In Living Cover
By Noah Michelson
Has there ever been a song that you've tried to cover that ended up a total disaster?
I don't usually try to cover a song unless I think I can do it [Laughs]. It's more about if I can learn the song first because singing is easy for me -- it's just something I've been doing my whole life -- but playing instruments is not that way at all -- especially the guitar. So, I just kind of look up a song and I Google it to see what the chords are like and if it's really simple or it's something I can dumb down and make it really simple on the guitar then I'll give it a shot. Otherwise it's more like, Oh my God, I can't play this. [Laughs] So I don't even try.
You just covered Michael Jackson's 'Man in the Mirror' and the video has already had over 100,000 views on YouTube in the last week. Were you a big Michael fan?
I like Michael Jackson's music. I used to have the Bad cassette tape back when I was six or seven. I have the HIStory greatest hits album from whenever that came out. I appreciate Michael's music and what he accomplished as a professional. I don't know -- have I ever seen him live and am I a diehard fan? No. But his music like this institution that's always been there. Even if you're not a fan of Michael Jackson, you know like 30 of his songs. It's crazy that you can listen to these songs by someone you never knew, never met, and they'll bring up specific memories of certain people and certain places in your life. I think that's pretty incredible. I would consider myself more of a fan of his sister -- I really love a lot of Janet Jackson's music and I think The Velvet Rope is one of the best albums ever created but it's kind of a different relationship and a similar appreciation.
You recently Twittered about being unable to stop yourself from renting horror movies. What brought on the obsession?
[Laughs] It's not a recent thing -- I've always been into horror movies. It's so hard to find good ones. They don't come out that often and when they do there are so many bad ones.
When you say 'good ones' do you mean scary or campy or both?
Not campy. I'm not interested in campy. I want actual scary movies.
What are the scariest ones you've seen?
I think Blair Witch Project was amazing. I know a lot of people hated it but I just thought it was so cool and so real and so smart. I like a lot of the classics. Honestly, the Scream trilogy is one of my favorites and that's kind of a mixture between scary and campy. I thought those movies were pretty brilliant. But also Friday the 13th and Halloween and all of the old stuff.
Have you seen The Entity with Barbara Hershey? That is one of the most terrifying movies I've ever seen.
Really? Some of them can get a little too gory for me -- that can get to me. Like for me, Hostel was really disturbing. Some of the Saw movies have just been too --- painful -- just too' I don't ever want a band saw going through my arm.
Right. They call them 'torture porn' for a reason.
That's exactly what it is.
Are you doing more acting?
Not right now. I'd really like to but it's really hard to coordinate music and acting because they work so differently. Albums and tours have to be planned months and months in advance. I'd love to do more acting but you kind of have to be available all the time and be ready to audition at a moment's notice and then if you get the job, work at a moment's notice -- it's just really hard to coordinate the two.
Do you feel like you're more dedicated to the acting or the music or is it unfair to compare the two?
I've chosen to follow music a little bit more because that's something you can do by yourself -- I don't need anyone to hire me to make music or to play it for people. For films or TV there's a lot more people involved, so, it's a lot more collaborative by nature. I don't know, my original dream, even as a child it went back and forth between singing and being an actor. I always wanted to be an actor -- I went to college to for acting but I didn't think I could be a singer because I didn't think I could ever write songs and I used to think it was uncool to do covers. I didn't want to be a cover artist or someone who always sang someone else's songs -- it didn't feel authentic to me. I've learned to appreciate doing covers now, but I don't think I'd feel comfortable being someone who just did that.
Can you talk about your relationship to the gay community and why you don't want to be considered a 'gay singer-songwriter'?
[Laughs] It's such a complex topic and one that people get so flared up about. The moment you even mention that you're not in this "gay religion" -- or whatever people see it as -- they get so upset before they even find out what you're trying to say. I'm a gay guy. I dealt with that when I was 11, so, I'm kind of over talking about that and having that always be the focus -- more so from gay people than straight people. I just want to believe that we're in a certain time -- at least in this country or my part of the world, it's certainly not the same way in Iran or places like that -- but I want to believe that we're closer to a time where gay people can just be people and don't have to be defined by their sexuality. The fact that they're gay doesn't necessarily mean they like dance music or that they like to party or that they like nightlife or that they work out 24 hours a day or love musicals or wax their bodies or -- there are so many kinds of gay people, just like there are with straight people. And I'd like to just be a musician. Being gay isn't a part of my career. I like to sleep with men and that's the end of it. I don't feel like gay people have been more loyal or treated me any better than anyone else. I just don't feel that sense of fascination or that bond -- it's just not there for me. It's hard to keep that balance because there are a lot of gay people who are interested in things simply because they're gay. And I realize probably a lot of my audience comes because of that and maybe a lot of my audience actually likes the songs, too. And my shows probably are sixty percent gay men -- and that's cool, that's great -- but I don't care who's in the audience or just listening -- I don't look at them as the gay community. A lot of them happen to be gay, some of them aren't, I just don't see how that ties people together. I don't want to be sold in the gay section of a store -- that isn't fair. Why am I not good enough to be sold with all the other singers? To me that's like asking black people to sit at the back of the bus. I may be a little bit ahead of the curve but I only get one life and I'm going to live it my way whether or not the rest of the world is ready for that or not.
But you must hear from queer kids who are trapped in -- I don't know -- Kansas? who say 'Your music really means a lot to me'? Surely the visibility itself is important to some people?
Yeah, sure, that happens a lot. I just have a hard time believing that anyone would look up to me for anything [Laughs]. Even that issue in and of itself -- I don't see it necessarily as being about being gay. I think that everyone goes through these situations growing up where they're trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be and who everyone is trying to make them be. Sometimes I explain to them, 'You're having such a hard time now but you're going to be able to get away and it's going to be totally different.' And on the flip side, here I am and I used to feel that way and here I am 15 years later and I feel like I'm under so much pressure from gay people to be who they want me to be or who I have to be. It's flipped -- it's not the church telling me anymore it's the quote-unquote gay community. I'm more of a supporter of the individual and people and whatever their sort of individual journeys might be. If I was looking to be the poster boy for anyone I think it would be people that are sad or brokenhearted or angry or something that's more universal than [being gay]. But this has nothing to do with my ideas on gay rights or civil rights or everyone being treated equally or gay people being able to get married. Gay Pride doesn't seem to have a lot to do with that. My way is to be myself and not having to brand myself in that way and just moving forward. That's not the topic of anything I sing about but it's also something that I don't hide. If I ever had a boyfriend I'd be happy to walk down the street holding hands with him and I think that makes a much bigger statement than a Gay Pride Parade.
In Living Cover is available July 7 and Jay kicks off his world tour on July 8 in NYC. For more info on Jay and a full list of tour dates, visit his website.