No discussion of either the Charlotte or Southeast US scene is complete without Jay Garrigan. Through many years and several top-notch bands, Garrigan has shone in whatever project he has been a part of. Violet Strange, Laburnum, and Poprocket are just a few of the bands that Jay helped to create great music with, all of whom deserved higher recognition than Garrigan has sometimes received.
After a time of keeping a lower profile, Garrigan has returned in almost phoenix-like fashion. Through his time with another fine Charlotte act, Transmission Fields, Garrigan was signed to Spectra Records, and found a new, higher-profile outlet for his work. Quickly putting together a band of some of Charlotte’s best musicians and christening the new band Garrigan, Jay has quickly put together two of the best albums that have come from the Southeast in some time.
Garrigan is a constant creative whirlwind, and someone who is very honest about his life and working processes. We at Tangents have been following Jay for many years, with our own Cindy Sites having first interviewed him in 1996. As they say, it’s also always good to see a good guy finish first, and Jay definitely deserves to cross that finish line anytime he can.
Tangents: Tell me about this upcoming Garrigan album.
Garrigan: The name of the second Garrigan album will be Kiss This Broken Star. It’s a lyric from my song “Love Will Destroy Us.” I thought it would be good title, because I often feel broken and I have an Icarus complex that I can’t seem to shake.
Plus, there’s an interesting story about this lyric and one of my heroes, Todd Rundgren. My pals Don and Laurie Koster were driving a post-show, partially drunken Todd Rundgren around town, and played my song over their car stereo, and when Todd heard the lyric “Kiss this broken star,” he said, “What a wonderful lyric!” Don and Lori told me about that and I thought, hmm, this is significant. Maybe I’m not that bad with lyrics after all? I’m Todd approved!
This will be my first retail release on Spectra Records, and will contain the absolute best songs from my previous digital-only record “Deep Sea Wishing,” as well as several new songs recorded with my new live band – myself, Shawn Lynch, CR Rollyson, and Jason Atkins.
My songs will finally get the chance to be successful on radio and retail – a chance that they never had before. I finally have the organization and people to push my music way beyond what I could do myself. This is why there are some older songs on this record – I wanted to put my very best songs on a record that was going to be promoted finally outside of my neighborhood.
Tangents: How does it differ from the Garrigan album that was released earlier in 2010?
Garrigan: My first release, “Deep Sea Wishing,” is just that. It’s a little of everything that I’ve worked on between 2000 and 2010, 22 songs in fact. It’s like going out on an all-day, deep-sea expedition, and you’ll never know what you’ll catch.
So you could say “Deep Sea Wishing” is where I have been, and “Kiss This Broken Star” is where I am, with the new record being my best songs from the first record with several new songs that the Garrigan band currently performs.
Tangents: You really seem to have found a new spark with this lineup. Talk about that.
Garrigan: While I enjoy writing and recording songs by myself, I also want to rock with a loud rock band. The live band “Garrigan” is just that – four guys who want to rock your world. My philosophy about the band is that everyone should be showing off and playing their asses off all the time – kind of like The Who or GBV.
The band came along during the rehearsals of the 7th Annual Fool’s Brigade Benefit. Shawn Lynch is my drummer and pal for life, so the band started there. CR Rollyson and Jason Atkins came along soon thereafter. I had wanted to get Mike Garrigan in the band as well, but he lives in Greensboro and his studio business and new baby made travel and rehearsal a challenge. So, maybe Mike will be included someday.
Shawn Lynch and I are very close. We slugged it out for ten years through several line-ups of Poprocket, with the first line-up doing hundreds of shows in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. We’ve been through many life-changing personal events together. He was my best man at my wedding, and really is a vital extension of my musical expression. He’s also the one that “reels me in” when my ideas are… perhaps too far reaching. He grounds me in reality, and is a good pal to hang out with too. He’s got the best taste in music!
CR Rollyson is a very friendly fellow whose wit and charm matches Shawn’s. CR fits in perfectly – he’s all rock-n-roll. He knows his parts well, and perhaps is the best-looking person in the band. I joke that the cover of the record will be a picture of him. He also grounds me often, and when I have a good idea he helps me push it to the next level.
Jason Atkins is one busy, talented dude. I like to say he has advanced skills. I’ve always wanted another “voice” either guitar or synthesizers in the music and he’s our boy for that sort of thing. In terms of technique and musicality, he’s out of our league, but he enjoys the songs and our mutual on-stage shenanigans.
I really do think I have the best band for these songs, and Garrigan is the best band I’ve ever been a part of. I’ll put this band up against anyone!
Tangents: You’re a fairly prolific writer. How do songs come about for you?
