We’ve been listening to Jay Nash’s upcoming album Letters From the Lost a ton around my house. The whole record carries a deep, heartfelt and warm atmosphere we instantly fell in love with. Jay graciously took the time to speak with me over the phone about his upcoming album Letters from the Lost, the failure of humanity, and what he’d be doing if he weren’t a musician, so have a read and discover this incredible artist!
AMBY: What have you been up to lately? We know it’s going to be a pretty busy year for you.
Jay Nash: I’ve spent a lot of the winter working on some other recording projects. I finished up this record early in the fall, and I tend to stay off of the road a little bit in the winter just because I’ve learned from experience that it is the worst time to tour. You know, unless you just enjoy driving in snowstorms and having shows cancelled because of weather. So I’ve been home in Vermont. I produced an EP for an artist from Montreal named Eliza Moore and I also have been doing some composing and scoring for some television commercials. It is for, I’m pretty sure you have it there, a product called Aleve. Just, you know, it’s not music you would ever recognize as being my own, by listening to my records. But it is a cool opportunity to kind of explore some different sonic textures and, you know – kind of broaden my sonic palette. So I’ve been doing a lot of that and a little bit of skiing, and just kind of resting up and getting ready for the long road ahead. I think that all and all, we have almost forty shows coming up in the next two months, so yeah, it’ll be pretty busy.
AMBY: Alright, and your upcoming album, Letters from the Lost, it comes out May 14, so what are some of your plans as far as the release goes?
Jay Nash: We are starting out with a kind of tour before the actual release, but I am going to be in Canada, Western Canada, supporting a band called Ivan & Alyosha, they are from Seattle. I’m not sure what kind of traction they have over there yet but they are doing really well over here. They are critical darlings, in the NPR musical scene. They are on the same record label as the band The Lumineers, and Shoveled & Rope, which is a really cool label called Dualtone. So I’m going out with them in the beginning of May, and then starting on the day of the release I am doing a short headline run of the East Coast playing Washington D.C, Philadelphia, New York City, Portland Maine, and Boston, and then I’ll have a couple days off. Then I am doing a co-headline tour with an artist named David Ramirez, that starts off in Phoenix, Arizona and then goes all the way up the West Coast down through the Rockies and over to Chicago and then down to Texas, so it’s kind of the whole Western half of the US, or most of Western US, anyway. That goes right up until the middle of June, then I’ll have a couple of weeks off after that and then the weekend of July 4th, well it’s actually Saturday July 6th, I have been producing a show which is a fundraising concert for an organization called Save the River, and this is actually the tenth year. It’s been a really cool thing in my home town in upstate New York actually right across the water from you guys. The mouth of Lake Ontario, where it funnels into St. Lawrence River. So that is kind of the foreseeable future. I’ll have to take a little bit of time off this summer, and I play a few festivals here and there Then I will back out on the road in the fall.
AMBY: That is super busy! So out of all of these plans what would you say you’re looking forward to the most?
Jay Nash: You know, the concert on the river is always a highlight of my year because it gives me an opportunity to hang out with a lot of my, not only my favourite musical peers, but some of my best friends in a place that I really love. You know, the place where I grew up. But I am also really looking forward to taking the new music everywhere and sharing it with people and seeing how it connects. I haven’t released a new full length record since the spring of 2011, so it’s been two years and I am excited to see how it feels to play, not only are these new songs but also kind of a new direction. So it will be a big exciting mystery to me to see, to find out what people are going to think about it, and how people are going to react to it.
AMBY: The record was recorded in your home in Vermont, so we have to ask you what was it like recording it in the same place you eat breakfast?
Jay Nash: Well, it was not exactly the same place, and I understand the press release probably reads as a little more simple than it was. I wrote and recorded demos for the album at my home and it’s really great to work here. The studio is kind of removed from the rest of the, living quarters of the house, so when I am up there working I am in my own little world. For me it’s great because I can work without the pressure of the clock, or thinking to myself, I’m spending $100 every sixty minutes or something like that. I have at my disposal all of my guitars and all of my amps and instruments and everything like that. So I could really kind of follow whatever creative whim I had or chase ideas down that seemed sort of weird or abstract at first and then craft them into songs. So in a word, it was great to work in the same place that I eat breakfast.
