Jay Brannan isn’t afraid to bare all.
The actor/singer/songwriter exposed more than just his talent in John Cameron Mitchell’s explicit comedy-drama Shortbus. The movie introduced a world audience to Brannan’s naked vulnerability—both physically and musically. In addition to his unforgettable performance in Shortbus, Brannan’s cheeky contribution to its soundtrack, “Soda Shop,” gave people a sneak peek into the artist’s personal indiscretions.
Utilizing the momentum gained from the movie, Brannan has traded Shortbus for a figurative tour bus. He’s traveled the world to promote the release of his first full-length album G*ddamned and a follow-up cover EP, In Living Cover, from his own label Great Depression Records. His music career is fueled largely by an industrious internet presence and fans who relate to Brannan’s unapologetic brand of profane poetry.
Denver gets a live show of Jay Brannan’s emotional exhibitionism when he brings his music to Larimer Lounge on September 16. Brannan took a moment to reveal a glimpse into his private insight on tour life and his music career with Examiner.com.
Remigio Darby: Your music career has taken you all over the world: what has your experience on tour been like? Have any particular cities/countries left a lasting impression good or bad?
Jay Brannan: I’ve been very lucky to perform in so many different cities and countries!! It would be hard to pick a favorite place, but some that stick out for me are Paris, Rome, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Tel Aviv, Prague, Budapest, Madrid, Athens....oh wait, I guess that means I pretty much don't have a favorite. Haha! My fans in France are particularly adorable and always bring me pastries.
RD: Many people were first introduced to you and your music through Shortbus: how did your career in entertainment begin? How has your life changed since the movie?
JB: I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was a child. I’ve also been singing my whole life, but never believed I could write my own music, so I pursued acting instead. Eventually I gave up on that, and a friend saw an advertisement for the casting of Shortbus while I was working as a receptionist at a corporation in L.A. I sent in an audition tape and eventually got cast. When the film was released around the world, it opened a lot of doors for my musical endeavors. My audiences began to grow and I started getting invitations to play in other cities and countries. I worked very, very hard to maintain activity on my internet pages like YouTube and MySpace, in an attempt to hold the interest of people who were seeing the movie, going home, and Googling the actors.
RD: When did you learn to play your instruments? How long have you been songwriting and performing?
JB: I took six years of piano lessons when I first started learning to read, but I don’t play piano nearly as well as I should. I have no technical knowledge of guitar; I just sit down and make stuff up, then write a melody and lyrics to go along with it. I’ve been performing my whole life in things like talent shows and school/church choirs. But as far as the singer/songwriter with a guitar playing in bars thing...maybe 4 or 5 years? I suppose my first open mic was as far back as 7 years ago or so.
RD: Your music seems largely autobiographical: where do you draw inspiration for your songs? What is your creative process like?
JB: My writing is motivated by pain, loneliness, boredom, frustration, fear: all the things that everyone experiences and gets overwhelmed by. Writing songs is like my coping mechanism for those very human emotions that a lot of people try to ignore, or feel bad about having—since we're trained to believe those things are "negative" and even "wrong." I feel it’s much healthier to continue to express them, rather than suppress them.
RD: Has your songwriting honesty and irreverence ever drawn any unfavorable reactions or criticisms?
JB: Um, I think everyone's music gets unfavorable reactions at times. Especially when your main medium is the internet, which a huge percentage of the population thinks is there just to attack others at random. Not everybody is going to like everything, that's true in all industries. I just do what I do, and if people like it—great. If not—what the hell can I do about it? If at some point people start hating what I do so much that I can't make a living from it anymore...I'll keep doing what I do, and do something else for money, the way I always have.
RD: What challenges have you faced during your career as a musician and what keeps you motivated to overcome them?
JB: Wow, that's another tough one. The challenges are endless. Pursuing a career in entertainment is nearly impossible, and all the odds are against you. It’s very expensive, it’s very difficult to get anyone's attention, to find opportunity...but I’ve been very lucky on a small scale and also worked very hard to make my living solely through music for the past couple years. Why do I keep pursuing it despite the challenges? It's such a hard question to answer. I just...don't know what else to do. So I suppose that means it's what I should be doing with my life for now.
RD: Which musicians have had the biggest influence on your songwriting? What are your essential albums?
JB: I’m not really sure. I think most of my musical influences are subconscious. I would venture to say Lisa Loeb, Ani DiFranco, and the Cranberries...maybe Bjork. Possibly Joni Mitchell and Sinéad O'Connor, though I was only very recently exposed to those artists. But I went through phases listening to contemporary Christian music, country, R&B, hip hop...I think all of those ultimately have influence on my tastes and what I do now.
RD: You released your first full-length album, G*ddamned, in 2008 then a cover album, In Living Cover, last year: is a new album in the works? If so, what can you tell us about it?
JB: I am working towards a new album of original songs, slowly but surely. I have most of the material for it already written and I’ve done some demos with a really amazing producer that I'm hoping to make a full album with. Don't want to say who yet, as I'm still working my magic to make it happen. Haha! But it's very exciting.
RD: Your focus in the past few years has been primarily on your music: do you have any plans to return to acting?
JB: Yes, I'd very much love to do more acting, but it's even more impossible as an industry than music. I can write songs and put them online and book shows without needing permission or money, etc., from others. But acting by nature is usually part of a much more collaborative effort, and you need all sorts of people to buy into you to do work in film and TV (producers, directors, executives, casting directors, writers, agents). The competition is insane, and I don’t have many acting credits for someone my age. I’m also quite busy with my music endeavors, so I’m hardly ever in town to go on auditions, etc.
RD: What has been your biggest accomplishment so far? What other goals would you like to achieve?
JB: Looking back, I’ve gotten to do a lot of really amazing things. I don’t think I could pick which was the biggest. In terms of my goals....well, I'd like a relationship more than anything, but I don't imagine that's what you meant. Haha!
RD: What do you attribute your success to? At what point did you realize you had become a celebrity?
JB: Haha! I’m far from being a celebrity.
RD: What are the best and worst parts of being Jay Brannan? Is there anything you would change if you could?
JB: Yes, I would change it all!! I'd love to be someone else altogether...maybe someone like Jennifer Aniston? Haha!
RD: You have fans not only across the country but around the world as well: what does their support mean to you?
JB: I’m very grateful –and still even shocked, haha—that people have taken an interest in my music to the point that it pays my rent and that I have gotten to play shows all over the world. It’s a crazy feeling to show up in a room full of strangers and have them sing along and request my songs by name. Every time I book a show I assume no one is going to come. So it's quite meaningful to me that they do.
RD: What would you like to say to your fans and supporters?
JB: Thanks for the interest, for listening to my songs, and for helping me to keep my business growing. I don’t have a lot of industry support, so my ticket sales, music sales, etc., are so largely attributed to word of mouth and help from fans to spread the word...that really means a lot to me.