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Texas-born, NYC-based, openly gay singer-songwriter Jay Brannan certainly knows how to have a good time. He’s written a song about blowjobs with Margaret Cho, sung about wanting to be a housewife, and starred in John Cameron Mitchell’s sexually explicit opus, Shortbus, where he had a threesome featuring an impromptu, naked singalong of “The Star Spangled Banner”. He’s released two full-length albums and a number of EPs and gained a loyal international fanbase thanks to his witty, playful songwriting and runway-worthy good looks. Jay’s songs are very easy for many of us to relate to, like “Housewife” and the picture of LGBT-friendly domestic bliss it conjures; or “Half-Boyfriend” and its devastatingly accurate examination of a complicated friends-with-benefits relationship. I know that feel, bro.
As he prepares to embark on an international tour to promote his new, multi-lingual EP, I caught up with Jay to chat about his music, his acting and where in the world he gets the most bras thrown at him…
Vada – Hi Jay! How and when did you first start writing songs?
Jay Brannan – Hey! I bought my first guitar as a potential new hobby after quitting drinking for the first time at age 20. I had taken piano lessons as a child, but never was able to write my own material. I think the fact that I had no guitar training allowed me to experiment more freely, so I learned 4 or 5 basic chords from a book & CD, but soon started making up my own stuff. I pretty quickly started writing lyrics, which I never dreamed I could do…I think just because it was such an intense and effusive time for me. I had a lot I needed to get out.
Out of all of your original songs, do you have a favourite?
Hmm – this changes depending on the day, and the context! The truth is, I used to hate all my songs [Laughs], but over the years I have come to appreciate some of them. “Half Boyfriend” probably used to be my favourite, then maybe “Can’t Have It All”. Although, if you’re talking about the recordings themselves, not just the compositions, I think “A Death Waltz” might’ve been my favourite on my 1st album [Goddamned] at the time. I titled my last album Rob me Blind because that turned out to be my favourite track on that collection. The most recent song I’ve written just a couple weeks ago may be my current favourite (shockingly). I’m pretty happy with this new one, which doesn’t normally happen until a song has been around for years!
Some Vada readers may recognise you from John Cameron Mitchell’s amazing Shortbus – would you like to get involved with more acting work again in the future?
I would love to! I really hope to do more acting & I’m excited to have the opportunity to audition every now & then, mostly for some film & TV roles here & there. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to pursue both music and acting, because music requires me to travel constantly and plan my schedule out 6 or more months in advance. As an actor, you really need to be available constantly on a minute’s notice, so while i think the 2 mediums are interdependent for me, they are difficult to balance. I think I will get to do more acting someday, when the timing & the role(s) are right.
You’ve gone all over the world performing your music – where is the most exciting place your travels have taken you?
Oh this is a really tough question as I have been VERY lucky to travel to so many places. Paris is probably my favourite city. I also really love Rome, and Edinburgh, and Tel Aviv, and I had amazing trips to Istanbul, and Seoul, and China, and Brazil, and Australia, and Mexico! I really can’t choose, as exploring a new city or country has become this crazy addiction of mine! In terms of performing; New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Paris, Berlin…. my biggest cities often have really fun crowds, but the tiny shows can be just as fun too.
Your new EP, Around the World in 80 Jays, is a collection of covers in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese. What made you want to sing songs in other languages?
Honestly, I’ve always been fascinated with foreign languages, and perhaps even my native language English. It’s been a dream of mine to one day be fluent in at least one other language, so I have taken basic lessons in a few of them. I can’t speak any other languages yet, but I have gotten to practice some through my travels. My friend (and Shortbus director) John Cameron Mitchell taught me the great idea of learning a song in the language of the places that you perform, and that is how I learned several of the songs on this album. People seem to really appreciate it, and I think they enjoy listening to a foreigner attempt their language, even if horribly pronounced! [Laughs] I’ve just wanted to record some of those foreign language songs for ages, and so finally I just did it.
We’re so happy to have you back in the UK in September – how do London and Manchester compare to the Big Apple?
Thanks! Well, it rains a bit more there? [Laughs] I have some trouble understanding the accents in Manchester, so that is a big difference as well! Actually, my UK crowds are perhaps a bit rowdier than NYC, in a fun way. In London, people have thrown tea & crumpets on stage, as well as my favorite UK chocolate bar “Twirl”, and yes…even bras! [Laughs] I can’t say that’s happened anywhere else! I can’t wait to be back!
Jay plays the Sugar Club in Dublin on the 14th of September, Borderline in London on the 16th of September, and Night & Day in Manchester on the 17th of September. Get your tickets and pre-order Jay’s new EP on his website.