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Jimmy Lee Lindsay, better known as Jay Reatard was the driven, prolific songwriter behind The Reatards. His influences came from garage rock, blues, and punk band he Oblivians (based in Reatard’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee). Reatard, at the tender age of fifteen, began creating four-track recordings in his bedroom that consisted of him playing guitar, singing, and banging on buckets. Eric Friedl (of the Oblivians and Goner Records) heard Reatard’s songs and Goner released the band’s first 7” titled Get Real Stupid.
Reatard started playing live with Greg Cartwright from the Oblivians on drums, but established a more solid lineup with drummer Ryan “Elvis” Wong and second guitarist/bassist Steve Albundy. Jay ultimately remained the band’s one constant over its many years in existence and numerous recording (including at least half a dozen 7”s). The Reatards were a touring machine no matter the lineup, with Jay grabbing whomever he could find. He began touring when he was still a minor and was in Europe with The Reatards by the time he was eighteen.
While the band was obviously influenced by the sounds of Memphis (including the Oblivians and the blues), Jay’s taste in music covered a wide range, as can be seen by some of The Reatards’ covers. Whether it was Fear (“I Love Living”), The Persuaders (“Heart of Chrome”), or Buddy Holly (“Ollie Vee”), The Reatards made the songs their own: short, unpolished, and with attitude. The band was angry in that teenage way (understandable, given Jay’s age), but with a comprehension of catchiness that makes a song good. Jay’s vocals were scratchy and harsh with a blunt, urgent force. The Reatards sang a lot about relationships with girls—the frustration, anger, and bitterness. Those emotions were occasionally sung in a way similar to that of many great blues artists—just sped up and punked out. Other times (“I Want Sex” for example), it was primal—raw, unyielding frustration that can only come out of the teenage mind. It’s hard not to hear GG Allin or Darby Crash of the Germs at those times.
Goner released The Reatards’ debut album, Teenage Hate, in 1998. (Goner re-released Teenage Hate in 2011 and packaged with two earlier cassette releases, Fuck Elvis, Here’s the Reatards and The Reatards.) Grown Up Fucked Up followed in 1999 on Empty Records. The band took a break in the early 2000s when Jay spent more time working on other projects, including The Lost Sounds, The Final Solutions, Angry Angles, and The Bad Times. In 2004 Empty released Bed Room Disasters, a compilation of songs recorded by Wong and Jay between 1996 and 1999 in Jay’s bedroom. Goner released a live album the same year. In 2004-‘05 The Reatards got back together and recorded Not Fucked Enough, which Empty released in 2005.
The band broke up soon thereafter and Jay made music under his own moniker, Jay Reatard. In The Red Records released his first full-length, Blood Visions. . Jay followed that up by signing with Matador Records, and they released Watch Me Fall in 2009. Jay’s increased notoriety around that time allowed him to expose people to many other Memphis artists such as the Oblivians (and the related band, The Reigning Sound), Final Solutions, and Jeffrey Evans. With his record label, Shattered, Jay put out records by Jack Oblivian, Rat Traps, Kajun SS, Tokyo Electron, and Carbonas. Jay also used his ever more competent home recording skills to record bands such as The Oscars and Viva L’ American Death Ray.
Jay died in 2010 from a mixture of cocaine and alcohol at his home in Memphis at the age of twenty-nine. A wide range of artists acknowledged his influence and importance and he was memorialized in numerous publications. Jimmy Lee Lindsay had come a long way from banging on buckets in his bedroom.
–Kurt Morris, 2013
Has Jay played sober? Has any of their equipment survived a show? Why don’t members stay in the band? Teenage Hate and Grown Up, Fucked Up—have two albums ever made more perfect, pure punk rock sense for a band? I didn’t ask these questions because the answers should be easy. They’re so catchy on vinyl, you feel like yelling at everyone’s parents. People absolutely love or hate them. Some folks hold both those sentiments.
Jay Reatard started it all in his Memphis bedroom with a guitar, no amps, and some buckets. Ryan Wong moved to town and helped keep things messy and exciting. The two took a break and played either together or separately in some of the other best bands of the past decade, including the Lost Sounds, Tokyo Electron, the Nervous Patterns, and Destruction Unit.
