Singer-songwriter Jay Nash is one busy guy. With the release of his sixth studio album, Diamonds and Blood, he is winding his way around the country, and soon, the globe, to promote his latest release, a deeply personal compilation of songs written by a guy who’s seen the world many times over and has the insight, scars and songs to prove it.
When I spoke with Nash he was loving the 80 degree weather the Arizona desert was blessing him with. Spending his first winter in Vermont after living in Los Angeles for nine years, he said, “I’ve literally spent the last three months shoveling out of my house – literally shoveling my house out of the snow. I’m talking so it didn’t come in through the windows.” Understandably, the desert heat and sun were a welcome change.
Nash was making the trek to Austin, Texas where he will perform, interview and mingle at what he estimates to be his seventh SXSW Music Festival. He’s performing three shows that he thinks are nicely spread out, leaving him plenty of time to network, make new friends, catch up with old ones and check out as many of the 2,000 music acts as he possibly can in the four days of jam packed performances.
“I’m excited about SXSW this year. It’s such a great coming together of music,” he said, and when I asked who he was most excited to see he put Josh Ritter in the top spot. “I’m looking forward to seeing the luminaries I used to play with,” he said, referring to his days playing at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles, as well as Room 5 Lounge, a mecca for singer-songwriters, largely of his making.
The small town in upstate New York where Nash grew up wasn’t what he would call a super nurturing place for singer-songwriters by sheer virtue of the fact that there weren’t many. When he got to Los Angeles, however, he was exposed to a whole new world, “I was blown away,” he said. On a weekly basis he saw great acts like Pete Yorn and Gary Jules, another curator of great music. It was around the time Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” came out, and he was booking talent at the Hotel Café. There Nash saw talent like Joe Purdy and Jason Mraz, musicians who caught his ear and showed him what was possible.
Using Jules as a model, Nash found a place he could showcase his own talent, as well as seek out and showcase others like him. Room 5 Lounge was created out of Bar F2, an intimate bar located above an Italian restaurant on North LaBrea in Los Angeles. Before Nash took over booking talent, the cadre of artists who did play there came in fits and starts, and charging a cover seemed a daunting and non-lucrative task. The bar changed ownership, and Nash helped the new owners shape the intimate venue into what they envisioned it to be, which is the nationally recognized spot for the singer-songwriter set that it is today. After performing and booking talent for five years, Nash knew it was time to hand it over to someone else so he could concentrate fully on his own thing. He found a proper predecessor in Joel Eckles, a carpenter by day and singer-songwriter by passion, “He’s done a really great job with it,” Nash said.
Nash also became a fixture at the Hotel Café where, many nights, Nash said, “Would end with everyone playing together onstage.” Then the bar would close and everyone would hang out until five or six in the morning, writing, playing, libations flowing, “Making our significant others very unhappy,” he quipped.
The people he’s had the pleasure of playing with occurred in a wholly organic way, and Nash said, “It wasn’t because I knew someone higher up. It was because we were sharing the stage in this tiny room.” The list of artists he’s collaborated with is long, and many of the names can be found by glancing at a Billboard chart. In addition to his great body of solo work, Nash has created some really great music with Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles and Garrison Starr, to name only a few. “A lot of those collaborations came out of artists I stumbled upon, I sought out, or they sought me out,” he said.
Nash had one good friend – a musician – who was at her wits end because nothing was breaking in terms of her career, no matter what she did. At the time, she was opening for Nash in New York, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do in terms of pursuing her music. Not long after, his good friend, Katy Perry, became a household name.
Nash, too, went through a period of questioning what it was he wanted to do and say. “I went to LA for a couple of weeks and wound up staying for nine years,” he said after realizing Los Angeles was the best environment for him to exist in as a musician. Nine years, five solo albums and a lot of touring mileage later, Nash’s priorities began to shift.
“Five years ago I would have said that all I want is to be able to play music every single night, but having a family definitely changes that.” His touring schedule could reach 220 dates a year, but said his “sweet spot” hovers around 100 shows. With a family, he said touring has become very well-orchestrated, and periods out on the road are shorter and more focused, “It’s not easy being away from my family.”
But living in Los Angeles also took focus away from his family, “On tour, I constantly have to be ‘on,’ and then I would come home and be surrounded by this world of singer-songwriters and I would still have to be ‘on.’” It became a little much, coupled with the realization that Nash and his wife’s annual travel budget was spent visiting family on the other side of the country. Both hail from the East Coast, and it suddenly made more sense to flip-flop the way he’d been doing things, especially after the birth of his first child. Now, homebase is with his family in Vermont, and he commutes to Los Angeles intermittently when he needs to.
Still, on “Golden State Goodnight,” Nash sings about his mixed emotions over leaving LA and the complicated love he has for the city, realized only in the wake of moving on, “I think I love it more now that I’m not there because now, the novelty never really wears off.”
Jambase.com said, “Nash’s music recalls a Los Angeles thought to be long since extinct, a romantic dream land where inspiration flowed from one artist to another with songs about late nights, friends and lovers, songs which grew organically and were created spontaneously. He’s a throwback for sure, smart with a hook, and brave enough to bare the fragile truth in a song.” The description doesn’t just capture Nash’s thoughts on LA, it describes Nash’s entire body of work. Every song on Diamonds and Blood is an honest, deeply personal baring of the soul that showcases who he is, now, as an artist.
And Nash is more content with his career choice. “I do love it,” he said. He remarked about those friends from growing up having walked the faster route to financial security by becoming doctors and lawyers, but Nash has no regrets, “I had to slog it out a little longer, but I never felt I had less than I wanted.”
He’s got a strong work ethic and isn’t content sitting around, “I’m always willing to work – I like working.” The goal is to keep growing as a musician, and said with a laugh that was only part tongue in cheek, “We all want to play an arena rock show.” Although, he doesn’t discount the joy he finds in playing smaller venues that are packed to capacity. He hopes to continue pushing forward and expanding his audience, and in 2011, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so.
In addition to Diamonds and Blood, Nash is releasing an EP with Caitlin Crosby in the spring and a full length CD with good friends Tony Lucca and Matt Duke as TFDI in the summer. “I’ll have my hands full,” he said. After SXSW, he’s off to Europe for a few weeks to play with British singer-songwriter, Greg Holden, who will be promoting his new album, I Don’t Believe You. Then Nash is off to Holland, France and Germany, “I know I have this whole fanbase over there, and I don’t want to let the fire die. Lots of work needs to be done here, though, as well.”
The key, Nash said, is to be honest, to listen to and speak from that true voice inside him that emerges from getting a little bit older and wiser. Otherwise, the words won’t sound genuine or resonate with his audience, “The whole point of music is to connect with people, isn’t it?”
As he made his way across the desert, White Michigan, Jon Elliot and the Hereafter, Josh Ritter and TFDI played on the radio, the latter of which was playing for business as well as pleasure, “We’re playing together at SXSW, and we haven’t seen each other in a couple of months. I need to make sure I know the parts.” Even when he’s content to sit and enjoy the desert drive, Jay Nash is hard at work.
Two days after the release of Diamonds and Blood, the devastating tsunami hit Japan. This week, 50% of the proceeds from itunes sales of the album will be donated to the Red Cross to assist with those affected by the tsunami.