Monday, May 07, 2012

Jay Brannan On Touring, Dysfunctional Relationships & Angry Lesbian Music

Earlier today I had a quick chat with American singer-songwriter Jay Brannan about his new album and forthcoming Australian tour. Since his star turn in the mind-raping sausage-fest otherwise known as Shortbus, the 30-year-old has carved out a niche as the gay equivalent of Ani DiFranco or Aimee Mann. You know, an insightful wordsmith with a knack for getting under your skin with honest lyrics and pretty melodies. His latest single "Beautifully" is already at radio and his third album Rob Me Blind gets its official Australian release on June 1. Both are winners and should be downloaded as soon as they grace iTunes with their presence. Keep reading to see what Jay has to say about his tour, current playlist and the depressing state of gay relationships.

Hi Jay, how's it going?
I’m alright. How are you?

I’m really good. A lot of people are talking about your tour. Are you looking forward to coming back to Australia?
Yeah I’m really excited. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been there. It will be my third trip. The first two were both a lot of fun. The first time I only went to Sydney, the last time I got to expand to three cities and the shows were all great. The audiences were really supportive, so hopefully people will show up again!

I’m sure they will. What can we expect – is it going to be another stripped back, acoustic tour?
I’m kind of a minimalist. I just like to write songs and sing them for people and I’m able make a living doing it that way, so I don’t have to pay big bands to come with me or anything but I like it. I think it’s fun and people respond to it. It’s intimate, laid-back. I try to create an informal atmosphere with a lot of interaction with the audience. It makes me less nervous and it’s personal. People connect with the songs I write. That’s what I do. It’s my singer-songwriter thing.

I saw you last time and it was a great show.
Cool. What city were you in?

Ok cool.

It’s going to be great to have you back and hear the new album live. I’ve actually had a chance to listen to Rob Me Blind and I think it’s a really meaningful album. I just wanted to ask – what was the inspiration behind it because for me there seems to be a bit of a recurring theme of dysfunctional relationships...
[Laughs] I’m pretty sure that’s the only experience I’ve ever actually had in life. That is very much a theme on the album. Dysfunctional relationships as you put it – not just romantic but professional and familial. Frustration and anger and fear and pain – those are the things that inspire me to write. That’s kind of what I do and that’s where the music comes from. I think there’s a little bit more hope on this album than there has been on previous albums. But just a little bit, not too much. I don’t want to be boring.

It’s funny because I was going to ask about the bio on your website. Is your relationship history really that disastrous?
[laughs] Yes. It’s totally accurate. You can decide whether or not I was raised in the mountains by monks but for the most part it’s pretty accurate. That’s the true story. I haven’t really had a relationship in the past ten years, so that was the last one I had.

I think it’s quite reflective of the gay experience at the moment. I don’t know anyone that’s having happy, healthy relationships. Do you feel like a bit of a spokesman, holding a mirror up to the emotional retardation of the gay community?
I don’t know. I don’t think that’s true of lesbians. I think it’s more about men than it is gay or straight. You know what I mean? If straight men had relationships with each other it would never fucking work out.

I think women in general want relationships more and will put more effort into it, whether that’s because of how we’re conditioned or the way we’re raised or the way society views us because of our gender... I don’t know. All the lesbians I know have relationships. So I think you just need a woman in there to make shit happen.

Maybe that’s the key but I don’t know how that would work for me...

“Beautifully” is being pushed over here as a single at the moment. What’s the story behind the song and the awesome video?
I wanted to write a kind of he said/she said song with country-style storytelling. I wrote it from the perspective of the girl actually because that’s always the position I find myself in. You can’t write a good he said he said song because you can’t always follow it. To me the story is bigger than gender. It’s about falling for someone who doesn’t return the feeling. That’s something universal that everyone can relate to and the video, which I’m really happy with, was the idea of the filmmaker we used. The idea is that it takes place at the end of World War II, it’s on a movie set and there’s this actress who is in love with her co-star who doesn’t love her back and I keep popping up in all of the scenes as an extra. So I guess the idea is that I’m an actor working on the set and I’m sort of the only one noticing what’s going on between the actors and how she’s feeling. It’s intercut with performance footage of me singing the song. I’m observing her story, writing it and then performing it. And that’s my story too on set later after everyone has gone.

It’s very impressive.
Thank you.

