A Good Word... with Jay Woodward
When we do an interview Landon, Alex, and I are typically spread out across this great nation in separate states and time zones. So usually we rely on elaborate recording rigs and good cell phone reception, but for the first time last month, we were all in the same city for when this call was scheduled. There really is nothing like being together and we're so glad that time could be shared with a guy like Jay Woodward.
We had a ton of fun with this and hope that you can enjoy and gain as much insight as we did when you read the conversation that follows.
Setlist: Jay, what got you interested in music?
Jay Woodward: I can’t show you my pregnant wife because she would yell at me, but can you see this mixer?
Setlist: oh yeah, nice. We can see it.
Jay Woodward: (Strums his guitar) I found this old speaker and mixing board that has this awesome reverb on it. Stuff like that I kind of geek out on. I picked it up at a thrift shop along with the speaker your hearing. With music the experimental side of it, is what got me interested.
Setlist: In what way did you first start experimenting?
Jay:I started in pop punk in the 90’s, then playing in church learning the chords. I was actually trained in the Suzuki Method, where you learn by hearing opposed to by sight reading. But I always was kind of different doing my own thing.
Setlist: Who were some of the influences that shaped your sound?
Jay:You go through these phases of life where you like different kinds of music. Like you start out liking this little light of mine and the happy birthday song right? Then you graduate to pop punk and then you grow up a little bit more, and for me I started listening to college radio. That’s where I got a lot of my major influences. Which are like Mana Mana, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them but they’re like engineers. They just sit around microphones and they do this looping effect into this software, that one of the guys actually created, they’re geniuses. Most of the stuff I like is from the North West. That and Elliot Smith, I’m into the people who were self recorders.
I like older stuff too, nick Drake, Recently the National. I don’t know if they’re influences but that’s who I listen to.
Setlist: So with playing in a church band growing up, do you consider yourself Christian?
Jay:I guess I would consider myself bible believing, everything else seems to have a negative connotation. It’s just like republican and democrat like… I’m not going to pick a side I’m in the middle, whatever flavor I like best. Which is how I think everybody should think, but I’m not trying to make this a big political thing.
Setlist: No, of course not. I agree though I was listening to an interview Tim Ferris did with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he said something similar. I think it was “politics are like driving you have things on the right and left shoulder but the middle is really the only place you can drive.”
Jay:Especially a guy who got elected as a republican in a totally democrat state.
Setlist: So, how have your beliefs affected your music?
Jay:Well, I’ve experienced a lot of death in my life, not to get too down, but that is where Good Grief came from. This is going to get morbid really quick, but I’ll jump back out of it ha-ha. I poured a lot of energy and friendship into a best friend as one does, and I found him passed away on Thanksgiving. He was supposed to be at our gathering and when I he wasn’t there and I went to bring him food that is when I found him. That was around 4 years ago that was right before I started my second record. After that I really didn’t know what I was going to write about. I had been talking with one of our mutual good friends who’s a poet from Vancouver and he told me that I need to embrace the phase I’m in. So that’s what Good Grief is. It’s a concept album not so much on the stages of grief but what came out of me creatively as a result of it. He said you have to make sure to get it all down now, all the feelings because you aren’t always in this stage. And that’s what I encourage other people to do as well, I have a friend who is 18 and he just got diagnosed with cancer all throughout his body. Yeah… see its getting morbid… I’ll pull it out. But I started writing him letters, gave him a notebook and told him, look you’re going to go through some of the weirdest times you’ve ever been in and experience states of euphoria and parts of this world that only near death experience can bring, so write them down while you can because you’re not going to go through them again.
He ended up getting totally cleansed of cancer, and I hope he did that, I think he did but even if he didn’t it doesn’t matter if you find a way to channel that creativity from the universe.
Setlist: So hearing a little back story what does the phrase good grief mean to you, and why did you chose that for the name of your album?
Jay:Well I kind of have a Charlie Brown type personality ha-ha but if you think about what the words mean separately and then back together I think you’ll find that grief really is good. It’s a natural formula for us to expel negative energy so that we can move on. The grief part of it is horrible, it sucks though.
Setlist: Yeah, and everything we grieve about is something that once meant a lot to us. So when we feel that pain we can look back and realize it’s only because we were fortunate enough to have something that we loved. That’s something I thought about a lot when I listened to your album. The first song I heard by you was sparrow song and coincidentally you say “your mind is a mess and the curtains are drawn” I was laying in my apartment on the couch, curtains drawn and just confused about where I was in that moment. And I thought wow, Jay is really getting me. So I wanted to dive into that song with you. With your relationship to the bible were those biblical references I was picking up on?
Jay:Yeah, the whole record is a big biblical reference, the review you did was great because not too many dive into the lyrics these days, and you saw through that and were able to pick that up.
