Grown Up, Fucked Up: An interview with Jay Reatard

Back in 1998-1999 I was experiencing one of the cyclical droughts that occurs every so often in my music listening life. I was sick and tired of everything. Every new record sucked worse than the last shitty one I bought. Then I heard of this band called the Retards, from the same city of Memphis as the beloved Oblivians and with some kind of tie to them. Somehow I got a hold of a copy of "Teenage Hate", which was a marvel in itself in the pre-internet world I lived in, in a shithole of a town. It smashed a big ass hole in my head immediately. This Jay Reatard kid was seventeen or eighteen and was blowing my brains out like he had no right to. That album reaffirmed all that is good about music for me: that a bunch of kids could come to you out of nowhere with a record that made you believe in music again, that gave purpose to the thirty shitty records you heard before it. To this day hearing the opening of "I'm So Gone" still makes me happy, which might be a weird thing to say about a record that contains more rage and hate than your average postal employee. But anyway, Jay broke the Reatards up, moved on to the Lost Sounds, Bad Times, Final Solutions, and more, and I've kept a close ear ever since. Recently, he was nice enough to answer a few questions for our little zine.

TB: Did you ever think back when you were doing "Get Real Stupid" that you'd be where you are now, in a synth-punk band?
Jay: Well I had no hopes for being anywhere when I was 15. I just wanted to be someplace other than in my bedroom .I had no friends, no hope, and a lousy home life.Punk or garage or whatever was my way to escape from reality. And to get back to the point, no I really didn't like synths at all, except Devo were definitely one of my faves even then.

TB: Were you listening to synth/wave stuff at all back then or what did you think of it?
Jay: Ryan (Reatards/Wongs/Destruction Unit) turned me on to the Screamers some time after the first Reatards LP. I didn't care for it too much, then I found the tape a year later and since then I haven't heard or thought of punk rock as simply guitars/drums/bass music.

TB: What made you dismiss/turn your back on straight garage rock?
Jay: At some point I realized I was bored with the Reatards .The music no longer got me off .I had to get fucked up on coke or speed or booze just to enjoy myself and was just sick of the whole scene .

TB Do you still listen to garage/rock at all? What?
Jay: Yeah I still listen to mostly garage or punk. Current faves (of the past 2 years or so) are the Clone Defects,Catholic Boys, and Ponys and any and all of the old punk crap that I liked when I was younger. You see, as a kid I liked a lot of differnt shit .I have never only been into one thing. I don't identify with things enough to just be into one thing. I have always made way weird stuff. From fucked up rap when I was 15 to 16 to crappy dance music on my PC now. It is cool to make yourself do other shit than just drink beer and "rawk".

TB: How influential/helpful were the Oblivians to you early on?
Jay: Well I copied them, and damn well for a while. I think as soon as they did the gospel record they lost me. I was getting weird by then anyways. And I would say you wouldn't even be asking me these questions right now if it was not for Eric taking an interest in me, and really just being my friend. I always will owe him that.

TB: What has made you decide to do a Reatards reunion show?
Jay: Me an Matt (Williams) from Chicago were partying the night of the Oblivians reunion and he said the Reatards should do a show ,and in the last year or so I have become alot more comfortable with my past. I really hated the image I had created as some crazy drunken front guy, and for my own well- being had to mentally get as far away from that as I could. I still lose it sometimes,and when I do it feels kinda scary. I don't know what to expect.

TB: What will the band line-up be for the show?
Jay: Ryan Wong (Destruction Unit) on drums, he played drums on the first LP. Steave Albundy Reatard will be on guitar, he played on both LPs, and Rich Crook on bass, he played on the last LP.

TB: What did you think of last year's Blackout?
Jay: It could have been way better, but the HA guys did a good job though. A few of the bands got their panties in a wad when they found out what the Lost Sounds guarantee was, but besides that every one had a good time. Except playing in the Black Lips puke. I still owe them one!

TB: You just got back from Europe recently with Lost Sounds. How was it there (people/crowds)? Much different from the US?
Jay: Yeah we got back a little while back,we had a pretty good time. We had a few problems with the "tour manager", but besides that it was pretty much one of the best tours I have ever done. The crowd had a much longer atention span. Lost Sounds can tend to be a live band that may take 5 even 6 songs before we really get going. Live, I just like to pace myself a bit more now, less of the freak out the whole time, a better good show mentality. I realized that even though alot of the music I like had crazy front guys (GG, Dead Boys, Stooges, Germs), that alot of them also didn't. They just played the best they could and still put on a good show. I feel like people there respected that approach more

TB: How did the Lost Sounds come together? Was there much time between the Reatards and Lost Sounds?
Jay: Lost Sounds started while the Reatards were still going. It was a bit of a side project at first, but it quickly took over. It was and is more fun than anything else I have ever done.