Now The Reatards are back and better than ever. We talked while things were still quiet, before an amazing show—easily one of the best and most powerful shows of the year—with the Angry Angles, Tokyo Electron, and the ‘Tards. While Ryan played with every one of those bands, Jay did two—opening the show gracefully and ending the night bloody.
This interview originally ran in Razorcake’s Fifth Anniversary Issue #30, 2006
Interview and photos by Speedway Randy
Jay: I blew my voice out.
Randy: How long have you been on tour?
Jay: One show. I couldn’t hear my vocals in the monitor so I screamed louder.
Randy: Your tour is just starting?
Jay: Yeah. We took a Greyhound two days out to Phoenix (where Ryan lives) and played there last night. Going to Europe after this.
Randy: You’ve got two new albums of old, unreleased stuff out now. Are you going to do an album of new songs?
Jay: Yeah. We gotta find time to record it, though.
Randy: You still record everything yourself, right?
Jay: Yeah, in my bedroom.
Randy: Has anything changed from recording stuff when you were fifteen, playing on buckets and a guitar with no amp?
Jay: It went from four tracks to eight, and sixteen to twenty-four. That’s about the only difference. Got better microphones and digital stuff since it’s cheaper. The first recordings were actually three track, ‘cause the fourth track was broken. We’d mix it to Ryan’s stereo. He’s still got the piece of shit, still listens to records on it. [Ryan smiles.]
Randy: Did you guys really meet through one of those “play rock and roll with me” flyers?
Jay: I was playing with Greg Cartwright from the Oblivians. He was too busy with that band all the time. I think he got mad for some reason and didn’t want to play with me anymore. I saw an ad in a record store Ryan put up. “Looking to play music in a Rip Off Records, New York Dolls band…” I called him up and he said, “Oh yeah, Jack Oblivian said I need to meet you.” We went out to Ryan’s house in the suburbs and just recorded records.
Randy: Were you in bands in Arizona before that?
Ryan: The Wongs were before that. In Yuma.
Randy: Oh man… Yuma. Your family move there?
Ryan: Yeah. Military. Later, I moved to Memphis. Then moved to Phoenix.
Jay: I haven’t kept track, but last time I counted there were twenty-seven people that have played in The Reatards.
Randy: People came and went ‘cause they were in other bands too?
Jay: They either got scared or had other things to do, I guess.
Randy: What would they be scared of?
Jay: Broken lamps over their heads. Uh, getting your instruments broken. [laughs] I dunno.
Randy: Meghan from Empty (Records) said you had a thing about disco balls.
Jay: Oh yeah! That’s an expensive habit though. When we played Chicago at the Blackout Fest, the bar made me pay $150 for a disco ball that wouldn’t even spin. It was like fifteen years old! It was, I dunno, twenty percent of our pay for this fucking disco ball. But it was worth it. Slam dunked it into some dude’s forehead.
Randy: Did it shatter or bounce?
Jay: Pieces of glass just fell off. The last time I saw it, I realized it was a globe. Africa hit him in the forehead and glass fell off. You could see Africa sticking out. I said, “It isn’t even a disco ball! It’s a fucking globe.” They were like, “It’s a $150 globe.” All right. Whatever. Cool. Take it.
Randy: So the habit continues.
Jay: I tried to rip down the one last time we played, but it was too high in the air. So I looked like a primate going after it.
Randy: I thought you were buying them before, and then bringing them to the show.
Jay: Nah, they hang them in front of the stage usually. So I’ll jump off the monitors and slam dunk them onto people. I did it every night in Europe. We ended up paying probably a thousand dollars American in disco balls on a three-week tour. We weren’t getting paid anyway.
Randy: Did you guys hit it off right away because you liked the same music?
Jay: I didn’t really know anything about music. I still don’t. Ryan played me a bunch of basic punk stuff I hadn’t heard. I didn’t even know the Dead Boys until I started hanging out with Ryan. I didn’t listen to anything except the Ramones and the Oblivians, basically.
Ryan: The Misfits.
