In Living Cover
By Noah Michelson
For better or for worse, Jay Brannan is probably most famous for his participation in the hilariously realistic threesome scene in John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 cinematic ode to the complexities of sex, sexuality, and love, Shortbus. Since then the 27-year-old has spent his time writing, recording, and performing original music and covers around the world both live and via the Internet, which has proven invaluable in launching his music career. By utilizing YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and his own website, JayBrannan.com, the singer-songwriter has been able to pump his plucky, catchy tunes into the ethos thereby securing him thousands of adoring fans who eagerly gobble up whatever he sends their way.
We caught up with Jay just days before the release of his new album of cover songs, In Living Cover, as he prepared to hit the road for a world tour to chat about life on Facebook, what makes a really good cover song, and why he'll never be a poster boy for the gay community.
Out: First off, I have a bone to pick with you.
Jay Brannan: Why?
Because I friend requested you over a month ago on Facebook and you still haven't accepted it.
Oh, Jesus. Facebook won't let me! It's not my fault!
I don't know if I believe that.
Facebook allows you to have 5,000 friends'
Yeah. You're at 4,998 right now.
But it fluctuates up and down -- sometimes it'll say 5,001. I have a waiting list of like 2,000 people.
It's really frustrating. They were going to expand it and then they made that Facebook 'page' thing. So they're not going to change it. [sarcastically] Which is great because now I get two Facebook pages to keep up with.
Of the 5,000 to 7,000 friends that you have, what percentage of them have hit on you?
Oh, I don't know. Maybe like 1%?
And they were probably in a blackout when they did it.
You recently revealed via Twitter that you wanted to get laid -- maybe even twice -- before you hit the road next week for your tour. How's that endeavor going?
Are you properly getting yourself out there?
I don't know what that means -- properly -- but I'm not really into nightlife, so if that's what you mean -- no.
Maybe you should advertise? Maybe a YouTube video?
[Laughs] I like to be a little more specialized in my advertising for that sort of thing.
That's fair. The Internet has been a huge part of your career. What do Twitter and YouTube and Facebook allow you to do that you couldn't do without them?
Pretty much everything. My whole business is Internet based. I don't think I'd have a chance at all in the music industry if that sort of stuff didn't exist. I can pretty much do whatever I want without asking anyone's permission and for the most part I don't have to spend any money. You can create whatever kind of art you want and you put it out in whatever way you want and you can project whatever image you want whether it's one that's authentic or whether it's one that's manufactured. No one can really tell you what to do and there are all these people out there that you can share anything with. It's kind of amazing.
Did you want to be independent from the very beginning? Or did you ever have aspirations to be on a major label?
I try not to walk into things thinking I know more about them than I do. I'm still pretty new to this industry. My first tour and my first album were just last summer. You know what people say it means to be on a major label or to be independent or whatever but a lot of people have ideas about the industry that aren't necessary true. I explored some of those options and spoke to some of those people and things just kind of worked out the way they wanted to. I wouldn't be opposed to working with a big company. It'd be great to have their resources and their money and their political relationships but it would have to obviously not be at the expense of what it is that I want to do and the reason why I do music in the first place.
Right. And even a lot insanely successful musicians -- Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Tori Amos -- are now deciding that indie is actually the better option.
Yeah, everyone is moving that way. It's a lot easier for those people because they now have been set up and they have huge followings so going independent for them is much different than someone who is starting out independent, but obviously those kind of [major label] companies are getting cut out of the picture.
The new album, In Living Cover, is a covers album. What draws you to a particular song and makes you want to tackle it?
I chose the songs because they're songs that are in some way tied to a part of my life or a certain person or place or time from my past. They are songs that have meant something to me somewhere along the way and I felt the whim to do them on YouTube at one point and people have been asking me to record them and when people have been asking for so long to buy them, I guess I finally thought, Why not make them available? It was originally just going to be an EP of four or five cover songs and then it evolved into something bigger. It's almost a full album now -- it's nine tracks and two of them are originals: one is the first song I ever wrote and the other is the newest song I've written.