Courtney Jaye – Looking For Some Love and Forgiveness
by Jay S. Jacobs
When we last left Courtney Jaye, she had just released her debut album Traveling Light, which in my opinion was one of the ten best albums of 2005. At the time her label Island/Def Jam was hoping that she would become a huge star. Through some bad luck and bad mojo that stardom ended up not happening, although the gorgeous songs “Can You Sleep?” and “Lose My Head” got a certain amount of notice and the wonderfully poppy “Can’t Behave” became a minor hit. Still, the album did not sell as expected and Jaye received an up close and personal look at the win–at–all–costs dark side of the label system. The imprint abandoned the album way too quickly and it has since become a lost treasure.
This is where it ends for many musicians. However Courtney Jaye just picked up, dusted herself off and moved on – to Nashville, Tennessee. In the years since, she has become a vital part of Music City’s alt-country world, marrying her old-school rock vibe with a traditional country edge. And she’s doing it her way, for her own label. Her first release of the new incarnation was the 2007 EP ‘Til It Bleeds. She followed that up with the lovely 2010 release The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye, which paid tribute to the music of Hawaii, where Jaye called home for a while.
Now Jaye is releasing her third full-length album, and it may well be her best yet. Love and Forgiveness mixes Jaye’s supple vocals with her natural pop sense, creating a country-rock platter which is both wonderfully retro as well as right on the pulse of today. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if Love and Forgiveness brought Jaye the stardom that alluded her on her earlier album? That may not happen, but the album is strong enough that a buzz may build up.
Soon after Love and Forgiveness was released, Jaye gave us a call to catch us up on her music, her career and her life.
You told me years ago that you pick up a little bit of the music everywhere you live. What have you learned from Nashville?
I have learned the importance of writing a good song. (laughs) I have learned don’t even get out of bed and slip in the studio unless you have the songs. It’s such a song–oriented city. I think that is what has been imparted the most upon me.
Love and Forgiveness definitely has a bit more of a country vibe than Traveling Light. And yet, it’s not really typical of most of the country that is coming out of music city, either. Do you feel an affinity with old school country rock?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s the music that I listen to and that’s the music that got into my system at a very early age. Because of my family and my parents and their musical tastes: It just stuck with me. It’s the music that I have learned from. The artists that I grew up listening to. So yeah, I feel it belongs more in that world.
I noticed that the new album is a little further away from the Hawaiian music that you did on The Exotic Sounds and even on “Traveling Light” and “Hanalei Road.” Although I did pick up a hint of it in “One–Way Conversation.” Did you feel that sound was a little off the track of what you were doing in the new album?
Yeah. I feel like I got Exotic Sounds out of my system. That had been in the back of my mind for close to ten years, wanting to make what I call a “Hawaiian country” album. I think once I got that out, I was able to look at the songs and the material that I had already that I didn’t put on Exotic Sounds. A whole other record was being written and I didn’t even realize it. When I did realize that the songs had a common thread that in my mind harken back to songs of the 1970s, I just wanted to let the songs become what they wanted to become. I didn’t want to stylistically fit them into any sort of a box. That’s what we tried to do in the recording process.
Who were some of the singers who originally inspired you to take up music and inspired this project?
Oh, lord. Dolly Parton. Linda Ronstadt. Neil Young is actually probably my top, my number one. The Band. Carole King. Oh, there’s so many. There’s so many.
I loved all the styles you played with in the album, “I Thought About It” had sort of a bossa nova backing, “Summer Rain” had the pedal steel feel, “Morning” was rather poppy. Do you enjoy the opportunity to play with styles in your music?
Absolutely. I feel there is an art to balancing a record out. Allowing the songs to become what they want, but also maintaining a common thread that holds the record together. I feel like for this record there were different elements in every song. Again, it wasn’t a conscious thing, but when it was all said and done, I did realize: okay, “I Thought About It,” that has a disco groove to it. Then “One Way Conversation” has this sort of Levon Helm rhythm to it. “New Day” sort of has this Dolly Parton sort of feel. I realized there is a way to balance it all out. But yeah, I do. I love to experiment.
I believe “Say Oh Say” is the first single from the album. How has the feedback been on the song?
Very good. I’ve heard from a lot of people that it reminds them of Fleetwood Mac, which is obviously really [flattering]… I love Fleetwood Mac. It’s funny, but when Thad Cockrell and I were writing songs, we had these harmonies and we made this garage band demo of us just singing the songs live. We had a three–part harmony that we ended up overdubbing in. To me, in that moment, that song reminded me of a Blue Oyster Cult song. (laughs) So for some reason that’s always stuck with me. I don’t know if it necessarily translated in the recording of the song. But I think it’s one of the more interesting songs I’ve been a part of writing.
