- November 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH THE CONTENDERS
The legend Levon Helm said that if you give it good concentration, good energy, good heart and good performance, the song will play you. If that’s true, then Jay Nash and Josh Day are well and truly played by the set of songs in their debut EP, Meet The Contenders, now available on iTunes.
Thrumming and heady, with a steady heartbeat and a hint of honky-tonk, this EP speaks of wanderers and highways, lovers and losers, good times and missed chances, swimming pools and movie stars, all with a ferocity born of hard work and honed skill. Nash and Day have been players and poets for the better part of two decades; they have been making music, telling tales, drinking whiskey, and having fun touring together as The Contenders since 2012.
Lady luck introduced Nash and Day at Room 5 in Los Angeles over a decade ago. They both loved The Band and whiskey, so the eventual collaboration was inevitable. Faithful disciples of Rock ’n’ Roll and musician’s musicians both, Nash and Day have given a big stage to their talents and drives with this debut EP. So pour a good glass, give a nod to your betters, and meet The Contenders.
Purchase their debut EP on iTunes by clicking here.
The Gig: Evanston SPACE // Nov. 3, 2014
Drinks of Choice: Bourbon
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: You've known each other for ten years. How did that friendship start?
Jay Nash: I used to book all the music at a club in Los Angeles called Room 5.
Kristen: Is it still around?
Jay Nash: Yeah it is, and it has actually evolved into a pretty reputable little room. Back in the very beginning I heard this voice on the radio, on a public radio station in Los Angeles. I stopped dead in my tracks. Turned out it was Sarah Bareilles. She was still a student, I think at UCLA at the time, or she had just graduated.
Josh Day: This was probably in about ’02.
Jay Nash: Yeah, so I tracked her down and asked her to come play Room 5. She did and she brought her band with her, which consisted of two people: Josh Day and Javier Dunn. That’s where I first met Josh. And over the years Sarah and I became good friends and played a few shows together. Josh and I also got a lot of opportunities to play together over the years. And then in 2012 Sarah and Josh came and played a show that I put on called Rock For the River. It usually consists of five or six different songwriters, one backing band, and we all get together and play with each other the whole week long and learn each other's songs. It becomes this big instant family thing. That was a week of making music together and it was a real good time. In 2013, I put out a record called Letters from the Lost. I was touring all over the U.S. and Europe, and I asked Josh to come out and play drums and sing.
Josh Day: Yeah, we initially met in L.A. through Sarah, but we kept running into each other – in bars, at venues – and kind of just started playing more together after Rock For the River in the summer of 2012. At the point when Jay was getting ready to tour in 2013, I had just come off a different tour with not much happening. Jay called me up and said, “I have this huge tour booked and it'd be awesome to add some rhythmic elements behind it.” So, that’s what we did. We played 70 shows, went to Holland and Germany, came off of it and felt like it was really cool.
Jay Nash: Yeah, there’s something neat about playing together. Even though we were playing my songs, there were certainly moments in those songs where our voices worked together. There was this rhythmic resonance between the guitar and the drums the way we approached it, and it felt like it was just on the cusp of being something really great. We were just on the horizon, just on the brink of discovering something great, so we decided to make it a thing. We spent some time taking a crack at writing and recording in Vermont.
Kristen: You recorded your debut EP, Meet the Contenders, in Vermont. What was that process like?
Josh Day: We actually did it pretty quickly. As a drummer, I’d never really been through the songwriting process. Jay kind of forced me – well, not forced me – but helped pull me through that part of developing our creative sound. He was like, “You got it. Let’s just do it.”
Jay Nash: And I used a BB gun.
Josh Day: But it was a great experience. We wrote and recorded five songs.
Jay Nash: In five days.
Kristen: That's really efficient.
Jay Nash: Well, we demoed the songs and then we came back about a month later. We had a chance to sit with the songs and figure them out: what the tempos needed to be and what they were going to feel like. We worked with a great engineer, and he recorded a couple albums for me a few years back. His parents actually have a farm not far from where I live in Vermont, so he was willing to come and record us at my house. That was in late January, early February of 2014.
Kristen: You have vinyl of the EP with you on tour, but it officially releases digitally on November 18. Was there a song on this record that surprised you?
Jay Nash: There were all kinds of surprises.
Kristen: In what way?
Jay Nash: The songs came very easily. Typically when I'm writing by myself, the process might take a few months. When I set my mind to writing a song, it takes me a while to really refine them to the point where I love them. In some cases Josh and I wrote two songs in a day and they had, to me at least, hopefully Josh, an immediate resonance. They felt like the music that I've been wanting to make for a long time.
