Jeremiah picks up Mercedes, his Eastman Parlor guitar, and begins to strum a song all too familiar to him and the eager crowd at T-Bones Records & Cafe. He softly sings the opening lines to “Happy Now,” a song from his first album “Tall Tales and Tiny Fables.” The crowd relaxes and sways to the gentle collaboration between the guitar and the violinist, Erin Raber, who plays beside Jeremiah.
He trills on with a few more of the band Oh, Jeremiah’s popular numbers and he speaks to the crowd before performing his song, “Mississippi, I’m Yours.”
“This is for all the people in the crowd from Mississippi,” Jeremiah said. “You know, there are those people that watch ‘The Help’ and think they know what Mississippi is like. But, people from Mississippi can just sort of smile to themselves because the real thing is kind of a precious gem.”
The crowd laughs, and Jeremiah smiles big. He realizes he has just formed a personal connection with each fan.
“The first thing I saw in Jeremiah was his ambition for music,” Raber said. “Writing songs for a living has always been his plan.”
Before Jeremiah performed, he saw me and gave me a hug and thanked me for coming. He admitted he was nervous to perform and I told him not to worry because there were so many people here to see him. He told me that the worst gig was when there was no one to play for.
But Jeremiah is making his dreams a reality and nothing could make him happier than to perform on stage with fans singing along to his songs.
“I am broke, but I am doing what I love,” Stricklin said. “I’m 24, and this is the happiest I have ever been.”
Jeremiah Stricklin, like many other singer/songwriters, knew music was all he ever wanted to do. He picked up a guitar when he was 11 years old and never put it back down. As a kid, he was equally obsessed with rock bands such as Blink-182, but that never deterred him from pursuing his interesting folk sound that transformed into his first album. Stricklin encourages everyone to follow their dreams and to keep moving forward when things get tough.
“It may not be easy, but it’s the happiest you will ever be,” he said.
Stricklin was born and raised in Laurel, which he refers to as the ugly stepchild of Hattiesburg. He attended Jones County Junior College for two years where he studied music theory, and he majored in classical guitar. Stricklin then transferred to The University of Southern Mississippi and joined the School of Mass Communication and Journalism, where he fell in love with the entertainment industry program. But, after graduating in 2012, Stricklin soon realized that his degree was just a shiny plaque he could hang on his bedroom wall.
Stricklin was the lead singer of the Mount Rushmores, a student band at Southern Miss. The band was together throughout Stricklin’s time at USM, but the band split after playing at a concert with the popular band Switchfoot.
Stricklin decided to pick up the pieces and pave the way for his music career by creating a name for himself and his band members – Oh, Jeremiah. But things were not as easy as he imagined. Stricklin had a kick-starter campaign for his first album, which in the end did not get funded. It was devastating for him at the time.
“There really isn’t anything you can do except push through the awkwardness until you’re doing something else worth talking about,” Stricklin said.
I watch Stricklin play his next song “Better Man” and think about how far he has come as a music artist, even though he is still in the early stages of his career.
During the time of Stricklin’s 2013 album release “Tall Tales and Tiny Fables” and touring in Austin, New Orleans and New York, Stricklin had a shining moment on Twitter that charged his motivation for his second album.
Josh Ritter, a popular singer/songwriter and Stricklin’s hero, tweeted at him after listening to one of his songs and told Stricklin he loved his first album.
“Nothing ever came of it, but there was something affirming about that someone I value so much in my professional life basically reached through my phone and patted me on the back,” Stricklin said. He came to the conclusion that this was a sign to keep going and that someone out there was listening to his music.
David Gustafson, the editor/publisher of Hub City Spokes, saw something extraordinary in Stricklin. Gustafson said when Stricklin gave him “Tall Tales and Tiny Fables” he was pleasantly surprised because it sounded more polished than anything else he had heard in the local music scene.
“He had a real unassuming nature about (his music) because most musicians or songwriters think that they are really, really great,” Gustafson said. “I don’t think he knew then and I don’t think he knows now how truly talented he really is.”
