Q+A: Jay Reatard

September 11, 2007

Pumping out all kinds of hot sugar, devil-horned garage pop since he was only wee, Memphis-based Jay Reatard's work rate is approaching Bob Pollard-like levels. But there's a twist: his jams rule! We spoke with Jay the day after he and his band, the Boston Chinks kicked off yet another tour that will take them up, down and all around this great nation for the next two months and change. But before you make the jump to read that, or after you read it, whatever, listen to "All Over Now" from Jay's recent Night of Broken Glass EP on In The Red Records.

Hey Jay. What’s happening?

Hey, nothing, man. I’m just trying out some chocolate pop rocks. It’s disgusting! I didn’t even know they made ‘em. They’re “Limited Edition!”

That’s sweet. I didn’t even know it was a flavor.

Oh, it’s disgusting. They’re actually coated in chocolate, so when the chocolate melts off they start fucking exploding in your mouth.

Are they nasty?

No. It’s delicious. It doesn’t make any sense.

How did you feel about the first show of the tour?

It was in that category of forgetful shows. There were only 50-60 people there and it was kind of boring and it sounded really bad onstage. It was kind of the place where you pack up as soon as you’re done playing, wait to get paid and then immediately leave to go to the hotel. It was kind of a bummer bar, you know?

Do you guys usually play bummer bars?

I don’t know. It’s one of the worst shows we’ve played in a while. Recently, it’s been get-ting a little bit better, a little bit nicer, and crowds have been larger. It is Ohio: I think it’s pretty hard to get crowds out for a lot of bands.I don’t like to tour much as an opening band. I?d rather have half the crowd than not have to deal with some other band?s atti-tude. Promoters treat you like shit when you’re the opening band, too.

How old were you when you first started recording and touring?

I put out my first record when I was 15 and I first started playing guitar when I was 12 or 13.

When you first started bashing shit out on guitar, were you already leaning towards the sound you work with now?

I don’t know. I’ve always tried to just write songs. As opposed to people that write riffy-type music or noisy shit, I’ve always tried to make sure there’s a song there. Rather than try to learn chords, I just started off trying to learn how to write a song or play guitar. I guess writing songs has always been the focus.

You mean in the traditional sense: verse, chorus, verse, chorus?

Yeah, I’ve always liked pop music. I’ve always liked bands that were based in pop mu-sic. My attention span is pretty short, pretty child-like. If a band goes too far out of basic, Beatleseque song structure, I usually hit the fast forward button.

You said you have a short attention span. That seems like something repre-sented in your work pace. Do you ever feel like you start working on the skele-tons of songs and then you get bored with it?

Yeah, if a song ends up on a record, it means that I didn’t get bored with it, that I worked it up to where it’s interesting enough to release. Everyday I wake up and have a glass of tea and just write a song. Lately I write with acoustic guitar and record a demo. If I like how it sounds I might add drums or couple more guitars. If I really like it, then a week down the line I may make a full-blown recording of it and it might end up in a record or erased or on an unlabeled CD-R somewhere in my bedroom. In between records, I started a blog (jayreatard.blogspot.com to put up random ideas that no one would ever hear. I’ve been doing that with these songs that I thought were useless before but now I’m putting them up. There’s no risk involved in saying, “Hey, this isn’t supposed to be anything great, but here’s a peek into the creative process.”

Yeah, I was reading the blog earlier this week. How do you feel about it so far?

I don’t know, I hate when bands try to act like they have something important to say. My idea behind it is not to write about... I don’t want to read someone’s sixth grade girl di-ary, you know? Sometimes it’s funny, but I’m going to keep it strictly to music. On this tour, the only thing I’ll write is a food log. Any substance I put in my body for the whole trip, I’m trying to write it down, whether it’s Tylenol, cocaine or a burrito.

You must have loads of scraps and b-sides, right?

Yeah, like 15 month! I write a song everyday.

That’s quite a clip.

