Everything about Jay Brannan’s career is improbable. Defying legions of critics both personal and professional, he has managed to build a shockingly dedicated following in a very non-traditional way. Though kicked out of acting school for alleged lack of ability, he entered the film arena with a standout performance in the cult film Shortbus, and achieved rising cult star status upon the film’s worldwide release. Urged to stick to society’s conventions during his Southern upbringing, he has become a lightning rod for castaways by simply being himself: a neurotic and inspiring mess.
Jay is a New Yorker by way of Texasand California, with several stops in between. A self-described severely-failed Southern Baptist, he moved to L.A. to pursue acting at the turn of the century. He picked up his first guitar at age 20, just as he put down an alcohol addiction. This new, healthier dependency took hold, and he began writing songs with no training but a collection of CDs by forlorn, female singers.
An insomniac, Jay found himself spending countless hours on the Internet cultivating his online networks and answering emails from around the globe. His burgeoning online following tipped when he posted a 3am laptop performance of Soda Shop on YouTube, which found itself featured on the website’s homepage and has since been viewed 1.5 million times. “I was a random guy at home fucking around with his computer, thinking no one would ever watch the video if I posted it. I guess I was wrong.” He has gone on to post every new song as it’s been written, including the album’s title track goddamned, inspired by a trip to Israel where Jay had been invited to perform. These online videos have accumulated millions of plays and their response has given Brannan the confidence to take his musical ambitions full time.
Jay’s online following was also taking physical form, as Jay began playing to sold-out crowds in his hometown of New York City. Deciding to try his luck with farther audiences, his first performances sold out in advance in cities as far flung as London, Paris, L.A., Toronto, Vancouver, Cape Town and Tel Aviv. Each show is peppered with a healthy amount of commentary, often expounding on the failures and frustrations of his daily life. Sometimes, he would jump on a plane in New Yorkafter working his day job as a proofreader, play a show in another city, then be back to work the next day. Within one year, Brannan jumped from playing small clubs and venues to sold-out Manhattan theatres.
Jay’s bare-bones, self-released EP Unmastered has seen over 30,000 downloads on iTunes. A 1,000-piece CD companion sold out in a heartbeat, with a one-of-a-kind polaroid of Jay affixed to the cover of each copy. Running his own Great Depression label feels natural to Brannan, who also self-released his full-length debut, entitled goddamned. Taking a page from Ani DiFranco, an artist he finds inspiring, he quips: “If you’re able to make your work available to a large geographical area while still maintaining control of your music, your songs, your sound, your image, your identity—why would you not take that opportunity over the glamorized and deluded idea of ‘getting signed?’”
goddamned was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Will Golden, whose production with Meiko and other Hotel Cafe artists caught the singer’s ear. It was recorded over six weeks during the winter of 2008 and made it’s debut the following summer at No. 25 on the overall iTunes album charts. The album’s recording was the first time that Brannan has ever played with other musicians. “Everything I’ve done up to this point has been based purely on instinct. Once you throw other people and instruments into the mix, there’s a little bit of math involved. It was a complete shock to my system to have to pick a steady beat and stick to it.”
Lyrically, the debut is similar to an embrace that follows a beating. There are genuinely romantic moments, such as the love letter to a nonexistent boyfriend in “Housewife.” More often, though, is an underlying anxiety that cheats this bliss. It would seem to the listener that Jay’s days are passed with indecision, self-loathing, unrequited love, anonymous sex, scathing contempt, and demons that he just can’t avoid. In his world, the prince screws the princess and the fairy godmother spends her evenings performing abortions, not conjuring up formalwear (“Ever After Happily”).
The album’s biggest success is its honesty in dealing with taboo subjects. Says Brannan, “The word ‘goddamned’ is a pretty appropriate adjective for me, my life, the ways I think and feel, and the choices I’ve made. If conservative crowds have a problem with me embracing the word, they shouldn’t have stamped it on me in the first place.”
In the past year, Brannan has toured across the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Brazil, South Africa, Israel, and Australia.
In the Summer of 2009, he released In Living Cover, a covers album consisting of seven cover songs and two originals, which spent 10 days at No. 1 on iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter Albums chart, as well as debuting at No. 36 on iTunes’ overall Top Albums. In Living Cover made the No. 10 spot on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart.
Don’t miss Jay Brannan with special guests at the Biltmore Cabaret
October 29th, 2009 – Doors @ 8pm, show @ 9pm
Tickets on sale Friday, September 4th at 10am. Tickets are $17.50 each (plus service charges) available online or by calling 604-280-4444.
And be sure to enter for your chance to win tickets to Jay’s show!