. Jeremy has also enjoyed becoming an avid runner, has taken an interest in gardening to grow peppers for his hot sauce business, and still finds it important to help others in recovery.
He released an EP called “Forest For The Trees,” a collaboration with friend Tyler Ramsey, an exceptional songwriter, guitar player, and singer who laid down the guitar tracks. Jeremy is doing a Kickstarter for a children’s album he is working on, and he plans to go on tour with his brothers to promote their album and to produce more music. As an avid runner, he intends to run a 100-mile race in the coming year as well.
“It’s been a wild ride. I’m not trying to blow horn but it takes a special person to choose this roller coaster of a career in the music industry, today I feel like I am in a really good place.” –Jeremy Lister
You can find out more about Jeremy and his work on his website.
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