With news of the Memphis
rocker’s tragic, untimely death still fresh, we pay tribute via our recent
BY HAL BIENSTOCK
Ed. note: Jimmy Lee Lindsey, Jr., known to underground music
aficionados everywhere as Jay Reatard, died yesterday, Jan. 13, at his Memphis home. Initial
reports did not disclose the cause of death, although an update on Reatard was
posted late last night to the website of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, including the news
that the musician “had been complaining of flulike symptoms lately.” Word
arrived this morning that an autopsy has been performed but full lab results
have not been released yet by the office of Tennessee’s
Shelby County Medical Examiner.
Meanwhile, tributes to the garage-rock icon continue to pour
in – clearly, we’ve lost one our most beloved rockers, and although Reatard had
a reputation for erratic behavior and onstage provocation, that doesn’t lessen
his musical contributions over the years, and the across-the-board consensus
was that the man’s star was on the rise along with his songwriting and performing skills. He got
his start in the mid ‘90s, bum-rushing the Memphis garage scene with his band The
Reatards (hence his Ramones/Oblivions-inspired adopted surname) and issuing his
early sides on venerable local label Goner Records. He soon became known as a
prolific music-maker, and other projects included the New Wave-tinged Lost
Sounds (which ran from 2001 to 2005) as well as short-lived combos Bad Times,
Final Solutions, Angry Angles, Terror Visions and Destruction Unit. Along the
way he also established the Shattered label. In 2006 he released the album Blood Visions (In The
Red), billed as Jay Reatard, and he eventually inked a deal with Matador, for
whom he released a string of 45s (later collected as Matador Singles ’08) as well as last year’s acclaimed Watch
Shortly before the release of Watch Me Fall, Reatard
sat for an interview with BLURT contributor Hal
Bienstock. That feature appeared in the most recent issue of
our print magazine, so it’s only appropriate that we republish it here now.
Needless to say, Reatard will be greatly missed. – FM
Fall, 2009: Jay Reatard is getting mellow. Or
mellower, anyway. The same guy who’s known for punching his own fans and
blazing through 20-minute sets of high-energy punk rock recently put out an
introspective album, Watch Me Fall (Matador) that comes complete with
organ, mandolins, cello and harmonies. But Reatard says fans shouldn’t fear
that he’s gone emo – or even worse, become a singer-songwriter. Watch Me Fall still has plenty of
uptempo moments and killer riffs. And Reatard promises the violence in his
music and his stage show isn’t going away. Neither is his last name – no matter
how many people it offends.
BLURT: What made you decide to go quiet and introspective on
us? Are you getting bored with garage rock?
JAY REATARD: I don’t know if I necessarily
decided to get quieter. I just decided to change some things in my life and I
feel like I’m not being honest artistically if I’m feeling a certain way and I
try to ignore it. There’s nothing abstract or mysterious about my records.
They’re reflections of how I feel at the moment I’m recording. I could make a blown-out poppy punk record,
and that might be easy way to retain my fans and maybe even gain more. But I
would have been bummed out to make same record I already made again.
Your last full-length, Blood
Visions, was a concept album. Is this one a concept album too?
Blood Visions was
step inside the mind of a stalker that lost it all. Here, maybe the concept is that
it’s a little more about me instead of filtering myself through a character.
Is that harder to do?
Yeah. Self-realization is hard
to deal with. The thing that freaked me out is how close those two characters
wound up being. It made realize that maybe Blood
Visions wasn’t about a fictionalized character, as much as it was an
exaggerated version of myself.
Does writing about yourself officially make you a
I wouldn’t say that. You won’t
see me as an acoustic troubadour. I’m not going to be approaching Jesse Malin-type
embarrassments. But I think I do concentrate
on songwriting as a craft more than the average guy from the garage-punk scene.
It’s not that I’m super-serious about it, but I do try to do more than just create
a riff, then throw something on top of it.
Do you worry that fans of your early stuff will feel like
you sold out when they hear Watch Me Fall?
Everybody is worried about not
alienating their fans, but you can’t go your entire life making records for your
core. Either they’ll come with you or they won’t.
Has your live show changed? Your concerts are known for
getting crazy and even violent at times.
It’s all about the vibe the
audience is putting off. A few bad people can spoil everything. It’s a
combination of people trying to disrupt the show and me being too amped up. I’m
in a van eight hours a day, then I soundcheck for an hour, all for the 45
minutes I get to play my songs. If something gets in the way of that, I want to
How often does that happen?
Maybe one out of 100 shows,
something bad happens. If you were to deal with getting struck by lightning or getting
a fatal disease, that would be a bad percentage. For a rock show, that’s not so
bad. 99% of the time you’ll hear the
songs. 1% of the time you’ll get some sensationalized thing. I’m OK with that.
You used to play 20 minute sets. Are they longer now?
I had a concept when I started the
band that we would start by playing for 15 minutes, then double it after a
year, then play for an hour if we got bigger. We play 45 minutes to an hour
now. It’s all about slowly acclimating people. You don’t want to be some new
band that bores people to death.
Do you think your name will hold you back from becoming even
The name seems to be a litmus
test for wimps. It filters out the type of people who will get what I’m doing from
those who won’t. If your skin is really that thin…. Think about it, if you
watch a movie like Superbad, you’ll hear the word “retarded” 15 times or more.
But when someone in a rock band does it, people get all upset. People should attack
before they attack me. I don’t have nearly as much impact as Seth Rogen.
[Photo Credit: Reuben Cox]