You’re welcome. I have to ask, who are you listening to at the moment? I was reading your blog and I know you’ve written a bit about Lana Del Rey, who you recently covered (above). Who else is on your iPod at the moment?
Well another person who made an album with the same producer as me is Ingrid Michaelson. I’ve been listening to that album. She’s super-talented and I really like how her music is put together. Do you know Ingrid over there?

I like her. She’s best known here for “Parachute”.
That’s a good one. She’s done a tonne of music over the past couple of years – I don’t know about Australia but she’s done lots of commercials, so she made an album with the same guy that made my album and it’s really great, so I’ve been listening to that one. I love the Lana Del Rey album. I actually kind of obsessed with Nicki Minaj...

I am! That music isn’t necessarily my thing but I think she’s really awesome, so I listen to that a lot. [Laughs]. I listen to a lot of female singer-songwriters from the ‘90s so there’s a lot of that still on my iPod. So like Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Sinead O’Connor – who I just discovered five years ago and her voice just blows me away. Sad women.

So you basically have an angry lesbian’s iPod?
Exactly! Tracey Chapman, you know.

I wanted to ask you about being an independent artist. How hard is it to make a living without a label these days?
It’s really hard. I mean it definitely takes a lot of persistence. I always kind of like to warn people that the best way to ruin your art is to go into business with it and try to monetise it. Then there’s all of these other things you have to worry about. It’s not as pure as when you’re making music for the sake of making music. I do have to remind myself. I like to write songs, I like to sing and that’s what I have to keep at the forefront of the whole thing. It takes a lot of work and getting industry help, industry attention – you know everyone is vying for this very limited amount of support out there and the support comes from people who are very afraid of taking any kind of risk. They’re always the last people on board with any sort of change or evolution as to what’s going on in the world.

It’s not an easy path. It’s a lot of trying to beg people to care and that’s not really my style. It is difficult to find a balance but I’ve been very lucky. I’ve made a living for four years just from music, I’ve traveled the world several times. I’ve seen so much of the world. I chill out in these rooms full of strangers who know your songs and they’re singing along and you know the fact that I’ve even written a song blows my mind. So having all this music on iTunes and getting to tour – I never dreamed I’d get to do stuff like that. It’s awesome but it’s definitely hard work and it’s very scary and I also think what am I going to be doing when I’m 60? I don’t have a retirement account, I don’t have health insurance. There are a lot of practical things that are terrifying but I guess I’ll figure it out when it happens.

That’s a bit grim but I definitely think you’re building momentum. The last time you were here it was a bit underground but this time there’s an awareness about you. Have you noticed your profile building?
It’s good to hear that [Laughs]. It ebbs and flows, it comes and goes. I started off as an actor in a movie that put my music in front of a big audience and got lots of traffic to my website. I got a lot from that and then I released a couple of albums in a row. Then I took of two or three years to make this album but definitely the live audience has been growing. Pretty cool, yeah.

Speaking of Shortbus do you think that helped or hindered you in the long run? You must be sick of hearing about it... 
I have nothing but great feelings about Shortbus. People ask me that all the time. I’m not sick of it. I’m not sick of talking about it. It was one of the most meaningful and special things I’ve been a part of. I made some of the most amazing friends you could ever ask for, they’re still my closest friends to this day. We had an amazing time. It was such a creative, organic, nurturing atmosphere and I got lots of opportunities. I got to travel because of that film making its ways around the world. It opened up a lot of doors. I’m really proud of that movie. I feel really good about it. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I’m happy to talk about it forever. [Laughs].

I love Shortbus. People talk about how explicit it is but for me it’s more graphic emotionally.
Yeah totally.

Porn everywhere, who cares? It’s just a dick. But emotionally that movie really fucks you over.
Yeah everybody goes in thinking of there’s sex in it, there’s sex in it but when you leave the theatre that’s the last thing you’re thinking about. I think.

Do you have any plans to do another film?
Desires, yes. Plans not yet. I’m still working on it. I’ve been focusing a lot on my music because I can sort of push that on my own and because I’m travelling and touring so much I’m not in town a lot to go to auditions but I would like to. I’m still trying.

Thanks so much for the chat. I can’t wait to see the show.
Thank you so much. I’ll see you soon.


Me said...

He is pretty and while its great that he isn't going for the usual aural turds that exist only to get played in druggy gay clubs, he likes Lamea Del Neigh which is as appealing as Beth Ditto using your mouth as a toilet after a rotten vindaloo...

Hasa said...

Loving that he's getting more attention these days. Can't wait to see him again. Great work Mike :P

Brett said...

he's so hot!

*books tix 2 show*