Jay Brannan has left the Shortbus (and that infamous “Star-Spangled Banner” moment) behind in favor of exploring a different character—the singer-songwriter known as Jay Brannan. After making a buzzed-about debut on the music scene in 2008, the out artist is following up his 2009 covers project with Rob Me Blind, an album of brand-new material that proves this self-professed Lilith Fair admirer can more than hold his own with the ladies who lament their own love lost.
Anyone who knows your previous music will likely notice some immediate differences with the new album. Was that a goal from the start, to up the production values and give more musical variety? That was 150 percent the goal. I’m a little bit slower than some people because I really like to do things the way I want to do them. For this album, I really wanted to do something that was very me and felt very authentic to the minimalist singer-songwriter, depressed person that I am. [Laughs] But I also wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted something that was very me but had some additional texture to it, a little more arrangements and instruments. I experimented with percussion, which scares the shit out of me. I’ve always stayed away from drums because they’re so loud, but I wanted to go there. So I was really determined to find the right person to help me go there, and I did with David [Kahne]. The guy’s a genius!
Why go with “Rob Me Blind” to double as the album title? It’s always a fun game. Years before an album gets made, I can literally sit around and figure out what my next album title will be. “Rob Me Blind” is my favorite track of the album. It is, to me, the track I think people will respond to, and I also think it just made a good album title. I like the enigmatic element to it—make people think and have different meanings. I like to keep people a little bit confused. I’m also hoping to make a video for that one, too.
You have this terrific ability of working in unusual words or phrases. is it a game you play with yourself or do some things, like “hypodermic needles,” actually come naturally? [Laughs] It’s both. It comes naturally because I find it compelling. And it’s weird because when I listen to music, lyrics are the last thing I hear. Yet if the lyrics are bad, then they stick out. So it’s a little bit strange that I push so hard to make my lyrics noticeable. But yes, I do love double meanings or triple meanings or taking a cliché and spinning it on its head. It feels a little bit like a personal victory when something like that works. But I definitely do put thought into my lyrics.
Your songwriting is very honest, noticeably toward and about yourself. Would you say it helps you work some things out in your head?
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[Laughs] I don’t know if I work it out, but it keeps me from imploding. For me, expression is therapy. The person who expresses a dark, socially unacceptable feeling is a lot healthier than the person who keeps it inside. I started writing songs as a way of getting all this shit that’s been flying around in my head and driving me crazy our of myself and out into the world. There’s the added benefit that I’m so far from the only person thinking or feeling those things, so it helps other people to hear it.
Does it bother you when see critics say that you’re a songwriter who only or mostly writes about love gone wrong? Oh, I think when people get happy in their music, it’s terrible! Happy music is boring. [Laughs] There’s a place for it, but it’s not interesting to me. But I will say that this album has a tiny bit of hope in these songs that I haven’t had before. I’m growing and changing, so it’s a bit of “Where’s Waldo” to find it reflected on the album, but it’s there. But at the end of the day, I don’t want to write overly happy music. It’s not who I am and it’s not what I like. And there’s a lot of it. Everyone is talking about how wonderful life is and how to think positively—I think there needs to be more people expressing the stuff that everyone is taught they’re not allowed to feel so they know it’s okay. And I feel like I’m kind of that voice. You’ve got Oprah, you’ve got Tyra Banks to say all the uplifting stuff; you need somebody else out there to say, “You know what, I struggle everyday, too. I don’t always love life. It’s not easy. I’m totally in the same point as you.”
In talking about growing and changing, are you in a relationship now?
No! God! Way to rub it in. [Laughs] I’m in a mixed place right now. I’m really excited to have a lot of opportunity. I’m so proud of this album. We’re booking another world tour. I can’t believe I’ve done all these things I never dreamed I would ever be capable of. In terms of the industry, I’m not playing stadiums or anything huge, but on a personal level, I have a lot to be proud of. So I have a lot of stuff I’m really grateful for.
There’s a reference to a lover on “The Spanglish Song.” So who is this Latin lover?! I’m not telling! [Laughs] I spent three months in Europe in 2010, and one of those months was in Madrid, and the song just chronicles one of the experiences I had there. I would love to write a song in another language, but I still haven’t quite succeeded in that, so we’ll have to settle on this.
Well, you’re definitely on your way! Does this mysterious Spanish man know that there’s this song about him? Hmm, no, he doesn’t know right now. He probably won’t notice. [Laughs]
Jay Brannan’s new album, Rob Me Blind, drops on March 27.