âShortbusâ star releases his anticipated debut album â on his own terms
Prepping to do an interview with singer/songwriter Jay Brannan is easy. Anything you need to know about him, he puts right out there. His website offers his bio, a blog and his homemade music videos that have made him a grassroots YouTube success.
As a musician, heâs self-taught and self-made and his forthcoming debut album, âgoddamnedâ â a collection of melodic, sharply honest songs of love, longing and critical self-examination â is self-financed and will be self-released on July 15. He calls all the shots. And, that includes any discussion about his sexuality and how it relates to his music â or how it doesnât.
In fact, the 26-year-old Texas-born performer, who many discovered acting, singing and baring all in the sexually-explicit, hit indie movie âShortbusâ (his tune âSoda Shopâ is featured in the film and on the soundtrack), calls on the phone to introduce himself and to get one little point across: Heâs gay and has no interest in hiding it, but please donât call him a âgay singer.â
As Brannan puts it, âItâs not that Iâm resistant to being called a gay singer/songwriter â itâs that I hate it. I hate when people stitch my sexual orientation to my name as if it were a title or a category, or as if it were printed on my birth certificate. I just want to be a musician like anyone else.
âWhen Lisa Loeb sings, sheâs singing about her life, her experiences, her relationships. No one says sheâs singing about âstraight issuesâ or that she sings âstraight songs.â Why should it be any different for me? I think itâs time that gay people take their place as regular people in the world, rather than continuing to be defined and separated by their sexual orientation.â
Point taken. The thing is, when Brannan takes the stage with guitar in hand for a sell-out show in New York or Dallas or Cape Town or London, or when he records a new video that will invariably get blasted across the Web and raved about on his popular MySpace and Facebook pages, heâs not singing coming-out songs, anyway. Heâs just singing about life, relationships or maybe religious hypocrisy.
âI never write about âbeing gay,ââ Brannan explains, talking from his little one-room New York City apartment. âI find that to be an incredibly tired and outdated issue. I dealt with the fact that I was attracted to men when I was a teenager. I donât really find it interesting anymore. A lot of people ask the question about pronouns in my lyrics, and the truth is Iâve never once thought about it â including them, excluding them, masking them or hiding them.â
If youâve heard âHousewife,â the first single from âgoddamned,â or seen the video online, you know Brannanâs right. The strummy song begins, âTwo bodies pressed together/Two boys are falling hardâ and then notes the joys of fixing cars and grilling turkey burgers with the man you love. It even goes so far as admitting âDonât mind doing his laundry/What are boyfriends for?â
It doesnât get any more direct or sweeter than that, so label-obsessed activists can rest assured: Brannanâs doing his part just by being the unapologetically honest musician that he is. And with âgoddamnedâ he is poised to take his music to a wider audience than ever, as he launches a cross-country 11-city tour that includes stops in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.
Brannan shares that he obsesses over the songs heâs writing. âIâm never 100% satisfied with every lyric in a song, but I just try to get it to a place I can live with without driving myself crazy. Iâll fixate on a particular verse or chorus while I shower or walk around the city. Maybe I need medication?â
The title track to the new album is a rumination on religious hypocrisy, inspired by a trip to Jerusalem.
âIt was so surreal being in the place whose legends have ripped apart individuals and nations for thousands of years and seeing how manmade it all was,â Brannan explains. âSome of the architecture is full of history, but the deep discord that stems from all the supernatural folklore attached to it is truly baffling and heartbreaking to me.â
Brannan adds that âthe songâs title also felt appropriate for the way a lot of people have responded to me and my life, and the mistakes and choices Iâve made.â
Apart from the title song, romantic choices loom large in Brannanâs new tunes. Itâs in the aforementioned âHousewife,â the funnily sad âAt First Sightâ and âHalf-Boyfriend,â which reads like a letter to the boy who couldnât commit (which might be for the best). But then, isnât it all about love and finding someone?
âLove is hugely important,â admits Brannan. âItâs probably more important to me than anything else, sadly enough. I havenât dated anyone in a long time â like six years. Iâve always been a loner. The truth is, Iâm a weird person that most people donât quite understand. Iâm neurotic and angsty and obsessive and anti-social.
âPeople, and particularly people I have just met, are always telling me to change myself or the way I act or the things I say. Itâs hard to find people who truly get my sense of humor and my cynicism.â
Still, heâs not ready to give up. âIt would be really nice to find one person who I find to be smart and funny and interesting and reliable, who accepts me for exactly the way I am and actually likes me as that person,â he says. âI just want someone who I can have sex with and laugh with and order food with and sit on the phone with late at night for hours. Someone who answers my calls and actually calls me back. I think, with the right person, I would be a very good boyfriend.â
Until then, Brannan is happy to keep making his music, staying close to his good friend and âShortbusâ director John Cameron Mitchell (âa creative genius and a truly wonderful human beingâ) and even enjoying little things like preparing guacamole (the one dish he can make), wearing grey hoodies and maybe exploring more acting possibilities.
âIâd love to do more film and even try some TV,â Brannan says. âBut Iâm a gay guy in New York City who sings â and I hate musicals and thatâs the first thing an agent thinks of when they see me on paper.
So, weâll see. I know Iâll never be cast as the football jock, but there are sensitive straight-guy roles to be had, and Iâd like the chance to try one at some point.
âI have no problem with playing only gay characters, but it would be nice if there were more roles out there that werenât either a coming-out story or the bitchy stylist stereotype.â
In the meantime, with a bit of prodding Brannan divulges what heâd do with a real day off â no job commitments, no social obligations and no music to write.
âIâd like to say that I would go running and then read a book in the park before volunteering for a few hours at a soup kitchen, followed by dinner on the seaport with a sexy neurologist. But the truth is I want to spend all day every day at home in bed, eating, jerking off, taking periodic naps and watching âBuffy the Vampire Slayerâ nonstop in the dark. Thatâs the perfect day.â
â Photo Credit: Photo: Karl Simon/Stylist: John Tan