Jay Nash

If you're out to discover who Jay Nash is, you might begin to think that he is not only a musician, but a student of philosophy. And just maybe, that's what all songwriters are in some fashion. No matter what label you choose, one thing is certain: this is a guy concerned with connecting to his listeners by letting them know that they are never alone as long as there is music. The bio page on his personal website, Jaynash.com, reads more like a personal letter than the prototypical, fact-listing that often hides a musician's true thoughts. Nash states, "So – that is what I do. I seek that connection. I search for that sound. I suspect that the universe has some particular resonant frequencies and I believe that is the truth that we are all looking for. Just as it exists in the physical world, I think that we can find that resonance in melody, harmony, rhythm and poetry."

Hailing from Manlius, New York, Nash came to the realization at a very young age that the weight of the universe and all its contents could lead to his infinite loneliness if he so allowed; but it was not long before the rhythmic power of music would overwhelm him with a deep sense of community. His bio explains, "What I discovered was the connective power of music. Every once in a while, throughout my life, I will forget and when I do, I suppose that I let my perception of the world around me fade in to black and white. Then, I will hear a voice or a song…or find myself onstage with a particularly open and enthusiastic audience, or sharing a harmony with a friend…and BOOM! Everything explodes back into technicolor."

The passionate musician unabashedly lays claim to the realization that he has been influenced by a diverse set of musical characters, ranging from the planet of blues, to the warm sun of folk, leading across lands of jazz, and delving into the groovy star systems of psychedelic rock. It is difficult to pigeonhole him into one particular category. It could very well be this experimental personality of his that continues to woo his fans and to seduce the unsuspecting ear.

With the release of his latest album Letters from the Lost, a nation-wide tour that has kept him busy for the first part of 2013, and his upcoming trip to the Netherlands and the UK, it is a wonder that Mr. Nash has kept his wits about him, or has the patience to obligingly feed the curiosity of his listeners. And yet he has, as we discovered both personal thoughts and music-related interests throughout our interview.
Heather Pugh (Songfacts): I noticed on your Tumblr page that several of your posts address thoughts on being a respectful person. After reading your posts concerning loud talkers at shows and salty jerks out surfing, it's very apparent that you put a lot of stock in The Golden Rule, so to speak. Would you say that the way people treat you has changed, for better or worse, since becoming a touring musician?

Jay Nash: Hey, thanks for reading that thing. To be clear, I think that it was a single post about 'chatters' and another single post about an isolated incident with a salty old surfer dude. (I just don't want to come across as being overly sensitive.) But certainly, you were astute enough to recognize the trend, that when people exhibit a lack of respect for their fellow inhabitants of this planet, I find it astonishing and am compelled to comment upon it.

I would say that, generally speaking, since evolving into a lifelong, touring musician, people treat me with uncommon kindness and respect, almost undeservedly so.

I think that the Golden Rule is a good one. Merge. Think about it, that is almost the single and paramount failure of humanity, our inability to merge and our insistence of believing that our own singular comfort somehow takes divine precedence over the comfort of everyone else. That mentality just doesn't work.

Songfacts: It looks like you played at The White Eagle in Portland, Oregon on May 30th of this year. I actually stayed there for a night and ventured downstairs for some late-night food and live music back in December. Its sordid history along with being a hostel and a cozy music venue, truly rocks. What kind of vibe did you get from the place? Did you stay the night in one of their hostel rooms?

Jay: We didn't stay the night there. Actually, we got a really sweet deal on a couple of rooms at the Marriott Courtyard, just down the street on Hotwire.

The White Eagle was cool... kind of a glorified and dressed up neighborhood bar with a stage. A true saloon. It was actually kind of a vast departure from most of the venues on this tour which tended to be straight up listening rooms.

Songfacts: What would you say is your "prized possession" from Letters from the Lost? Are there any songs that have evolved since its release that you would go back and re-record if given the opportunity?

Jay: Not yet. So far, I still love the way those recordings came out. It's still early on in terms of the evolution of those songs, but they are certainly evolving rapidly throughout the tour. Coming out of the recording process, my favorite songs from a songwriting standpoint were, "Sometimes" and "Blame It All on the Wind" and my favorite track on the record was "Wander." Since playing them all live a whole bunch, "White Whale" was really sparked to life. It's been fun.

Songfacts: You've been compared to Radiohead, but how would you describe your sound?

Jay: Who said that??!! I want to hug and kiss them. Actually I think that I may have been listening to In Rainbows a little too much on vinyl in the fall of 2011 going into the writing process. That record may have influenced me to start experimenting with loops in my studio.

I generally loathe self description, but I will tell you that I grew up on a strict musical diet of Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Sam Cooke, The Band, Phish, Cat Stevens, ELO, and Springsteen. I guess it wasn't all that strict...

I suppose that my music is an amalgam of all of those influences. I'm hesitant to describe what it sounds like. It probably sounds completely different to me than it does to you.

