by jay s. jacobs
The road beckons and Courtney Jaye can’t help but follow. On the path to hopefully becoming a rock star, she has lived all over the United States, having residences in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Hawaii, Flagstaff, Athens, and Austin. This wanderlust fuels her muse and feeds her music, and she carries little pieces of all of these places with her wherever she goes now.
“I’m extremely affected by my surroundings,” Jaye says. “Places that I go to, I seem to absorb myself into the culture and meeting new people. It really started for me when I moved to Flagstaff when I graduated from high school. It was kind of like this quaint little hippie mountain town. I was really into folk singers and bluegrass. Of course, then moving over to Kauai I developed a love for very traditional Hawaiian music as well. Then of course, in Austin, there’s just that kind of rootsy… there’s all kinds of music down there. I just seem to latch onto wherever I’m at, the kind of scene that’s there. I play with a bunch of different players. And I just learn. I absorb it all.”
Luckily, she has had the opportunity to experience this absorption. She had learned about the mobile life early on with her family; she was born in Pittsburgh, PA but her family relocated to Atlanta when she was a little girl. Back then, when it came to music, she was just a fan. She learned about cool bands from her older brother. As a teenager, she followed bands around the country, toured with the Grateful Dead, shaved her head during an Ani DiFranco phase, studied the back catalogue of Ween and always hit the pike to find new music.
Jaye first started thinking of music as something she could do herself when she was seventeen. She wrote her first song when a good friend was killed in the infamous ValuJet plane crash in the 90s.
“I had been on a Grateful Dead tour with him that whole summer,” she recalls. “When he died it was my first experience with losing somebody. I didn’t really know how to express my emotions other than to try and put them into a song. So, that’s what got me going. I sang it at his funeral, and I got to see how impactful it was for his family to hear and for me as well. So, I thought, ‘there’s something here. Something I’ve got to explore.’”
Soon Jaye had hooked up with a music manager named Russell Carter. However, unlike so many singers thrown right into the music game, he gave Jaye some solid advice: Live your life a little. Go out and experience things. Then you’ll have something to write about. Then you’ll be ready for the crazy ups and downs of the record business.
So, Jaye took him up on it. She gigged and worked as an acupuncturist in Arizona. She camped and surfed in Kauai. She fell in love, suffered a broken heart, and played shows at a local roots music joint in Athens, Ga. All the while she was sending songs back to Carter. All the while he told her that she was getting better and better – but wasn’t quite there yet.
All that changed when she hooked up in Los Angeles with a songwriter named Gala. It was Courtney’s first collaboration, and they came up with a sultry little ditty called “Lose My Head,” which would eventually be the first track on Jaye’s debut album, Traveling Light. “That was the first song that I ever co-wrote with anybody, so I have a very close personal attachment to it,”she says. She sent a demo to her manager. Now, Carter said, now you’re ready.
“Looking back, I’m very glad that I did wait, because I finally feel like I can consider myself a singer-songwriter. It’s not something that I was just thrown into. I’ve had lots of years of writing songs. In that element, I’m very grateful. [It was hard] especially for me… I tend to not be very patient,” she laughs. “So, it was a very big lesson for me; to learn how to be patient. I firmly believe that good things come to those who wait. And those who work very hard.”
It was the first collaboration, but it was far from the last. With Gary Louris of the root-poppers the Jayhawks she wrote the song which would become her first single, the ecstatic pop of her sorta-love song “Can’t Behave.” She also worked with Nina Gordon, formerly of alt favorites Veruca Salt.
“I had a pretty solid group of people to learn from,” she says. “I feel very blessed in that respect. I feel like I relate to all of their writing on a personal level, but at the same time, I’ve been able to kind of take something from all those experiences. Like I said before that kind of allows me to become who I am as a writer. So, not a bad well to drink from, for sure.”
Then Jaye had the opportunity to work with the power-pop figurehead Matthew Sweet, with whom she wrote her eventual album closer, the lushly retro ballad “Love Me.”
“He’s amazing,” Jaye gushes. “His sense of melody is just like nobody else’s I’ve ever worked with. God, I feel very fortunate because I feel like I’ve learned a lot from him. When we wrote a couple of songs together, they were the most effortless pieces of music. Like, they just happened. As opposed to having come from other songwriting sessions where it’s just like you’re just dragging. That’s another thing that showed me that it’s the right thing when it just happens. With Matthew it just happened.”
In the studio she wanted to get together all the styles and inspirations which were always important to her as a fan of music. Traveling Light is a wonderfully tuneful collection of fractured pop love songs. On first listen, they sound blissfully happy, but don’t be fooled, the emotions strike deep.