But right from the start it was major “where does life go after this” undertones. If you believe in heaven, which I do, then my best friend is in heaven.
Side bar, I made Christian ep years ago and it was so weird to other people. Because most Christian music is like “I love you Jesus, I love you Jesus, I love you Jesus.” It’s almost like a mantra, like your brainwashing yourself. Which for something you haven’t seen before you may have to brainwash yourself a certain amount. But I zoned in on the middle of the bible in psalms which talks about King David. He knocks out goliath, then becomes a king, has whatever he could desire and God loves him like he is a man after his own heart... So, back to Sparrows Song, basically... I don’t even know how I wrote that song, Johnny Cash told me, well HE didn’t tell me but he said he wrote Walk the Line in like 20 minutes backstage. Some songs just come out like that. When I wrote that song, my friend Andrew in it could be a biblical character OR it could be a biblical character in real life and he was. I guess I do subconsciously do mix undertones of what I believe. I'm not much of a pusher. Bob Dylan, what's he say? There's a Bob Dylan song that lists all the things he doesn’t want to do. He says "baby all I really want to do is baby be friends with you." That and "don't think twice, it's alright." But I changed it to a bathroom rule "just flush twice, it's alright".
You know it's really hard with what we do to understand lyrics, when we’re trying to break them down, especially in this field. When we were first talking about this song we were like "this is either a tribute to his belief, OR it’s the exact opposite". I feel like a lot of times in this genre it's all or nothing. We come across a lot of artists of our generation that don’t have any belief, so it feels like there is quite a bit of anti-religion. So it's tough to decipher songs like that in making a choice that either this guy has a firm belief, OR are the same words being used to express the opposite. So, it was really interesting in breaking down Sparrow Song because of all the different things it could mean.
Jay: I agree
Setlist: Yeah, I love that about music. Because it's like, which we were discussing earlier, there could be so many different meanings to a song. Which can really resonate with someone with whatever state they’re in, in that time, you know what I'm saying. That being one of the reasons we really enjoyed Sparrow Song.
Also on your first album, along with Good Grief, you'll do a mix of instrumentals, lyrical songs and then go back to instrumentals again. When I was doing some research I thought I found that you composed a track for a show or a movie...
Jay: Yeah. When I moved out to California I worked for Music House. So, we would do like "jingles" is what they call them. Now I understand why they called them "jingles" because every car commercial you hear has tambourine in it. HA! But I was working with a friend/composer and we were doing music for story someone had turned into a movie called The Fat Boy Chronicles, which is kind of a cheesy after school special but it was you know "let's do this track" and we did a whole bunch of instrumental tracks. In my instrumental library, in which I have about 200 tracks from commercials... I could play you a track and you could tell me what car it is. And it's so generic, it just kills me! But I stuck around with that for the need for mobility to communicate because that’s what you have to do.
For film scores I'm big on Ennio Morricone and Bernard Hermann, some of my favorite composers. Sometimes when I'm working on music, if I need a break, I'll put a movie on with music. So I was trained to record instrumentals on to my albums.
Setlist: Yeah! We've actually talked about that in one of our previous blogs, how one of our favorite things about movies is just the film score. It really amplifies what's happening in each scene, so I think we share the same respect for music as far as film goes. And one of my favorite composers, who I think you would really like, is Joel P. West.
Jay: What's he done?
Setlist: He scored some independent films; About Alex and Short Term 12.
Jay: I'll check him out! I like to get a lot of recommendations!
Setlist: Yeah man check him out and let me know what you think.
So, do you have any go to movies? You said you would need a palate-cleanse from your creative process, what would you throw on? Anchor Man?!
Jay: HA! That’s funny because I actually was a part of the music club that was owned by the guys who did the score to Anchor Man.
Setlist: No way!
Jay: You know the flute?
Setlist: Ha-ha yeah, yeah!
Jay: Well that guy used to play once a week on his flute, and the sax as well, it was really cool meeting those guys and getting to work with them. As films go, one of the big ones is Taxi Driver, which was one of the last films Bernard Hermann did before he died. Apocalypse Now is another one along with The Godfather. Something about the background just sets the mood. I like Coppola movies, cause their just so bizarre, you can watch them over and over again. That’s how I like to make my music, so you don't get tired of them. It's not dance music but....
Setlist: Well you haven't seen Landon dance yet
"Oh yeah! Well that's maybe for a second interview"
You said you were in California, where are you now?
Jay: I'm in Knoxville, TN.
Setlist: What brought you there?
Jay: Working for "the man" you know HA! The main reason I came here was for this studio and for a change of pace.
Jay showed us around his amazing studio where he self produces all of his tracks.
