Courtney Jaye (The Interview)

Ashamedly, two weeks ago, I hadn’t heard of Courtney Jaye’s music.  I know, I suck.

However, I recently read a blurb on Pitchfork about her cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sometimes Always” (one of my favorite songs of all time…yes, of ALL TIME) with Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, hopped on over to her MySpace to listen, and declared my love for her on our Strangers Almanac page.  You know what they say…when you know, you know.

Proving how fantastic of a gal she is, Courtney sent a “thanks for the mention” e-mail, and I then jumped on the opportunity to pick her brain about her Hawaiian ties, famous fans, and upcoming tour dates.

The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye is out now on iTunes.  Run, don’t walk!  Or just click really fast.  And please enjoy this interview.

Courtney Jaye – Tiger’s Eye

Your new album is such a unique blend of Hawaiian and country music. I’ve really never heard anyone else come close to this. How did you cultivate such an innovative sound?

The sound came about about years of searching… I lived on Kauai, Hawaii twelve years ago, and when I left the islands to pursue music full time on the mainland, it became apparent to me how profoundly affected I had been by traditional Hawaiian music. Only to fully realize upon moving back to the South, that the old-school Hawaiian music I loved, was truly just an extension of Country, Jazz, and Western Swing, but with earthy, exotic instrumentation. It only seemed natural that the two could come together in a cool and innovative way, but at that time I was really young and just getting started learning about the craft of songwriting and performing. It took me having to go through a hellacious major label experience that ended in 2005 to really ask myself what exactly I wanted to make of my music career. I tried a couple of independent projects in-between but still wasn’t totally satisfied.

At a certain point I remember feeling so frustrated, like I was being tortured or something. I could hear the sound in the back of my head, but it could never translate to tape and be recorded as I was hearing it. Nor did I meet or work with people that supported my vision wholeheartedly. In fact, I’m pretty sure quite a number of people along the way thought I was downright crazy for wanting to make a Hawaiian Country record. It was upon my moving to Nashville in 2007 that I met the incredible Thad Cockrell and told him of the sound that had been in my head all these years, and he really was the catalyst. He supported, urged, and encouraged me to explore it, and then we started writing songs together. In fact, most of the songs that we wrote at that time are on this record.

He then introduced me to the musical genius of Seth Kauffman, a multi-instrumentalist from Black Mountain, North Carolina. That is when I knew I had found the person that could help me get exact sounds and production that I had been searching for all those years. It was like the clouds parted and something in my gut just spoke to me loud and clear, and we went for it.

You have collaborated with so many of my favorite artists including Tift Merritt, Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), and Band of Horses. Who is someone you’d love to work with down the road?

I recently met and have received alot of advice and encouragement from M. Ward, and I would say that he is at the top of my list of people that I would like to work with in some capacity at some point in the future. I would also love to work with Jim James and Bill Callahan.

Speaking of Band of Horses, you duet with Ben Bridwell on the new record, covering The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sometimes Always.” You guys really make the song your own. How did this collaboration come about?

The collaboration came about through the lovely Bill Reynolds (bassist for BOH). Bill had stepped in and sort of saved my record when Seth and I came up against some rather mounting technical difficulties, recording my vocals at his home studio in Black Mountain, NC. Bill is an amazing producer/engineer in his own right, so we sent him some of the tunes we had recorded to get his opinion as to what we were technically doing wrong. He heard the music, then offered to record my vocals at Echo Mountain Studio’s in Asheville the following weekend, on a break from touring with BOH. He then had to go to Charleston to rehearse with the band a few days later, but Seth and I ended up staying in Asheville at Echo to rough mix with Danny Kadar. We were sending Bill our rough mixes as we went, and from what I understand, he played them for the rest of the band in Charleston at that time. I think it was a few weeks later that he called to tell me that Ben heard the music and they had discussed the idea of us doing a duet together for the record. Ben and I then started sending song ideas back and forth until we mutually agreed upon “Sometimes Always.” A few months later, they happened to come through Nashville on tour, and that’s when we recorded the track.

You’ve got a lot of famous fans including Zach Galifianakis, Nathan Followill (Kings of Leon) and Neal Casal (The Cardinals). Do you feel as though the music industry has welcomed you with open arms, or has it been a tough road to go?

I don’t want to sound ungrateful or ‘woe-is-me’ at all, but the truth is that it has been a rather tough road in moments. My first record deal and everything that came along with it was a complete disaster. I was put into the machine, chewed up, and spit out. Typical story…but the truth is, I was young, and it was not an honest record. I was still learning about myself and about the craft. I know where my mistakes were made and take full responsibility for them. But, I actually look back at it as a very important part of my growth and/or evolution as an artist. I did find that a lot of people cast me off, especially once I got dropped.

Even to this day, some people still have the wrong impression of who I am as an artist. And once people have an opinion of you, they hold that opinion, even if it’s not the truth, or even if it was half a decade ago. There’s nothing I can do about that, but that was one reason why I took so many years away from the business to develop and cultivate a sound that was truly honest and unique to me and a sound that no label person could mess with or alter in any way, shape, or form. Sort of saying to the people in the music business: “Either you get what I am doing musically, or you don’t. If you get it, great! If you don’t… See ya later.”

It has only been since I have come into my own with a more honest message and authentic sound that people have gravitated to it, offering their support. Mostly because a lot of them know what I had to go through to arrive here. So to now feel the open arms and support from all of these incredibly talented people, that I too admire and respect, is truly lovely, but most importantly is the gentle confirmation that after years of searching, I’m finally in the right place.

Lastly, any plans to tour this year?

Yes! I am hoping to be out on the road by the time spring/summer rolls around. There’s a couple of fun things in the works that I can’t quite talk about yet, but if all goes according to the plan, I will be out there soon enough!

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