I noticed the songs on the new album seem a little more upbeat when it comes to life and love than the songs from when we last spoke about your debut. Is that something you were doing consciously, or was it just where you are at this point in your life?
Yeah. Yeah. (laughs) I definitely think Traveling Light may have been my troubled 20s love [album]. What comes with being in your early 30s is just a sense of home. Things just settle down. It’s welcome. It’s a welcome thing for me because I’ve started to realize in my relationships I take responsibility for myself now. I don’t want to look and blame and be angry. There is a wisdom to coming to peace with things that don’t work out. Just allowing them to be. Not staying stuck in the past. Yeah, there is Love and Forgiveness, you know? (laughs)
In what other ways do you feel you have grown as an artist over the years? Also, is the fact that this is recorded for an indie as compared to having the experience with Island easier to deal with than the big label machine – if there even is a big label machine anymore?
Yeah. Well this label is my label. So the difference is that I get to call the shots. There is a freedom to that. There is also the fact that there are pros and cons. There’s not a massive team of people working on the record. The team is concentrated and they are devoted. You don’t get stalled. If you want to do something, if I want to make a video, I just go make a video. You don’t have to get it approved and go through all of the channels. So it’s been rewarding. It’s been a lot of freedom. To me, it just seems like it makes sense for right now, in terms of the state of this business. I don’t see why artists should not own their own music.
Even since your first album came out, the musical world has changed so much. With the majors dying and piracy and all, is it tougher for an artist to get noticed?
Oh, my God, absolutely. Because there are so many outlets where people are getting their musical information from, there are pros and there are cons to both. The internet can help you reach a wide range of people but at the same time, everyone is spread out. There are so many more musical choices. I think of it as a good thing. It’s not something to fight. It’s something to embrace.
You’ve done a few covers over the years – “Wicked Game,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and “Sometimes Always.” As a songwriter, do you find it easier or harder to do someone else’s music?
It’s so fun. First of all, it’s really a fun thing to do. At a certain point as a writer, I got to a place where I allowed myself for sing other people’s songs, in the realization that all that I want to be doing is singing great songs. I don’t need to have the validation that I wrote them. I’m confident enough in that arena. I just want to sing great songs. On my record Exotic Sounds, there are two songs on that record that I didn’t write at all. That my friend Thad Cockrell wrote. That was the first time in my life that I had heard somebody else’s song and said oh my God, do you realize that you wrote that for me? (laughs) I’m going to sing that song. There has to be a certain element. I have to resonate with it, but when I do it’s a lot of fun.
Well, mentioning Thad, you seem to be on the alt–country side of Nashville rather than the more traditional country side.
Well, it happened naturally when I moved here to town in 2007. I realize there are two sides to Nashville. One is the traditional Music Row world. Then there is the indie, the rock and alternative country, that whole other scene on the other side of Nashville. When I moved here, it was really just starting to blossom. It wasn’t really a conscious effort, it just came up the people I gravitated towards were in that alternative scene. Then I realized at a certain point that I don’t ever see myself being a country artist on country radio. That’s just not my world. Who knows, I would never say never, but that is not the path that I’ve seen for myself. You just automatically fall into whatever sort of group and community here in town that works best.
Who are some of the other people you have worked with or would like to work with?
As far as other artists I’d like to work with, that’s a tough one. There’s so many. (laughs) Do they have to be from Nashville?
No, not at all… They can be from anywhere. I remember early on you worked with Matthew Sweet and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks.
I’ve always wanted to work with M. Ward [of She & Him]. I’ve always just wanted to do something with him, like a Hawaiian record or something. I’d put him up at the top of the list.
What makes you nostalgic?
Music. (laughs) Songs. That’s my number one. I can hear a song and be transported back to a time or place. I can remember a feeling. I can remember a smell in the air. It’s very bizarre, but I would say music is probably the thing that takes me back the most.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Hmm… My goodness. I am obsessively clean. (laughs) Yeah. That’s probably one of them. I love yoga.
I’ve read in a couple of interviews you had a bad experience with Island/Def Jam. You were sort of downplaying some of the songs from Traveling Light, but I thought there were some really great songs on there, like “Can You Sleep?” and “Can’t Behave.” Do you ever do any of those songs live or do you focus on your new music now?
I really… I don’t. I am a creature of the fresh and exciting and new. There are definitely moments that I know that it would be wise for me to break out some older songs. I do, but right now I’m just focused on Love and Forgiveness.
Are you going to be doing any touring? Will you be getting back into New York or Philadelphia or anything like that?
I’m hoping to in the Fall. I’m going overseas to Europe for a little while. [Then] I’m going to plan a New York show or two.
Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 24, 2013.
Photo Credit:© 2013. Courtesy of Missing Piece Music Group. All rights reserved.