Jay Reatard’s Extreme Makeover

Jay Reatard’s Extreme Makeover
Jay Reatard is changing. This observation was never more evident than back in April when a Toronto gig went awry: the crowd pushed a PA on top of bassist Stephen Pope and his pedals, a pitcher of beer was thrown at Jay’s Flying V, breaking the pickup and input electronics, and Jay cold-cocked a stage invader — an act that has now earned him legendary status on YouTube. It was like a scene straight out of his time spent in the Reatards or the Lost Sounds years ago, but for the gonzo garage punk, this type of chaos is a thing of the past.

"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,” he admits. "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.”

Jay’s peacekeeping methods may be questionable to some, but the way he sees it, his actions were a show of restraint compared to what his old self would have done. "[Years ago] I would have had a worse reaction,” he says. "That’s the thing, the people that have been with me for a while are saying, ‘Yeah, you’re big rock star now, blah, blah, blah,’ but in all honesty, eight years ago 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. But I’m not that guy anymore.”

Nowadays, Jay Reatard (real name Jay Lindsey) the guy and the musician are notably different, even from the blood-drenched dude in his undies pictured on his 2006 solo debut, Blood Visions. You can measure Jay’s growth in the last two years not just by his onstage behaviour but also by his increasingly prolific commitment to recording and his evolution as an artist. The way he sees it, this development was inevitable to keep doing what he loves. "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,” he says with conviction. "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 [feel] a responsibility to anyone to stick to one specific thing.”

For the time being though, he does hold some responsibility: to Matador, his new label, which currently has holed him up at his Memphis abode to record another album, a proper one that will see a release some time in 2009. This month, Jay releases his second singles collection of the year, following up the recent Singles 06-07 he put out through In the Red Records. Suitably titled Matador Singles ’08, his Matador full-length debut is a collection of the seven-inch singles he’s been releasing monthly since April. For him, the string of one-off singles is a much more practical way of working, as opposed to remaining stagnant in a studio.

"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,” says Jay. "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.”

Despite being the product of various recording sessions throughout the year, Matador Singles ’08 is every bit as coherent as the refined Blood Visions. At the same time, it couldn’t sound any different in most spots. Unlike the cutthroat speedy garage of his previous LP, this collection shows Jay’s breadth as a songwriter, spreading out his various styles while giving a preview of what to expect next. "It’s pretty schizophrenic; it’s starts as a punk record and finishes kind of like an indie pop record,” he describes. "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.”

What Jay wants to be doing has led to another big adjustment, one that’s certainly bolstered his profile: love from the indie rock set. Compared to the finicky punk scene, Jay finds the sudden attention from the indie circles to be much more rewarding. "Punk rock is a harder outlet to get exposure,” he explains. "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,” he laughs. "Though, I don’t know if I want to belong to either one, honestly.”

While today’s Jay Reatard is a far cry from the 15-year-old punk who formed the Reatards, there’s one true link that seems permanent: his short attention span. It’s something that’s defined his music — be it his two-minute songs or the raucous 20-minute gigs. "I think that my and everyone else’s attention span is getting shorter,” he explains. "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.”