Jay Arner is like a shark. Since his birth, he has been streamlining his energy to the sole purpose of making music, barely stopping for a break from switching back-and-forth from performer (International Falls, Fine Mist, Energy Slime) to producer (Supermoon, Tough Age, No Gold) in the span of a decade-plus career.
In June, Jay released his second solo album Jay II, the follow up to his 2013 self-titled debut. It is a radiant collection of lush and dreamy art pop that works as both a nostalgic soundtrack to your most fantastical memories, or a hopeful playlist for those to come. His sharp knack for melody and introspective lyrics are even stronger on Jay II, and ‘80s synth-pop infused songs such as “Like A Dracula” and “Crystal Ball” have garnered attention from tastemakers like Pitchfork, Spin and Exclaim. We caught up with Arner on the eve of his summer tour and chatted about what sparked the initial move to go solo, and the joy of playing house shows.
You released your first solo album in 2013 after having been involved in many other projects for the past decade. What took you so long?
In the internet age, anyone can quantify the worth of your music, or really anything about you, like some kind of digital laser banker, and I think in that climate it takes courage to claim total responsibility. It's scary to bare yourself, but after lurking for so long I went for it. Why not?
Between your debut album in 2013 and Jay II this year, you also started Energy Slime. What made you decide to start another project between records? How do you select which songs are for which project?
Energy Slime is accidental but Mint was supportive enough to release the record. I didn't really decide to do it? Songs come out and sometimes I try to shape them into something but when it's raw, it's Energy Slime.
You produce and mix all of your records, as well as records for other people (Fake Tears, Supermoon, etc.) Where do you record, and what are you working on right now?
I mostly record at home, but also at my tiny practice space which is great for dry drums, dry as a freakin' human BONE. I'm also fully mobile so I'll record anywhere else too, if you don't want to sound like a ‘70s funk record. Some things I'm working on: I just finished mixing the first album by Century Palm, a Toronto punk group, and I'm recording music for a comedy/music podcast called Our Debut Album where two funny men write serious songs. Everyone I work with is really nice so shout out to them.
You’ve been known to favour playing house shows on tour in the past, why is that? Will there be any on your current tour?
I still feel the pain of wanting to see your favourite band but being too young to get in (thanks Pavement). Also, playing in bars you tend to get an audience that's just there to get blasted on beer. At all-ages and house shows, people come on purpose to actually see music. In Canada, the all-ages scene is a little smaller because of the relatively low drinking age, but I still try to book as many house shows as I can. We're playing a few on this tour. Contact me for details.
Your video for “Crystal Ball” has a soft lit, dreamy, ‘80s quality to it. What is it about that era that appeals to you?
I'm not in charge of videos in our band but I asked Jessica Delisle, the director, and she said "I was inspired by ‘80s music videos by bands like Sparks and mystical-feeling fantasy movies like The Dark Crystal." Thanks Jessica!
Songs like “Midnight on South Granville” or “Like a Dracula” deal with being in a place where you don’t quite fit in, or where you can’t relate to the people around you. Why is the feeling of displacement so prominent in your songwriting?
I think I'd feel like that no matter what—it's just an underdog mentality I grew up with. Maybe it's a continuation of the jock/nerd chasm of youth. Whatever it is, every time I step outside of our musician/artist bubble and interact with someone from the real world I feel like I'm missing part of my brain.
Jay Arner is currently on tour across Canada. You can check out the dates here.