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Jay Reatard: Discovering the new American Dream

By Sean Smith

Fort Wayne Reader


Since releasing his first song as a teen, Jay Reatard (born Jay Lindsay) has pursued his goals on his own terms. Eschewing the traditional path towards success - college, corporate job, marriage, yada yada yada - Reatard chose to chase down every musical genre under the sun and give it his own personal spin. Whether it was country or punk or rap, he created and dismantled a handful of bands along the way in order to learn and grow as a musician. There was The Reatards (like The Ramones, all the members of the band adopted “Reatard” as their last name, and Jay kept it), Lost Sounds, Digital Leather, Bad Times and a handful of others. All released music, which is now sought out by rabid fans all over the globe. Reatard will bring his vibrant, energetic punk stylings to The Brass Rail on October 14th and it's definitely going to be a night to remember. We caught up with him while he was in the middle of band practice at his home in Memphis.

Fort Wayne Reader: You were sick last week. Did you have to cancel any shows?
Jay Reatard: Yeah, I wasn't feeling too good. I had to cancel an afternoon show.

FWR: Was that the show with The Black Keys?
JR: No, that was at a shitty kinda theatre downtown. We did at least a month worth of touring with those guys. We're good friends. The afternoon show was part of a festival called GonerFest.

FWR: Have you played in Indiana before?
JR: I don't think so. Not that I recall. I think it'll be a first. I'm not really sure how the show came together, but I didn't wanna have a day off, so I booked the show. I don't really like days off. It kinda messes up the rhythm of things.

FWR: Who's in your touring band?
JR: These guys that are in another band called The Barbaras. They're on In the Red. The same guys I've been playing with for the past year and a half. They were kids playing around town and I saw some of the bands they were in and said, 'Hey, do you guys wanna go out and do some touring?' They're young, so they seemed down.

FWR: You do all of the recording for your albums by yourself, right?
JR: Yeah, the majority of the recordings is just me and then we kinda re-work them to make them work live.

FWR: When you write songs, is it on guitar or piano?
JR: Just whatever. Sometimes I write them on keyboards. The majority of the time I write on acoustic guitar now and then just go from there.

FWR: You've tried a few different genres along the way. Are there any other sounds you'd like to experiment with?
JR: I kinda think I've touched on most of them. I've played in a country band, a punk band, a metal band, a fake new-wave band and even a shitty rap band.

FWR: And this is all since starting out at age 15?
JR: Yeah, I put out my first single when I was 15.

FWR: Were you bored with school?
JR: I was just bored with life. I just wanted to do something exciting with my life. It just didn't seem that exciting to me. I didn't wanna go to high school and then college and then get a job and have a wrinkled raisin baby. The whole American dream wasn't on my agenda from an early age.

FWR: Do you remember a specific band that sort of tipped you to that?
JR: The first time I heard and saw The Ramones I thought, 'These guys are outsiders and total freaks, but they're total all-American.' I thought, '#@*$! I don't have to be like anybody else.' When I was 13, I realized I didn't have to fit into this suburban lifestyle that everybody's pushing towards. The Ramones are more American than baseball or apple pie or Mickey Mouse, but they're total freaks. I think that was a big turning point for me.

FWR: What are some influences that might not be evident on the surface?
JR: Greg Sage and the Wipers were a really big influence. Devo were really important to me. I remember Devo; I was 12 or 13 when I discovered them and I dug the way that they cynically looked at pop culture. They embraced it, yet parodied it at the same time. Recently, I've kinda just discovered Chris Knox and the whole Flying Nun catalog from New Zealand. That's more early 80s indie-pop stuff. I've kinda been pulling away from classic 70s sounding punk into, maybe, 1981, at this point.

FWR: How do you discover new music?
JR: I guess like anybody else. I read music blogs or magazines. We stay in a lot of people's houses out on tour, so we go through their record collection and try to get them to turn us onto something. It's always fun to have someone play you new music. Sometimes people will give us a mix CD. 50% of it is shit, but you can find a gem in there somewhere.

FWR: So, how many albums and 7" have you released at this point?
JR: I think at this point I've put out 22 full length albums and, maybe like, 45 singles.

FWR: Does that surprise you to say that out loud?
JR: Yes, it's weird. When I think about it, it's kinda like, 'How did that happen?' But, I just keep working. I don't really look back. I don't ever really tell myself, 'You've done enough this year. It's time to stop.' I just go and go and go and go. Eventually, maybe I'm not gonna go anymore. Who knows?

FWR: You've got a collection of the singles coming out soon, right?
JR: Yeah, that comes out October 7th. We're touring to support that right now and a new studio full length will be out; well, I guess you could say studio. I record it in my home studio, but I guess that's the technical term. That'll be out the middle of next year, around May or so. The one coming out now is a collection of 2008 singles. I just put out, probably three months ago, a double LP compilation of singles from 2006 and 2007.

FWR: Given that the majority of your releases are on vinyl, do you have a preference for that format?
JR: Before I owned CDs, I owned records. I would go to yard sales with my mom as a kid and I bought an 8-track/record player combo thing. I bought a bunch of Monkees records and .25 records at yard sales. I'd sit and listen to those as a kid and I always thought it was so much cooler to have all the artwork. I remember the first few gatefolds that I got when I was 10 years old and staring at Aqualung. I didn't even know those cheesy records made an impression on me. It felt like I was holding something and it was something to look at. I remember when I first started buying CDs, I probably bought cassette tapes after that, but I first started buying CDs in '91 or '92. I think Nirvana was probably the first CD I got and I remember thinking, ‘Man! I already broke this thing!' It took a week for me to break it. I remember thinking they were kinda lame and disposable.

FWR: It's a shame that people are missing out on artwork these days, due to buying MP3s and whatnot.
JR: It seems like such an important part of it. But, I guess because of people's attention spans, they don't even really listen to full albums anymore. Why do they need the artwork? They're just buying it for the single.

FWR: Are you interested in pursuing any other forms of art?
JR: Not really. I'm not really much of a visual artist or anything of that sort. I don't really do much writing either, unless it's song lyrics; which I actually never write down. I just kinda make them up on the spot.

FWR: Really?
JR: Yeah. I haven't written down lyrics in awhile. I make them up and have an acoustic guitar and sing off the top of my head into a mic and record all that in. Then, I pick the parts that came off the best and remember them in my head and combine them and sing them into the mic for the full take. I never really write music down. I don't even write on guitar most of the time. I just kinda walk around for two or three hours a day and hum it out in my head and then come home and record it. It's easier for me. I try to keep things spontaneous.

FWR: How's it been after signing with Matador?
JR: They're fine. I would've went with a major label. I had that option. Matador is all about artists having creative control. They'll take down any road that you want. If you wanna go one way and you wanna try to make a radio/pop record, they'll work it that way if you wanna make it that way. There's really no rules.

Jay Reatard plays the Brass Rail on Tuesday, October 14 at 9 pm.

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