Here's Your Future: Jay Reatard
Jay Reatard's band quit on him this week. (He broke the news on Twitter, of course.)
Over the last three years I've seen Jay Reatard seven times. The most recent was Saturday at the Ottobar in Baltimore, and it was a whole lot like the previous six shows -- Reatard, along with bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes, stormed through hyperspeed versions of Reatard's already blazing tunes, resulting in a half-hour of whiplash-inducing punk rock fury. If Reatard didn't shout the name of each song before he blasted into it, it would be hard to distinguish one 90-second string of screaming power chords from the other. Still, Reatard's sharp pop songwriting skills were apparent in tunes such as "Nightmares" and "An Ugly Death," no matter how much he tried to obscure it behind speed and distortion. Now that show may be the end of an era.
(Post Rock's four point program to take over America, after the jump.)
Pope and Hayes abruptly quit, leaving Reatard without a band for the time being. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Pope's enthusiastic pogoing and mouthing of the lyrics made for a good sideshow and will certainly be missed. But Reatard's live show was becoming somewhat stale, even if it was still thrilling compared to most other bands. So this might be the time for a fresh start. Right now he's known for basically a few things: Being a Reatard, punching some dude in the face at a show and playing sets that are so short they seem like they are over before they start. So if I were his manager or worked for Matador Records (you know where to reach me, guys), here's what I'd do to re-shape Reatard's career.
1) Change the Name
It helped him get noticed and he's been using it for half his life, but the simple fact is that it's going to be tough for Jay to make it too far when he's still a Reatard. "Something that's juvenile and obvious, when you're 15 years old it's great; but 13 years later, it sucks because now I get to be called retarded for my entire life." That's what he told me when we talked at SXSW in 2008. It may be a little late in the game to make this shift, but his real name -- Jimmy Lee Lindsey -- is about as badass a moniker as there is. Every show bill will say "formerly Jay Reatard," too. The brand identity won't be lost and it would be an obvious invitation to switch up his sound if he were so inclined.
2) Play The Songs Closer to the Way They Sound on the Album
This is usually the opposite of advice I'd give a band. If we wanted to hear carbon copies of what's on the record, we could simply listen to the record. But for too long Reatard hasn't been giving his songs the treatment they deserve. Yes, it's a longstanding tradition back to the Ramones for punk bands to zoom through as many songs as possible in as short a time. But the trade off of adrenaline rush for musical focus isn't always a fair one, especially when Reatard has more to offer than visceral sensations. His songs just need a little room to breathe. There are subtleties and hooks that get bowled over when the defining mission is full speed ahead.
That's especially on new album "Watch Me Fall" -- those tunes, which are light on distortion and heavy on melody, inspire more pogoing than moshing. And he basically ignored that album at Saturday's performance, instead opting to play largely the same selection of songs he's played for the past two years, drawing mostly from 2006's mighty awesome "Blood Visions." In the past he told me it was really an involuntary thing -- "Some people get bummed on how amped up they are live but I can't do it any other way. It's just that nervous energy." -- but there's got to be a happy medium. Such as...
3) Do An Acoustic Tour
Really! Talk about a game changer, this would be it. To go from 30 minutes of snotty, spitting Flying V mayhem to a punked-up troubadour thing -- that will get people's attention. Just when you think everything that's been written could have been written, here comes a brand new angle that's almost begging for a story in every city that the tour would take him. It's one of those classic reinvention tactics, but if you still play the songs really fast and act like a disinterested jerk, you keep the punk attitude. Plus, punks gone acoustic is a bit of a mini-trend. Folks like Kevin Seconds, Chuck Ragan and Austin Lucas, all punk veterans who were in bands that were on the same level of popularity as Reatard (even if their pre-blog existence didn't make it seem that way) have all found successful second acts on the tough troubadour circuit. This doesn't need to -- and shouldn't -- be a permanent shift for Reatard, but a string of dates like this would showcase his songs and if he were to then get back with a band, make that even more newsworthy.
4) Keep Releasing Record After Record After Record
This shouldn't be a problem since Reatard's name has been associated with more then 50 releases -- LPs, EPs, singles, etc. -- since he was barely a teenager. Anyone who watched the documentary about him on Matador's site knows that music is what he does and what he will continue to do until he dies. It's truly in his blood. The constant barrage of recordings is a decent strategy in today's media world. A new song here or there but then an album every year. Look what it's done for the likes of band like the Mountain Goats. What started out as a ridiculously prolific lo-fi project has morphed into something big enough to where John Darnielle can fill the 9:30 club and play on "The Colbert Report." I truly believe that Reatard is talented enough and has enough built-in support (Matador, long features in the New York Times, etc.) that it's all about finding that right formula to take him to that next level of success. Maybe this isn't exactly the formula, but I think it's out there somewhere.
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