Jay Reatard

Jay Reatard
Jay Reatard’s had one hell of a 2008. It began with him signing with Matador Records, then announcing a seven-inch singles series and then… a controversial gig in Toronto at the Silver Dollar that left a bad taste in a lot of mouths. With a new record, Matador Singles ’08 (a collection of the seven-inches), and an upcoming tour that sees him returning to Toronto for the first time since the dust-up, Jay talks about working on yet another new LP, keeping up with the "seven-inch a month” schedule, and clearing up all of the misconceptions and rumours about some recent events.

Your last two LPs have been compilations. What is it about releasing singles and then collecting them as albums that appeals to you?
I think albums are — for me at least — a pretty big commitment and an experience that’s not a lot of fun for me or sometimes the people around me. I just get pretty out there and engulf myself in recording, and the stress that goes along with it is pretty hard to deal with. But singles are pretty easy for me. I can sit down and go, "Write two songs and record them in one day.” Y’know, have someone make up a cover, and in a month I get the record back and know that I’m done. It’s instant gratification, as opposed to this process that takes for-fucking-ever to make an album. My last album [2006’s Blood Visions] took six months to make because I can over-refine things sometimes.

So, you’re in the studio right now working on another album, which isn’t a compilation. How is that going?
I’ve started the process, I got two months off… I’ve never really made an album on a schedule, and right now the powers have said that I should make something on a specific schedule — but we’ll see how it goes.

You’re very prolific though, so isn’t this something you’re built for?
You set a precedent for yourself and then people just expect you to keep working the same way. I dunno, I feel like I’ve put out a lot of records already in the past 12 months, so I’m looking to slow down a little by the end of the year. I dunno, we’ll see what happens.

So you don’t really ever see much of a break do you?
Sometimes I think you have to fight for those breaks when you’re working with a bunch of new people that want you to keep on working.

As albums, how would you compare Matador Singles ’08 compared to Singles 06-07?
I dunno. I haven't really listened to them back to back. I think they’re two different things. A good half of the singles on the first one were recorded before my album, and then the other half were all recorded after. I dunno, I just try to keep a completely different feel for both records. They’ll definitely sit next to each other in record stores, but I think that’s all they really have in common.

The Matador comp shows your songwriting is certainly changing direction…
Yeah, definitely. It’s pretty schizophrenic; it’s starts as a punk record and finishes kind of like an indie pop record. My idea was to go for it that way. I’m not really into playing straight punk anymore. I felt like a singles collection would start with what people would expect and end with what I want to be doing.

Do you think getting older affected this change?
Yeah, it’s just inevitable. You can fight it, but I’d rather die doing what I want to right now, than die trying to be somebody’s dumb punk rock hero. There are enough of those, and what becomes pathetic is those people who try to fight the inevitable. You just have to give in to it. I don’t know where it’s gonna take me but at least at the end of the day I’m gonna be happier with what I’m creating. And if I have to alienate a few tens of thousands of people to do that, then I don’t really hold a responsibility to anyone to stick to one specific thing.

When I spoke to you back in March, you said you like to fool around with genres. How far would you take that?
I don’t think so. I definitely make set rules. When I say genre, I should probably clarify that I still like punk rock music, and what I consider to be punk rock is vast and full of tons of… I guess a more appropriate word would be sub-genres [laughs]. Whatever that means. I guess as long as it falls within a pop song and I can jump around — you won’t be hearing any ska songs though [laughs].

What is the new album sounding like?
I dunno, I guess just expanding more on the latter half of the singles record. I have been listening to music that isn’t so much punk, stuff like the Chills, and relying a lot more on space and the small sounds coming in that make things interesting instead of just this wall of sound. I guess the hardest part of that is trying to play it live with just three people. We’ll see what happens. Ideally it’d be awesome to have a guy who can play anything, but those guys are hard to find. Right now I’m not worried about playing new songs live though because they’re not out yet.

Was doing the "single a month” deal with Matador as tricky as it sounded?
Oh, absolutely. Right now, for the fourth single I decided to hand assemble all of the covers myself. So, I’m supposed to be doing press today, and I’m supposed to be recording an album and I’m supposed to be gluing covers for the last record — it’s due in stores in a few days and I still haven’t assembled most of them. So, yeah, it’s fucking impossible sometimes. I pretty much have adult ADD, and I don’t get anything done in any linear fashion. I just work on something, then I get bored and jump over to the next thing, and then they all finish up at the same time. Deadlines are something that I’m definitely not into but it’s a reality I guess.

I read there was some glitch with the fourth single. The website crashed when it went on sale?
Well, I did everything on my end. But I don’t think anybody anticipated the demand for these records to the point that they got to with the fourth one. Not adjusting their bandwidth to handle 10,000 people trying to log-on at the same time. Typically, they probably get 5,000 in one day, so to get twice that in a minute… Things happen, and people are pretty unforgiving too in the modern world of instant satisfaction with Paypal. Record collectors have become very impatient creatures.

It’s good that people are physically buying records though.
There’s always gonna be the kind of person who physically wants something they can touch. I honestly download a lot of music, but I also buy a lot of records. And dropping something like your fucking iPod and you lose it all, everything you listen to is gone. It would take a fucking house fire to get rid of my record collection.