TB: What's upcoming for the Lost Sounds? Touring this year? How's the new album coming?
Jay: We are tracking a 12" EP for In the Red right now. It is kinda like all the LPs put together with a bit of pop added in. Tours for sure. Larry says the Dirtbombs wanna do some dates. We got Europe again in the fall with the Ponys and an East coaster with them maybe in the summer.

TB: How did you make the switch from Empty to In the Red? Do you think In the Red will be better for you? Did Larry Hardy actively pursue you guys?
Jay:Well Blake is a great guy and I give him alot of respect. He put up with me at my craziest. And Megan too. I guess the start of it was Megan quitting the label. We need a lot of attention from whatever label we are on, and Blake had other things going on. So I read on line that Larry Hardy said we were the best band going that he didn't have on his label. So I called him without meeting him and asked if he wanted to do the next record . Details were discussed, and it was real fast and easy. I felt bad, but Blake understands. We did the Destruction Unit LP with him, so I think that made him happy.

TB: What's up with the European box set coming out?
Jay: It's some of the demos from the Demos 2 CD, plus an exclusive track on 3 colored 7"es, plus stickers, buttons, a poster, and other goodies. I hope it doesn't cost too much.

TB: How do you think the band has changed from "Memphis is Dead" until now?
Jay: Personally, I am not changing the lyrics to 13th Floor Elevators songs and adding synth (see the cut "I've Lost It"). But as a band we have learned to play together better. We write better songs as a band, as opposed to the "whoever-is-singing-wrote-everyones-part" thing we had going on on the first LP.

TB: What was the concept behind "Rats Brains..."? I always thought it was kind of a "concept record" of sorts.
Jay: It is a more political record than most would think. And yes, politics and music are weird for me. If you make it more personal I think it's fine. But it is kind of a concept record about embracing technology and the abuse of it that also goes on. Well, that and death and cancer and pollution and war and all kinds of great things.

TB: Where did the songs from the new picture disc come from? Who did the art for it?
Jay: One came from Alicja's head, one from mine, and one from Joy Division. Some kid from Spain did the art work. The pic disc is a bit more gothy-pop than anything we have done, but we try to make every record have it's own feel.

TB: What's going on with Nervous Patterns? Is it just a one-shot thing, or will it be a steady thing?
Jay: Nervous Patterns have one LP coming out and some singles soon. It was me and Alicja and this guy Patrick on bass. But Jonas (Garland,Lost Sounds bass player) just quit, so now Patrick is playing bass for Lost Sounds. So we won't be doing Nervous Patterns live anymore.

TB: Explain your involvement with Destruction Unit? Did Ryan influence the Lost Sounds direction?
Jay: Ryan got into synths mixed with punk around the same time as me and Alicja did. He did a single around the time of the first Lost Sounds LP. I got it and was blown away. After like 2 or 3 years I asked him if me and Alicja recorded with him and got it put out, if he would do a full length DU album. He flew out, we recorded for 3 days and Empty put it out. I did the guitars, Alicja did synth, and Ryan did drums, bass, and vocals.

TB: What are a lot of current "New Wave" copying bands doing wrong?
Jay: Copying!!!!!!

TB: How did the Final Solutions come about?
Jay: Well, back when I was doing the Reatards, I met Zac and we hit it off and became good friends. I was having proablems at home and he gave me a place to live. While living with him and Justice (FS guitarist)(keep in mind I was 16 or 17), I got to hang out and drink and pretend to be grown up. But besides that, they had a bad hardcore band called the Jack Monkeys and I played drums for a battle of the bands at a frat party with them. We did all Oblivians songs and came in in 3rd place. They all moved away and a couple of years ago all moved back and we started the Final Solutions.

TB: Whose idea was Bad Times, and how did it come together? What was that recording session like?
Jay: It was Eric's. We went to New Orleans, practiced once, recorded an album and played one show. That was it. The recording session was really drunk and I remeber eating to much food also.

TB: How has living in a historical music city like Memphis affected you or your bands? Would you want to be anywhere else?
Jay: Living in shit city makes everything I do sound pretty negative. Which for some is a bad thing, but that is how I feel most the time. Not alot of hope around here but it makes for real music. I wouldn't wanna be anywhere else but dead.

Contact Jay/Lost Sounds at lostsounds@hotmail.com or via www.geocities.com/lostsounds
Interview by Rich Kroneiss
Photos by Mark Murmann