Setlist: Knoxville is an amazing place. So, you do all of your own recording there in you studio?
Jay: Yup! My first two records were made in a bedroom actually, in California, in Venice. In a 6x4 space, no joke. I did have access to this hundred year-old church that I was being a media director for, for free, and so I would go down to the basement and use natural chambers. The bells you hear in I Knew Him That Well and the organ, that’s an organ the size of an 80 foot wall in a Catholic church. I had a lot of fun with that. They had all these bells on the organ that I could make sound dull and all that stuff. On both those records, I didn’t use any software synthesizers.
Setlist: And the coolest part is that you could never tell, your albums sound fantastic. I shot a short film, and it was all Guerilla style, kind of like what you’re talking about. The director was saying like "look don't tell anyone we shot this Guerilla style until after we show the film" because if you tell them before hand people will respond "oh this is shot Guerilla style, I can tell. But if you watch it first, then tell them how it was done, then their impressed. So like with your album you would never know you recorded in a 6x4 space until you told someone, which is actually really amazing!
Jay: There you go man. I don’t know if I lost points with you guys or gained them.
Setlist: Definitely a notch up, well done man. So how many instruments do you play? I saw quite a few things in your studio.
Jay: So, there's a piano here, an organ, a pump organ which is cool because you have to move your feet back and forth; it sounds like your paddling a paddle boat and it creates little sound. And I use all these pillows... it's just a royal pain to use it. Then I play electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, and the drums, which you'll see more on the next album. What else? The mandolin!
Then I play pro tools which is totally an instrument! And then like I bought this mixing board where you can plug a guitar into it and when you can turn the volume all the way up, it will actually give you a distortion. I do that just by experimenting. I look for these things.
Setlist: That’s awesome! So what led in to you playing all of these different instruments? How did you pick it up?
Jay: Piano was my first instrument, and then I started playing guitar around the age of 15. Then I would just start collecting instruments and see if I like them or not. The only instrument that I never really liked was the banjo… me and the banjo could never really get along! I just couldn’t make it work so I gave it to a friend. I just said “here, take it please!”
Setlist: What’s your favorite instrument?
Jay: Probably my Silvertone (Jay picks up the camera to show us the guitar). It’s an old Silvertone, it cost me 200 bucks, and it sounds awesome. That is the acoustic guitar on all of the records. Yeah, and I have a 57 Gretsch here that cost me way too much, and an old piano and all this other stuff. I don’t know… I’m kind of a gutter artist. I just like gutter instruments. If you can make them sound good then it’s even more fun.
Setlist: I see you do a lot of stuff with your wife—she participates in a lot of things—how do you think your relationship plays into your music, or influence your music?
Jay: After 8 years of marriage, it’s kind of natural. We didn’t always collaborate well together. To put it one way: the producer/composer John Brian and I worked with him at Capital, he was there for 2 years. He did the score for Eternal Sunshine on a Spotless Mind, and he was famous for Dido and apple. It’s funny because I talked to him sometimes, but I actually learned this information by watching a video of him. He once said, “The reason you sign with labels is because they do stuff that you don’t want to do, and you do stuff that they don’t want to do.” That’s how Miss and I collaborate. Actually, she has written six comic books for DC, and has worked on Vampire Diaries. If I need help writing, she is always there for me. She actually co-writes a lot of the songs… I just don’t give her credit ha-ha.
Setlist: That’s great! In an industry that seems really volatile for relationships, whether it be on tour, or just the stain that music can have on somebody, what do you do or how do you keep it together, how do you guys work through that?
Jay: No it’s cool. Today, I didn’t do anything with music. I fixed… took apart my weed-whacker 4 times… and then put it back together.
Setlist: That sounds like Jake with his car!
Jay: So, sometimes it’s not music time. To Missy’s credit, I never want to make music. Simply because it is so hard to have to write the song, write the lyrics, write the music. Go back, and then do a quick demo of it, see what it sounds like. I mean it takes me like 3 months to really hone down a song and she pushes me to have at least an hour of creative time. That’s when she sits at one site of the room and writes, and I sit at the other side of the room and try to not smash my guitar against the wall when I’m playing it. It is so much work, and after you do that you have the recording process and all of the practicing to make the best performance. The reason I don’t play live shows is because the records are live shows. They all have acoustic guitars and vocals and they are all together. She pushes me to that place—and that’s what a manager would do a lot of times… I mean, that’s what Phil Spector would do, he would walk in with a gun and say “Hey, you’re going to get this take or I’m going to kill you” and that really didn’t help him when someone killed themselves in his house. She doesn’t do any of that!
Setlist: Yeah, we’ll have to check that out! You said that we’re going to hear a bit more of the drums on the next album. How far are you into that one?
