Jackie Carlson's Family Reunion Is For Everyone

 Photos by  Michael Salisbury

Chicago is on the brink of a musical revolution. Talented female artists are gaining traction in a scene that has been traditionally dominated by their male peers. The sole member of Family Reunion, Jackie Carlson, has solidified her place in Chicago’s creative community with her intoxicating music and personality, and as Family Reunion she's been breaking down industry norms one track at a time.

The 18 year old singer and guitar player from Waukegan, IL has only actively been in the game for about 6 months. Jackie’s parents were in a classic rock cover band, influencing her from an early age. “They would take me with them when they played, I was about 5 or 6. That’s how I became a musician, just watching them play.” Jackie would borrow her Dad’s guitar, but even then she would only play on and off for years. When it came to school, Jackie’s struggles with focus and attention made life unbearable. “I’m really hyperactive, I can’t sit in one place for long.”

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"I just want to write and play music with the people that I like and get along with, I want to write whatever I want without worrying about what genre it is."

—Jackie Carlson

Graduating from high school early, Jackie pivoted from plans to attend UIC for vocal jazz, and, to some parental disappointment, decided to put everything into her music. She practiced up to five hours a day for months, briefly gigged with a local punk band, but was soon exploring her solo music. Jackie’s vision began taking form, “I was looking for a more produced sound rather than a live band. I was looking to get some drum machines and synths, but I couldn’t do that at that studio.” The studio belonged to a family friend, and while it gave her the basic ability to record, drum machines and synths weren’t the only things that were missing. Jackie was looking for someone who could help complete her ideal sound, and it wasn’t long before she found them.

Jackie linked with Milwaukee producer Tombo via Twitter, and they were soon creating together. Forming a close bond, Jackie drives up to Kenosha, WI every Friday so that they can make magic in the studio. What emerges is the unique presence of Family Reunion, combining Tombo’s Lil Peep inspired beats, with the vocals of Jackie, and the echoes of her Stratocaster bringing to mind everything from Madonna to Paramore to Frank Ocean. Defying categorization, Jackie herself is adamant about not adhering to any specific genre, "I just want to write and play music with the people that I like and get along with, I want to write whatever I want without worrying about what genre it is."

I’m extremely blunt and honest, to the point where it’s embarrassing. If you knew anything that was going on with me you’d be able to listen to a song and know exactly what it’s about.
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"I want to make everything flow like a playlist. I write songs with that thought in mind."

—Jackie Carlson

The recent release of her first EP, titled “J”, showcased Jackie’s natural talent and quickly began to gain attention across social media and blogs. The project brought together people from all walks of life, creating a fanbase as unique as Family Reunion itself. “J”, is a timeless first release. Jackie and Tombo’s musical influences can be heard in the production, whether it’s an edgy bedroom pop vibe, or a softer hip-hop undertone. Each track moves perfectly from one to the next, which is an effect that Jackie herself planned for “I want to make everything flow like a playlist. I write songs with that thought in mind.” Her lyrics projected across her strong and acrobatic vocals range from carefree and catchy, to more intimate and personal. But regardless, they’re intensely relatable. Probably the best example is from “Vacation”, in which she croons again and again “I need a vacation.” It’s one of her personal favorite because, “I’ve actually never been on a real vacation in my entire life. It’s something I’ve always wanted.” She pulls directly from her own experiences as source material for each song and tries to write every single day. “I’m extremely blunt and honest, to the point where it’s embarrassing. If you knew anything that was going on with me you’d be able to listen to a song and know exactly what it’s about.” It’s that very part of her personality that makes her so unique and endearing.

After graduating and diving headfirst into her music career, Jackie made a surprising decision. She agreed to play a gig at the one place where she had never felt welcome, her high school. Although she was nervous about the reception from her peers, she began to perform her song, “Summertime”, and much to her amazement people knew the lyrics and were singing along. It was an overwhelming feeling of positivity and validation that almost brought her to tears. She was awestruck that a group of sixty people who had never truly acknowledged her, were now embracing herself and her art.

Her shows stick to her strong desire to not adhere to genre. Family Reunion is comfortably listed on a bill filled with rappers, and while a casual fan may be confused at first, it’s obvious once Jackie performs that she is at home in any element. In an effort to make her vacation and traveling dreams a reality, she burned her entire EP onto CD’s, covered them with adorably nostalgic Lisa Frank stickers and sold them to her fans. Riding off of that success, Jackie and her team have created stickers and pins to be released and sold. It’s this genius drive to reach her goals and embrace every part of the music scene that’s sets Jackie and Family Reunion apart.

Looking to release more music throughout the next months, and an album after her 19th birthday, Jackie isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. Her first live performances in Chicago brought fans from hours away who drove just for a chance to potentially talk to and meet her. Through all of this, she’s been networking with not only musicians in her hometown, but local Chicago rappers such as Adot, whom she met through her manager, Angel. Together they released a song titled “Lonely”, which was received extremely well not only from both of their fan bases but from the music community as a whole. Each day the circle gets a little bigger, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for Jackie and her Family Reunion.