What would you get if you blended the economy of The Edge with the blowtorch blues of Jack White, added to the direct, narrative songwriting of Tom Petty, and the dramatic flair of The Killers?
Probably something like Jay Van Raalte.
Their musical endeavors have ranged from old-school blues to folk/country, from musical theater to modern rock, but three things remain constant: thoughtful guitar playing, perceptive songwriting, and strict attention to detail and arrangement. All of this is on display in Linearity, the Reverend Guitars featured artist’s debut release. The self-produced EP features Van Raalte on nearly every instrument, but the songs come to life onstage via the hard-hitting power trio, Jay Van Raalte and The Spectrum, which provides a rock-solid foundation for Jay’s fiery guitar playing.
Their upcoming release Something More and Kind Of Less has been a long time coming. The album is diverse, ranging from the screaming, chaotic guitar solos of Cautionary Tale to the folk textures of Passing Through, the Smashing Pumpkins-inspired Piece by Piece to the hypnotic drum loop of Achtung. That’s not a conscious effort so much as the natural expression of Van Raalte’s curiosity coupled with a sincere desire to let every song be exactly what it wants to be. Co-producers Matt Megrue and Derk Van Raalte encouraged this spirit, resulting in a body of work that’s both playful and stubborn, vulnerable and ambitious.
This 11-song album has a lot to say, and it all begins with “Good Life”.
“Do what I love every day…
But how many people did I run over on the way?”
While the lyrics have a bright-timbre, peppy delivery, this song is an in-your-face acknowledgment of one’s dark side and begs the question…What does it mean to live a good life? Do you need to be perfect, or is it enough to learn from your mistakes? Furthermore, who gets to decide? This pontification then broadens, speaking of striving for gentleness while simultaneously wondering how you strike a balance between self-protection and having empathy for others.
This track is catchy right off the bat. Van Raalte’s instrumentation and arrangement are reminiscent of Avril Lavigne and Paramores’s tunes, but they have a completely unique vocal timbre. It’s as if The Hush Sound’s Greta Salpeter and Tom Petty had their talents and melodies combined into a brand-new fusion.
We’re left feeling unresolved by the time we get to track 2: “The Road Ahead”. This is a psychedelic continuation of sounds we just heard, but this time, swapping vocals for spoken word.The artist cultives a dissolving, contorting sound which matches the poignant words of the piece. It’s a bit of an exploration in escapism and avoidance but eventually, we come out of the sonic fog so that the melodic guitar lines take the stage.
“Every single day is some paradoxical mind-numbing mash-up of boring and terrible”
Van Raaltes’s complex yet relatable lines only grow richer as the album moves forward. “Cautionary Tale” lays down a bed of synthy sounds for an emotionally and sonically heavy ballad about that one person you can never trust yourself around, but are absolutely magnetized to.
Many of Jay Van Raaltes songs offer a strong contrast between the verse and chorus, stacking the feeling light and melodic, against heavy and distressing. Their tracks like “Anchors” and “Passing Through” offer a satisfying folkiness with just a touch of dark piano,which reminds me of the bleak romanticism of Death Cab for Cutie …but with more of a country twist.
Something More and Kind of Less has an impressively broad instrumentation with stellar execution, from hand percussion to weighty synths, to plucky guitar melodies, and syncopated ear-worm-worthy basslines…
I was particularly taken by track 5, “Piece By Piece” which detailed how draining being a musician really is, and how it is as if you’re a souvenir.
The second half of the album offers even more diverse sounds than the first half, with “Bend Or Break” showing off Radiohead-like wonky rhythmic modulation and clicky percussion, immediately followed by “Worst That Could Happen” a dirty, gritty, and seductive siren song straight out of the 1960’s (With hand clapping, and a spinning impetus!)
“Took my hand and took me out to sea…”
“Love in a Choice” then gives the listeners a chance to breathe with its slow tempo and mournful feeling. This song was especially tasty to my ears, because it is the first time we get noticeable vocal harmonies in the album.
“All the ugly things we say we just to pass around the hurt, I thought it was getting better but it was only getting worse”
The penultimate “Achtung” lures us in with a lovely rolling drum beat, but also feels like darkness creeping in at the edges… And lastly, “Postscript” brings the vibes up to something brighter, closer classic rock. At just 2 minutes in length, this curt and sassy closing song begs the questions… “Are you better than everybody else? Are you better than yourself?”
“Postscript” feels like watching the credits to a movie, and wondering when part 2 is going to come out as it fades to black.
So, if you’ve ever wanted to skip ahead of your life so you can find out the ending…If you’ve ever been in love and not known how to wield your past hurts with grace…or if you’ve ever experience the relief that comes in knowing that someday, you’ll find your place- Then Something More and Kind of Less is for you.
Jay Van Raaltes’ Something More and Kind of Less is a self-reflective album with a full rainbow of timbral colors and genres that somehow all go together- like the chapters of a thrilling, fulfilling book.
Van Raalte is more excited than ever about the road ahead, and doesn’t want to miss a minute of the journey. So take a listen, and come along with them, it’s certainly a wild ride!
“This album is the realization of so many things that I knew were possible but hadn’t yet been able to achieve. Songs that existed only as rough acoustic demos turned into lush sonic landscapes that I knew were waiting to be unveiled but no one else had ever been able to envision. Songs I didn’t know I could write sprang into existence, encouraged by my co-producers Matt and Derk, beyond anything I thought I was capable of. We experimented with new engineering techniques and approaches and followed them down paths I would never have found before. The result is an album that’s both everything I knew it could be and so much more than I could ever have expected.”