Garrigan: Songs usually come when they are not supposed to. Sometimes I have ideas and I’m scared of them, so I don’ explore them. Songs usually come when I’m unconscious about the act of writing them, like when I am mowing the lawn or have an important presentation at work. I like to pace back and forth through the house while strumming a guitar, not really thinking about what I’m doing… until a special few notes hit me and make me feel something. I’ve written quite a few that way.
Other times a song is the first thing I hear in the morning, you know, when you have no concerns about the day yet. And often by the time I pick up a guitar or piano to explore what I hear in my head, it changes into something else. Music just happens. I almost always have a song running through my head, or am creating one.
Tangents: Some of your songs have a spontaneous edge to them. Do you ever write something, or then say, “What was that?” or “I don’t know what that was, but I like it?”
Garrigan: I value genuineness over anything else. I also don’t like to be boring, or create something that I’ve already done, or something that someone else has done. Why bother? When I sit down to record my songs, I usually don’t plan things out too well except for perhaps a basic structure or main melodies or feel. Lyrics are usually an afterthought to the music. Funny, I read that Brian Eno does the same sort of thing. So I’m open and welcoming to what may happen when I record. I love tones that you can only get in the moment, and may never be able to re-create. This is why I love recording at home, where I can get the music when it’s ready.
I believe the best music happens in the moment, and I try to record those moments as they happen. You can’t force them to happen, you just have to clear the way for them. And yes, I’m often surprised at what happens. The key is being open to new ideas and being quick enough to grab them.
Other times it’s just a matter of sitting down and starting from a blank page, not really knowing what will come out of it, or expecting anything good to happen. Recently I’ve been asking my wife about what she thinks about stuff I record, and determining if I should continue or not on a musical idea.
Tangents: How did the Spectra Records deal come about?
Garrigan: Lee Nitzel of Transmission Fields asked if I wanted to play keyboards and guitars for a show they had at the Neighborhood Theatre. I used to play guitar for them and really enjoyed the songs and people in the band, so I thought this would be fun to bring out my Moog Opus 3 vintage synthesizer. Plus, at the time the Neighborhood Theatre was closing and I didn’t know when I’d get a chance to play there again.
It turns out the show was a “battle of the bands” type of scenario, which is a type of show I would never play. I’m a lover, not a fighter, right? But, as fate would have it, after the show the label Spectra Records wanted to sign the band even though Transmission Fields didn’t win the competition. The label made note that they really liked my performance, and the boys in Transmission Fields felt the same way and asked me to rejoin the band.
I met Bobby Collins of Spectra Records, and asked him if he would like to listen to a few of my songs. I sent him the songs, and he asked for more, and then a few more, and then said he’d like me to be on the label.
Honestly, at this point in my life, I was floundering around for a few years depressed, joining and quitting other bands, and unable to resurrect Poprocket to what it once was, an indie rock touring powerhouse. I dropped out of the music scene in Charlotte writing songs and playing occasional shows, but really I was often depressed that I wasn’t in a working rock band playing my songs. So I settled for the next best thing. Writing songs and recording them for my friends and myself.
Signing with Spectra Records made me realize that I have the songs, talent, and performance chops to make music my main focus again. It was the catalyst for me to believe in my music again, and to get a rocking band together.
Tangents: Did playing with Transmission Fields give you time to put together your own band?
Garrigan: Holding down a serious full-time job, and being in two signed bands described as “National Recording Artists” takes its toll. I was staying up to 3 am every morning just doing “band business” stuff, which I don’t enjoy but have to be aware of. I was slipping from the creative side a bit. Something had to give. My songs have a good shot at becoming something bigger than what they are, so I figured this is where I need to focus. Too bad time travel or cloning isn’t an option, as I’d love to be in both groups.
Tangents: I’ve seen you pay with a variety of bands over the years. Violet Strange, Laburnum, Poprocket. What lessons, or ideas did you gain from all of those bands?
Garrigan: Violet Strange, I learned how to sing back-up in a band. I learned a lot of musicality from Danna Pentes. Technically, this was the most successful band that I’ve ever been a part of – we did things most bands dream of – recording and playing with legends, bidding wars, etc. I also learned to not be naïve about the songs and parts I write. I learned that I didn’t like starving, which I did often in this band, but I loved what we got to do.
Laburnum, I learned that even Billy Preston could not fix the Beatles! I never considered myself a lead singer, and being in Laburnum taught me that I have potential to be a lead singer. We were a band of brothers who did amazing things, and I really do miss the guys. I’m still trying to talk them into a reunion.
Poprocket, well, I learned that when you turn 30, people don’t return your phone calls. Well, until you are haggard and 40! Shawn and I put ten years into various incarnations of this band, so I really learned to appreciate Shawn Lynch.
