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Jackson Jackson began with Harry Angus and Jan Skubiszewski. Angus was lead singer and trumpeter for eclectic Latin rhythm/party rap band the Cat Empire as well as a member of jazz quartet the Conglomerate, while Skubiszewski was a composer of film scores (including Two Hands and The Rage in Placid Lake) and a hip-hop producer under the name J-Skub, working with the likes of Bliss N Eso and Phrase. The two met in the studio in 2002, where Skubiszewski was assistant engineer on one of Angus' albums. They became friends but never considered making music together until Skubiszewski heard Angus rapping while playing an acoustic guitar and decided to add some of his unusual electronic effects. Without meaning to, they wrote the song "Intelligent, Evolved and Insane" on the spot.
After realizing that had stumbled on something worth pursuing, Jackson Jackson was begun as their attempt to nail down a specific and original sound rather than flitting from genre to genre as they'd done in the past. Their first album, 2007's The Fire Is on the Bird was the first expression of this, a kind of apocalyptic blues-rap that married meditations on the end of the world to quirky songs about being a hairy man in a waxed world and forming an International Society of Bad Dancers. After retooling their debut album to amend some uncleared samples they found themselves in trouble over, they took the album on the road and formed a live band including a rhythm section that borrowed members from the Cat Empire and the Conglomerate and a robed mini-choir called the Jackson Jackson 5. By their second album, 2008's Tools for Survival, they'd realized that songs about the end of the world had a limited shelf life and instead focused on a more melodic, pop-driven sound even including actual love songs.