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 havent accepted it.
Oh, Jesus. Facebook wont let me! Its not my fault!
I dont know if I believe that.
Facebook allows you to have 5,000 friends
Yeah. Youre at 4,998 right now.
But it fluctuates up and down -- sometimes itll say 5,001. I have a waiting list of like 2,000 people.
Its really frustrating. They were going to expand it and then they made that Facebook page thing. So theyre 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 dont 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. Hows that endeavor going?
Are you properly getting yourself out there?
I dont know what that means -- properly -- but Im not really into nightlife, so if thats 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.
Thats fair. The Internet has been a huge part of your career. What do Twitter and YouTube and Facebook allow you to do that you couldnt do without them?
Pretty much everything. My whole business is Internet based. I dont think Id have a chance at all in the music industry if that sort of stuff didnt exist. I can pretty much do whatever I want without asking anyones permission and for the most part I dont 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 its one thats authentic or whether its one thats manufactured. No one can really tell you what to do and there are all these people out there that you can share anything with. Its 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. Im 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 arent 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 wouldnt be opposed to working with a big company. Itd 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. Its 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 theyre 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. Its almost a full album now -- its nine tracks and two of them are originals: one is the first song I ever wrote and the other is the newest song Ive written.
Has there ever been a song that youve tried to cover that ended up a total disaster?
I dont usually try to cover a song unless I think I can do it [Laughs]. Its more about if I can learn the song first because singing is easy for me -- its just something Ive 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 its really simple or its something I can dumb down and make it really simple on the guitar then Ill give it a shot. Otherwise its more like, Oh my God, I cant play this. [Laughs] So I dont even try.
You just covered Michael Jacksons 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 Jacksons 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 Michaels music and what he accomplished as a professional. I dont know -- have I ever seen him live and am I a diehard fan? No. But his music like this institution thats always been there. Even if youre not a fan of Michael Jackson, you know like 30 of his songs. Its crazy that you can listen to these songs by someone you never knew, never met, and theyll bring up specific memories of certain people and certain places in your life. I think thats pretty incredible. I would consider myself more of a fan of his sister -- I really love a lot of Janet Jacksons music and I think The Velvet Rope is one of the best albums ever created but its 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] Its not a recent thing -- Ive always been into horror movies. Its so hard to find good ones. They dont 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. Im not interested in campy. I want actual scary movies.
What are the scariest ones youve 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 thats 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 Ive 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 dont ever want a band saw going through my arm.
Right. They call them torture porn for a reason.
Thats exactly what it is.
Are you doing more acting?
Not right now. Id really like to but its really hard to coordinate music and acting because they work so differently. Albums and tours have to be planned months and months in advance. Id love to do more acting but you kind of have to be available all the time and be ready to audition at a moments notice and then if you get the job, work at a moments notice -- its just really hard to coordinate the two.
Do you feel like youre more dedicated to the acting or the music or is it unfair to compare the two?
Ive chosen to follow music a little bit more because thats something you can do by yourself -- I dont need anyone to hire me to make music or to play it for people. For films or TV theres a lot more people involved, so, its a lot more collaborative by nature. I dont 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 didnt think I could be a singer because I didnt think I could ever write songs and I used to think it was uncool to do covers. I didnt want to be a cover artist or someone who always sang someone elses songs -- it didnt feel authentic to me. Ive learned to appreciate doing covers now, but I dont think Id feel comfortable being someone who just did that.
Can you talk about your relationship to the gay community and why you dont want to be considered a gay singer-songwriter?
[Laughs] Its such a complex topic and one that people get so flared up about. The moment you even mention that youre not in this "gay religion" -- or whatever people see it as -- they get so upset before they even find out what youre trying to say. Im a gay guy. I dealt with that when I was 11, so, Im 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 were in a certain time -- at least in this country or my part of the world, its certainly not the same way in Iran or places like that -- but I want to believe that were closer to a time where gay people can just be people and dont have to be defined by their sexuality. The fact that theyre gay doesnt 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 Id like to just be a musician. Being gay isnt a part of my career. I like to sleep with men and thats the end of it. I dont feel like gay people have been more loyal or treated me any better than anyone else. I just dont feel that sense of fascination or that bond -- its just not there for me. Its hard to keep that balance because there are a lot of gay people who are interested in things simply because theyre 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 thats cool, thats great -- but I dont care whos in the audience or just listening -- I dont look at them as the gay community. A lot of them happen to be gay, some of them arent, I just dont see how that ties people together. I dont want to be sold in the gay section of a store -- that isnt fair. Why am I not good enough to be sold with all the other singers? To me thats 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 Im 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 dont 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 dont see it necessarily as being about being gay. I think that everyone goes through these situations growing up where theyre 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, Youre having such a hard time now but youre going to be able to get away and its 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 Im under so much pressure from gay people to be who they want me to be or who I have to be. Its flipped -- its not the church telling me anymore its the quote-unquote gay community. Im 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 thats 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 doesnt 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. Thats not the topic of anything I sing about but its also something that I dont hide. If I ever had a boyfriend Id 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.