Last night, a little while before he took the stage in De Vorstin in Hilversum, we sat down with American singer-songwriter Jay Nash. The charismatic musician was gracious enough to tell us a few things about his life and his career.
Jay Nash is a musician who often tells stories in his songs; sometimes sweet and hopeful, sometimes filled with melancholy, heartbreak and pain. With his unique vocal sound and innate ability to engage he sets himself apart from a booming generation of up and coming musicians who are considered singer-songwriters.
In our conversation we covered a range of subjects but the main focus, of course, was Jay’s music and in particular we discussed his experiences touring Europe and the United States, the creative process of writing and recording songs, what Jay does in the little spare time he has and the recent changes in the music industry. All through our conversation Jay patiently tried to explain his thoughts and processes and giving examples of it.
Jay told us he was enjoying his time in The Netherlands thusfar, which, as a proud Dutchie, is always good to hear. He would have liked hot water and ice to be a little more readily available at times but apart from that he said he was having a good time, as was evident by his excitement about the sjoelbakken that were in his dressing room. After the shows here, he’ll also play a number of shows in Germany before he returns Stateside.
Jay explained that the differences between playing in the US and Europe aren’t too obvious anymore. In the past, when he played smaller venues with low or no cover, he’d have shows where people would be more invested in their drinks than in the music and at times it could get a little ugly between audience members but in his experience that has gotten much better in the past couple of years. Later on, during the show, he mentioned things really got out of hand in Texas one night where someone pulled out a knife but while there were a couple of loud people in front of the stage tonight, Jay was able to navigate it without any incidents. He asked the audience to give the guy a big round of applause because it was his first concert ever. And while the man didn’t really get the joke (or so it seemed) it must’ve been very clear to him that the attention he was getting shouldn’t be considered positive. Not much later he cleared out and his mates followed soon after and you could feel a sigh of relief throughout the venue. Good riddance!
While we were on the subject of touring I asked Jay to explain to us what it was about playing live in front of an audience that makes it so much fun and how it stacks up against the creative process of writing and recording new music. He answered: “We are all much more alike than we would care to admit and I think music is proof of that.” This is a powerful thing to say. But to Jay, music is a way for people to connect, regardless of their background. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, what you believe in, where you come from or what you do. Music can bring you together. This connection is something Jay seems to be looking for in and through his music. And if you ever attended one of his shows, you’ll be able to confirm that this is exactly what happens. As for the touring compared to the creative process Jay said that it was all quite balanced out for him. In his explanation it became clear to me that he doesn’t necessarily see it as two separate things but more as equal parts of the same thing. This perspective was something I hadn’t thought of before but it does make a lot of sense. Through touring and playing live, Jay is able to bring the music out and make that connection with others and explore new places. This way new experiences and ideas form and they can inspire new material which needs to be crafted and recorded to be taken on the road again. This provides a certain continuity to an otherwise hectic profession of a musician.
We are all much more alike than we would care to admit and I think music is proof of that.
We then talked about Letters From The Lost, on which Jay took a different approach to the creative process than he had in the past. As he stated online, in several articles, he’d start without a preconceived notion. We asked him what was so different about that approach and he answered the following: “Previously, I would start with a line, a lyric or a sort of theme. I would have to write the song within the construct of that. With Letters From The Lost I gave myself a day to write and record the song and would often start with a melody or a sound and throughout the day the landscape of the song would reveal itself.” Jay recorded around 30 songs this way and when he was done he listened to everything he recorded and made the selection for the album. On doing this he commented: “It was almost like with love. Some songs really resonated with me and fit together nicely. This whole new approach took me to another dimension, it had a sort of meditative effect and I’ve been using this method ever since.” He also added that his fans seem to really dig the album and that most critics think it’s a nice artistic statement, with the exception of his hometown paper, who gave it a skate review. Here at Inner Ear Media, we were really impressed by Letters From The Lost. The looser sound aspires to a certain freedom which may well be the result of the new creative approach.
The new approach took me to another dimension. It had a sort of meditative effect and I’ve been using it ever since.
Jay isn’t sitting still though. Longtime friend Josh Day joined him on tour a couple of years ago and on top of a good friendship the two found they had great musical chemistry. After playing shows together, Jay asked Josh if he’d be up to write songs with him in Vermont for a band project. And this initiated ‘The Contenders’ which is a collaboration between Jay Nash and Josh Day. Their newly formed band will display a sort of rootsy rock & roll sound inspired by ‘The Band‘, which musically is their common ground.
Initially they recorded guitar, drums and two vocals and were ready to leave at that. Stick to the bare essence of the songs. However, they enlisted the help of renowned engineer Seth Atkins Horan and decided to fill up the songs sonically with a touch of bass and extra guitar. The bare essence of the songs, however, still carries through.
They hired an agent and in no time they were contacted by CMT Edge to debut one of their songs. And in October ‘The Contenders’ are taking their new project on the road in the United States. So check Jay’s website for tour dates and if he’s near you, make sure to check it out! Also expect Meet The Contenders, the debut record for the newly formed band, to drop on November 18, 2014. It will be available digitally and streaming worldwide and in selected stores and at shows it will be available on vinyl and CD.
Because we were having a great time talking to Jay, we asked him a couple of other things. We didn’t get into his main influences as a musician, because you all probably read that many times already. We did ask him what he was currently listening to. Jay had to think about it for a while because he’s been so busy that he hasn’t had a lot of spare time on his hands. But he mentioned classics like The Greatful Dead, Paul Simon and Sam Cooke but also Sara Watkins, Iron & Wine, Brian Wright (Rattle Their Chains), David Ramirez (Apologies) and Phish, of whom he said he didn’t think there is a better ensemble out there right now. Jay also likes to read in his spare time and recently he’s been reading biographies of some of the greatest musicians to ever walk the planet (Neil Young, Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards) and also mentioned he liked The Circle by Dave Eggers which he read recently.
We then talked about songs by other musicians he would have loved to have written himself. Jay said there were so many but he mentioned The Weight by ‘The Band’ and Michigan by ‘Milk Carton Kids’ by name. And when we asked him what bands or musicians (dead or alive) he’d like to play a show with if there were no restrictions it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he immediately mentioned ‘The Band’ and ‘The Grateful Dead’. He did say: “But only after Josh & I logged a good many shows so we can feel up to the task.”
We ended our conversation with a reflection on the changes in the music industry of the past decades and what it means going forward. Jay said that things constantly change in the music industry. Going from vinyl and 8 tracks to tapes and CDs and now we’re in the age of digital music and streaming and that it will more than likely continue to change in the future. One thing that hasn’t changed for him and probably won’t change much is playing live. This is where the connection with and between people is most evident and in everything Jay told us, that connection with the music and with other people always shines through. And in a world where so many are divided, it’s a great thing that there is such a connective force as music. And in that, music has a wonderful ambassador in Jay Nash.
We would very much like to thank Jay Nash and the people at MusicMakesMeHappy.nl for providing us with the opportunity to have this conversation and we wish Jay the best of luck and the most of fun in his upcoming shows. We also urge you to visit Jay’s website and check out his music. And definitely make sure to check out ‘The Contenders’! Their debut record will be released on November 18, 2014 and the US tour starts in October. Don’t miss it!