This interview was originally published in October 2009. Jay Brannan is back on August 8th at Eddie’s Attic!
Singer/songwriter (and actor) Jay Brannan is coming to Atlanta on October 20 to showcase his latest album, In Living Cover. The album is Jay’s second and features two original tunes, as well as seven impeccably-performed covers, including The Cranberries’ “Zombie,” The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman” and “All I Want,” originally a Joni Mitchell song. If your musical forté is beautiful, wide-ranging vocals, you have got to check out Jay Brannan’s albums and show. And just for a little insight into what goes on behind the curtains, Atlanta Music Guide checked in with Jay to ask about the album, the tour, and more.
You released your first full-length (completely original) album last year, called goddamned;
so you’re an originals kind of guy, right? For this album, In Living Cover, why covers?
That sort of happened by accident. I went on tour with goddamned last year, and I wanted to write more this year but really didn’t have the time. I wanted to get something out this year, so In Living Cover has two originals and seven covers; mostly songs I have previously recorded and put on YouTube.
Your version of “All I Want,” originally written and performed by Joni Mitchell, is absolutely mesmerizing. Joni is so unique in her style, tuning, and vocals, and you’ve really done it justice. What process went into choosing these songs, if any? Are they songs you love and have been playing for a long time, or did you decide to do a mostly-covers album and then choose the songs?
The idea to do covers had to do with what I did for YouTube, which is how I have gotten a lot of my exposure. A lot of people asked me to record those songs and release them on an album. When I was choosing them to be YouTube videos, they were songs that have meant something to me or were bookmarks in my life. They all have personal meanings for me. Some songs I chose just because they’re beautifully written, but I can definitely relate to each one. I do these covers because they’re fun, not because I think they’re going to be good.
You’ll be here in Atlanta at Vinyl on October 20. What can we expect of the show?
My live shows are pretty intimate and informal. They’re very interactive; I like to talk a lot, and talking makes me a lot less nervous. It’s a lot of me sitting around singing songs and telling jokes and stories. The shows are a lot like my YouTube videos.
Where did you get the idea to name your tour “I Suck at Life”?
It’s true. It’s so applicable. [Laughing] there’s kind of a story to that. When I first started playing shows in New York about four years ago now, I called my shows that. When I started playing other places, I realized the “I Suck at Life Tour” never really left New York, so I wanted to take it on the road.
You’ve done some acting, gaining recognition first through your role in Shortbus, a film by John Cameron Mitchell. Is that how your artistic roles have played out in life? Did you discover your talent for acting before music, or vice versa?
I’ve sort of always wanted to do both. I have wanted to be an actor since I was a child. People used to laugh at me when I told them I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. I come from a very musical family too, singing at church and at home. I always focused on acting because I didn’t think I could write songs or play instruments, and it’s sort of flip-flopped I still want to do both, for sure. In being a singer, I can be the president of my own company. Acting is collaborative by nature, so it depends on a lot more pieces than just me and my guitar.
A good bit of your exposure has grown through online outlets like YouTube and MySpace. What do you think about the relationship between technology and the artist today? Are you a social media enthusiast, or do you think it’s ultimately hurting the music industry and artists?
I think it’s awesome. I mean, the internet is the best thing that could have ever happened for me I’ve gotten to do a lot of really cool things that I couldn’t have done if I couldn’t do it on my own, online. I can write songs in my apartment and put them up in the middle of the night, and it costs me no money. With my creations, no one can tell me what to do. No one would have given me a second look without the internet. It’s good for consumers too because they can choose what they want to hear now. We all have more options, as creators and as consumers.
We, as humans, naturally stereotype, generalize, and compare the new to what’s familiar to us. Who would you most like to be compared to musically?
Oh god [laughs]. I always compare myself to Lisa Loeb because she’s one of my favorites. I hear my melodies resemble Joni Mitchell’s, and that is alright with me because I think she’s one of the greatest songwriters ever. And I also get Ani DiFranco. Those are the biggest three I hear; sad angry
women – that’s the kind of music I make and like.
If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Meal? [Laughs] Ramen.