Growing Up in Front of Everyone

Jay Reatard proves that staying at home doesn’t make you a loser

There’s something dated about Jay Reatard’s face-forward music. Anthemic hooks over boiled-down guitars are often reminiscent of a ’70s punk outfit, not an artist who is enjoying increasing popularity in the age of short-attention spans. The musical milieu of the ’70s seems to have established itself again. Rock music in the twenty-first century has lost its identity to the allure and pressures of new media. Its stylistic and formal ambition often outweighs its substance. So maybe it’s fitting that the rebellion of simplicity and unmasked emotional expression should revisit us.

But Jay Reatard isn’t just putting a new face on an old sound. Sure, he performs in a style not unlike the Ramones—one song after another until the show is over. “They were the first band I got into. I always thought they were cool,” Reatard says. “I don’t like silence at a show. Silence doesn’t have anything to do with rock and roll.” The words roll off his tongue with a laugh as if it’s obvious. Reatard’s punk influence clearly reflects the unvarnished aesthetic that emerges from the idea that rock is not silence, that standing is not motion.

This common sense approach has driven the songwriter since he dropped out of high school and started recording songs by himself. Ten years later, Reatard still records his songs from home. Making music and growing as an artist have become a part of his daily routine—as natural as waking up or eating. “The records are like snapshots of your life,” says Reatard. When your life consists of touring and recording at home, each record represents a milestone, like a graduation. The only lesson learned is that growing up and having more fans or resources is no reason to change the way you’ve made music for years.

While the pace of Reatard’s career suggests ingenuous brilliance, there is more to his songs than gems written out of beer-soaked frustration. the Matador Singles ’08 showcases Reatard’s natural ability to write great pop as well as his obscure stylistic range. From playful power pop to dark, sparse, genre experiments, these songs are as nuanced as they are easy to digest. “No matter how primitive a feeling you get, you know when there’s something there,” insists Reatard. “Even if it’s primitive, you know it’s something worth working on.”

Reatard’s impulsive songwriting style might mortify other artists, but the proof of his homegrown method is in his output. Since the release of the furious album Blood Visions in 2006, he’s toured for months on end and released enough singles for two collections. Impressive as one might find Reatard’s work ethic, for him it’s all about finding a sustainable way to continue his course. “Tour is the business side,” he says. “ It’s what you do so you can make enough money to go home and record.” 

TEXT BY Mario Aguilar