When we last left Courtney Jaye, she had just released her debut
album Traveling Light, which in my opinion was one of the ten
best albums of 2005. At the time her label Island/Def Jam was
hoping that she would become a huge star. Through some bad
luck and bad mojo that stardom ended up not happening, although the
gorgeous songs "Can You Sleep?" and "Lose My Head" got a certain
amount of notice and the wonderfully poppy "Can't Behave" became a
minor hit. Still, the album did not sell as expected and Jaye
received an up close and personal look at the win–at–all–costs dark
side of the label system. The imprint abandoned the album way
too quickly and it has since become a lost treasure.
This is where it ends for many musicians. However Courtney
Jaye just picked up, dusted herself off and moved on – to Nashville,
Tennessee. In the years since, she has become a vital part of
Music City's alt-country world, marrying her old-school rock vibe
with a traditional country edge. And she's doing it her way,
for her own label. Her first release of the new incarnation
was the 2007 EP 'Til It Bleeds. She followed that up
with the lovely 2010 release The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye,
which paid tribute to the music of Hawaii, where Jaye called
home for a while.
Now Jaye is releasing her third full-length album, and it may well
be her best yet. Love and Forgiveness mixes Jaye's
supple vocals with her natural pop sense, creating a country-rock
platter which is both wonderfully retro as well as right on the
pulse of today. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if Love
and Forgiveness brought Jaye the stardom that alluded her on her
earlier album? That may not happen, but the album is strong
enough that a buzz may build up.
after Love and Forgiveness was released, Jaye gave us a call
to catch us up on her music, her career and her life.
You told me years
ago that you pick up a little bit of the music everywhere you live.
What have you learned from Nashville?
I have learned the importance of writing a good
song. (laughs) I have learned don't even get out of bed and
slip in the studio unless you have the songs. It's such a
song–oriented city. I think that is what has been imparted the most
Love and Forgiveness definitely has a bit more of
a country vibe than Traveling Light. And yet, it's not
really typical of most of the country that is coming out of music
city, either. Do you feel an affinity with old school country rock?
Yeah, absolutely. That's the music that I listen to
and that's the music that got into my system at a
very early age. Because of my family and my parents and their
musical tastes: It just stuck with me. It's the music that I have
learned from. The artists that I grew up listening to. So yeah, I
feel it belongs more in that world.
I noticed that
the new album is a little further away from the Hawaiian music that
you did on
The Exotic Sounds
and even on "Traveling Light" and "Hanalei Road." Although I did
pick up a hint of it in "One–Way Conversation." Did you feel that
sound was a little off the track of what you were doing in the new
Yeah. I feel like I got Exotic Sounds out of
my system. That had been in the back of my mind for close to ten
years, wanting to make what I call a "Hawaiian country" album. I
think once I got that out, I was able to look at the songs and the
material that I had already that I didn't put on Exotic Sounds.
A whole other record was being written and I didn't even realize
it. When I did realize that the songs had a common thread that in
my mind harken back to songs of the 1970s, I just wanted to let the
songs become what they wanted to become. I didn't want to
stylistically fit them into any sort of a box. That's what we tried to do in the recording process.
Who were some of
the singers who originally inspired you to take up music and
inspired this project?
Oh, lord. Dolly Parton. Linda Ronstadt. Neil
Young is actually probably my top, my number one. The Band. Carole
King. Oh, there's so many. There's so many.
I loved all the
styles you played with in the album, "I Thought About It" had sort
of a bossa nova backing, "Summer Rain" had the pedal steel feel,
"Morning" was rather poppy. Do you enjoy the opportunity to play
with styles in your music?
Absolutely. I feel there is an art to
balancing a record out. Allowing the songs to become what they want,
but also maintaining a common thread that holds the record
together. I feel like for this record there were different elements
in every song. Again, it wasn't a conscious thing, but when it was
all said and done, I did realize: okay, "I Thought About It," that
has a disco groove to it. Then "One Way Conversation" has this sort
of Levon Helm rhythm to it. "New Day" sort of has this Dolly Parton
sort of feel. I realized there is a way to balance it all out. But
yeah, I do. I love to experiment.
I believe "Say Oh
Say" is the first single from the album. How has the feedback been
on the song?
Very good. I've heard from a lot of people that it
reminds them of Fleetwood Mac, which is obviously really
[flattering]... I love Fleetwood Mac. It's funny, but when Thad
Cockrell and I were writing songs, we had these harmonies and we made this garage band demo of us just
singing the songs live. We had a three–part harmony that we ended
up overdubbing in. To me, in that moment, that song reminded me of
a Blue Oyster Cult song. (laughs) So for some reason that's
always stuck with me. I don't know if it necessarily translated in
the recording of the song. But I think it's one of the more
interesting songs I've been a part of writing.