Jay Van Raatle
Something More and Kind Of Less is available for streaming on July 28th. Check out their exclusive interview with Jammerzine!
What season of life is “Something More and Kind of Less” written in?
The short answer is, a lot of them… It started as an “orphans” project, me trying to round up all the songs I’d written that I liked but never made it onto albums and just record them all so they were out of my system. But it quickly grew in scope- between the exciting energy of the studio and everything I was going through (everything everyone was going through) during 2020, I started writing new songs while we were busy recording the old ones. The finished album ended up being about half and half new vs old, so there are songs from as far back as 2017 next to songs from 2021.
The title of your album is very compelling- What does it mean?
The title comes from a lyric from Worst That Could Happen, track 8 on the album. I didn’t think too much about it when I picked it, but it ended up being a great fit for both the feel of the album and for my experience making it. There’s a kind of ambivalence that I think a lot of artists go through while working on an album- one second, it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever made; the next you’re worrying “Can I even put this out?” I think the answer is somewhere in the middle, or maybe even both at the same time. It’s important not to get too caught up in trying to anticipate the reaction while you’re in the process of making the art. Just make what you’re going to make and worry about how it stacks up later. That’s easier said than done, but I think it all summed itself up into “Something More and Kind Of Less.”
What inspired your album art/original painting?
The cover art is a painting from one of my absolute favorite artists and all-around amazing human, Anna Jensen. I happened to see it on her website and just absolutely fell in love. She graciously allowed me to use it for the album even though it had to be cropped into a square to fit the right dimensions. This was the first album I’ve ever worked on that didn’t just have a photo or something I designed on the cover, and it felt very significant to me that my first full-length record was represented by this stunning, original art by someone I care about.
How do you feel about the release of your debut album?
I’m ecstatic for it to come out. It’s been done for a while, just waiting for the stars to align for a release, so in my mind it’s already part of my catalog. But occasionally I’m reminded that even though I know I have this whole collection of songs under my belt, all these skills and ideas that didn’t show up on Linearity or anything from my old bands, no one else does yet. I’m stoked for people’s perceptions to catch up with where I’m at now, and ready to get working on the next round of songs!
What brings you inspiration on days when you feel uninspired?
Mostly music. I’m a huge music fan- I use the word fan very intentionally, because sometimes there’s this perceived musician/fan dichotomy and, while there can be truth to that, I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that I’m a fan in addition to being a musician. Music lights up my brain in ways literally nothing else can, and I am so grateful that so much amazing music is out there to discover. I also love reading and writing fiction. Prose is an entirely different beast than songwriting, but they all serve the same fundamental purpose: helping us to make sense of a world that rarely does. The other big thing is surfing- I wouldn’t say it inspires me like “I come home from the beach and write a song,” but it does wonders for helping me keep my head on straight, which is generally somewhat of a prerequisite to me being productive.
What does the process of going from a rough acoustic demo into a lush sound feel like?
It’s the absolute best thing in the world. A lot of the older songs on this record had very strong identities in my head before they were recorded, but for years no one had ever been able to hear what I was hearing. I’d play someone an acoustic demo and they’d say “nice folk song” and I’d say “no, you don’t understand- this is going to be like SUSTO’s Gay In The South smashed together with The Killer’s Andy You’re A Star!” They’d look at me like I was crazy. Part of the drive to record this album myself (with my trusty collaborators, Derk Van Raalte and Matt Megrue) was because I was determined to turn those sounds into reality, to make someone else hear what I was hearing. These days, my process for new songs is kind of split. Sometimes I write directly into Logic- there is no acoustic scratch track, I’m composing and writing concurrently. I like those arrangements because they can feel very integrated- the arrangement isn’t just laid on top of the song, it is the song. But I also love starting with a quick sketch and just painting layers on top until an identity starts to develop. It’s very exciting to feel that moment when it turns from “I’m not entirely sure where this is going” to “There it is! That’s the song!”
Do you ever skip ahead in books like you wish you could do in “The Road Ahead”?
This is such a great question! I don’t usually, although for a while I had this strategy for picking books at the library (I read a lot as a kid- I probably worked my way through like 80% of the books at my local library before I started high school). I’d pick a book at random, or because I liked the cover or title, and read only the very last page. No synopsis, no first chapter- just the last page, and if it made me want to figure out how the book ended up there, I took it home.
I noticed that you used the German word for danger – Achtung- as a track title. Do you speak German? Why did you choose the title?
Ha! No, I don’t speak any German. I grew up with U2 as a major influence and their 1991 album Achtung Baby is probably my single favorite record. Something about the drum loop and the industrial feel of the fuzz guitars reminded me of that sonic landscape, and “Achtung” became a working title intended to clue my teammates in to what kind of sound I was imagining. You’d think by now I’d know not to use working titles, because often they stick. This one certainly did! I also liked the commentary of naming a song about the aftermath of ending a relationship, something that meant “danger” or “caution.”
I feel like this album tells a long story- Is it yours?
All the stories in the songs are mine, although they certainly didn’t all happen together the way the album might suggest. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about songwriting- if you’re tapping into a true feeling, it extends beyond the specifics of the situation that inspired it. It doesn’t matter if I wrote one song about one relationship and another about someone entirely different- if the experiences have a common thread, then the story aligns anyway. Songwriters aren’t supposed to tell the facts, they’re supposed to tell the truth. Sometimes the facts can get in the way of the truth, and it’s our job to spot that and navigate around it. Hopefully the songs lean on each other to build something more than the sum of their parts, but they’re not supposed to provide easy answers or a clear, concept-album type narrative. Like the title says, they’re something more and kind of less than reality, and I’d like to think they’re better for it.