Jay Van Raalte | Interview | New Single, ‘The Road Ahead’
Jay Van Raalte is Charleston’s multi-instrumentalist, genre-bending troubadour. With a new album ‘Something More and Kind Of Less’ releasing this month, Jay Van Raalte and The Spectrum are busy touring.
With Jay on vocals and shredding on the guitar, the team includes Derk Van Raalte on bass and Bradley Palles on drums making a radical power trio.
The first single on ‘Something More and Kind Of Less’ is ‘The Road Ahead’—one of the first of the bands’ songs that was written taking full advantage of the studio environment. And you can feel it. Far from a live arrangement, the track utilizes rich layers of vocals, synth, and guitars. Of the recording process Jay says, “It was one of the first examples of us taking advantage of the studio, creating something beyond a simple live arrangement, and that really set the tone for creativity on the rest of the record.”
‘The Road Ahead’ has a sinister vein running throughout. Ominous guitar swells and vocals as Jay intones a spoken word introduction, “Some cooked up fucked up backwards nightmare.” A delightful anomaly— this track is something that would sound equally perfect on a summer road trip or your Halloween playlist. Call it “cross-seasonal”. It’s a track that goes seamlessly from chill pop to ‘80s power pop by the time it hits the chorus. Think Tiffany of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ but dressed like Johnny Cash; that’s Jay Van Raalte.
Speaking of the man in black—with staccato organ and driving tremolo guitar, this track’s alt country influences are hard to miss. It’s country not only in tone, but in storytelling. That tradition shines through this track.
‘The Road Ahead’ is out May 19th. Check out the track and catch Jay Van Raalte and The Spectrum as they cruise along a road near you.
You really got to explore the space in the studio for this release. What felt different in the recording studio vs live or in the practice space?
Jay Van Raalte: There were two major things that were different about this recording experience for me. The first was that I brought in collaborators, and the second was that I explored a much wider sonic palette. On my first solo release, ‘Linearity,’ I wrote and played every single note except for the drums. It felt like the height of experimentation to include a keyboard motif in the chorus of Best Times, because I was writing literally everything else on guitar and bass. This time, I very intentionally wanted to widen the scope. I teamed up with my studio partner/live bass player Derk Van Raalte and co-producer Matt Megrue. The dynamic was one of total teamwork and creativity- everyone was empowered to bring in ideas or to say “hey, let me take a stab at that,” and whatever take ended up having the magic was the one that stuck. There are solos that I didn’t play, pedal steel and keyboard layers from Matt, and songs that I was ready to trash where someone else said “no, I love this one, let’s not give up yet.” I take great pride in being able to do everything myself, but I also know how valuable it can be to have someone who pushes me, who hears things that I would never have come up with myself. Leaving a song at the point where I’ve tracked everything that naturally occurs to me always feels a little bit incomplete, like I gave up too soon. There’s that phrase about “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns”- there are always going to be unknown unknowns when producing my own stuff, so I try to find trusted collaborators to help fill in those gaps.
What kind of gear were you most excited to play with? What’s your go-to rig look like?
My live rig is super consistent- I play a Reverend Charger HB into my not-insignificant pedalboard and then through my Wonderdawg, which is essentially a Deluxe Reverb made by Lil Dawg amps. My pedal board features a lot of flavors of dirt and a lot of mod and delay. I also run a tuner, mini-wah, compressor, and clean boost. In the studio, I have a much wider range of guitars and amps that I use to get my initial sound as close to what I’m imagining as possible. I won’t say I don’t do any in-the-box tone sculpting during the mixing process, but I try to get pretty darn close on the front end. As far as gear I was excited about, I picked up a new mic for the studio right around the time we were finishing up the record and ended up retracking almost all the vocals because it sounded so amazing!
What’s the story with the spoken word intro?
The real story is that the earliest seeds of this song started with a loop- the little guitar stabs at the beginning of the song- which happen to be an Am and an F- if you play them with a certain voicing up near the 5th and 7th frets, you only have to change one finger between the two chords. I liked that sound, how so much of the chord voicing stays the same but really the underlying chord itself is changing. I wrote the little descending riff that follows the spoken word intro over that loop and that was when I knew I wanted it to become a full blown song. The spoken word intro just kind of appeared in my head after that. I’d never done anything like that before, but I had recently been playing guitar on tour for Matt Megrue’s stunning record The Mourner’s Manual, which has a whole song that’s kind of spoken word stream of consciousness poetry, so that was probably in the back of my mind. The lyrics and phonetic flow of that portion is also vaguely influenced by another master songwriter and friend of mine, Kevn Kinney of Drivin n Cryin.
What’s the absolute best part about touring? What’s hard about it?
I absolutely love touring. There’s a real clarity of focus that I’m very attracted to- while I’m on the road, the only thing that matters is doing the job that I’m there to do. Everything else gets put on hold and the world shrinks down to just me and my bandmates. Obviously that would be harder to sustain if we were touring for really long periods of time, or if I had more stuff in my regular life that couldn’t be totally abandoned the moment I step in the van, but for now it’s working for me! The hardest part I think is recognizing and balancing the needs of multiple people all at once- I’m lucky to have bandmates I love and we get along amazingly well on the road, but it’s also important to remember that everyone has their own needs and priorities on and off the road that I need to be cognizant of. The other hard thing is that touring can be a lot of sensory overload. I work hard to manage that so that I don’t find myself so exhausted or overstimulated that it affects my performance, but that requires a lot of planning ahead. That’s another place where having wonderful bandmates who know me well and are unfailingly supportive is a total lifesaver! I read an interview with Bono from U2 where he talks about how people often get the lyrics to their song One wrong- people think it’s “we’ve got to carry each other” but really it’s “we get to carry each other.” I think that’s a really beautiful part of life on the road- we divide up roles and tasks according to our strengths, and we all instinctively pick up the slack if one of us is exhausted or having an off night. I can’t overstate how valuable that level of teamwork is, and I feel very lucky to have these guys on my team.