“It takes ten times longer to get rid of your reputation than it does to make it.” --Jay Reatard
As we approach the August 18, 2009 release of Watch Me Fall, Jay Reatard’s 90-something th release since dropping out of 8th grade to pursue this game, you might ask, who is this guy?
In the late 90s, 15-year-old Jay Lindsey, living right outside Memphis, played all of the instruments on a demo tape by his newly-minted performing moniker of “The Reatards.” This cassette was sent to Eric Friedl of the Oblivians, who had used the “Goner Records” imprint on a couple of releases. His next would be a 7” by The Reatards, followed shortly by a full length LP, Teenage Hate (Goner, 1998). Remembers Jay:
“I read an article in Spin about ‘The Lo-Fi Revolution’ in the mid-90s, and I kept seeing ‘Four-Track’ ‘Four-Track’ ‘Four-Track’….and I didn’t know what one was, but I figured out that it was what all of those bands, Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, used to record their records. Before the internet, it was really hard trying to figure out what one cost, or how to find one in the first place, but I finally got one for Christmas. Before that, I recorded by using a karaoke machine with two tape decks hooked up to it.”
After quickly building a reputation for an anything-goes live set, and releasing another excellent full length Grown Up, Fucked Up (Empty, 1999), Jay Reatard shoved what was previously a side project to the forefront and started raising eyebrows with something other than live mayhem: Songwriting and an ear for breaking ground.
The Lost Sounds, formed with then-girlfriend Aljcia Trout, lasted from 1999 until 2004, but left a recorded legacy that dwarfs, in size and quality, most bands that have been around for two or more decades. Sadly, it’s a legacy that remains underrated and overlooked, yet they predicted the visceral synth-heavy post-punk that bands like Brooklyn’s Liars would take to the bank. Today, the growing popularity of a band such as Blank Dogs only exemplifies the impact that the Lost Sounds had on the garage-punk underground of six or so years ago.
Jay’s first title under the solo “Jay Reatard” moniker, Blood Visions was released in early 2006 on In The Red, and it politely sat on the shelves for over six months until the live act brought up the rear and things started to happen.
Hands-down one of the best live acts in the country, the Jay Reatard band (Stephen Pope on bass and Billy Hayes on drums) fueled a phenomenon by sheer force and efficiency: Shows frequently featured 18 songs (or more) in 25 minutes (or less), often running through his catalog at double or triple speed, and announcing the next song title before the first song ended. Though lately they’ve been known to play as long as an hour and to take the occasional breath, the crowd-pleasing sense of panic and brutality remains – think of the infectiousness of top-shelf Buzzcocks shoved by the physical power of Black Flag or Husker Du at their peak.
More singles for more labels, a handful of mind-bending SXSW performances, nonstop touring, a bidding war…that’s right, a bidding war…and the first quarter of 2008 found Jay Reatard on Matador Records, sidestepping the expected “first album” honeymoon for the attention-getting move of six limited edition 7”s in as many months (April-September 2008 in descending order of print size).
One of the many signs that things were going in one direction and one direction only, Jay was asked to record a cover of Beck’s “Gamma Ray” (Jay’s version is the B-side of the original) and open one of the superstar’s L.A. performances. Somehow, Jay crammed writing and recording of the new album into 2008 and winter of 2009, then gave the world a glimpse of where his head was songwriting-wise by contributing “Hang Them All” to a split 7” with Sonic Youth for a Record Store Day (4/20) exclusive release. It’s worth noting that Jay has traveled from one extreme to the other with his new album’s recording process, strengthening the anticipation felt by a still-growing fan-base. He says:
“I’ve always finished my recordings and then a label is decided on. When I made Blood Visions, I had no idea that it was going to see the light of day. And I’ve never made a record in which the label heard the songs, or anyone heard the songs, before the album was finished, so that’s kind of intense. But I’m trying to go about this process in a way that’s the closest to how I would have done an album in the past.”
With the exception of “I’m Watching You,” Watch Me Fall was entirely recorded in his home studio, Shattered Studios, with Jay playing every instrument, except Billy Hayes drumming on “I’m Watching You,” “Wounded,” “Rotten Mind,” and “Hang Them All” and Jonathan Kirkscey’s cello on “Hang Them All” and “A Whisper”. The album pits his instantly memorable melodies and uplifting Ramonesian simplicity against forceful, tireless playing and aggressive, often paranoid lyrics. Jay’s intense interest in classic pop songs (and artists that wreak havoc on them) is sometimes overlooked but pervasive here.
In 2009 Jay revived his Shattered Records label, which released primarily limited-edition vinyl from 2004-2006. Releases by Jeffrey Novak, The Oh Sees, Useless Eaters, Nobunny, Hunx and His Punx, Box Elders, Earthmen & Strangers, and New Zealand lo-fi legend Chris Knox reiterate its status as one of the premier garage rock labels in the world. This fall Jay will be headlining a Shattered Records tour with Nobunny, Hunx and His Punx, and Box Elders.