Jeremy Jay

photography by Larissa James

If there were to be a remake of the 1985 John Hughes flick Weird Science with two bookish girls creating their perfect heartthrob via computer, rather than two ‘80s era nerds creating Kelly Lebrock, Jeremy Jay would surely land a starring role. Because, by all outward appearances, he is a Godard-loving, Modern Lovers-listening indie girl’s wet dream. How else could this perfect amalgam of innocent ‘50s crooner, edgy mod poet, and ‘70s post-punk rocker have been created other than through a computer?

Fortunately, Jeremy Jay is more than just an object worthy of teen desire; he is a storyteller with lyrics that read like a dream journal, and musician with songs that play out like a French New Wave film.

Jay’s unique cinema-inspired aesthetic seems to permeate every aspect of his persona, from the ambiguous plot lines of his songs, to the ‘60s-style experimentation of his music videos; to his wardrobe, which can only be described as that of a missing Tennenbaum. If you can imagine the Harold character of Harold and Maude, all lanky limbs and shaggy hair; wandering aimlessly through city parks and under street lamps, you’re almost there.

When asked what type of film he would score music for or if he could create a soundtrack for any film past, present or imagined, he says, “If David lynch would direct a Spielberg production of a Marlene Dietrich-produced Bob Dylan entertainment movie called Next Generation.”

Not surprisingly, Jay grew up in Los Angeles and claims to have spoken French exclusively until his teenage years. Following a series of 7” singles and low budget French New Wave-inspired videos, he recorded his first full-length album, A Place Where We Could Go through Olympia, Washington’s K Records.

Jay’s verses consistently unfold with hints of obscured imagery, as in the song “Gallop” from his most recent album, Slow Dance: “Sometimes we gallop over moonbeams/Giddyup, horsey, giddyup.” Or, “Lunar Camel” off his earlier Airwalker singles, in which Jay imagines a surreal dreamscape of “chasing a monsoon over the dunes.”

Regarding the surreal quality to his lyrics, he agrees that many of his songs are influenced by his own dream world.

“Sometimes we have dreams we don’t really understand. Some of that is in the record Slow Dance,” Jay says. “Also there are songs that are a direct journal of my life. The song ‘In this Lonely Town’ was about me going to Olympia to record and play our shows.”

Like a contemporary, male version of the Velvet Under-ground’s Nico, Jay often offers deadpan speak-singing over the echo of finger snaps, reverb and tambourines. While other times, as if he’s flipped a coin to decide which decade to time travel to, his sound is more upbeat, dishing out synthesizers as generously as Gary Numan. This duality is more striking on Slow Dance than anything previously released. And is unlike his earlier work on the Airwalker EP, where an ‘80s New Wave Blondie cut like “Angels On the Balcony” is reworked and stripped down nearly beyond recognition.

From his earlier singles, to the recent album, critics have consistently likened Jay to Jonathan Richman for his raw, disaffected vocals. Like Richman, Jay plunders the murky depths of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia, and occasionally flirts with late ‘70s New Wave experimentation. But as far as creating satire through music, Jay seems less like Richman and more akin to Jens Lekman or Arthur Russell, with a saccharine innocence and rare emotional vulnerability. This veneer of youth and optimism fits swimmingly into the K Records Magna Carta, which proclaims that K “explodes the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the corporate ogre world-wide.”

In response to the age-old question asked of many a romantic poet: that is, whether his inspiration comes from real life love, or an imagined vision of love, Jay gives an obscure answer. Actually, he doesn’t answer the question at all; instead, he sticks to the coda of mystery that has gotten him this far: “I think most people are this way. If they are sentimental then they are sentimental.”

It’s a fitting answer from a daydreamer who chooses not to explore well-worn territory and instead walks on air, gallops through moonbeams, and chases monsoons over the dunes.

– Amity Bacon