Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Spotlight - Jay Brannan

This week's spotlight is on an album that I've been really diggin' for a couple of months now. It's titled Goddamned, it came out last month, and it's the debut album from Jay Brannan. Jay's been touring in support of it, so I had to patiently wait until he got off the road so he could take some time to tell me about the lead off song from the album, Can't Have It All.

If I've been really diggin' the album since I got it, I've been REALLY really loving this song. Honestly, since the first time I played it, the song's been in heavy rotation. For those of you following MISB for a while, you know that the Sunday Spotlight has been around for about nine months now. Up until now, I've always invited artists to pick a song from the album themselves that they wanted to talk about. This album was the first time that I specifically requested the song for an artist to talk about. So yea, please check out this track at the minimum, if not the entire album. As always, text in red is Jay's and questions in red are mine.

Jay Brannan - Can't Have It All : Goddamned


Can't Have It All is the only song on my album that had never been heard by my audience in some form or another until the album was actually released (whether live or recorded or on youtube, etc.). I started writing it from my home in New York City and finished writing it in Los Angeles after we had already begun recording the album.

I haven't dated anyone in 6 years. Like a lot of other people, I find it nearly impossible to find someone who you can connect with on physical as well as emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels. I always feel like people I'm sexually attracted to are either a.) boring, or b.) completely selfish and flakey and unreliable.

Whenever I complain about how difficult it is to find someone to be with, people often come back with the response that it is especially difficult in cities like Los Angeles and New York (the last two cities in which I have lived) because there is so much going on, and people are always looking for the next best thing that might be around the corner (as opposed to what's right in front of them), and so many people are overwhelmed by their careers, or nightlife, or whatever.

In my experience, people are pretty much the same everywhere you go...doesn't matter if you're in New York or Tel Aviv or Toronto, or Smalltown, Ohio.

But maybe I'm wrong. And that's kind of where the inspiration for "Can't Have It All" came from. Is everyone else right? Do people like myself have to choose between being in a relationship or following your own aspirations? Do I have to stay in Smalltown, Texas in order to have a relationship...just because that's what people do there, and there may not be as many distractions? Or do I go somewhere like New York or L.A. where I can pursue my creative and professional goals, at the expense of finding someone interested in "settling down"?

I don't have the answer. So I just wrote the song instead. haha

And three more questions for Jay:

1.) So your album is really relationshiply depressing, and then you get to Housewife (the 6th track on the album). And I'm like, YES! There's still hope for true love outside of a Disney Princess movie! And then you get to the end of the song and it's like your feet are taken out right from under you. Honestly, the song kills me every time I listen to it even though I know how it's going to end now. You mentioned you haven't dated anyone in six years - are you still hopeful or is the glass half empty and quickly draining for you?

I'm pretty sure someone broke my glass haha. Ummm...I guess there's a little bit of both. The realistic part of me looks at the facts...we all like to believe there's a soulmate for everyone, but -- if you look around you, it's just not true. Particularly for someone like me, who is kind of a disaster and a very specific person who requires a very specific match. In all my attempts, it seems kind of hopeless. But I guess there is this closet optimist in me that holds onto the idea of finding someone to be with someday. I'm trying to kill it, but I suppose it's just one of those unkillable human nature things. :)

2.) The album's title track is a pretty strong attack on religion, even going so far as to compare it to ancient Greek mythology. While much of the rest of the album lives and breaths on a much more intimate and personal level, this song seems much larger. What prompted you to write it and title the album after it?

That song was inspired by a half-day trip I took to the old city of Jerusalem. It was just so surreal and strange to actually see this physical place from where so much controversy has stemmed -- controversy that has ripped apart individuals and nations for thousands of years -- and to see how man-made it all was. The city has been re-built so many times, most of the original architecture is way below ground. Parts of it look like Disneyland the way the architecture is very recent but fashioned to look old. The streets are lined with souvenir shops, Nike t-shirts, and Coca-Cola banners. People line up to revere ancient relics that aren't even there. Most of what is there is some sort of replica of what something might have looked like in the place it possibly could have's set up like a museum and people put so much magic in all these estimations of what could have happened there. The song really isn't about whether or not there is a god, or that any of these things happened. It's about how people (and mostly government) have devised these very specific doctrines & mythologies, and consequently decided that anyone else is wrong and heretical and should...more or less...suffer pain, torture, and death (whether by human hands or supernatural forces in the afterlife). It's amazing to see how violent and evil people become when their belief systems are shaken, no matter how outlandish those beliefs may be in the first place.

3.) One of my favorite lines on the album (and I have many) comes from Bowlegged & Starving: "I've got my laptop for pleasure / and my guitar for pain." Clearly a lot of the album is about expressing that pain and getting it out. Imagine that you find that guy in Housewife and things are going great - do you still see yourself making music? What would is sound like?

I don't think I'm capable of pure and actual happiness haha. Even if I found a "perfect" relationship (which may or may not exist), it won't change who I am. I am a sad and angry and frustrated person. There's a lot of things in this world that make me feel that way. Some tangible, and some not (like emotional disorders perhaps). Read the answer I wrote to the previous question. I mean, there is so much pain in this world, and I truly walk around feeling that pain every day. People ask me why I'm sad or angry or depressed -- why I'm crying sometimes -- and I just want to shake them and scream "look around you!! why AREN'T you crying?? can't you see??" There will always be material for me. I don't think a relationship lifts the burdens of life, my hope is that it just helps you carry them.


As you might have guessed from what Jay had to say above, the album is incredibly intimate. I know that that term is bandied around a lot in regard to music, but in this case, it's absolutely true. You truly get the feel that Jay is sitting in front of you with his guitar on his lap telling you about what's been happening in his life recently. This is surely where the charm of the album lies - in the simple, unassuming warmth radiated throughout. I really can't recommend this album any more. Listen to the following two tracks, my favorite out of an album of excellent music, and then pick up the album for yourself.

Visit his website and become his friend on MySpace.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Jay's fantastic, and his answers to the questions were illuminating. Great job!

Sean said...

My pleasure Anon!