By Zachary Schepis
Photo courtesy of Jessica Delisle.
By all accounts, Vancouver appears to be in the throes of a musical renaissance. Bands are forming up out of the woodwork left and right. The frenetic pace, however, has in no way compromised the quality of music being created. After tuning up with VC rocker Crystal Dorval (aka White Poppy) to kick off our debut feature, and later covering bands such as Crisis Arm and Tough Age, here at BTR we proudly give a tip of our proverbial hat to our musical neighbors from the North Country. For this week’s installment we take a moment to catch up with the one-man-band Jay Arner. Though Arner has played in a variety of groups over the years, from punk to pop with stops in between, the young artist has decided to take the DIY approach for his first solo record. The self-titled Jay Arner, released midsummer of 2013, showcases Arner as an adept multi-instrumentalist with a tender heart. He composes warm sounds evocative of Bowie synth-pop with dreamy mantras and indie rock to sculpt his own unique blend of “modern”. “I have music playing in my brain all the time,” Arner writes in his artistic statement for Mint Records. BTR tunes in to catch a few notes.
Tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind the writing on “Midnight On South Granville.”
It was the last song I wrote for the album — I actually started recording it before I finished writing it. I was newly single and wasn’t really living anywhere at the time, just housesitting while my friend was on tour. So it’s about feeling directionless, getting lost in your own city. I have an awful sense of direction so it’s not difficult. The line in the chorus is just “housesitter.” Nobody seems to pick up on that – it’s not really a word that belongs in a good chorus (laughs).
The analog synth pop sounds on the record are reminiscent of Bowie, yet clearly come from someplace modern. Do you think there is a natural kind of balance between old and new worlds in your sound?
Sure. It’s a digital construct made by one person, but it’s drawing on the last 30-40 years of music. I think that’s normal for modern music. A lot of the sounds I like — string synths, tape echo, etc — are from Bowie’s time. But the DIY aspect comes from growing up in the ’90s.
How about some of your biggest non-musical creative influences? What gets you in the mood?
I never try to write a song on purpose because it never works for me. Things usually come to me when I’m just spacing out. Walking somewhere or — frequently this year — sitting in a car or a plane. I start hearing something that’s a song that doesn’t exist yet. So my answer is “spacing out.”
What are some of your fondest memories from all of the bands you’ve played in over the years? Some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
I have a lot of fond touring memories. One lesson I’ve learned — this is related — is make your band out of your friends. People you want to hang out with.
Jay Arner s/t album cover. Photo by Michelle Furbacher.
You’ve mentioned before that you’re naturally a shy person, yet at the same time realize the importance of making yourself uncomfortable for the sake of personal growth. How do you walk that fine line as an artist, and how does it affect your music?
I don’t give much forethought to making music, so making myself uncomfortable just happens naturally. I try to write songs I like, and they all end up being pretty personal, and later I find myself saying things to groups of strangers I’d never say otherwise. It’s weird, but whatever. It’s fun.
What is your background as a musician – how did you come to fall in love with music?
My parents bought me a guitar when I was about 14. They were music fans and I guess also that’s a thing you buy for teenagers that aren’t jocks. It was grunge times and I was pretty into it. So soon after, I got a 4-track, a bass, and a drum machine. Around the same time my older brother introduced me to Pavement and Guided by Voices. It was the first music I ever heard that sounded… I’ll say… doable. It was hugely inspiring, and I started filling up tapes with terrible teenager songs and making albums with a couple like-minded friends. We were into analog synthesizers and hanging out with anyone that owned drums.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist, but do you have one instrument that you gravitate more towards than the rest?
Drums, by far! I have Dave Grohl and Sloan to thank for getting me into obtrusive drum fills at a young age. I wouldn’t consider myself a drummer drummer but that’s what I usually play in other peoples’ bands. I’m in one called Cult Babies right now, and they’re nice enough to let me stomp over a lot of their music.
I’ve heard that you’re friends with White Poppy and Tough Age – both remarkable artists from Canada we’ve covered in the past for our Tune Up column. What have your creative relationships been like with these people?
I met Crystal a few years ago when our old bands crossed paths a few times on tour. We’ve done shows together every once in a while. I can usually pick her music out on the radio! And Jarrett from Tough Age is an old very good friend of mine. Him and Penny [of Tough Age] live a few blocks from me and Jessica [in my band].
We have similar arcs in that we’ve both been in Vancouver bands for a long time, but we’re stepping out a little with our own records this year. Jarrett of course accompanied by his awesome bandmates. I recorded the Tough Age record, and it’s probably my favorite one I’ve done. The songs are all great, which is like 90 percent of making a good record, so we just sorta banged it all out in one or two takes.
What does your musical agenda look like for 2014?
I’m going to make another music video and record some more bands in the winter. The spring is all touring, and maybe some more in the summer. And at some point I have to start making my next album?
What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you in your musical career?
This! Like, being a Vancouver band dude for so long, then making a completely self-indulgent solo album, and people appreciating THAT? It’s amazing.