Jeremy Jay: Interview
“I don’t want to be the person sitting up in the tower just making all the music by myself.”
Jeremy Jay is tall and young. He grew up and still resides in Angeltown, California, along with his other three bandmates. Our handsome, alabaster young gent has just put out his debut album on K Records. It sounds like the trees hanging over streets at night, streetlight dappled through. He likes diners, rides in cars, romance, Buddy Holly, show tunes, socks, people, cats, and more. Based around a fairly stark working of piano, guitar, bass, and drums, his nocturnal pop is modern in its own wonky way. It could stem partly from recording with Calvin Johnson at Dub Narcotic Studios; it's very K Recs-sounding, skewing pop in a personal and idiosyncratic way. Jeremy's is a classiness that is balanced by a post-punk sort of disaffectedness, held afloat with an unbridled romanticism. His Airwalker EP is dancier than his first LP A Place Where We Can Go, which, after speaking with Jeremy, is a particularly special and personal record for him.
I phoned him while he was on the set shooting a new video for “Beautiful Rebel” (from said album), and it turned out to be illuminating in regards to hopes and dreams and perceptions.
So what sort of vibe are you going for with this video you're shooting?
It's going to be black and white, French New Wave-y. We're shooting it at Griffith Park observatory.
That make's a lot of sense; that classy black and white aesthetic is all over your music. And the photos I've seen of you. Are you big into French New Wave films?
Totally, yeah, like Godard -- all of those directors for sure.
And your second language is French?
That's right, yeah. I grew up speaking French in the house hold, but I did live in Los Angeles in Monterey, California my whole life, and so outside of the house I spoke English, of course. When I was 13, we spoke French exclusively in the household.
Would you ever do songs in French?
Actually I did do one song in French, an older song called "The City Tonight," but we never released it.
Okay. So, as well as the obvious rich depth to those French New Wave films, there's a massive element of style, like these super handsome people walking around looking smart in Paris. I feel like there's a big sense of style in your music as well.
I think for this video especially, "Beautiful Rebel," it has this French classic look to it, and it's going to work really well I think. I think it works.
Yeah that certainly sounds as if it is the right style for the music, considering the aesthetic of A Place Where We Can Go especially. It seems to be massively '60s in a way, but that classiness is matched with this post-punk, sort of disaffected thing.
Yeah, I do feel like it's a wide range of musical styles. My two favorite songs are "Heavenly Creatures," and I love the title track; "Escape to Aspen" I really love, oh! I love all the songs really, and I think that each one has its own style to it.
"I feel like the least self-conscious you are, the better. The more expressive you can be, the better."
Sorry to keep going on about the French New Wave thing, but I was thinking of one in particular, a Godard film... I can't remember the name right now, but it's about some political student activist guy.
Hmm, I don't thnk I've seen that one.
Oh. Well, I wish I could remember the name [edit: it's La Chinoise, FYI]. Anyway this guy is driving round in Citroens in Paris and getting all these babes and just being real cool and has this disaffected kind of charm.
Yeah, well I think this visual style, I really relate to it. I was raised listening to FranÃ§ois Hardy and Jaques Freul, I think I can just really relate to French romanticism and a generally European sensibility. Mixed with an American sensibility, of course. I think this record really expresses that.
Yes, because it seems like there's a big Buddy Holly '50s/'60s American vibe in there too. It came across also as a particularly nocturnal or night-time sort of record.
Oh! Yeah I definitely think so. What I really wanted to express was that a lot of the record is spoken in the third person; it's a very self-reflective record. The music and lyrics are kind of about teaching yourself, becoming who you want to be. It's like when you write down on a piece of paper something like “I really want to have this kind of girl in my life” or “I really want this job” and you write it down on a piece of paper and then you shoot for that and then you get it, you know what I mean? In general, in life, or something. I feel like this is what this record is about; about me becoming who I want to be. And dreams... it's really romantic. I feel really strongly about that.
Yeah a couple of tracks in particular, the third-person thing does that for sure. Like “Bright Young Things.”
Yeah, and “Heavenly Creatures” and “The Living Dolls.” But yeah, with the '60s thing, I think the song “Someone Cares” has that about it, doing the sort of '60s band style with just a few instruments -- just drums and bass and sometimes no guitar at all. “Bright Young Things” is very showtimey, showtuny; you know, like [in the tune of “Bright Young Things”] “da da da da da dadadada da da da da da dadadadada.” Yeah, you know. It's very, you know... showtimey.
