Jelly Roll Unfiltered: On Addiction, Parenting + Fame [Exclusive Interview]
Jelly Roll identifies as an active alcoholic, but Jason DeFord does not. Talking to Taste of Country, the "Son of a Sinner" singer got real about addiction, parenting, fame and the artists he'd love to hear next on country radio.
Fans know Jelly Roll is Jason DeFord, a 38-year-old Nashville native who made an unprecedented transition from rock and rap to country in 2022.
"I think the people knew it wasn't a cash grab," he says, explaining his trajectory. "I think to some degree they were like, 'He deserves to tell his story.'"
The "they" is the fans and the all-powerful, anonymous power brokers in country music. Historically that's a group resistant to change and outside influence, but doors opened quickly for Jelly Roll, in part because it takes five minutes with him to settle any concerns about authenticity. His life is a 21st century county song, and he's — to borrow a very country cliche — wiiiiiide open!
He's also an entertainer capable of selling out Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. So, allow for a certain amount of artistic liberty as he tells his story. His Twitter bio says he's a "reformed drug dealer, active alcoholic, white trash, piece of s--t, MMA fan and father of a beautiful girl." The first and last items on that list are verifiable, and there's no reason to believe he's not into mixed martial arts.
No. 2-4? It's subjective.
Taste of Country: Who is the next Jelly Roll that needs to be on country radio?
Jelly Roll: Oh goodness, Struggle Jennings. 100 percent. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this — Struggle, don’t hate me — Struggle Jennings is working on a country album right now. I came and wrote with him on a song. He’s got an incredible project that’s coming out next year. I hope the next Waylon & Willie (a three-part series of collaborative albums), me and him do together. I hope Struggle comes over.
I think Ryan Upchurch would be good for the format, you know what I mean? If we could ever get him to dial in. He just loves rap so much. He’s just such a rap guy. But I think Struggle is completely ready to commit.
So I’ve been caught up in the Jelly Roll tornado. I’ll post a picture of you and it will just go crazy, but then the comments — 98 percent of them are great. There are a few haters. How do you compartmentalize that?
That’s when I knew I was getting successful. When all the comments were just love, love, love, love, love … I was like, “We haven’t made an impact yet.” I knew that we were hitting critical mass when people just start judging you for how you look. Like they see a picture of you or a video and don’t even listen, and they’re just like, “Who’s this fat guy?”
"For me, I’m not driven by hate. And I’m not bothered by it, either. I’m driven by love, man. That don’t bother me, dude. I know the impact I’ve had on this life. I know how many people I help with my music. I know how genuine my spirit is. I know who I am as a human. I don’t care what a stranger says about me."
How is your daughter handling your fame? For a 14-year-old that’s either going to be great or not.
She’s dealing with it well. The cool thing is she didn’t realize it was happening until now. Weirdly enough, no matter how successful I’ve been on the independent level, it’s like playing the Bridgestone (Nashville's Bridgestone Arena) and stuff like that has made her go, “OK, dad’s on fire! This is a big deal.”
What’s it like when a guy like you rolls up to a parent-teacher conference?
When she was in kindergarten, it was so funny. All of her little friends would go, “What is all that stuff on your face?” I was like, “You won’t believe this, I only draw this on when I come see y’all so y’all are excited about it." So they believed it, right?
Now it’s funny because some of Bailey’s friends — and I hope they listen to this, because I know you’re country music fans, you people, listen here. These friends' mothers will let Bailey play with their children, but won’t let their children come to my house. That’s where they draw the boundary. They’re like “Nope, his wife dresses provocatively and he publicly drinks and smokes pot.” Like I’m the guy who would be hosting the field party and feeding the kids booze, and I’m the total opposite.
I’m not strict on Bailey, but I play zero games with her. She knows there is a fine line between 'my dad’s cool' and 'my dad ain’t cool.' That hurts my feelings because I’m like, “Y’all are just judging me, man.”
Last year you released a song called “She,” about addiction. On Twitter you’re an alcoholic, but you’re also working with groups to fight addiction. What is the truth about where addiction exists in your life?
I’ve had so much addiction around me and so many people around me lose their life or lose their families, or lose somebody they love over an addiction. When I wrote “She,” you gotta think “She” is my mom. For me, “She” is my child’s mother. These are both people who have overcome addiction in my immediate life. So that’s just the closest tentacles to me, but that stretches to uncles and nephews and nieces and beyond.
That goes back to my pot rants I go on all the time. I think we should take a lot of these prescriptions off the streets — fentanyl and heroin off the streets — and I think we should subdue it with CBD and THC and give people an alternative.
The drinking thing, to me, it’s a joke. I’m glad we get to dive deep about this. I do party and people who party with me know I really party. But people also know I’m a grown man who parties when it’s time to celebrate. We make a big joke because when you do go out with me, it gets really dark, but I’m not going out every night. So it’s cool to actually be able to talk about this on a real level and not in a funny way. I definitely enjoy a drink and a cocktail but right now I haven’t drank in two weeks because it’s been all focus for what I got going on in my life.
Do you have any tattoos you regret?
I used to say every one of them. but I think I don’t. I don’t know, man — I’ve had them for so long I don’t think about them. It’s like anything else in life, if you get to do anything twice you’ll always do it different the second time, just because you learn so much the first time. So if I did do it all over again, I’d have a way better plan.