Tangents: How has the Charlotte scene changed over the years? Or the regional scene, for that matter?
Garrigan: In the early to mid 90s, the music scene was highly competitive. Major label scouts were actively talking with and courting Charlotte bands. This was in an age before cell phones and the Internet were normal means of communication (hard to imagine, right?). So communication between bands wasn’t as it is today. Bands playing on the same bill were kind of seen as members of other sports teams, and you have to destroy them on the stage/field. At least that’s how I used to see it.
The Charlotte music scene now is more communal. In a way, this is cooler. I’d rather be pals with musicians who understand where I’m coming from or what I’m doing, and support each other in doing our craft. There is no longer a door to the golden pyramid that you claw your way to and open. Now, we make our own doors and invite each other to the party.
Tangents: Could you see Garrigan touring more in the next couple of years?
Garrigan: My #2 goal is to form a touring organization and hit the road (with #1 getting the music on radio and in movies). I would love nothing more than to do this for a living, but there are many financial roadblocks. I have spent years starving on the road, and it is not cool. Poverty will send you into depression and pathology quicker than anything else. That’s not a chance I’m willing to take again, and I’m not going to put my pals through that either. I’m comfortable with us being weekend warriors for now, but I often long for the open road.
Tangents: You’ve sometimes written about your cats. How inspirational are cats for songwriting?
Garrigan: Haha. I love this question. Well, there is a song called “George the Cat” that may never get published, although it’s recorded. That was about someone else’s cat. He was real mean and pissed on everything. In cat terms, he’s what they would call a “flaming asshole”.
Both of my cats have died within the last two years. Their deaths are heartbreaking. I started writing one for Mellie, telling her that I was sorry how she died. I don’t think I could write one for Texas Pete, or at least not now. However, his name is partially inspired by the song “Texas.” Both cats have been in the room while I recorded a good number of songs on both albums, so in a way they are part of the songs.
Tangents: Can we talk about that super-secret soundtrack project that you’ve been planning?
Garrigan: I really want to do a movie soundtrack, so I figure the best way to break into that and be seriously considered to write movie soundtracks is to re-create one of my favorites, which is “Flash Gordon” by Queen. I’ve been working very hard on it and hope it will be available next year. So maybe in the future I can be a sci-fi niche soundtrack writer?
Tangents: Okay, Queen and Guided By Voices are gonna do battle, to see who rocks harder. Who will win, and who are you gonna hang with backstage?
Garrigan: This is a horrible question, as you know these are my two favorite bands! I think it’s safe to assume that these bands melt faces, however Queen would own the arena and GBV would own the club. I don’t think I’m worthy to judge who would win the rock-off , Freddy Mercury or Bob Pollard? Bob would win by default since he is alive. It’s a crime what Paul Rodgers did to Queen.
I’m not really into meeting my heroes, that’s why they are heroes. You put them on a pedestal because we like them up there, almost perfect, god-like, unlike what we can do or be. I have a few good pals who know the GBV camps, so I think it would be cool to “hang out” with them for a few drinks (hence answering this question). I’ve become acquainted with Doug Gilliard of GBV, and he wanted to write songs with me. He wrote one of my favorite GBV songs, “I am a Tree,” and I was so honored that he asked me, and I’m kicking myself for not taking him up on that. I think I just don’t believe in myself sometimes, and don’t think I’m worthy of such an honor. That’s stupid, right?
Garrigan: Richard Lloyd of Television once sat right in front of me and watched me play guitar. It was nerve-wracking! This man was a golden god, and at the time I was a kid with a bad haircut and horrible guitar set-up. At the time I was digital, now I’m all analog. How embarrassing!
The singer of Nada Surf once consoled me right after my girlfriend broke up with me before a gig at a huge music conference in Nashville. I played a horrible show. They played a great show after us, and got signed the next day.
Mike Mills showed up after my band’s set, and we played our set again to a whole new crowd that his presence brought in Chapel Hill. He said, “Jay, I want to put my two cents into whatever you do,” but Mike, I lost your number! Get in touch with me!
Another weird show was when the doorman told us that he just got out of jail that day and this was his first job “on the outside.” I usually make a habit of meeting and talking to everyone who works at the club, even cleaning up or getting their club ready with them. Well, in the middle of our set I heard this man yell, “YOU JUST DON’T DO THAT TO A MAN WHO JUST GOT OUT OF JAIL! YOU DON’T DO THAT!” Then over our music you heard WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP and a chair or two flying through the club. I looked at the band and said “keep playing!” Yes, we finished our set.
Any show where I make new fans and friends is just great. There is no greater pleasure than that when it comes to rocking your heart out.