Jay Brannan Returns to Orlando’s The Social | Oct. 23
After first appearing in John Cameron Mitchell’s 2003, sexually explicit opus, Shortbus, where he had a threesome featuring an impromptu, naked singalong of “The Star Spangled Banner,” 31-year-old singer-songwriter Jay Brannan has since gone on to build an avid following thanks to touring and social media. With over 125 online videos, and over 8.5 million views, he is easily one the world’s biggest indie recording artists.
Brannan is gay, but doesn’t relate to the gay power elite. The artist, who now resides in New York, says that his homosexuality has never played a role in his career or success. While he incorporates a lot of his personal life and emotion into his music, he feels the only roadblocks that have arisen are from our own community.
Brannan’s angst-filled past and strong opinions are definitely prevalent in his music. His soulful yet anguished sound has been compared to the likes of Alanis Morissette, Lisa Loeb, Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco. Bits of his upbringing listening to Christian Rock are sparsely integrated as well.
The international intoner brings his passion for travel to his latest album, Around the World in 80 Jays, which released last month. Featuring nine international cover songs, Brannan croons in six different languages – including an unexpected rendition of Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.” Around the World fuses the thoughtful yet defiant attitude and smooth strumming Brannan’s fans have come to expect.
Before his return to Orlando with a stint at The Social on October 23, followed by a world tour in the fall, I caught up with the turbulent tenor and chatted about his goal of becoming a housewife, his stance as a gay artist, a new album, and his experience working with Margaret Cho on a song about sucking dick.
Erik Caban: What should your fans expect this time around?
Jay Brannan: Fireworks and lots of costume changes! [Laughs] Just kidding. I’ll be playing some old songs that people might know, some newer ones they haven’t heard and some covers. It’ll be a mix.
Tell me about your new EP, Around the World in 80 Jays.
I’ve been lucky enough to do so much traveling in the past few years. As I started playing shows in other countries, my friend John Cameron Mitchell, the director of Shortbus, gave me the idea of singing a cover song in the language of each place I was visiting. So I tried it a few times and people seemed to really appreciate it. Since I don’t really speak any languages besides English, I’m sure my pronunciation is terrible, which probably gives the audience a little laugh as well. [Laughs] I ended up amassing this collection of foreign language cover songs and I wanted to record some of them for a long time, so I finally just did!
You’re someone who started gaining a following through the internet before social media was “the thing.” Do you ever feel miffed that you don’t get as much recognition as your newer, younger, upcoming contemporaries?
Hmm, I don’t think being “newer” or “younger” really has much to do with “recognition.” I entered the music industry in a very short window of time when the internet just started offering all these tools to the general public for reaching an audience with their content. It was a free-for-all and the rich, powerful companies who controlled the entire industry hadn’t yet accepted the internet was here to stay, so they were still fighting it. Once they finally joined the game and started taking over, I feel like it’s become harder to stand out. Major labels now control so much online content and relationships with digital distributors, whom they stood so firmly against not long ago. Also, using the internet to provide creative content has become so pervasive, and there’s so much content out there, I think it’s very hard to be noticed. As some of the sites become monetized, it becomes more costly to reach your own following. There’s a lot of factors to success when working in entertainment, and the biggest one is just luck. I’ve been very lucky to have a small career that’s supported me financially since 2008. I’m extremely grateful for that.
Known for really putting yourself out there, you’ve posted some pretty personal, pictures, posts and videos; from the irreverent to the emotional. Do you think that has hindered your career at all?
It depends on your perspective. Someone at a major label might think I am too weird and could never have big, commercial success because of some of my videos or my opinionated posts over the years but then one might also argue that that unfiltered authenticity is what has provided me with any audience at all. There is mass market success – where something is so bland it just appeals to everyone. Then there is a different kind of success where someone left-of-center sustains a career through the support of a small but passionate audience, whereas they might not be the type of artist who will get asked to perform at the Superbowl. So, for me, I think my quirks and honesty are what brought me the audience I do have.
How was it working with Margaret Cho and writing a song about sucking dick?
Really fun! She’s a very funny woman who I remember seeing on star search years ago, and have always thought of her as one of the best comediennes out there. So, when I had the opportunity to write a song with her, I was so excited! She came to one of my shows in L.A. and was really kind and supportive. We ended up working on two songs together, and she’s a really great person. So talented, extremely hardworking and accessible. It was a really cool thing to get to do.
With that, you have strong opinions on being identified as “a singer who happens to be gay” and not as “a gay singer.” What say you to your LGBT fans who take offense to your – seeming – “gay chip on your shoulder”?
I’m not sure I understand what you mean in this question but my goal in life is to be me, which is way more than any one small basic fact about me. Being gay doesn’t define who you are, what you like, what your interests are, etc; not anymore than being white or tall or someone with blue eyes. I think it’s fair to demand to be seen as more than just “the gay guy.” I don’t think it’s fair to say Beyonce is a “black singer” who makes “black music” yet people make statements like that about gay people all the time. I think people that are obsessed with their sexual orientation are the ones with the “chip on their shoulder.” Being gay isn’t something that defines my personality or my life. In fact, I have generally felt as much or more of an outcast amongst gay people than I have anyone else. I don’t know; this whole thing is changing so rapidly, I think it’s less and less of an issue every day. Gay, straight, black, white, short, tall, fat, thin; who cares? We’re all unique individuals and yet have so much in common.
So, I guess performing on an Atlantis Cruise is out of the question? [Laughs]
I’m not sure what that is but I’m assuming it’s an all-gay cruise line? I prefer being in more mixed environments but I suppose there’s a price tag for everything. [Laughs] My rent doesn’t pay itself. [Laughs]
Any plans to return to acting?
I’d love to! I’ve been working consistently in music so my time is largely occupied by that. I’m traveling a lot, so I’m rarely available to audition. But when I have down periods, or go through developmental stages musically, I try to audition for television and film stuff whenever I can. I’d definitely love the chance to work as an actor again. I think I will eventually. There are so many roles now that I would be great for, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
A vast amount of your music and lyrics come from your personal life. With that, how has your goal to become a “Housewife” coming along? Is there a special someone in your life these days?
[Laughs] I think I’ve given up on that fantasy. I mean, it comes and goes but I haven’t truly dated someone in 12 years. I spent my entire 20’s as a 100% single person. I’m in a place now where I really just like being alone. Having my own space, living impulsively, not worrying about the pressures of feeling differently than you do when in the bubble of your own home; it’s all kind of liberating. Finding someone to be with is too much work. [Laughs]
Which of your contemporaries would you love to work with?
Hmm, Sara Bareilles is pretty cool. Regina Spektor would be a dream. I also have this fantasy of working with a rap artist. Doing some kind of vocal for Nicki Minaj or Eve or Macklemore sounds fun. Maybe Ingrid Michaelson or Lorde; I don’t know. It might be cool to do something totally outside my personality with the right person. I also love Rose Cousins and Courtney Marie Andrews and some other indie singer/songwriters.
Besides, an obviously busy tour schedule, what projects are you working on now?
I’m already writing and recording a new full album of originals, hopefully to be released next year!
Photos Courtesy of JayBrannan.com