From the poodle hair to the Flying V guitar and the hurtling, glam-punk crunch of their sound, everything about Jay Reatard’s merry band of cohorts screams ‘punk as fuck’. Not in the strictest sartorial sense, of course, but a look as rag-tag as theirs simply doesn’t come about by design.
Reatard has been putting out music for over a decade under various musical guises; however it wasn’t until 2005’s Blood Visions, released via In The Red, that he decided to fly solo. The record’s as tight as they come; Matador sat up and took notice, and Reatard put pen to paper on a multi-album deal with the label, with a series of six seven inches to precede an album due early 2009.
But anyway, the band…They’re like a lobbed sickbag exploding in technicolour over the haggard visage of three chord punk in the twenty first century, delivering a series of short, sharp shocks to the nervous system before flipping us the bird in emphatic fashion and flouncing off stage in a hail of expletives about shit and stuff.
Actually that last’s a little condescending; Jay’s a witty interviewee – and forthright. Did we mention forthright? Yeah he’s definitely that as well…
Stephen Pope, Jay Reatard, Billy Haynes
Why sign with Matador at this juncture then?
Well I had quite a few options you know… I guess I just used my gut, they just seemed like they had shit together… With major labels they always think they can make you better but you know… I don’t necessarily think I’m broke so don’t try to fix me.
Do you consider yourself pretty sussed when it comes to figuring out the business side of the equation?
Well you start off as a kid in your bedroom playing music, you’re naïve and you think you don’t have any future, you’re this nihilistic fuckin’ brat and then there comes a point where you realise you’re not gonna kill myself anytime soon, so maybe I should learn a bit about the business side of things.
You split with your last full-term project, Lost Sounds, back in 2005…
Yeah we were on the way to the UK actually.
And was that pretty rough at the time?
Yeah, and I kinda confused the situation I was in with this country for a while, you know I’d never been back ‘til now ‘cos I’d had such a miserable time while I was here. It took me a while to distance myself from that.
Do you think you’ve been influenced much by UK punk with your music?
More so lately, yeah… since I was a teenager one of my favourite bands was Wire. When I was younger and before I had access to a vast amount of knowledge on the internet Wire were one of the only bands I got turned onto that weren’t like a cartoon version of domestic punk rock.
Who fits the cartoon bill in your eyes then?
Well the bands had great songs but… you know when you’re sixteen with no money and the cover looks crap it can really put you off. But I like a lot of that UK stuff now, bands like Wire, The Adverts and The Homosexuals are really inspiring…
Split with your last band aside, why did you feel now was the right time to strike out with a solo project?
I think when the last band started, me and Alicja (Trout, the band’s other frontperson) had just started dating and playing music together and we weren’t the best songwriters; we played off each other and tried to challenge each other. It was like this battle of egos you know. And after a while I felt we’d both gotten good enough that we really didn’t need each other anymore, it was starting to become a negative thing.
A creative relationship that became destructive?
I think there was always an aspect of impending doom and violence but that was inspiring at first, and after a while it just became violence (laughs).
Speaking of which, judging from some of your internet writings you seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with your fans…
No no, I mean it’s hard for me to hate anybody that likes what I’m doing because… your whole fucking goal as an artist - whether you say it or not - is to get people to believe in what you’re doing because ultimately you think you’re smarter than everyone else. But… I’m not annoyed, maybe sometimes I misrepresent myself, a lot of people come to our shows with this whole attitude of ‘hey, this guy has a short fuse’ and sometimes I can deal with that and sometimes I can’t.
There was that incident a few months back when you lost it with some stage invaders, what was the deal there?
Just too many people in a small room with no windows. It wasn’t the people’s fault, ultimately it’s the club’s. It’s like, okay, you put a bunch of fucking cattle in a closed-in area they’re just gonna do what they wanna do…
Is that how you think of your audience then?
(laughs) No, it was just a bad analogy I suppose.
Why choose to release a series of seven inches for Matador rather than put out an LP? Are those songs going to wind up on the album at some point?
Yeah… I was in the process of talking to like five different labels, it was a case of what could we do to work with Matador without scaring away other labels, so we decided to do six of these seven inches, and the project would run long enough so that maybe we could sign to Universal and still be on Matador at the same time, just be putting out these singles and be on the biggest, most evil corporate label in the world. I thought that would be like a humongous fuck you to indie rockers and the majors. But Matador turned out to be such cool people, there was just no reason to go round to the dark side of things.
You were never one for the militant indie ethic?
I guess at some point hardcore taught people it was not cool to be involved with big business, but at some point someone has to have the balls to step up and be the guy who’s gonna take that other option. Otherwise you end up with what, two thousand people in every country who have great taste? (laughs) If a culture sucks it’s because the people who’re making it suck.
Do you have any plans to bring the current line-up into the recording studio or is it purely a live set-up at the moment?
I think we’ll kind of blur the lines and have ‘em play on some tracks you know? [But] I’ll even lock up the dog when I’m recording, for me it’s a really personal process.
Did it feel good staking your own claim as a solo artist this time round?
It felt great, in the past I’ve often felt involved in a gigantic compromise. I’m an impatient person, so yeah, it felt incredible just getting to write this first album on my own as an adult. It’s not like it’s this huge record but it’s done better than anything I’ve ever made so… it’s really assuring that I made the best decision that I could, you know?
Those Reatard boys have a few 7”s coming up soon, starting with the ‘Fluorescent Grey’ / ‘It's Such A Shame’ split with Deerhunter on July 21, with a compilation packaging up their Singles 06-07 out July 28 through In The Red.