After making the demos, I then went to Los Angeles and worked with a producer named Bill Lefler, we cut basic tracks for all but two other songs that are on this record. Two of the songs on this record, Blame it on the Wind and I Won’t Let Go were recorded entirely in my home studio. But the other seven were recorded first as basic tracks at Bill Lefler’s studio in Los Angeles. Bill Lefler is a great producer in his own right and so we worked there and he built up some kind of rhythmic soundscapes that were sort of an extensions of the demos that I did. Then I took the tracks home and I did a lot of the harmony vocals and a lot of the guitars and mandolin and stuff like that. It was really just great it be able to work without the pressure of time constraints and just work on things until they felt right. It was really nice.
AMBY: And speaking of Letters from the Lost we think that the video for Wander is great so where did the outdoors, handheld idea kind of spring from?
Jay Nash: Just to give you a brief tangent, the way I wrote a lot of these songs, actually all of these songs, is that I would actually start all of these days with a clean slate and most of the time start with either a rhythmic figure or a melody or a guitar riff and I would build the song up throughout the day, recording as I went, and kind of build a soundscape of things from nonsensical melodies over the top. And as the song kind of came together over the course of the day it would reveal itself to me, like what the lyrics were and what story it was trying to tell. The only other stipulation that I give myself beyond staring a clean state was that I have to finish up the idea by the end of the day. So at the end of the day I would have a semi complete demo. Then I would stop and the next morning I would move onto a new song. And I didn’t listen back to anything I had until the end of approximately a two month period. So until December to January of 2012. So I then went back and mined the songs that I thought fit together as a cohesive record.
Wander I am fairly certain I wrote on December 20th 2011, or the 21st, it was the shortest day of the year, and in Vermont it was either cold or rainy or snowy, and so you certainly feel the isolation in at least one of the most populous America states on a day like that. That was kind of the feeling I was trying to convey musically.
So when it came time to finally put a music video together, I had this idea of shooting this thing in my backyard really, and that is how we made that thing. I wanted to just create this feeling of isolation, but without desperation if that makes any sense. Hopefully within the spookiness and darkness there is a sense of serenity. And that was my kind of hair-brained idea of how to do that.
AMBY: That is a really cool concept, I hadn’t known that! In your biography you mention how you are lucky to discover you connection to music at such a young age, and I mean that is inspiring to me cause I can completely relate to it. So with having music in your life such a long time, what would you say is one of your favourite musical memories or moments?
Jay Nash: There’s so many, and it’s funny that you asked me that question because I don’t think I’d ever been asked that question prior to this year. And I had an interview last week with another Canadian interviewer, and they asked me the same question.
Jay Nash: Yeah, very cool. And it may create different answers in the mentality of Canadian musical fans, readers, and critics compared to American fans, readers, and critics. Anyways, there’s been so many. I still can remember exactly what it felt like when I was twelve years old, listening to this tape that had The Grateful Dead on it. The first time I heard it, there was this language of communication between the band members that I remember so clearly recognizing for the first time. It gave me this feeling that sort of- at that time in my life I think I was very daunted by the concept of infinity and the concept of the universe and how it’s of infinite size. And I don’t know, it was like having an existential crisis if that makes any sense! I heard this language and the music, and the sensitivity to each other’s dynamics and rhythmic conversation. I suddenly did not feel alone, or daunted by any of that. That feeling has been replicated several times, and it can be as simple as driving in the car and hearing a recording for the first time, or something that’s really powerful. I remember the first time I heard Sara Bareilles, she’s a good friend of mine now, but the very first time I heard her voice on the radio, I was thinking “oh my god, that IS incredible.” It was kind of funny because we ended up becoming good friends, and I guess that’s how life sort of works sometimes. Also, seeing The Grateful Dead in concert was certainly a great experience.
AMBY: Great! And we usually don’t ask questions about merch, but we actually have one for you today. We noticed that your shirts are a spinoff of the TV show M*A*S*H. And we just have to ask, how did the logo come into play other than the rhyming, of course? What’s the connection?
Jay Nash: The only connection was a thought I had in the middle of the night and I woke up and remember the theme which was going through my head. I was thinking about that song and the M*A*S*H logo kind of flashed in my mind and I thought, “I can just swap out the M and put a N, and that would be a hilarious t-shirt!” As an artist, you have to figure out a way to put people on the front of their, you know, to put your name on their chests is a real challenge. It seems like there’s a lot of singer-songwriters and bands where everyone has a million t-shirts, and I think it’s kind of an on-going conundrum. So, it was just an idea that I had in the middle of the night.
AMBY: It worked out, at least!