Josh Day: Yeah, I feel the same way. It’s nice when a friend hears the record and they say, “Oh, that totally sounds like you.” As a drummer, that’s a different situation for me. I’m used to playing behind a lot of different people – and not that the music isn’t my music – but I actually had a part in that creative process. And it’s nice to hear that feedback from people. It's complete collaboration.
Video Credit: Michael Meeks
Kristen: How do you collaborate?
Josh Day: I'm not much of a lyricist. When we started writing, we take a moment from a song we were working on and would go to separate parts of the house. We would write – almost stream of consciousness – and then we would come back, get together, talk about the story and then regraft. That's something that Jay did a lot of. He’d say, “That's good but why don't we say it this way?” Coming from someone who has been writing songs for a really long time … he just made them make sense.
Jay Nash: Yeah, and going along with that, it was valuable having the perspective of someone that has not written a bunch of songs. Josh's imperative was that he wanted the songs to be honest and heartfelt and true, and he had this lyrical, content-wise resonance.
Kristen: It was a nice dynamic then.
Josh Day: Yeah, and Jay would bring tons and tons and tons of stuff to the table, and we would just see if it worked. We both have very strong opinions, but we really help balance each other. Sometimes you’ll throw something on the table and the other person will say, “We can’t do that.” Then there are times where you say, “This is gonna work,” and you build from there.
Jay Nash: You know, it's nice to have a sounding board and a harsh critic at the writing table, and I think that that moves things along in a really positive way. It brings out the best in the music.
Kristen: I read that you chose the name “The Contenders” because of the people who have been in music for a long time, consistently fighting. What has kept both of you doing this so long, aside from the passion?
Josh Day: I feel like music chose me; it chose us. I've been very, very lucky to be able to do what I love for a living. Music has just been there from early on. I had a supportive family that helped me and encouraged me to follow my passion. And to be honest, I never wanted to do anything else. I liked to teach, and I was going to maybe be a music teacher, but I was always on that musical path. For me, music was always the clearest picture. I knew it was the thing I had to do, and nothing was going to stop me.
Jay Nash: For me, music has always been the thing that has been easy for me to pour every ounce of myself into. I don’t get tired working a 16-hour day – whether that's touring or working in the studio. There’s a connective power with music and it has this mystical, magical property to it. It really affected me when I was a kid, when I was in the midst of an existential crisis and feeling completely alone in the world. It made me feel completely connected and opened my mind. It was a safe place, you know? And now I've been searching for that connection ever since.
Kristen: What specific connection are you referencing?
Jay Nash: You know, trying to make music that creates a connection and a resonance for a listener. I've been really fortunate that there's enough of a response to the records I’ve made that I’ve been able to keep going – financially, emotionally, spiritually. And the concept of The Contender – it’s just so interesting to me. In our group of friends there are so many brilliant and talented people, and it almost seems arbitrary who has widespread fame and fortune and who does not. There are plenty of people we know that are the best singers and the best songwriters that nobody has ever heard of. And that’s not to say that anyone's more deserving than anyone else. I think everything happens the way it's supposed to. But the name comes from the concept of there being a champ, and all these contenders, and it’s a difference of the way the wind blows that might change the fate of one person.
Kristen: Does that get discouraging?
Jay Nash: For us, it doesn’t matter if that fame and fortune comes or if it never comes. For us, the joy is making the music. Whether it's 30 people or 3000 people, when you play the song on stage and realize that connection – that is the best feeling in the world. That’s what The Contender is about – we’re going to get up and do it every single day no matter what.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you've ever received?
Josh Day: I lived in Los Angeles for seven years. I'm originally from North Carolina and when I moved out there, it was a huge culture shock for me. I was living in Venice Beach at the time, and I remember complaining to my mom nonstop about living out there. Everyday life was driving me crazy…
Kristen: As in the people?
Josh Day: Yeah, people were driving me crazy. The interactions. It was just driving me nuts. I remember so clearly my mom telling me, “You need to take a deep breath.” I was four blocks from the beach. She basically told me to stop complaining and enjoy my time because it wasn’t always going to be like that. She was saying, “You're not gonna live there forever, and then you're gonna look back and wish would have enjoyed your time more.” It was such a poignant thing, and it was also an absolute slap in the face. It really made me have a different perspective on where I was. Now I love going back to L.A., you know? It's really an amazing place. That was a poignant moment for me – that moment of realizing I should enjoy what I have right now, because whether or not it’s great, it’s going to eventually change.
Jay Nash: The best advice I got came to me before I went to New York City to go play music. It was from a guy from a small town. I had dated his daughter a couple years before and I really respected him, liked to drink a beer with him every now and then. He just said to me, “Build a gang. Make sure you have a good gang.” I think about that all the time. I think that who you surrounds yourself defines you in a lot of ways. I definitely have a good gang. Josh Day is at the top of that list.