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JAY MEYER monochrome wonderment
Flagstaff-based multi-instrumentalist Jay Meyer has just released his first solo full-length CD Grey. It’s a work of considered beauty and precision that indulges in delicious space and depth. Mr. Meyer was recently nominated for a Viola Award for his work with his Flag- staff rock band Le Trebuchet. His solo work however is introspective and contemplative, and at deliberate odds to the psychedelic cranked blues-rock approach of Le Trebuchet.
On Grey, Mr. Meyer received help in executing his vision from local Flagstaff sound engi- neer David Strackany, whose complimentary recording approach helped shape the sound of the CD. Beverley Napalm caught up with Mr. Meyer, freshly flushed from a successful run of recent local shows in support of his CD release.
Your newest CD, Grey is a great mix of approaches that works well and gives you a unique sound. It is a progression and slight deviation from your 2015 country twinged Starvation Mountain EP. I wonder how you arrived at a mix of such sparseness, coupled with a classic rock guitar style? I can certainly hear the ‘60s and ‘70s influences, as well as more contemporary sounds such as Sparklehorse or Beck. Was this deliberate, simple evolution, or a happy accident?
The sound we achieved on Grey is the result of a natural progression, a mixture of my influences pouring out through different mediums. Which in this case, was myself, David Strackany, and our friends who were helping us make the sounds on the record. I was listening to a lot of Beck and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds during the songwriting, and throughout the whole process really, and didn’t want to be afraid to let the influences show.
David and I produced the record together and spent a lot of time mixing and listening together, which gave us plenty of time to communicate with the sounds we were mak- ing. We spent about 11 months working on the project, and I think the time we took on it translated into some of that space you hear on the recordings and also allowed for a fair amount of experimentation. I’m not familiar with Sparklehorse, but that’s not the first time that comparison has come up, so I’ll have to take a listen.
Some of your songs, for example, “The Field” centers around a drone scape and sparse rolling percussion that evokes a Southwest ambiance. It brings to my mind the work of Bruce Licher’s Sedona-based project, Scenic. (I am not sure if you were aware of Licher’s work, which is heav- ily influenced by the Southwest landscape?) Are you an AZ native, and does your environment influence your songwriting style?
I don’t know Licher’s work but would definitely have to say my style is influenced by my environment, which was a bit of a tour throughout the Southwest during the songwriting and recording process. I spent a lot of time working out of town on the Arizona Strip, north of Grand Canyon, and staying in Kanab, Utah while I was writing the middle of the album. I wrote the whole thing sequentially and would practice it that way every time I played through the songs, so I happened to be in Kanab when I was working on the song that became ‘The Field.”
We were staying in a vacation rental that had a few acres out back, with a half dozen old broken down buses and trucks outside of one of those airport hanger-style garages that had an old Chevy parked in the garage doorway. I would sit on the tailgate after dark and listen to the football practice in the field behind the high school, which sounded a lot like boot camp. High school football is a pretty big deal in Kanab. I can’t really say that the song is about high school football practice, but more of a feeling of being outnumbered and unwanted, but not giving a f*** and singing your song anyway, wondering who can hear it out there anyway. That whole part of the country is an interesting mix of people, landscape, and beliefs. It feels like there’s a lot at stake.
But to answer more of your question, I’m not an Arizona native, but have been in Arizona since 1999 and mainly in Flagstaff since 2003. I grew up in a military family, starting out in San Diego before heading to Germany and Alabama, and eventually high school in Sierra Vista.
It seems your recordings are so intricate there has to be some tweaking when bringing it to a stage setting? How do you approach re-creating your recording work for the live environment?
The recordings are definitely a challenge to recreate live. Like I mentioned, we took a lot of time for experimentation during the process. David offered a lot of really cool ideas, playing with multiple microphones and effects loops and amplifiers. I knew it was getting good when he started playing the congas with SM-58’s (vocal microphones), each running through their own set of effects pedals to different amps. We didn’t have any claves, so we found a couple of pieces of 2 X 4, and figured out how to hit them together just right to get them to sound the way we wanted.
Those types of things are going to be difficult to recreate live, so I’ve started assembling a group of musicians with whom I can recreate the feel as closely as possible. If we can convey the feel and the style of the music and put on a great live show, I’m not terribly attached to the idea of being able to recreate the album live exactly as it was recorded. Making a record and live performance are different arts, and I don’t want to feel too constrained in one situa- tion by the other. It’s important for me to make a good record and put on a good live show, and they don’t have to be the same thing. The feel of the music and the songwriting should feel genuine either way, if I’m doing my job.
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