Jay Reatard plays a free show at Emory Performing Arts Studio, 1804 N. Decatur Rd. 8 p.m. Fri., April 10. On Sat., April 11 Jay Reatard plays at Lenny's with Gentleman Jesse, GG King and the Stolen Hearts. 9 p.m. $10. 486 Decatur St. 404-577-7721.
Chad Radford: Your MySpace headline says New record almost finished. Do you have a name for it yet?
Jay Reatard: Yeah, its Watch Me Fall. Pretty positive title ... unless I change my mind in the next three days, that's what it's going to be called.
Is the line-up on the record the same one that youve been working with for a while?
Yeah, on the recording itself the majority of the songs are just acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and drums. And then on a few other songs there is Farfisa and a little bit of piano and on two other songs theres some cello and a couple mandolin parts. Im not really going into like R.E.M. and Losing My Religion territory just yet, but I wanted to use some different kind of non typical rock instruments in the context of a rock song.
Is it going to be in the same kind of tone as Blood Visions?
No, its a drastically different record. On the surface it might appear really different. The content of the songs and the general aesthetics of the songs are the same, but the way that they are delivered is different. The songs are a lot longer, there are only 12 songs and I didnt even know it until I threw it on the computer to start sequencing it and I was like wow man, there are quite a few songs on here that are like four minutes long, which is twice the length of most of my songs, but there are still a lot of songs on there that are really short. Id like to say that in theory its a punk record but its really not. Its kind of like a dark pop record I think.
Four minutes! Thats like epic-length for a J Reatard song.
Yeah, there arent really any extra parts. I dont know how they were getting up to three-and-a-half to four minutes long. I think I was putting longer instrumental parts in some spots. There are definitely no extra words. I dont like really wordy music.
You once told me that you approach your own songs as if youre writing Ramones songs, and take as much away from it as you can.
Absolutely, Ive always tried the less-is-more approach. I think the one thing I did with this record is I kept layering things and putting more and more on top. When you keep layering and doing all of these things and using Pro Tools and all this stuff, you pull yourself out of having to commit to anything, all of the sudden the decision making process is less important and I think thats where real musicianship and songwriting kicks in. You have to commit yourself to the decisions that you made at the time. I kind of got away from that on this record, and that would have been the only mistake I made. But as far as words, words come to me really quickly. I barely write them down and if I decide later that they didnt work, I very rarely go back and change them, just because thats how I felt at the moment. Im not going to go back and make revisions.
You have an uncanny ability to write a simple hook or a simple phrase that hits the pleasure centers of the brain. Songs like See Saw, Hammer I Miss You and My Shadow are all excellent examples of this. Is there is formula to your writing or do you just pull these melodies and words out of the ether?
When I was a kid and I first started listening to music, I went to a yard sale and bought a pile of 10 LPs for probably a quarter each. My mom had an old record player that I figured out to wire up and that was my first exposure to music. I was too poor to buy a CD player, which for me was like the Holy Grail of music listening at the time. They were still expensive and I was like Ill never get one of those So I got these records for like a quarter, and what I got were like, a Jethro Tull record, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, some really bad classic rock stuff, the Monkeys, and a bubble gum comp on Buddha Records that had like 1910 Fruit Gum Company and a bunch of those kinds of bubble gum bands. When I went through all of those records, Jethro Tull confused me. It sounded like noise, and Hendrix just seemed completely out of my realm of comprehension. He was just too good of a musician. The two records that I went back to and listened to repeatedly were the Monkeys greatest hits and the bubble gum comp that had songs, like Green Tambourine and Yummy Yummy Yummy, and I was immediately drawn to them because I could understand them. They werent overly intellectualized; they were music for people who wanted instant satisfaction. It was like candy. There was nothing to it and it can be as serious as you want it to be. I guess thats where I was coming from. When I write a song I ask myself is it going to have that kind of immediate hook?
Do you still buy a lot of records?
I went through a phase where I didnt buy records at all. I buy a lot of records now, but I dont really listen to them. Im only at home every once in a while so Ill buy a bunch and stick them in a pile and when I get a break for like a month Ill come home and try to get through them. Unfortunately now, Im stuck in the iPod world. Thats kind of how I listen to music these days because Im on the road a lot and its a lot easier to listen to an iPod on an airplane than a record player.
You recently started up your Shattered Records label and it seems like a pretty massive campaign.
Its going be like six or eight singles this year and a couple of my own records, and the rest of the release is just me trying to make my entire catalog available digitally, and then Im going to pick specific release to put back into print. Six singles seems like a lot, but when I started the label I lived in Atlanta, and the first year I did this I was in Atlanta, and I did like 12 records in a year. The first 18 months I did 18 releases and thats when I stopped doing the label for about two years. I got pretty burned out in the process so now Im kind of feeling like it will be something fun to do again.
I didnt realize that you actually lived in Atlanta. I thought you were just here a lot.
Yeah I lived over on Dekalb and Ponce De Leon. I recorded Blood Visions at the Carbonas practice space.
Will you be doing vinyl reissues of the old Reatard records?
Most of the stuff is out of print, and getting the catalogue was a process that was only slightly less pleasurable than pulling teeth. I had been on a couple indie labels that I had signed contracts with back when I was 19 years old. It was difficult because these people were allowing my records to be out of print and only sporadically keeping them in print, and as soon as press for me started picking up this little opportunistic guy that has been sitting on this record and wouldnt repress them, now, all of the sudden, wants to send them back into print and I was like no way man. You let it set for this long, you gave up and I want this back. It was a big process, it didnt quiet go to the courts or anything, but I thought it was going to. I havent put them back into print yet because I only recently acquired the rights to them. Im kind feeling out the supply and demand with seeing which one sells digitally the best.
Tell me about the digital best of release, Greatest Messes.
I had to go through and pick a couple songs from each group over the years, which is difficult to do. It would have been easier if it was one record by each band, but for each band I had to pick two songs from that represented what that band sounded like. I could have made that thing like 60 songs and felt comfortable with it, but that wasnt the point.
Youre playing two shows in Atlanta this time around, and youve done that here before. Is that so the under 21 crowds can see you too?
Its because where Atlanta is located it doesnt fit into a proper tour for us. It never seems to make sense to go there. When we do its kind of a one off thing. If we drive like 13 hours for one show, its like fuck it, lets play two.
Youve put out a lot of records, tour constantly and now youre manning the Shattered Records label. Do you worry about spreading yourself too thinly?
Absolutely. I wake up every day saying to myself I should have woken up earlier, or I should have done more, should have worked harder today. But I cant get comfortable. As soon as I find conformability in what Im doing I have to do something else to make it feel like work again. As soon as I feel complacent with something I have to quit it. Complacency equals mediocrity as far as Im concerned and thats my biggest fear.
(Photo by Jeff Allen)
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