Interview: Jay Reatard on Failures, Canada, Hot Dogs, and His Worst New York City Gig
"Most of the time, what's wrong with you is more interesting that what's right. What's right with you is fucking boring."
Jay Lindsey started making music at 15 and has since played in a zillion different bands, releasing a zillion different recordings on what would seem like a zillion different labels. Over the last few years, he's mostly worked under the moniker Jay Reatard--this August, he's due to follow up last year's Matador Singles '08 with their first proper album for the label, a quick, punchy collection of summery garage-pop tunes entitled Watch Me Fall.
We called Jay yesterday while he was en route to Montreal. It went straight to voicemail-- twice. He then called us back. Also, may we suggest trying to eat 30 hot dogs at your next summer BBQ? You'll probably fail too.
You're in Montreal right now?
Yeah, we're driving through Canadian hillbilly country now. It's alright up here. People are just fucking weird. I think we stopped off at Canadian methville or something like that. I got yelled at when I was doing an interview by a gas pump. A guy fucking freaked out. I guess they thought I could blow up a gas station with a cell phone. I didn't know that.
Yeah, your Twitter said the other day that you got 30 hot dogs for dinner. Is this true?
Oh yeah. We went to this place called Steve's Lunch and ordered 30 hot dogs and five cheese fries and 10 Mountain Dews [laughs]. We were defeated. We couldn't finish them and they kept bringing them out, two at a time. We were like, "M'aam, we're done." And she's like "You got more to go" and I was like, "Keep them."
I've been listening to Watch Me Fall. It's quite catchy and quite nice for the summer.
That's a first I've heard of it being a summer record.
It's fun. Maybe the lyrics aren't the most uplifting at times...
I'm trying to contrast between lyrical content and how a song makes you feel. They don't have to be the same thing, you know?
No, not at all.
Sometimes it can have the opposite effect if your lyrics are a little bit bummer, as long as the song has a certain feel, it can make you feel different than the obvious way it should. I guess that's what I've always tried to do.
There seems to be a heavy dose of self deprecation throughout.
The name itself implies a pretty heavy dose of self deprecation. I'm basically just trying to say, "Hey, check it out world. I've put all these warts on my face and now you have to look at them." That's all it is. Just put it all out there. I think if people celebrated what is wrong with them more, they'd be more interesting people. Most of the time, what's wrong with you is more interesting that what's right. What's right with you is fucking boring.
And you recorded this at home, yes?
Everything but one track. It's fair enough to say 95% of it was recorded in my dining room.
Has all the gear grown over the years?
I try to keep things somewhat minimal, compared to what a lot of people would've done if they were in my situation and had a budget to go out and record an album. I'm all about limitation. One of the great things you get from doing home recordings is limitation kind of becomes your sound. If you have too many options, and you're at home, and there's no clock ticking, then sure the sky's the limit. But if you don't limit yourself then these things can go on forever. When are you done?
Over the course of your career, you've loved to release singles and 45's and basically release music in that form. Is it hard for you to think about putting a bunch of songs together for a full-length record?
It's not hard for me to think about it. To me, it's not one of the most interesting ways for me to release music. It's not instantaneous enough. I wrote all these songs...albums work in such a way that I wrote these songs so long ago, by the time they're out, I'm bored. I'm bored with the idea of them. And for the next year or year and a half, I have to play them. That's the way putting out records and selling them has been created. Were looking at three year old songs by the time I'm done playing them. I'd prefer to write a song, record it as quickly as possible, put it out as quickly as possible on a single and have it to the fans, then go on tour where they'll already know all the words. Were talking five or six months time frame. That just fits my attention span or whatever. Not to say that I'm part a YouTube or iPod Generation where I can't figure out what I like and keep skipping around all the time. I know what I like and I tend to want to consume what I like. I don't have any patience. And when I'm creating stuff, I'm only in the mindset of "What would I make that I would like." The album has its place but I almost see it as the album as a nostalgia, relic type thing. Because that's how it's done back in the days. I think you'll see more people making less albums.
One of my favorite songs on the record is "Faking It." I think I know what it's about but I'm not sure.
That song's loosely based on drug abuse and wanting to...just trying to fake it. Make everyone think you're normal when you're probably going bezerk, you know? I watched The Shining a few many times when I was writing the record--it's loosely about the characters in that movie.
After listening to Matador Singles '08, Watch Me Fall seems to be a bit more poppier.
That's fair enough. I've become a little bit more about the melodies. It's just pop music. I think I stripped away a layer of the fuzz; I might have been challenging people before to find them and this time I might be making them a little bit more obvious. I think that has to do with the production. More minimal, more stripped down and there's not as many overdubs. Live, I don't think that will be the case. It'll be pretty brutalized.
What's the worst gig you've played in New York?
The worst. I feel like Glasslands would have been the worst show we've ever played. Combination of having the wrong audience, being very tired--I think we'd played four shows in four days. I think it was one of those situations where we were like a novelty punk band--it was like "Yeah, the punk band's here, lets act like punks for the night." It just wasn't my scene. When a show goes bad, it's a little bit more mysterious and harder to pinpoint than the things that go into making a good show. In the end, it just comes down to collective mood. The audience's energy and yours. We just failed miserably that night.
Jay Reatard plays Stuyvesant Oval tonight and Music Hall of Williamsburg on July 2.
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