Jay Brannan brings his slash-folk melodies close to home on Thursday, July 19 at Maxwell’s on Washington Street in Hoboken. The NYC-based singer/songwriter is in town to promote his latest album, “Rob Me Blind.” This time around he worked with David Kahne who produced records for Regina Spektor, Linkin Park and Paul McCartney.
Brannan breathes songs of love’s harsh realities wrapped in velvet. His 2009 EP “In Living Cover” gave fresh pulse to Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” and the Cranberries’ “Zombie.” The sound is marked by pain but is not draining – remembrances of life’s dirty tricks filtered with smooth, milk chocolate.
As an integral showman opening up to audiences whether onstage or responding to a considerable online following, repartee is part of the whole. Here’s a recent interview given in between appearances in Europe and Australia:
CR: It seems you found your ground in “In Living Cover” and “UnMastered.” Is your writing different in studio environments compared to homemade versions?
JB: Well, “In Living Cover” is primarily a covers album, so I can’t say much about most of those lyrics. That album is seven cover songs, bookended by two originals (“Beautifully” and “Drowning”), which were the most recent songs I had written at the time, and the very first. I wanted to release new music and hadn’t written enough songs for a full album of originals – and
“I wanted to create an album that was very “me.” – Jay Brannan
CR: Your fretwork enunciates a paradoxical floorshow of strength and weakness, one aspect interacting with the other. How do vocals, lyrics and instrumentation evolve?
JB: Almost every song starts with the guitar. I have no technical training or knowledge of the instrument, so I just fool around with it until I come up with a riff that I like. Then I start humming a melody that I think sounds nice, and often use whatever random generic lyrics pop into my head at the time. Eventually the lyrics and the melody unfold together and influence each other. I keep a record in my phone (and eventually transferred to a handwritten notebook) of lyric ideas that pop into my head as I go through life every day, and pull from those ideas when I’m writing. I also like to write with a computer at hand, so that I can use an online dictionary, rhyming dictionary and thesaurus. I also record fragments into my laptop as they solidify, otherwise I will completely forget them later. I think parts of what I do happen instinctually and subconsciously, and then some parts are quite pointed, yes.
CR: What is it like working in the hermit-like existence of the initial recordings compared with producer David Kahne on “Rob Me Blind?”
JB: My whole objective with this album (and part of the reason it took me three years to make) is that I wanted to create an album that was very “me” – with my aesthetic, my style, my musical tastes – but I wanted the chance to experiment with a bit more instrumentation or texture. I wanted to try using elements that I have been absolutely terrified of in the past, like percussion. The most important thing was to find the right person to help me do that, in a way that I would be happy. David was the perfect person for that. He’s so good at creating memorable moments in music that are satisfying, and really tasteful. Not cheesy or over the top.
CR: Now that you’re on the world stage, do you have any expectations for your success?
JB: I try not to live too hard in expectation, because the future is so largely out of our control. All I can do is my part – do my best, try my hardest, put myself out there for the universe to respond. I certainly would love if the universe had a huge blank check with my name on it, but I’m not necessarily counting on that, so I’m just trying to enjoy all the opportunities and experiences I have been lucky enough to have in the present.
The show at Maxwell’s starts at 8:30. Check Jay out at jaybrannan.com.