In 2006, after over 10 years of writing and recording with multiple bands including the Reatards, Lost Sounds and the Final Solutions, Jay Reatard released his first proper solo album, Blood Visions, on In The Red Records. In 2008 he signed with Matador Records for a multi-album deal. His first project with the label was a series of six limited-edition seven-inch singles released throughout the course of the year. With each seven-inch, the pressing numbers shrank. The first single, “See Saw/Screaming Hand” was available in a limited edition of 3,500 coloured vinyl copies, while number six (“No Time/You Were Sleeping”) is in an edition of only 600. All six singles have just been released, along with a bonus *Deerhunter* cover track, as one collection on CD and LP.
Reatard, backed by members of the Boston Chinks, plays Halifax on October 21 as part of the Halifax Pop Explosion. He spoke to Mark Black over the phone.
You’re flying, not driving into Halifax, is that right?We fly out of Montreal. We’re playing some other dates in Canada. Leaving our car in Montreal, flying then coming back, picking our car up and starting our tour back again.
Does it surprise you that you’ve gotten to the point where promoters are willing to fly you in for one specific show/date?It’s always fun. I suppose it happens more in foreign countries where maybe the government helps to subsidize things like this. I don’t know if it’s possible to fly in obscure bands in, hotel rooms and the whole nine yards in the States, you’d probably go broke.
It’s always surprise that someone is into it that much that they want to go that far with it.
Back in December 2006, at the time Blood Visions was just being released, you did an interview with Maximum Rock and Roll that asked whether there was a release of yours that your were satisfied with. At the time, you said there was probably something on every release that you’d change. Does that still hold true?
I’m happy with it Blood Visions, but if anything in hindsight, there’s always something I’d change about it or any other record.
I feel like as soon you’re really content with your output then you should probably just stop because you’re going to keep repeating yourself and you’re going to become really boring…like a parody of yourself.
I’ve heard you say that it’s easier for you to write singles…Just because they’re singles. It’s easier because there doesn’t have to be any cohesion between any of them. It’s a lot easier to write a couple of pages than it is to write a book.
How did the Matador singles come about?I was talking to a bunch of different labels through trying to figure out where to put my next LP, it all became about meetings and dinners, wining and dining. I felt like “Well this is all fun, but I’m about music, it’s what I kind of get off on.” And I wasn’t doing it because I was waiting on where I was going to be at home and where I was going to be making my next record.Before I signed to Matador for an LP, they were like, “Well, you tend to make a lot of singles, do you want to just make some singles?” So then from there we came up with the idea of how many and how they’d be put out and what not. And that was to test the waters to see if I liked working with Matador. It became pretty apparent after working with them for a little bit that I wanted to do my next few albums with them. So I signed for a couple of albums, a proper full length.
Does it blow your mind that some of those singles are now selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay? Is that weird to you?I guess. Some of those are cheap compared to some of the records I’ve put out.It’s a little strange, there’s no way to counteract it. I can put them on the merch table for five dollars, but then people just line up to try to buy them to either have them for trade bait or to sell on eBay.
It’s not as if you’re not making that music available. Your earlier singles are available in a collection and the Matador singles are now available as one collection on vinyl as well…They’re readily available on CD, LP or many a blog, if you want to roll out that route.
You’ve played a fair bit in Canada and the US, is there any marked difference for you between playing Canada and playing the States?No, not really. Early on, the crowds might have been better attendance wise in Canada before the States caught on. It seems like Toronto and Montreal are really supportive of touring bands, that’s not really I find super common in the States. It seems like people will take a risk to see a more obscure band there than they would in New York where if people don’t know you they’re not even going to take a risk on you.
So much early press seems to focus on crazy stage antics and drunken live shows. Do you get frustrated that people have a preconceived idea of what you and your live show are supposed to be like?Everybody in any aspect of life or any profession is going to be frustrated if people have preconceived notions about them. It is what it is.It gets a little tiring if there’s always a drunken idiot saying, “Maaan, why didn’t you break something tonight or punch somebody?” That’s not really a show. People don’t really realize that, that’s fucking reality. That’s not planned like “Man, we’re going to fucking slap someone tonight” or “Something’s really going to go wrong tonight and it’s just going to be terrible and make everybody bummed out.” You don’t plan that kind of stuff, it just sort of happens.It’s kind of a bummer, but how much value would you want to put on some person that comes to a show wanting to see somebody get a punch?
It’s not like you’re putting on a punch or slap show, the music stands for itself…It seems like recently due to the internet, that kind of stuff…that kind of stuff is more tabloid style. People like to talk about negative shit.
You seem to be either always recording or always touring. Is it easier to filter out that negativity because you’re so busy?I try not to worry about much other than just writing good songs. The rest of it falls into place. If you can write good songs then everything else is going to happen correctly. It would be pretty pathetic, even if I had free time, if I spent my free time worrying about the comments on the Toronto punch video (http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=3zOA8i9UnEQ), reading the comments on YouTube, worrying about what people are saying about me or something…At some point, opinions become so minute and there’s no value to them when there’s so many and they’re so uninformed.
Because you’re such a good songwriter and there’s so much focus on stage antics in press and reviews, it seems that your abilities as a lyricist get a little lost in the shuffle. What sort of approach do you take when it comes to writing lyrics? Are they an afterthought?Yeah, they’re just an afterthought most of the time. I try to come up with a chord progression and then a melody and then the lyrics…if they fall into the amount of syllables that I already have as far as what I have been singing in the melody…I do try to come up with an idea, but I’d be lying if I said I actually knew what every song I had written was about. Sometimes it’s just whatever comes out. It’s a stream of consciousness most of the time.I’m far from a poet, I never really dug Bob Dylan so I don’t approach writing lyrics from that style. Sometimes it’s as simple, in pop music, as finding something that rhymes. I’m aware that certain words sound more musical and what not. I started to use things that sound rhythmic and melodic at the same time. That’s about all I think about when I sing songs, “How do these words sound?” more than “What do they mean?”
You’ve been involved with close to a dozen bands, recordings-wise, do you have anything else aside from your solo stuff on the go at the moment?Nothing really. I haven’t had time to do anything else. I just figure I am going to give this my undivided attention. If I start starving maybe I’ll start up something else, but right now this seems to be the thing to do.
Do you think that playing solo has given you an outlet to do exactly what you want?I think when you come up with a band name...you get hung up on what sort of genre your band is, y’know. This has obviously turned into a band. It’s a unique band in the sense that I write songs, I record them and then we re-interpret them live. So you get two drastically different things. That’s kind of what I always desired. We can take a song that on the record sounds like one thing and then live it’s a totally different song. We’re not really tied down to a genre. I guess we’re punk rock in spirit, but I think the sky’s the limit with a solo type thing. It seems more open to do what you want to do.People can’t really go, “Well fuck man, so-and-so band really changed their sound”. If it’s just one person, it just seems a lot more free to do what you want. I definitely try not to wear my influences on my sleeve, but it does happen.
Punk to me is a really strange word. I’m not really sure what it even means anymore. I guess to me it just means to be constantly going against the grain. It never really seemed like a musical genre. I never really saw any connection between all the bands that got called that, they were all so different. These days there’s so many rules to it.