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A Dirty Dozen with JAY VAN RAALTE – August 2023

| 18 August 2023 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “What would you get if you blended the economy of The Edge with the blowtorch blues of Jack White, added to the direct, narrative songwriting of Tom Petty and the dramatic flair of The Killers? Probably something like Jay Van Raalte. The Charleston native’s musical endeavors have ranged from old school blues to folk/country, from musical theater to modern rock, but three things remain constant: thoughtful guitar playing, perceptive songwriting, and a strict attention to detail and arrangement. All of this is on display in Linearity, the Reverend Guitars featured artist’s debut release. The self-produced EP features Van Raalte on nearly every instrument, but the songs come to life onstage via hard-hitting power trio, Jay Van Raalte and The Spectrum, which provides a rock-solid foundation for Jay’s fiery guitar playing.” We get Jay to discuss new music, influences, and more.

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

I love this question! The latest release is my debut full length album, and it’s made up of a combination of old and new songs. As such, there are lots of little places where one thing references another- for instance, there’s a lyric on my prior EP, “Maybe I’ll stay a while, or maybe I’m just passing through,” which was a nod to another song called Passing Through that made it onto this record. There are also a lot of word choices that, for me, have a very specific association, but without context no one would ever know what inspired them. I use the word “bushwhacked” in “Steps”, which for me is totally an REM reference even though obviously they don’t own the word. “In Good Life,” I end the chorus by asking, “and who decides?” My parents had a professor who preached that every question in government comes down to the question, “who decides?” and I guess the story stuck in my mind! I love those kind of very specific references that are probably meaningful to no one but me.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I have always, always, always wanted to be a musician. Before I could walk I was strumming a badminton racquet and singing along with U2’s Rattle and Hum on the TV and signing my elementary school papers as Bono. But I didn’t seriously start learning an instrument until middle school. I was lucky to end up with a great guitar teacher who didn’t just teach me to play but started bringing me to shows, pulling me up onstage, and helping me connect with other musicians. Watching those “older brother” bands, seeing what life on the road really looked like- not the glamorous stuff that most people probably imagine, but the actual “thirteen of us are living in one house and we play 250 shows a year” reality made a lightbulb go off in my head- rather than being dissuaded, I was fired up and ready to dive into that life myself.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

I’ve already talked about U2 and REM – those are by far the two strongest influences from my childhood, and I feel like as I grow as a musician, I keep finding new things to love about them. But the band that really made me pick up a guitar was Green Day. By the time I hit middle school, I loved pop punk and emo and all that stuff that was going on in the late 2000s. Green Day made me feel like I really could just pick up a guitar and make noise. I got to see them live when I was thirteen and it totally reinforced my drive and desire to make music. A few months later, I played my first show, and they haven’t been able to get me offstage since.

4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

I think I’d pick Jack White. Aside from the fact that he’s an absolutely iconic visionary and talented multi-instrumentalist, one thing I tend to seek out in collaborators is a willingness to push back. I function well as an editor for other people, but I desperately want people who can do that for me when I’m working on my own material. I want people who think of things that would never occur to me, who are willing to fight for their ideas and call me on my bullshit. I feel certain Jack would have no problem doing either.

5. What is your favorite activity when out of the studio and/or not on tour?  What do you like to do to unwind?

My absolute favorite thing other than music is surfing. There’s nothing like it as far as clearing your head and forcing you to exist in the present moment. I also really like hiking and rock climbing, but living on the coast I don’t get much of a chance to do either. To unwind, I love reading and writing, cooking, and honestly, a lot of inadvisable afternoon naps.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I wrote a little blurb for my website that said something like a blend of “the economy of The Edge with the blowtorch blues of Jack White, added to the direct, narrative songwriting of Tom Petty and the dramatic flair of The Killers.” I think that’s pretty good, but it might just be wishful thinking. I’ve gotten some pretty wild fan comments over the years. I recently had someone describe our style as “jazzy” which really threw me for a loop. I also once had a guy tell me that his granddaughter was a musician too, and that my songs sounded almost as good as something she’d write. I’m still not sure what kind of response he was expecting with that.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Bassman is definitely the mixologist. No one does the cooking because usually my mom makes sure we have a “snack pack” in the van full of granola bars, goldfish, oreos, and everything you need to make pb&j, so we pretty much live off that. I am definitely the person slacking off in the corner with an acoustic guitar incessantly playing whatever song I’m currently obsessed with until someone takes it away from me. Drummer boy provides moral support and good stories.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

This is so lame, but we recently played a show with T Hardy Morris and I was a total dork. I’m a huge fan of both his old band Dead Confederate and his more recent solo stuff. My bandmates kept making fun of me because I think I said like two words the entire night.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

My friends in SUSTO have a lyric in their song “Wasted Mind,” “I love it that the road never ends.” That really sums up how I feel about music: I love that there’s always more work to be done, something new to learn, another discovery waiting on the horizon. I love the diversity, the balance between the intense creativity of the writing process, the detail-oriented absolute focus of studio work, and the rhythm of life on the road. I think, if I weren’t doing this, I’d have to do something else with that physical element, the zen of having a tangible task to accomplish. I avoid anything that involves too many emails like the plague- death by a thousand paper cuts!

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

I’ve been getting some really great interview questions recently. I love prompts that really make me think – often I find myself answering something that I didn’t even know or fully realize, because I’d never been forced to consider the question before. I’ve always wanted someone to have really specific questions about my lyrics. I put a lot of effort into them, and they often have double meanings or real life backstories that most listeners probably won’t ever pick up on. The idea of someone pouring over my lyrics the way I did with CD inserts as a kid, wondering “is the line meant to be read with this inflection or that one?” feels totally surreal to me. As far as what I’m tired of answering, I’m so done with the female guitarist questions. Aside from the fact that I’m nonbinary – not a girl – it’s so boring. Is there really any question at this point that girls can rock? I don’t think anyone can look at the long history of women in rock and roll, let alone the explosion of modern gender-inclusive rock bands, and feel the need to wonder whether being a girl somehow makes you less capable of shredding.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

Oof, that’s a heavy question. I’ll try to keep my answer lighthearted. The first time Drivin n Cryin pulled me up to play with them onstage, I was a wee little teenaged guitarist who couldn’t believe my luck. Also onstage was their opener that night, Aaron Lee Tasjan, who totally blew my mind and has since become one of my biggest inspirations and a good friend. Anyway, after the song was over, I went back to the green room with Aaron and the rest of his band while DnC finished out the show. We got talking, and it came up that my then-band had recently released a record. Aaron asked for a copy, and I was so excited to give him one that I ran right out of the green room and back to my seat to dig one out of my bag. As soon as I left, it hit me that obviously security was not going to allow a random kid with a CD backstage, even if I had just come through the same door. I watched the rest of the show from my seat and caught up with Aaron and the rest of the guys later. Looking back, it’s a funny story about how naïve and overenthusiastic I was back then, but at the time I really felt like I’d blown my one shot!

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

I would love to be a fly on the wall during the recording of Revolver. It’s my favorite Beatles record, personally, but it also represents a really interesting time in the history of both the band and recording in general. It’s a big step toward using the studio itself as an instrument, furthering the trend they’d started with Rubber Soul – that shift from records being a thing that captured the live sound to the record being the sound. It comes right on the cusp of them truly burning the box with Sgt Peppers and quitting touring, but without so much of the fractious energy that was well documented in those later periods. And, of course, to be there for the mixing session that birthed “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the absolutely groundbreaking fusion of pop music and musique concrète and arguably a predecessor to modern sampling.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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