Jay: Yeah, this one’s going to take a little bit longer because I have a kid on the way…
Setlist: Whoa, congratulations man! Is this your first?
Jay: Yes! So anyway, this album will take me a little bit longer. But it will give me more to think about, and more things to hate I’m sure, and of course more things to love (Jay looks over to Missy)
Setlist: Ha-ha, gotta check back in?
Jay: (Laughs) have to make sure I’m saying the right things! She’s got a gun (everyone laughs)! So yeah, we just come down here and center ourselves up with all of these instruments that I haven’t had before. So, it will be a different place, but you can’t lose the Jay Woodward out of it.
Setlist: So how would you define Jay Woodward and that sound? What makes your sound, your sound?
Jay: I hate talking about Jay in third person, it sounds so pretentious…
Setlist: It’s okay, we know where your hearts at (everyone chuckles)!
Jay: Appreciate that! I guess I would say, artist, stream of consciousness, backwoods folk, scientific, scientific experiments. (Jay asks Missy what she would say). Yeah, I am a real fanatic for vintage stuff. Like if I am going to use a delay, it’s gotta be a tape machine. So I think I use things in unconventional ways… Missy’s telling me what to say right now.
Nobody’s making concept albums; nobody’s making records that are 100% straight through the microphone. That’s my anarchist ways. I really enjoy giving my middle finger to…. Not to you guys… but to all the people that say you have to do this because it’s popular.
Setlist: Oh yeah, that’s what we’re about too, you fit right in! Honestly, we feel very similar about that. I mean, part of the reason we started this business is because we felt so burnt out by music and the music of our generation—not being able to find anything. Then this project, this business we are doing, meeting people like you, and meeting others, has really restored my faith in music and where it is going. There are actually people who care… it’s not just about popularity anymore. It’s really refreshing talking to people like you and to other artists that we are fortunate enough to find.
Actually, we were just talking about turntables earlier and we were saying man, it is so nice being able to listen to music on turntables because it really makes you listen to the full album from start to finish. It is really refreshing to use the music they used back then, in a vintage sort of way, and just feel the moment, and feel out what they are really telling you. I mean, we have so much available nowadays through Spotify or iTunes where you can continuously click next… people don’t give time for songs anymore. When we find people like you, it’s kind of like playing a record on a turn table.
Jay: That’s a major compliment, I appreciate that.
Setlist: Yeah, like when you have shuffle play on—which is fine sometimes—the idea of a concept album, or the ebb and flow that an artist puts into his song selection is totally lost. I remember you talking about concept albums; we think that is so important when an album is telling an overarching story instead of just one shot at a time with a song on shuffle. Plus, I do not need any more loose ends in my life! I have to do things start to finish!
Jay: Right! Don’t we all have to finish what we started? Actually, I passed it by a friend of mine who’s in another band and I said “I’m going to do my first album, and it’s a concept album, and I’m just going to do one track, cause fuck everybody!” My friend got so angry. He kept saying, no you can’t do that, you can’t do that. So I finally told him, yeah, I’m going to do that. I don’t care. I just want people to listen to it. So it’s going to be 1 track and will be a half an hour on the dot, and that’s the best I can do right now. Maybe the next record will be just one big track!
Setlist: That would be awesome! Whatever we have to do to make that happen, let us know! Start a go fund me, or kick starter, whatever.
Jay: I think 10 grand might help me!
Setlist: There’s gotta be something lying around here! Something we like to ask everybody that we interview is why do you feel what you’re doing is important?
Jay: That’s a tough question. I mean it’s important to me, I mean… it’s my life blood. If I don’t get back here and play a track that I’m working on, or always have something going, working on music… it’s probably the only thing that’s keeping that gun on the wall. That sounds really morbid, but I think we all have our vices, and you just need an outlet. Winston Churchill once said, “A man without vices is a man without virtue.” Maybe guitars are my vice. Why it’s necessary and important to everyone else, I’m not sure. I don’t expect anything from anybody. But, if they like it, it spurs me on to create more. Maybe it will help them; maybe it’s the song they need. I know I have that song, MANOMANA by Muscle and Flow… write that one down! Every morning if I can’t get up, I put that song on and it is the best morning song, ever!
Setlist: That I will definitely check out! I need something to jump rope to! We definitely love your stuff, and that has definitely been the case for us with your music. Is there anything you would like to say or anything else we didn’t cover that you’d like to dive into?
Jay: Just that I’d like to formally thank you guys, everybody over at Setlist Music. Thanks for what you guys do. It’s really important to artists. I mean, you guys are artists, as much as I am, and I am really appreciative of you guys.
Thanks again to Jay and his wife Missy for taking the time to talk with us! We cant wait for more great music and conversations in the future.