Randy: Are you older?
Ryan: Yeah, two years.
Jay: I didn’t know anybody. I just sat in my room. I didn’t have a computer. I’m sure if the internet was around… It’s instant accessibility to whatever you want.
Ryan: I still don’t have a computer. [laughs]
Jay: I think it makes for shittier bands, though. It’s too much overexposure. You can get anything you want. Everything is so derivative now ‘cause nobody exists inside of a fucking vacuum anymore.
Randy: Do you guys feel like there is a music scene in Memphis? There are as many good bands there as any big city on the coasts.
Jay: When you got different things to inspire people to play music, just because there’s more people and more bands, doesn’t mean what’s inspiring them is gonna make them any better. Memphis has always had good punk bands. Nobody ever really knew about them. I used to see a lot of garage bands. But now that I think of it, I can’t remember the last time there was a really in-your-face, aggressive punk band there that freaked people out.
Randy: Is it more just a group of friends than a music scene?
Jay: Just a bunch of old dudes playing the same blues-derivative garage shit. Me trying to stir them up, ruffle their old feathers. [laughs] There’s a lot of people doing different stuff though. Alicja (Trout) hanging out and doing her thing. It seems like every band in Memphis has five people in them.
Randy: Are the clubs there supportive?
Jay: The bigger clubs starting charging too much and fucking over all the bands. We took over this little dive bar. Play on the floor and you get all the door. It’s way more fun. It’s a nautical-themed, pirate-looking bar.
Randy: What’s it called?
Ryan andJay: The Buccaneer. [laughs]
Randy: Is it shaped like a boat?
Ryan: Nah, it’s really shitty. Old and crazy-ass paintings.
Jay: Paintings of dudes making love to mermaids.
Randy: What’s different about The Reatards then and now?
Ryan: We learned to play a lot better. [laughs]
Jay: When I first started recording that stuff in ‘96, I didn’t know how to play anything. So…now going back, we tried to play a song at practice the other day off the first 7”,one of the first songs I recorded with buckets and two-by-fours for drums. We were playing and I said, “We can’t play this. This sounds like a blues band or something now.” It didn’t sound right with real drums or me knowing how to play a fucking chord on a guitar. Originally, I didn’t want to use real instruments besides guitars but it’s kinda hard to mic a bucket.
Randy: But you guys got better just because you kept playing, right? Not like you stopped and took lessons.
Jay:If a monkey had a guitar for eight years, it’d learn to play too. [laughs]
Randy: Who gave you your first beer?
Jay: Probably my Dad. I had told him from when I was like ten to thirteen, “I’m gonna drink a beer, you fucking alcoholic. You drink in front of me every day.” Finally he goes, “Yeah, go get a beer, you fucking pussy.” I got a beer then sat down at the TV in front of our shitty little trailer. I drank it really fast and puked it all over the fucking floor. He went, “You’re never drinking a beer again around me, you pussy.” All right. I think the guys in the Final Solutions gave me alcohol for the first time. We used to steal the beer out of Ryan’s dad’s mini-fridge in the garage. [Ryan laughs] He would be, “Dude, we could steal some liquor but we gotta take just a little bit of this one, and a little of this one, and pour it in a Dr. Pepper bottle.” It tasted like fucking vomit.
Ryan: Then we’d go find some crackhead to buy us a liter of vodka.
Jay: We’d try to pay crackheads to buy us liquor. They’d try to run out the back door with it.
Randy: I heard that it might have been Eric Oblivian to give you the first beer.
Jay: He probably gave me my first whiskey.
Randy: On your liner notes from Bedroom Disasters you say you made two cassette copies of what became the first 7” and gave one to Eric and one to a girl. Eric released it on his Goner Record label. What did the girl do with it?
Jay: Well, I gave it to her first, Andrea Lyle. She worked in a record store. She’s the one who told me,“Hey, give this to Eric.” So I did. She still has the cassette. She’s a pretty successful writer now for a bunch of big, crappy magazines. Writes for Mojo about blues stuff now.
Randy: Ryan, how long did you live in Yuma? What did you do for fun?