“I love that dynamic. There’s been so many times when I’ve listened to songs that I don’t really quite latch onto the lyrics the first couple of times, but I live the vibe and the feel. Then it hits me, like, ‘oh my God, this is so sad.’” she laughs. “There’s something really, really beautiful to me about that. As a songwriter, I’ve tried to take the things that I’ve experienced – the pain and the hardships – and I’ve tried to turn it into the lessons I’m learning. The things I’ve learned, you know? [I try] to make it into a positive ending, even though things have been tough. That’s helped me a lot in my day-to-day life. Without being preachy or sappy, I just like to know that the things I go through have some sort of purpose and I’m learning from.”
So, we get to hear about the cheated lover of “Can You Sleep,” the tortured former girlfriend in “Mental,” the needy loner in “Love Me” and the out-of-control paramour in “Lose My Head.” This track record doesn’t mean that Courtney Jaye does not believe true love is possible. She is blissfully happy in “This is the Day” and “Love Song for Everyone” is exactly what it sounds like, a tribute to the human race. However, she sounds most comfortable riding with the top down on “Hanalei Road (Lorelei’s Song),” taking in the soft island breezes of “Traveling Light,” or telling her no-good guy he better be true or she’s hitting the pavement in “Can’t Behave.”
“I know for me, when I’m in pain, it’s easier for me to express, as opposed to when things are moving right along. Sometimes I find that a little boring,” she laughs. “Another challenge for me, in my life and with relationships, is to not create so much of that drama, you know, though it’s been fuel to the fire. For me, it’s taking that internal pain and expressing it outward; doing something positive with it.”
Not that she has that much time to dwell on it right now. Courtney Jaye has her first album out. It has received critical praise (Billboard magazine called “Can’t Behave” a near perfect summer single.) The suits at her record company, Island/Def Jam, believe in the project, particularly the boss man, L.A. Reid, former musician (The Deele) and songwriter (he co-wrote dozens of hit songs with Babyface.) Reid is a strong supporter of the album (Jaye says that he would love for “Lose My Head” to be a future single.)
However, just because she has some buzz doesn’t mean that having a hit record is something that comes easy. Even before the record hit the stores, she was taken on a whirlwind PR tour, which she referred to on her website as the “Courtney Jaye conference room, juice bar, and restaurant promo tour 2005.” It was an eye-opener, if one was needed, showing that the music was only a small part of the machine – if you are going to succeed in today’s music world you have to get out there and push the record, no matter where that takes you.
Jaye chuckles when looking back (a couple of months) at the experience. “Well, I mean, as far as promo tours are concerned, I kind of just tried to make the best of it. You know, when you take your guitar, and you go into a conference room or an office building to play music? That’s just a very bizarre concept to me. We found, in getting creative on the tour we’d spice it up. Like, hey, let’s play in a juice bar today. It was just all these bizarre places that I found I’d play on that tour. Just playing to play and have fun and make the most of it. But, since the record’s come out, I’m just now going to be going back into the markets and the places that the single is really kicking butt. And just starting to develop an audience.”
Now that the album has been released, things have heated up a bit. Still, sometimes it all seems like a dream.
“It’s pretty surreal. I mean, I kind of forget it, that I have [a CD] out sometimes,” Jaye laughs. “I think somewhere along the way, because I was always kind of working in odd jobs, I somewhere just forgot I was writing this music so that it could be heard. I was also writing it for myself, but I’d forget that end result; ‘Oh, yeah, one day I’ll make a record.’ So, it’s been really cool, actually. I can take a deep breath in certain areas, certain respects. It’s exciting.”
Will this excitement cause Courtney Jaye to settle down? Not likely. She has become the singer-songwriter that she is because she has a yearning to search the world to find what makes her happy. She’s getting there, but she doesn’t seem the type to stand still just for a little comfort. Especially when she may discover a new sound out there somewhere that will transport her music in a whole new direction. Or even, it is important to just have the knowledge of where it has brought her.
“Well, I think it goes back to all the influences of the different places I’ve lived,” Jaye concludes. “I firmly believe that music really doesn’t have any boundaries. I like the idea of integrating all kinds of different styles together, as long as it works for the benefit of the song, to make it better. I just like trying things and I’m not afraid to. So, I don’t think it was necessarily a calculated move, but I kind of think it just happened very naturally. Pretty much, in retrospect, thinking about being in the studio, it was so easy. The making of the record was so easy. I really got spoiled, because it was really quick, you know? I just think that’s what music should be. You shouldn’t have to think too hard.
“I just want [my music] to be some uplifting, positive, but… I don’t know… classy pop music. I’m not trying to heal the world here, you know? I’m just trying to make music that feels good to me and can translate to feeling good for all the people that are listening to it.”
Copyright © 2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 6, 2005.
#1 © 2005 Courtesy of Island/Def Jam Records. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2005 Courtesy of Island/Def Jam Records. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2005 Courtesy of Island/Def Jam Records. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2005 Courtesy of Island/Def Jam Records. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2005 Courtesy of Island/Def Jam Records. All rights reserved.