Jay Nash: Yeah, the first order I made I think I sold out of them at the first show, and prior to that, I’d be lucky if I sold one t-shirt so I figured it was an okay idea, I guess.
AMBY: Definitely! So, if you could have dinner with any of your influences, who would you choose and why?
Jay Nash: Living or dead?
Jay Nash: Okay. Jerry Garcia because I feel like there’s such a wealth of sensitivity and sophistication that is implied in his guitar playing, and I’ve experience a very limited amount of conversation with him through interviews. I would just love to ask him specific questions, and just talk about- just hang out with the guy because his guitar playing has been a source of inspiration and influence in my life. Levon Helm, unfortunately also deceased, but I think he’s just as a vocalist and a drummer he always got stuff 100% right musically throughout his life and career. Let’s see, the last would be Bruce Springsteen because he’s a force of nature.
AMBY: I can only think of the questions you’d be able to ask with that combination!
Jay Nash: I mean, I can’t tell you what they would be, but yeah.
AMBY: Well, we have another creative question for you here. If you could create a law that everybody would have to follow, what would it be?
Jay Nash: I would make sure that every single person who drives, everywhere, understands that the left lane is for passing, only. And I hope when people camp out in the left lane, going like two miles under the speed limit- ah that just infuriates me. There are a few things that make me angrier than that, and I think that the skill of merging should be taught in all public schools in maybe tenth or eleventh grade because I feel like that’s the failure of humanity is that we are unable to merge.
AMBY: That’s the first driving answer we’ve ever gotten for that question, that’s a first! Now, your Twitter description actually states you’re a “wanderer, craftsman of song, adventure seeker”. So as far as the adventure part goes, what’s the craziest thing to happen to you at a gig?
Jay Nash: Let me think about this for a second… Craziest thing to happen to me at a gig. I had a couple proposals, wedding proposals, but I think that’s kind of standard for the songwriters. I’ve played in a snowstorm, like outside in a snowstorm and that’s-
Jay Nash: Uhmm, well the show was scheduled to be outside.
AMBY: Oh, alright.
Jay Nash: And there was a good 2,000 people there and it just started snowing about two songs in, just dumping snow. So, we went out and played our hour set and online there are pictures of it. It was actually a lot of fun. It was the right crowd for it- it was a ski crowd so people were pretty excited it was snowing. Man, that is a tough question and I don’t know why I’m drawing a blank. Like, at a gig? You’re saying while I’m playing kind of thing?
AMBY: Yes, or we could spin it around and change it to what’s the craziest thing you saw while attending a gig. Either works.
Jay Nash: Yeah, I’m trying to think of things that are positive since I’ve seem both good and bad and I’ll leave out the bad. So we’ve got a snowstorm, the proposals, and basically if we put things together in a group of three it will really come through to maximum effect. How about that?! I’ve played quite a few shows on boats of various sizes. So there you go, I’ve played shows on boats of various sizes, played during snowstorms, and witnessed wedding proposals!
Jay Nash: But when I rattle these things off, it’s not that crazy.
AMBY: The next step is to be playing on a boat, with a snowstorm, with a proposal.
Jay Nash: Yes, and there’s been fist fights, public drunkenness, public nudity. I don’t know! And it’s surprisingly at shows where predominately it’s one man with an acoustic guitar, which I always kind of think is kind of interesting. And I’m sorry I don’t have anything more interesting.
AMBY: No, the blizzard thing is crazy! Not many people could tolerate that. Well, now we’re down to our last question: what’s something about Jay Nash that nobody knows, yet?
Jay Nash: That nobody knows? That’s a big request- you’re asking for a world-wide exclusive! How about something that most people don’t know?
AMBY: That works, too!
Jay Nash: I’ve often considered if things really fail at music, I’ve considered going after a career as a competitive eater.
Jay Nash: Yeah, I eat a lot of food. Among my close friends, I have what has become a rather legendary appetite.
AMBY: What’s your favourite thing to eat if you were to go into that stream?
Jay Nash: As a competitive eater? Oh well I do love Thai food. I have a pretty incredible appetite for Thai food.
AMBY: Jay Nash: The world renowned Thai food eater!
Jay Nash: Ha, yes. I usually stop eating not because I’m full but because the food is gone, or I had something pressing. I can’t be a competitive eater before I go on stage because it would kind of sabotage the show, but I’m always hungry!
Also, be sure to catch Jay Nash on tour!