WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Jay Reatard attempts to curb his wunderkind workaholism
Memphis garage-rocker Jay Reatard is a living, breathing misnomer.
When Jay Lindsey was 15 years old he decided to name his first his band The Reatards, then he changed his last name to make the playfully spelled “Reatard” his own. It must have felt all too appropriate. Most feel retarded, at least in the colloquial sense of maladjustment, during those early teenage years. On top of the age’s commonplace insecurities, young Jay had an unstable home life to contend with and few friends to share his adolescent angst with. So instead of going to classes, he stayed home to play music in his bedroom. Jay Reatard didn’t fit in—he was abnormal. He was a “retard.”
But it’s easy to forget the definition of “retard” in its verb form. It means to hinder, slow or delay. And in this real sense, Jay Reatard has been wringing his self-imposed surname with action ever since. By the age of 18, when many of his peers hoped to tour Europe with a backpack, he had already traveled the continent with his own band. In the years since changing his name, Reatard (now 27) has released dozens of records, and he’s been in at least eight bands, most notably The Reatards and the synth-based Lost Sounds. This workaholic even has his own record label, Shattered. Following one’s passions is vital for any artist, but Reatard grew tired of continually recording and touring for so many different projects that involved so many other musicians.
“I was feeling creatively repressed,” says Reatard. “I hadn’t had a chance to make an album that completely represented my ideas.”
He began focusing on solo work, simply labeling it with his own name. In 2006, In The Red Records released Reatard’s solo LP, Blood Visions, a hyperkinetic romp of punk guitar and Joey Ramone–style vocals. For music played with such speed and volume, the album displayed Reatard’s surprising ear for melody.
The tuneful nature of the music is that much more unexpected after looking at the album’s cover, which bears an image of the nearly naked songwriter covered in blood.
“The idea was that I would be this fat, bloody baby being reborn into the world,” says the renascent Reatard.
Though he’d already built a decent fan base from touring with his many Memphis-based projects over the years, Blood Visions gradually gained a new audience of fans and journalists. All the new exposure and momentum paid off when Reatard was touring in New York City one day and a friend in The Ponys, a garage rock band from Chicago, told him NYC’s Matador Records was interested in signing him. Reatard began speaking with Matador, the gold standard of indie labels.
“Then there were eight months of negotiations to settle everything…which were really exhausting. It was like, ‘Hey man, let’s stop talking about this shit and start making a record!’ I’d never gone more than six months without making a full-length.”
Reatard is set to release six, 7-inch singles with Matador this year, which will be compiled on an EP in the fall. Much to his frustration, his next full-length disc won’t be out until spring of 2009.
Though Reatard’s career looks to be ascendant, he doesn’t plan on any major life changes. For one, he has no intention to leave his hometown of Memphis.
“Memphis is pretty vital to the creative process for me. Some bands decide to move to L.A. and then they immediately begin to suck. I feel like if a big city didn’t create a band, a band shouldn’t expect to move to a big city and continue to be nurtured creatively.”
If there is a perceivable alteration in Reatard’s lifestyle, it’s a shift away from his historically scattered musical endeavors.
“Six months ago I decided to try something I’ve never done before—and that’s focus. I figured, I have eight releases this year. Then there’s press and touring. I don’t have enough time to sleep much less to play drums in some crappy punk band.”