Songfacts: Please tell us about recording the song "Sometimes," and who the female vocalist is on the track.

Jay: That's Kyler England. I wrote that song in a stairwell in East Berlin in May of 2012, right before recording the album, following a particularly long drive and soundcheck. I am fairly certain that 100,000 cigarettes had been smoked in that particular stairwell. It made me just a little homesick.

I recorded the guitar and vocal live in one take and the rest of the track is built around it. It's a pretty simple recording. I think that it actually conveys the initial emotion behind the song pretty well and also sounds a lot like a live recording of a group of people playing together in a room. It's a ruse though. Bill Lefler put down a simple loop, beating on a guitar case with his hands. I put down the acoustic guitar and vocal. Next was Ben Peeler, playing an ethereal delay drenched pedal steel, followed by some tasty work on a weisenborn lap steel. Jon Flower on upright bass and finally Kyler England sang an otherworldly harmony vocal, pulled straight from my subconscious.

Songfacts: Where do inspirations for your songs typically come from?

Jay: I wish that I had a better answer for this. Observation, personal experience, heartbreak, happiness, history, politics, art, music, life, death, sex, drugs, etc. I just try to soak it up and then reflect something that is honest, resonant and hopefully, true.

Songfacts: "I Won't Let Go" is quite a beautiful, old-soul kind of song, almost like a ballad to a good friend. You bring in some truly jazzy elements, which I think, is the point in which your music really starts to set itself apart. Was that you on the sax? How did the inspiration for the sound of this song come about?

Jay: Thank you for that.

That song started out as a bit of a musical meditation with my friend (and Vermont neighbor) Michael Zsoldos, who is a brilliant jazz saxophonist and arranger. We started with the guitar riff, with Michael sitting at the drum set. Michael does not play the drums, nor does he consider himself to be a drummer. We set up some mics and captured a live take. Next we developed a horn arrangement that I ended up reamping through a guitar amp. Before he headed home for the day, I had Michael play over the changes of the song, each time encouraging him to play fewer and fewer notes, saying as much as possible with as little as possible. Michael is accustomed to playing at breakneck speed over chord changes that would make my head spin.

So at the end of that session, I was left with this beautiful sounding track. I listened back to it and for some reason, was reminded of a situation with a friend a few years back where, in the midst of a conversation, my friend emptied an entire bottle of whiskey down their throat. I thought that my friend was going to die. Miraculously though, they did not. And in the time between panic and when I finally felt comfortable with the fact that all would be well, my friend and I shared one of the heaviest and most existential conversations that I have had in my entire life.

Songfacts: I'm very curious about your inclusion of two versions of "Sailor" on the album. One is a foot-stomping kind of invitation with the handclapping, group vocals, and life-is-good vibe. The wrap-up to your album, your solo version, would also stand strong on its own. So, what was your reasoning there?

Jay: That's kind of bonus track - that demo version of "Sailor." I consider "Blame It All on the Wind' to be the parting shot.

I decided to include the "Sailor" demo on the digital version because it had a vibe that I didn't want to forget and that I thought was worth sharing. Especially given the context of the rest of the album. The album version of "Sailor" is defiant of death and inclusive of humanity. The demo reveals an element of loneliness that I find compelling and beautiful.

Songfacts: What has been the most emotional reaction you've ever had to another musician's music? Any teary moments? And on that note, have you ever seen someone react emotionally to your music?

Jay: Garrison Starr typically brings me to tears at least once or twice with every performance of hers that I witness. As I grow older, I am more and more affected by the impact of a band or group of musicians that has weathered the storm of the rock-n-roll life style and find themselves making the finest music of their careers, two or three decades in. There's also something about hundreds - or thousands - of people singing along in the dark. That kind of thing reduces me to a puddle of tears every time.

Yes - I have seen people react emotionally to my songs, but you would have to be crazy to think that I am going to sell them out in a public forum :)

Songfacts: Aside from having the well-known inspirations that you've mentioned many times throughout other interviews and media, such as the great Jerry Garcia, have there been any friends or family members who have had an influence on your musical evolution?

Jay: Yes, my mom always encouraged me to follow the inner voice and seek out music adventures of all kinds. My Uncle Hutch gave me my first guitar (a 1938 Vega archtop, which he found at a garage sale for $15, which I later discovered to be one of the finest instruments I have ever played). And my Grandpa Bud, who somehow instilled in me the belief that I could do whatever I wanted to do if I put enough time and effort into it. Grandpa Bud also managed to teach me to avoid flock mentality and behavior, all before he passed away when I was fifteen.

Songfacts: Alright, wrapping up, a lot of artists in the folk/indie/Americana scene seem to, especially as of late, fall under accusations of all sounding pretty similar. What would you say sets you apart, whether lyrically, musically, or otherwise?

Jay: That's not for me to say. What do you think?

All I can say is that I was doing it before it was "cool."

June 27, 2013
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