?It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.?
Rainer Maria Rilke
Jay Nash is a Vermont-based singer-songwriter whose latest album, Letters From the Lost, will be released May 14. He recently took the time to answer some of Wanda Waterman’s questions about his life and musical experiences, and why he writes about both isolation and human connection.
On the surface there was nothing particularly striking about Jay Nash’s upbringing. He grew up in a rural town outside Syracuse, New York, in a typical middle-class American family. Because they lived in the country, Jay was often free to explore his surroundings on his own.
The only child of an engineer and a piano teacher, both music lovers, he was exposed to a lot of different sounds: ?My parents could be best described as ?post-bohemian,?? he explains. ?My mom went to Woodstock on the back of a motorcycle. And my dad used to tell me stories about ripping around northern New York in a Dodge Charger and going to rock concerts.?
But what’s unusual about Jay’s life is how and why he first responded to music in a meaningful way. Around the age of eleven he had an epiphany in which he suddenly grasped the infinite quality of space and the eternal quality of time. The experience triggered an existential crisis for him, and he quickly seized on music?listening to it, writing it, and playing it?as a means of buffering the terrifying sense of solitude and smallness he felt in the midst of a frighteningly vast reality.
Music gave Jay a sense of connection to something beautiful, and sharing it with others turned out to be just as gratifying as consuming it himself.
?The first time I really played in public was in a high school talent show in front of about 1,500 people. I played a Cat Stevens song??Father and Son??and when I got to the second half of the song, the audience started clapping along on the backbeat. It sent a chill up my spine to see all these people connected by this beautiful invisible thread. There’s really no other word to describe it but magical. Science can’t explain it.?
A Dichotomy of Human Experience
Jay still seeks that level of connectivity, even after some years into his professional musical career. His latest album, Letters from the Lost?beautifully produced entirely in his home studio?shows his lyrical pendulum swinging back and forth from this sense of aloneness to the difficulties inevitably experienced in relationships with others.
The isolation theme shows up on ?Wander,? with its snow, wind, and cold metaphors. The pain of relationship comes out in ?The Art Thief,? which speaks of loss of connection in a relationship in which the artist nonetheless remains true to his sense of self.
?I have to be careful because I’m preoccupied with those concepts. They tend to be the most poetic?the joy and the pain of relationships and the dichotomy between connectivity and isolation and how experiencing both can exist so close to each other, at times almost simultaneously.
?From a human perspective I’m probably a little bit more comfortable with it than my songs would let on, but these are two truly interesting concepts to grapple with. I’m surrounded by people who are coping with those things, with varying degrees of success.?
Putting It All Together
?On this particular record it happened almost subconsciously. When I wrote the songs I wasn’t filtering myself or censoring myself; I didn’t set out with ?Here are the stories I want to tell.? I would record every day and I wouldn’t look back at the end of the day.
?In the course of a day I would put a song together, in a lot of cases recording as I went. Sometimes I would start with a drumbeat, sometimes a bass line or a guitar riff or melody. But I never started with a story or concept. As the structure of the song came together the vocal melody would reveal itself. The last thing to reveal itself would be the story that the melody was trying to tell.
?Like I say, I didn’t go back at the end of the day and say which was a good song or a bad song. I would just start over with a new song the next day. I did this day in and day out for a couple of months and ended up with a batch of songs. Then at the end of the process I curated that batch of 25 or 30 songs to create a cohesive collection that tackles those two key concepts.?
Just What Is It about Music?
What is it about music that allows it to so effectively express isolation and the pain of human interactions?
?It’s a strange thing,? says Jay. ?When you use words alone, they have one meaning. But if you set a sentence to a particular melody, whether the melody on its own sounds sad or happy or hopeful, the combination of the melody and the lyric articulates things in a much more powerful way. That’s what drew me to music in the first place.?
(To be continued.)