BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM chats to LA-based Jeremy Jay, set to dreamweave his indie pop to audiences in Auckland and Wellington this week.

JEREMY JAY has been described by his record label as “Buddy Holly, Peter Pan and John Hughes movies all rolled into one”, and his latest album Place Where We Could Go is almost a collection of dreams and lullabies. He’s a Los Angeles musician who grew up speaking French and is just as influenced by French artists as he is by ’50s rock ‘n’ roll figures such as Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. His fragile indie pop is going to be touring Europe with Deerhunter in the New Year, but before that, he’s going to play two shows in New Zealand – Auckland (November 21) and Wellington (November 23).

Jay started off playing the trumpet as a kid. “I just was walking around the campus and I stumbled inside the music room to someone being taught the trumpet. I don’t know how it happened but I started going there and learnt the trumpet.” He ended up playing jazz in school on the trumpet throughout his high school years, but had also fallen in love with the guitar in middle school when he discovered a “red electric Stratocaster guitar by Fender. My aunt, who is a nun, bought me the sheet music for ‘La Bamba’ and I had watched the movie La Bamba starring Lou Diamond Philips and was totally inspired.”

Jay is equally proficient in French and English, having grown up in a French-speaking household. “My mother spoke only French in the beginning and moved to America and married my Dad. Basically we spoke French in the house until I was thirteen but that was only in the house. Of course growing up in California, English didn’t really feel like a second language.” However, this background did give him a different approach to things. “It definitely gave me a different perspective than what others had; growing up with a European mother I definitely had a different sensibility than other classmates. I definitely think of myself as having a very strong European sensibility. [But] I consider myself an American totally.” This European sensibility has included being a huge fan of French chanteuse Françoise Hardy. “She’s obviously really great. Great pop singer.” However, he’s decided not to record in French himself, despite his fluency in the language. He has thought about it, but “I’d definitely feel how American it was.”

His music has a strong theatricality to it, and it seems that it’d be easily integrated with visuals. He notes that his love of film and music has assisted in this respect. “I definitely feel that music and movies is one of the most inspiring things for me personally. A lot of soundtracks especially the composer Danny Elfman and Irving Berlin have had a strong influence on me. And also the soundtrack to the [Ken Russell] movie The Boy Friend.” This results in his music being remarkably evocative. “I think very cinematically. Some people might think of that as superficial. I think it’s thinking about the way things look – the way clothes, the aesthetic and the way records look.”

Jay is signed to Johnson’s K Records which is based in Olympia, Seattle. Johnson is one of the key influential figures in ‘80s indie music, and his record label has included luminaries such as Modest Mouse and the Microphones. “I met Calvin when I was living in Portland, Oregon, and eventually a few years later I drove up to Olympia once and gave him a tape and a 7-inch record I’d made myself. He said the next record I make he’d distribute it. I ended up touring with him and ended up recording with him. I think he has a great insight and I really like working with him for sure. I really like having him around and I really like him as a friend.”

“I think very cinematically. Some people might think of that as superficial. I think it’s thinking about the way things look – the way clothes, the aesthetic and the way records look.”

His 2008 album, recorded with Johnson’s help, A Place Where We Could Go opens with Jay wishing the listener “night night”. “A lot of people got mad that this first song was only a couple of seconds long and a lot of people didn’t understand the concept behind it. It’s a very conceptual record, and it’s mostly in the third person.” The album feels like a dreamscape full of romantic longing and sweet lyrics, and Jay says “it’s a record where a lot of people didn’t listen to the lyrics. They only heard the music and came to certain conclusions that it was sulky or only that kind of way.” He hoped the album “introduces Jeremy Jay, myself, as a person to the world and to give everything else a sort of platform. Kind of like the first book of a series, like how any first book that you read which has a character’s name like Sherlock Holmes or Peter Pan or Mary Poppins. That was what it was meant to be, to show the ideals and philosophy and romance of the person.” He suggests for example a song like ‘Heavenly Creatures’ which Jay explains as being “a song about a guardian angel singing goodnight to you. ‘Heavenly Creatures’ talks about the basic philosophy that I was thinking about at the time.”

The album had a long gestation period. “It took me about six months to write the main bulk of the songs. I didn’t plan it in any sort of way, it took a while to get published for me. For me that record is very old, but to everybody else it is just coming out. It definitely took a long time to be released, a couple of years.” The album has a spare production – it’s mainly just piano and guitar, but it wasn’t originally intended to be like this. “I wanted to have strings but that never happened. I wanted strings for ‘Someone Cares’. The production was not planned for how it was.” It ended up being “just the studio sound and we put some reverb on the vocal.”

Jay is also a French film fan, such as of director Jean-Luc Godard. Films like Vivre Sa Vie in particular are well-liked. “It was mainly the visual aesthetic that I really, really liked. A lot of the themes I liked too and I liked the story, but it was mainly the image. And [Godard’s frequent leading lady] Anna Karina is one of my more favourite actresses of that era. I also like the more dramatic – it isn’t French New Wave – Au Revoir Les Enfants. It’s a great movie.” I recommend some of the later French New Wave films to him (such as Maurice Pialat’s work and my favourite La Maman et la Putain which I described as three and a half hours of people talking about relationships to which he laughed saying “sounds like I’ll really like it”) given that he admits that he loves the attitude and realism of the New Wave films. “I like the camera shots the type of attitude of it, and I liked the sort of freewheeling aspect. It’s definitely not American, it’s very laissez-faire. It’s more realistic in a lot of ways.” I ask if he’ll follow the oft-quoted Godard ideal, where all a movie needed was “a girl and a gun”, and whether that would work as an album. ‘I think Serge Gainsbourg already did that with ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. Maybe I should, I don’t know, you never know.”

Jay has a new album coming out in March next year (though no word on its New Zealand release date). “The new album sounds totally different – totally, totally different. It sounds more like the Airwalker record, it’s more dance-y and more upbeat sounding. There isn’t a narrative, in a way it’s more themed.” He’s not sure whether he’ll be playing in New Zealand with a band or not, but having recently played a three week winter slot in Paris solo, he’s certainly capable and well-regarded in that respect. Listening to his music evokes that comfortable feeling you have when tucked up in bed listening to the rain fall on your roof. His melodies and music are beautiful, the type of pop music that provides the intimate soundtrack to fantastical, elusive dreams.