I noticed the
songs on the new album seem a little more upbeat when it comes to
life and love than the songs from when we last spoke about your
debut. Is that something you were doing consciously, or was
it just where you are at this point in your life?
Yeah. Yeah. (laughs) I definitely think
Traveling Light may have been my troubled 20s love [album].
What comes with being in your early 30s is just a
sense of home. Things just settle down. It's welcome. It's a
welcome thing for me because I've started to realize in my
relationships I take responsibility for myself now. I don't want to
look and blame and be angry. There is a wisdom to coming to
peace with things that don't work out. Just allowing them to be.
Not staying stuck in the past. Yeah, there is Love and
Forgiveness, you know? (laughs)
In what other
ways do you feel you have grown as an artist over the years? Also,
is the fact that this is recorded for an indie as compared to having
the experience with Island easier to deal with than the big label
machine – if there even is a big label machine anymore?
Yeah. Well this label is my label. So the
difference is that I get to call the shots. There is a freedom to
that. There is also the fact that there are pros and cons. There's
not a massive team of people working on the record. The team is
concentrated and they are devoted. You don't get stalled. If you
want to do something, if I want to make a video, I just go make a
video. You don't have to get it approved and go through all of the
channels. So it's been rewarding. It's been a lot of freedom. To
me, it just seems like it makes sense for right now, in terms of the
state of this business. I don't see why artists should not own
their own music.
Even since your
first album came out, the musical world has changed so much. With
the majors dying and piracy and all, is it tougher for an artist to
Oh, my God, absolutely. Because there are so many
outlets where people are getting their musical information from,
there are pros and there are cons to both. The internet can help
you reach a wide range of people but at the same time, everyone is
spread out. There are so many more musical choices. I think of it
as a good thing. It's not something to fight. It's something to
You've done a few
covers over the years – "Wicked Game," "Who'll Stop the Rain" and
"Sometimes Always." As a songwriter, do you find it easier or
harder to do someone else's music?
It's so fun. First of all, it's really a fun thing
to do. At a certain point as a writer, I got to a
place where I allowed myself for sing other people's songs, in the
realization that all that I want to be doing is singing great
songs. I don't need to have the validation that I wrote them. I'm
confident enough in that arena. I just want to sing great songs.
On my record Exotic Sounds, there are two songs on that
record that I didn't write at all. That my friend Thad Cockrell
wrote. That was the first time in my life that I had heard somebody
else's song and said oh my God, do you realize that you wrote that
for me? (laughs) I'm going to sing that song. There has to
be a certain element. I have to resonate with it, but when I do
it's a lot of fun.
Thad, you seem to be on the alt–country side of Nashville rather
than the more traditional country side.
Well, it happened naturally when I moved here to
town in 2007. I realize there are two sides to Nashville. One is
the traditional Music Row world. Then there is the indie, the rock
and alternative country, that whole other scene on the other side of
Nashville. When I moved here, it was really just starting to
blossom. It wasn't really a conscious effort, it just came up the
people I gravitated towards were in that alternative scene. Then I
realized at a certain point that I don't ever see myself being a
country artist on country radio. That's just not my world. Who
knows, I would never say never, but that is not the path that I've
seen for myself. You just automatically fall into whatever sort of
group and community here in town that works best.
Who are some of
the other people you have worked with or would like to work with?
As far as other artists I'd like to work with,
that's a tough one. There's so many. (laughs) Do they have
to be from Nashville?
No, not at
all... They can be from anywhere. I remember early on you worked
with Matthew Sweet and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks.
I've always wanted to work with M. Ward [of She &
Him]. I've always just wanted to do something with him, like a
Hawaiian record or something. I'd put him up at the top of the
What makes you
Music. (laughs) Songs. That's my number
one. I can hear a song and be transported back to a time or place.
I can remember a feeling. I can remember a smell in the air. It's
very bizarre, but I would say music is probably the thing that takes
me back the most.
What would people
be surprised to know about you?
Hmm... My goodness. I am obsessively clean.
(laughs) Yeah. That's probably one of them. I love yoga.
I've read in a
couple of interviews you had a bad experience with Island/Def Jam.
You were sort of downplaying some of the songs from
Traveling Light, but I thought there were some
really great songs on there, like "Can You Sleep?" and "Can't
Behave." Do you ever do any of those songs live or do you focus on
your new music now?
I really... I don't. I am a creature of the fresh
and exciting and new. There are definitely moments that I know that
it would be wise for me to break out some older songs. I do, but
right now I'm just focused on Love and Forgiveness.
Are you going to
be doing any touring? Will you be getting back into New York or
Philadelphia or anything like that?
I'm hoping to in the Fall. I'm going overseas to
Europe for a little while. [Then] I'm going to plan a New York show