The trend of musicians spreading their tentacles into other disciplines is widespread: ever since Ice Cube went from the ‘hood to Hollywood and everyone from J. Lo to Marilyn Manson staked a claim in the retail market, musicians want to prove that they’re multifaceted jacks-of-all-trades. Not Jay Reatard.
“I’m not really good at anything else,” the garage-punk pioneer admits. “I always tell myself that I should relax and go on vacation just to get away from music, but I end up bored, lying in my bed, constantly writing songs in my head.”
It’s hard to imagine where the eighth-grade dropout would be today if it weren’t for the favor of the musical gods, but luckily for him, he’s earned a spot in their good graces. Jay Reatard has gone from being Jay Lindsey, a kid in a poor satellite town of Memphis (population 700) where he “ate mud pies and rode horses,” to Jay Reatard, genre-bender extraordinaire and latest addition to the Matador Records family. He’s recently signed a deal with the label to put out six singles in the next year, as well as several full-length albums. Add to that a schedule of 180 tour dates in one year and you’ve got a serious headache.
That pace may seem grueling, but Reatard has long thrived on over-commitment. The list of former projects is impressive: the Reatards, the Lost Sounds, Angry Angles, the Nervous Patterns, the Bad Times, the Final Solutions, Terror Visions, Destruction Unit, not to mention his solo career. His music has matured, relying less on sloppy charm than on complex, dark songwriting. There’s still evidence of negativity in his keyboard freakouts and tortured vocals, but it’s more restrained and carefully crafted—and, thus, creepier. Since his work with the Lost Sounds, Reatard is unafraid of breaking the holy triumvirate of guitar-bass-drums and is known for pioneering a genre dubbed “black wave”—a mix of garage punk, black metal and new wave. Not that he puts much stock in the “pioneer” distinction. “It’s really easy to seem like you’re pioneering when you’re surrounded by really uncreative people,” Reatard says.
Pushing the bounds of acceptability has gotten Reatard to a pretty good place. His solo LP “Blood Visions” rocketed him to success and boatloads of critical acclaim, and the long-elusive goal of financial security has finally been achieved. The deal with a “big” label like Matador may ruffle the feathers of long-time fans, but Reatard counters with characteristic venom: “Until people want to fucking pay my bills and run my life for me, then I don’t give a fuck what they think. I worked hard to get where I am. Matador is independently distributed. I had an option to sign for a major label and I told them to fuck off. What would they be saying if I signed with Universal?”
Either way, this is a good problem to have. It sure beats mud pies any day. (Katie Buitrago)
Jay Reatard plays February 22 at Reggies Rock Club, 2109 South State, (312) 949-0121, at 10pm. $12.