Yeah, some of them are really bad and if I put those away, sometimes I’ll go back and steal parts from them and make a whole song. I usually come up with one a month that I’m super super happy with and probably one a week that end up on a record. I think in January In the Red [Records] is releasing a DVD slash singles collection. There’ll be a digipak CD thing with all the 7-inches and three live shows on a DVD.

Are you based in Memphis right now?

Yeah, it’s the only place I’ve ever lived since I was a small kid. I moved down to Atlanta for a year but it was too expensive there so I moved back to Memphis again. It’s really cheap so it’s a really good place if you’re going to travel six months out of the year.

I’ve never made it to Memphis, only Nashville.

Yeah they’re like Earth and Mars. Nashville’s like real yuppified, real squeaky clean and everyone there’s a careerist. Memphis is kind of like the opposite.

Would you ever want to live in Nashville?

No, I’d rather die. I fucking hate it. The whole country thing there spills over. You would think punk bands and indie bands wouldn’t have the same mentality. You go play a show there and bands are really concerned with having pro gear and having a game plan for how they’re going to make it. It’s like, you haven’t even fucking played a show yet. It’s like everybody’s goal there.

Are you a White Stripes fan?

I never was, even when friends of mine gave me their first seven-inch. I don’t dig white blues music, really.

Do you like black blues?

No. But I like white blues music even less! I don’t know. I’m just not a fan. To me, blues isn’t about songs, it’s emotion over song. I guess, that’s what people think that punk rock is but all the punk rock I like is good songs, too. That’s what a lot of people get con-fused and say punk rock is supposed to be: attitudes, you don’t need to learn how to play. Wire knew how to play their fucking instruments, you know? You’ve got to be kid-ding! The Damned knew how to play their instruments. That’s what blues is to me. It’s ineptitude with soul. It just doesn’t move me. I can dig on that, but not for too long. It just gets boring, the same three chords over and over.

How do you apply that thought to pop music, though? If blues is ineptitude with soul, then pop music is—

The pop music I like is sterile a lot of times. It’s songcraft and wit over some sort of raw, human emotion. It’s a sterilized version of... I don’t know. It’s just how I approach music. It’s this weird, sterile process for me. I try not to get too emotionally wrapped up in a song, I try and step back and listen to it like, “OK, I’m not really trying to say a whole lot, but would I want to listen to this more than once? That’s what I’m going for.

What’s the stuff you’ve been writing recently like?

I don’t know, I’ve been using acoustic guitars on everything now. It’s really poppy. It sounds like early 80s, Flying Nuns records, or Kiwi-pop, the Clean. I guess people say it sounds like indie-rock now. That’s what all the punkers are saying, whatever the fuck that means!

Do you hang with a lot of punkers?

I don’t hang out with anybody but the dudes in my band. But I do read message boards and laugh at idiot punk rockers. People on message boards that are like, “only fags play acoustic guitars!” Yeah, I’m sure you own a Ramones album. There’s acoustic guitars on that. Last time I checked Arthur Lee wasn’t a fag! It’s funny people to see people’s responses.

How do you feel about the way emo and pop-punk have bled into the main-stream?

It makes sense. It’s music made for thirteen-year old kids. They seem to be the only kids that buy anything anymore. I mean, a thirteen-year old kid still gets excited over a record and some fucking jaded-ass twenty-five year old with their iBook is just going to sit and download. That shit is all about come to a screeching halt. All the fuckin’ major labels are digging around, looking for the next big thing. They’re looking for something to kill that shit off with. Major labels create a big initial push with a style of music and then when they get sick of it, they try and figure out what they can market next as an al-ternative to that. I’ve had dudes from major labels tell me, “Yeah, we want to market you as the guy that kills emo!”

Jesus Christ.

I think that’s what they’re looking at right now. They’re looking for their next Kurt Cobain. They marketed him as the dude that killed hair metal and now they’re looking for the martyr that’s going to kill pop-punk and fuckin’ emo.

Are you enjoying free dinners?

I’ve definitely eaten more sushi and lobster tails and shit in the past month than I have in my entire life!

Posted: September 11, 2007
Q+A: Jay Reatard