Totally, it's got that going on, but there's also this weird tone that I can't put my finger on or explain exactly. I think it comes back to the nighttime feel or maybe just the way you sing. I mean, showtunes are usually about as happy as you can get, but your album has a slightly bittersweet thing, too. Does that make sense at all?
I feel like I know what your speaking of. It's a nighttime creepiness, diners, going on dates, streetlamps, the trees overhanging. It's romantic, nighttime music.
Another thing I was thinking was this really distant sort of feel; there's you, a bit far away under a streetlamp, with a slightly awkward feel too.
Well, the thing about this music is that it's my first LP; it's my "looking back" record. It's about everything I've been inspired by, or a lot of things, at least, and it's creating Jeremy Jay as an artist, and it's showing him and his beginnings. It's everything that he's liked in the past; it's a past record. It's very inspired by the past. It does not sound modern.
"I don't see it as kistchy; I really see it as... romantic. It's serious for me."
I see what you mean, but I did feel as if it is quite a modern-sounding record in its own wonky sort of way, like your idiosyncrasies run against the past stuff you reference.
Ah yeah, I agree, I mean it did just happen. [Laughs] No, it definitely has modern elements, but you know what I mean; it's a looking back sort of record for me.
Have you always been interested in the '60s like this? In a way, I thought there was an element of kitsch –
I don't see it as kistchy; I really see it as... romantic. It's serious for me. “Heavenly Creatures” is in the third person, but it's not supposed to be distant. It's a very serious, very philosophical record. It's very important to me, and I wanted to put it out because of the poetic significance to me, and because of how important it is to me. To me, poetically, it's really strong. Airwalker sounds a lot more modern and dancey and everything, and the next record, well, we've already recorded the next record; it's just a whole new world from A Place Where We Can Go. I think looking back at these records 10 years from now, when they're all together, A Place Where We Can Go will make sense because it introduces Jeremy Jay as a person and as an artist, and it shows his background and it shows his dreams and his love and romance or whatever. I feel really strong about it.
Yeah, sorry. When I said kitsch before, I didn't mean it like a bad thing, but I feel like I might've got it wrong just going from some of the aesthetics and references. Something else I was wondering about though, your sense of style and your ideas of yourself seem pretty certain from listening to your music and looking at photos. Do you feel that you're quite self-aware with everything you do in life?
Well, my process is that I let things flow and try not to obstruct it. I let things happen, and things unveil about me and my writings that I might not realize at the time until it becomes apparent later, like different parts of me. I feel like the least self-conscious you are, the better. The more expressive you can be, the better. I feel like when you write a song, it's better just to write the song and sing it than to think about what you're singing. It's important to have true expression and to be honest with yourself; that's the main thing.
I mentioned the idea of awkwardness before, but not in a way that you seem unassured, but more unabashed or candid.
Yeah, it could be that you mean romantic, because it's upfront, it's honest. It's not holding back. The thing that's important in human documents is to be honest, for prosperity's sake. It's better to be honest with yourself and others than to not be, and I feel like, “Why waste your time not being honest?” If you love a girl, then that's what happens, and that's what you say to her. Or, like, if you feel this way about yourself, then that's how you feel. And that's what you put down on the record; it's a very practical way of working with it. In 10 years or 20 years, I will look back at this record and know it's something special because it's honest, and it's with people that I really care about, and it's a document of time. It's my diary. That's why I started being a solo artist, because the way I look at music is that it's like a document of my time here on earth. I'm here right now, and so I want to live life. So I do, and then that's what happens. Then 100 years from now, they can look back and see what happened; it'll be an honest portrayal of life. I have a band, and they help write the music. I make suggestions, but a lot of the time they come up with really cool ideas. I encourage expression from my friends, and basically it's my friends that are on the record playing them. I encourage them to be them and for their creativity to show through, because that's another integral part of making records and music; you allow things to happen.
Yeah, that was going to be my next question; how it works with the band and songwriting.
Well the songwriting process is: I might write a song, and then I might make suggestions – or not – but in order to be creative, you need to allow people to be themselves. You don't tell people what to do; you allow them to be creative. So when we're in the studio, we just play, and I might make suggestions, provide a skeleton of music, and they might build around it, and we make the record and make the music. I don't want to be the person sitting up in the tower just making all the music by myself. That's not what I want; I want to be with people and I want to live life with others and be creative and experience things. So, that's the process right there.