Joshua Jackson in his hometown of Opelika, Alabama. Photo by Rusty Hein.

The sun has set in Opelika, Alabama, and Joshua Jackson rolls through town with a car full of his close friends. They’ve spent the day shooting for a short film to be published on Jackson’s YouTube comedy channel. Hungry, they decide to go to Wendy’s for a quick bite. As they drive along, one of the friends starts to slap a beat on his lap. Another starts beatboxing, and the rest join in the impromptu percussion session. At the request of one of his friends, Jackson starts to sing a song about driving to Wendy’s in a free-wheeling, pseudo-rap as the crew laughs and continues the beat.

This is a fairly standard summer evening for Joshua Jackson, a singer-songwriter now working under the moniker Make Sure. Jackson currently lives in Auburn, Alabama, to attend Auburn University, but he is an Opelika native through and through. Jackson was born and raised in the neighboring town, and many of his friends still live there.  He speaks very highly of his home town, noting its welcoming atmosphere and kind-hearted inhabitants. Joshua Jackson reflects this warmth through his music, and he has been doing so for six years now.

Sunset in Opelika. Photo by Rusty Hein.

I’m only slightly surprised to hear Jackson’s stories about his early encounters with music. He recalls hanging out with a childhood friend almost every weekend, always bringing along his CD booklet so they could listen to his latest acquisitions while they played games. “I thought it was normal,” he laughs. “After a while, I started realizing other people don’t do that, and I was the only one who was really geeking out about getting new albums.”

When he was fifteen, Jackson started to experiment in creating music of his own with his friend, Thomas Burns. Their early work was released under the name Quality Strangers and was ambient drone music inspired by their mutual interest in “grandiose post-rock bands” such as Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. “We had no means to do that whatsoever,” Jackson admits with a grin. “They were fun, and I don’t regret doing it, because you’ve got to start somewhere.”

After four releases as Quality Strangers, Jackson and Burns put the project on hold. From there, Jackson began writing and recording his music under the name Fiery Crash. He named the band after the Andrew Bird song of the same name to contrast with the intended relaxed atmosphere of the new project. Jackson released four EPs, four full-length records, and a demos compilation before Renew the Arts (then the Nehemiah Foundation for Cultural Renewal) reached out to him to see if he would be interested in recording a record with them.

Fiery Crash’s Renew the Arts debut, In Clover, was crowdfunded through Kickstarter and released on March 10, 2015. Online music critics praised the album as being “accessible yet challenging, high fidelity yet intimate, honest yet hopeful” and praised Jackson as being “on top of his game as a melodist and arranger.”

Town Runner EP cover art. Cover photo by Rusty Hein, handwritten titles by Dhember Murray.

Joshua Jackson started recording the follow-up record to In Clover in the summer of 2016 in his hometown, Opelika, with some of his close friends. Looking for “something a little different,” he decided to change his recording moniker for this and future releases. Fiery Crash became Make Sure — a name taken from a track on Jackson’s 2013 EP For Tomorrow Will Worry About Itself. Jackson released his first record as Make Sure in June 2017. The four-song EP, titled Town Runner, contains recordings that didn’t seem to fit on the forthcoming full-length record.

Make Sure’s debut record is titled Walk Home Instead, and it is set to release through Renew the Arts in early 2018. Jackson’s primary inspiration for this record was listening to music on evening walks. He says, “When you’re in motion and you’re not having to focus on anything but just your next few steps … I don’t know, there’s something really cool about that when you’re listening to a song in that environment. Something clicks. I wanted to make a record suited to that kind of moment.”

These moments certainly trace back to the “low-key and homey” environment of Jackson’s hometown. Continuing to speak about the inspiration for Walk Home Instead, he says, “If I had lived in New York or some other big city, I don’t know if that would have been a thing … I’m glad I grew up in Opelika. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”