Gustafson said Stricklin’s voice, style and songwriting are very unique yet familiar at the same time.
“I think the world of him as a performer,” Gustafson said.
A year later, Stricklin is perched on a stool with his guitar in the middle of a llama exhibit at the Hattiesburg Zoo. Two llamas surround him and Stricklin thinks this will be ideal for his second album cover for “Our Very Own Kingdom.” When he called the zoo to make arrangements for a simple picture, he had no idea they would let him inside an exhibit to play with the animals.
Stricklin’s new album, which will be released May 2, is about animals and monsters, metaphorically speaking. He finds, however, that big parts of him are hidden in these characters.
“I hurt like everyone else and I don’t hide it in my writing,” he said. “By putting those experiences into other characters, I can take a step back and look at them like everyone else can. Sometimes I feel like I get to relate in the same way as the listener, just watching it all unfold.”
He loves telling stories and incorporating narrative into every song he writes, even if this means his songs are not playing on every radio station in the country.
“I am trying to be exactly who I am in my lyrics,” Stricklin said. “I want to be honest, vulnerable and open about the biggest holes in my personality.”
Every song he has written depicts the inner workings of his life such as the song “Circles,” which talks about the one unfortunate time he had the West Nile virus.
The first line of the song pulls the listener in as Stricklin talks about how time stands still.
I’ve never seen so many circles like I have seen here in this room. The clock hands, they make circles, but time just doesn’t move.
“Happy Now” is also from a personal experience. Jeremiah had a high school sweetheart who was Mormon. He said she was a beautiful redhead, his tennis partner and his best friend. But, the dilemma was she wanted Jeremiah to be Mormon and he could not grant those wishes because he is Christian. She moved to Utah and attended Brigham Young University and married a Mormon man. Stricklin said he heard through mutual friends that she had gotten married.
But I heard everything. The words were hidden in a grapevine and thrown in my face.
But, Stricklin’s work life is not always about storytelling sessions filled with metaphors and creative anecdotes. He spends most days as his own business manager booking gigs and a new tour for this summer.
“Most people don’t see it, but I know for a fact that he works harder than almost anyone I have ever met,” Raber said. “He does all of the not-so-glamorous parts of the music business and rarely complains because he knows it’s necessary.”
Oh, Jeremiah’s drummer Cody Carpenter believes Stricklin is one of the most driven individuals he has ever met.
“I once asked Jeremiah what his backup plan was if he decided to not do music anymore and his answer was that he has no backup plan,” Carpenter said.
In his spare time, one can find Stricklin pedaling on his bike up and down the streets of Hattiesburg or melting away stress at the gym. He formulates new material when driving on the road, cutting the grass or reading a book.
Stricklin’s personal life merges with his music career as his songs and his performances bleed a sense of authenticity and a quirky, yet charming demeanor.
Carpenter admits that most people do not know Jeremiah cries every time he listens to “Amsterdam” by Gregory Alan Isakov.
“The tears usually start during the bridge,” Carpenter said.
On most days during the week, Jeremiah takes a seat in T-Bones Records & Café to start off his morning. He wears black thick-framed glasses and a short-brimmed hat to cover his hairless head. His hat is a wardrobe staple since he started balding in his early 20s. Jeremiah’s look is completed with a light blue tee, gray skinny jeans and Cordones TOMS shoes. Raber said he has more shoes than any girl she knows.
Jeremiah sips his first black coffee, as he usually drinks four more before the day ends. His workday has only just begun and he is simplistically happy.
Memories float around in his head as he remembers a minuscule, yet unsurpassable moment in his music career. Jeremiah played a solo gig in Birmingham and one of his high school teachers showed up that he had not seen in years. The teacher stayed the entire time and shook Jeremiah’s hand after the show and left. Jeremiah was disappointed that his teacher did not show more excitement. It was then when he got back to his hotel that he found a two-page e-mail from his teacher. He told Jeremiah he had turned into the man he was always supposed to be.
Recollections like this litter Jeremiah’s life as he continues to produce music that makes listeners feel right at home wherever they go and aspire to follow their dreams.