Ryan: I was there until I was nineteen. Just go out to the desert and drink.
Randy: Would bands on tour play there?
Ryan: Yeah, they used to have good shows there. A lot of big bands would play. Supersuckers would play all the time. A lot of the Sub Pop bands, all the Tucson bands. There would be nothing else for the kids to do so they’d go to the show, or have a big show out in the desert with a generator.
Jay: Those were kind of violent though, right?
Ryan: Yeah. Our first Wongs show, some dude got stabbed.
Jay: Stabbed in the desert? That suuucks.
Ryan: People jumped him. You’d get the jock-farmer guys mixed in. But I had fun growing up in Yuma! [laughs]
Randy: How did you find music there?
Ryan: There was one store that would get stuff from labels like Sympathy (For The Record Industry) and Empty. Then I’d have to have my Mom take me; I’d skip school and we’d go to Phoenix. Eastside Records. Go to PDQ Records in Tucson.
Randy: Is Shattered Records just you guys?
Jay: It’s just me and my girlfriend Alix (from the Lids and the Angry Angles). Out of my bedroom, same place I record. We gotta move. Don’t have room anymore. Fucking Tokyo Electron records stacked up to my ceiling.
Randy: Are you living in Memphis or Phoenix?
Ryan: I live in Phoenix.
Randy: Are the Wongs playing at all?
Ryan: Not really. We’ll do a show maybe once a year.
Randy: Have you two had to keep real jobs?
Ryan: I’ve been working for FedEx for eight years now. I can travel pretty much for free on a FedEx plane.
Jay: I’ve only had two jobs.
Randy: In your life?
Jay: Yeah. I worked for my Dad. Then when I was eighteen I worked at a bar until I was twenty-two. Now I haven’t had a job in two or three years.
Randy: Making money off touring and selling stuff?
Jay: Having roommates and selling records…
Ryan: Recording bands.
Jay: Yeah, recording bands. Half of them are really terrible and they put my name on the back of their record. I’m embarrassed.
Randy: How did you become the de facto recording guy?
Jay: ‘Cause people are fucking not smart enough to figure out how to use a manual to a fucking machine. [laughs]
Ryan: I’m too lazy.
Jay: I think a lot of bands, they have three or four people; they don’t want to argue amongst themselves about how something’s gotta sound. So they figure, I like how this guy’s stuff sounds. Trust him to tell us how it’s supposed to sound.
Randy: You’ve got it down.
Jay: I got it down to a science. I got one sound. If they want it, they can have it. [laughs]
Randy: Has playing gotten easier?
Ryan: Fuck no, it’s harder for me. [laughs] Getting tired.
Jay: He plays drums like an old man now.
Randy: You’re both playing twice tonight?
Ryan: Three times! (Ryan plays drums in the Angry Angles and The Reatards and sings and plays guitar for Tokyo Electron.)
Randy: Still smashing stuff?
Jay: If I get drunk enough, I guess. It’s mainly if the audience is cool then I don’t get that pissed off. If I have too much whiskey. I don’t mean to, it just happens.
Ryan: So buy him some shots.
Randy: Did you both start feeling the need to do Reatards again?
Jay: I was in a band that was too fucking serious for too long. When that ended, I didn’t want to play goth music anymore where I had to concentrate on the keyboards. I wanted to do something that I didn’t have to think about and don’t care if it falls apart on stage. If something breaks, then break it more. Don’t try to fix it.
Randy: Ryan, does Digital Leather and Destruction Unit just exist when you have the time?
Ryan: Digital Leather, yeah. Not really Destruction Unit.
Jay: We recorded a new Destruction Unit 12”. It’ll come out sometime.
Ryan: When I record, I usually do it in one take. Fucking hate recording. If you listen to the Tokyo Electron record, you’ll hear a lotta fuckups. But I think it’s cool like that.
Jay: I tried to fix it.
Ryan: It makes it more real, dude. [laughs]
Jay: I copied and pasted a few parts from certain parts of the song to fix other parts.
Randy: You’ve been using the computer to mix and fix?
Jay: Oh yeah.
Ryan: Whatever. [Jay laughs]