What made you leave off Deerhunter’s cover of "Oh, It’s Such A Shame”? I can understand why, but I’m curious to know your reason.
I think when you just get down to the legalities it was just too complicated. And I didn’t really want to put another band on the comp because it wouldn’t really make sense. Essentially it was just for fun and something different to put in there amongst a bunch of songs that were just me, but if you’re listening to something as an album and not as a single it could be incredibly weird in a chronological order to have a Deerhunter song come on in the middle of an album.

You like to keep things short – your songs are often under three minutes long and your shows are usually around 20 to 30 minutes. Is that a reflection on your attention span or everyone’s?
I think both. I think that mine and everyone else’s attention span is getting shorter. But I’ve always felt that I try writing songs where I say as much as I can in as few words and in as little time as possible. I don’t really like poetry, so when songs are long they basically turn into fucking poems. I like to keep them more like mantras.

So… I was at the Toronto show at the Silver Dollar back in April when shit hit the fan. Can you explain what happened?
I can go to a show and go nuts with those fuckin’ people, I just don’t know if I can be on stage and deal with it. I didn’t feel safe, that’s the main thing it boils down to. I don’t feel that I have to be dangerous to impress anyone these days. It was just a knee-jerk reaction to fuckin’ hit that guy. He probably didn’t deserve it, but I told him later, "You were just a martyr, man. In the wrong place at the wrong time.” That one guy was me punching 350 people in the face, telling them to calm the fuck down.

The incident seems like something that would have happened regularly back in your younger years, no?
I would have had a worse reaction. That’s the thing, the people that have been with me for a while are saying, "Yeah, you big rock star, blah, blah, blah,” but in all honesty, if someone would have thrown a pitcher of beer at me, I likely would have broken 15 bottles of beer and thrown them in people’s faces eight years ago. I probably would have done what I did in Germany once, when I jumped into the crowd and stabbed someone with a beer bottle and then get stabbed in the arm and go to the hospital. But I’m not that guy anymore.

As bad as it was to see all that shit happen, it was a pretty enjoyable gig. I didn’t want my money back…
The horrible part about it is that you can’t really stop a show that’s high energy and ask people to calm down and have people removed. That’s a bigger dick move than me just ending the thing.

I saw your bassist Stephen [Pope] at Pitchfork and he seemed nervous when I mentioned I was from Toronto and was at the Silver Dollar gig.
I think we all felt bad about how it went. It was fun to show up there after having played Toronto for so many years, but unfortunately it was promoted by the wrong people at the wrong place.

Yeah, I was surprised that it was at the Silver Dollar, which is pretty small. Your profile seemed much too high for that venue.
Yeah, I think it’s pretty ridiculous that they tried to fit 350 people in there [capacity is around 200]. We’ll see what happens at the next show. I don’t think that’s an appropriate venue either.

Yeah, Sneaky Dee’s is not much bigger than the Silver Dollar.
That’s exactly what I told the people that work for me. I’m a bit concerned, but we’ll see what happens. We’re also playing for free during the day, I think at a record store, as kind of a make-up date for the people who attended the last show.

Earlier in the summer there was a weird incident in Dallas where you cancelled a gig and the promoter accused you of all this shit. Would you care to share your side of the story?
I never really talked about too much, and I’ll touch upon it lightly, but basically what it boils down to is that my sexuality is nobody’s business except the person I’m sleeping with. I can go on the record saying that I have never molested, sexually assaulted or raped anyone, so that whole part of it is ridiculous. And it’s funny that he tries to punctuate the whole shock of calling someone a sexual deviant, it’s like he tries to punctuate, "and he’s gay too!” The guy just sounds like a homophobe. I live happily with a girlfriend of two years and a dog.

And the gig cancellation?
That was simply me just not seeing eye to eye with the guy and neither one of us being humble enough to back down. At that point it was best to just not work together. It really sucks when it affects 150 other people’s lives, but sometimes it’s just something that has to happen because I’m not willing to compromise myself for someone that their level of control is as small as being a local promoter. I’m not gonna be told what to do, like I’m punching in a clock at work. It’s unfortunate that sometimes my attitude makes it come down to where the audience misses out on a show they’re looking forward to. But in the end I’m not just gonna run through the motions if the situation doesn’t feel right. The guy let some people who were under age into the bar before the show, who he continued to give beer to. He was talking about how many drugs I was on, but the entire time he kept asking the members of my band if we wanted cocaine, or this and that. So in the end, I was "too drunk” before the show. That’s the thing, I was drinking and the guy told me to stop! I don’t really know if that was his place, and it turned into, "well I’m paying you $1000” and it all became about the money. That’s not why I was there. I was there to have a good time. Those things happen. People can call me a big baby, but I just think that no one wants to be told what to do. I’ve worked my entire life to create a lifestyle where I don’t have to be told what to do. If I want a boss I’ll get a job at Starbucks and get dental care and health care and I’ll fucking serve coffee to douche bags. I’m not gonna get up on stage and treat playing the guitar like making a chai mocha latte, or whatever the fuck. If I feel like I should be there doing it, I’ll do it.

Finally, I heard your interview with Nardwuar the Human Serviette and you mentioned something about how getting love from indie rock circles is easier than getting punk love. Why do you think that is?
Punk rock is a harder outlet to get exposure. If there is any difference between punk and indie rock, it’s that once you can get the indie rock media to pay attention to you there’s just a way more vast audience. There are so many more fucking people that listen to Fleet Foxes than G.G. Allin [laughs]. I don’t know if I want to belong to either one, honestly.