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Vermont Quarterly

Following the melody

New music, new tour, Jay Nash ready to roll

Jay Nash
Jay Nash ’98

DEPARTMENTS /
ALUMNI PROFILES

Following the melody

New music, new tour, Jay Nash ready to roll

by Thomas Weaver

 

Jay Nash ’98 leads the way up the steep stairs to the third floor of the old Vermont farmhouse he and wife, Rebecca, and two-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, call home. Nash describes the attic as his “mad scientist” space. But while his UVM bachelor’s in civil/environmental engineering gives him some claim to the scientist label, what singer/songwriter Nash and this creative space are really about is making music.

Anyone who has so much as strummed a halting GCD progression would envy what goes down up here. There’s a wall hung solid with guitars, the beautiful to the battered; a small drum kit; a good half-dozen effects pedals lined up in a row; amps and mics and recording equipment wired into a console that looks like it would require, well, an engineer to operate. And there’s a reminder for what work-at-home looks like for a musician—Mackenzie’s bright red toy piano in the middle of it all.

Nash’s latest recording, “Letters From the Lost,” set for May 14 release, found its form in this home studio. For the roots of the record, backtrack to 2011 when Nash had just put out a recording and performed more than a hundred shows on the road. Emerging from that, time at home and digging deep creatively were top priorities as Nash climbed the stairs to the attic daily. “My only directive was to start each day with a clean slate and start with a new idea,” Nash says.  That idea might begin with a rhythm on the drums, a bass line, or something on the guitar. Nash would record whatever came first, build more tracks over it, and sing nonsensical lyrics to capture a melody.

“The melody would start to reveal what story the song was trying to tell,” Nash says. “That was a big departure, a reverse from how I’d approached all my other records. At the end of the day, I would just put that song to rest. I’d close it and start with a new one the next day.”

Two months of that rough draft process yielded a deep well of new music for Nash to craft into complete songs, an eventual EP, “Of the Woods,” and the origins of the new recording. Pre-release media buzz for “Letters From the Lost” has been positive. Singling out one particular song, a critic from Paste writes: “Often noted for his unique blend of Americana, alternative, folk and rock influences, ‘Sailor’ captures Nash’s sound in a manner that offers a comprehensive glimpse into the niche Nash has managed to craft for himself over the years. Acoustic guitars, a driving beat and Nash’s honest vocal delivery make up this solid track.”

A SONGWRITER'S PATH

Imagine a high school talent show, the auditorium filled with more than a thousand people. You’re on stage with two friends, your guitar, and the Cat Stevens song “Father and Son.” You’re singing the “son” verse, and the whole audience starts clapping the rhythm on the backbeat. Years later, Nash smiles with a kind of wonder about this moment he was bitten. “It was just wild, a sort of chill up the spine. That’s certainly a very addictive and alluring experience,” he says. “I really think I chase that to some extent.”

Music may have been his passion, but when it came time for college Nash was intent on preparing for Plan B in his degree work, but continued to pick up the guitar in his spare time. Back in the day in Burlington he played a bit at Red Square, Mr. Mike’s, and various basement parties with student bands that he’s not entirely sure even had names.

Post-graduation, Nash loaded up his Honda Civic and headed to New York City with little knowledge of the entertainment business and no plan but to play music. “I was setting out to write songs and I thought what better way than to be poor in New York City,” he recalls.

There were nibbles and reason for hope in that year of playing in subway stations and any venue that would have him, but the allure of friends and the mountains in Jackson Hole drew him out west for a couple of years. Nash continued to grow musically, met his future wife when they both worked setting up ski race courses, and enjoyed the mountain town life until eventually deciding to move to Los Angeles to focus more sharply on his career.

In nine years in California, Nash connected with a community of singer/songwriters, honed his craft and built a following, and made music business connections while booking artists for one of the city’s top singer/songwriter venues, Room 5 Lounge.

Being closer to their families and raising Mackenzie drew Jay and Rebecca, a physical therapist, back east a couple of years ago. Vermont’s ethos, absorbed on ski trips to Killington as a kid, first drew Nash to UVM from his hometown of Manlius, New York. “The social and environmental awareness, people were really awake and aware—a lights on kind of thing,” he says. And that same sense drew him back to Vermont a second time.

While the home studio is where Nash continues the songwriter’s never-ending quest of finding and refining his own voice, it’s also where he tackles other work that helps pay the bills. On the computer he hunts down and shares a peppy, pain-free melody that he created for an Aleve commercial. (You’d know it if you heard it.) It’s all about diversifying, says Nash, building new skills and finding various ways to apply them in his career.

With “Letters From the Lost” released, Nash is poised to set out on rounds of touring—Winnipeg to San Francisco to Omaha to Philadelphia with many stops in between.

“One of the things that gives me the greatest joy is playing a live show in a nice room. Whether it’s in Vancouver or Seattle or wherever it is, there are a lot of elements you’ve got to take care of just to get up and play a show three thousand miles away,” Nash says. “The songs are out in these places, and when people come to the shows and want to share the reason why they’re there, it’s a cool thing, very flattering, very humbling.”

For tour dates, video, and purchasing music: jaynash.com

Jay Nash’s music is also available via iTunes.

 

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