Jad Fair

Artist Info
"You're the one with the X-ray eyes please tell me what's inside"

January 2011

I first encountered the otherworldly music of Jad Fair on an Alternative Tentacles compilation dug out of the "Used" section of a basement record store called Gilmore East when I was maybe 13. I was looking for punk, whatever that was or is, and this comp (Let Them Eat Jellybeans) delivered - D.O.A., Bad Brains, Circle Jerks and the Dead Kennedys were all well-represented, and provided the requisite fuel for my very private adolescent hostility. But then, in the middle of side two, there lay an inexplicable squall, an overdriven, tune-less, arrhythmic tantrum, called "Fun Again." This valley of noise was neither as angry nor as aggressive as the tracks surrounding it, but still drew on an irrepressible, volcanic energy, as pure and real and unavoidable as the weather. The song was credited to somebody named "Half Japanese" and is that even a punk rock name? it's got neither "Reagan" nor "Youth" in the moniker...? More troubling was the picture inside: two dudes, one bigger, one smaller, in thick nerd glasses and shy smiles. They had no tattoos, no extravagant haircuts, no sweat, no leather, no attitude. At this point in my development, there were very few people lower than me on the social food chain. Jad and his brother David looked like kids even I would have turned away from my lunch table.

If punk was the anger of white suburban teens at having been born white and suburban, then Half Japanese was pre-adolescent, infantile in a positive sense - the unfiltered expression of an over-imaginative five year old on a fifty pixie stik sugar high. Too innocent to be angry, too in love with living to be nihilistic, 1/2 Jap's music (and Jad's by extension) is the sonic equivalent of abstract expressionism, minus the self-conscious dick-swinging machismo. It is the logical resolution of rock n roll's early promise - Ur music transmitted from a time before technique existed.

Jad's music has evolved since then, becoming more and less sophisticated depending on who he's brought into the studio with him, but in every setting and regardless of his collaborators, he can always and only be himself. When it's time to rock, it's time to rock, not time to tune or practice. On many recordings he sounds impatient with the instruments themselves, as if his inspiration is moving too fast for even the electricity and sound waves to catch him. His obsessions - monster movies, ufos, love, girls, food, the musical heroes of his youth and his own fabulous good luck - spill messily and joyfully over the edges of even the most produced and glossy of his recorded output. In an era when music is so ubiquitous, when every waking moment has a downloadable soundtrack humming along to heighten the mood, it's more precious than ever to have Jad's work around. His songs refuse to become wallpaper. The music of Jad Fair is a suitable soundtrack for no known human activity, except for the listening to of the music of Jad Fair.

We exchanged emails in January 2011, me in Minneapolis, he in Austin.

You've collaborated with some of the greatest rock musicians ever, but I am especially impressed by your work with the elusive R. Stevie Moore. How did you two meet and what was the process of recording together like? Did you come in with lyrics and ideas, or did the two of you improvise your recordings?
We first started writing to each other in 1978 or '79. It was great to be able to record together. I sent a CD to him which had drums on the left channel and my vocal on the right and then he added everything else. We started some new recordings a year ago, but I haven't had time to follow through with it. It's difficult to find the time to do everything I'd like to.
What musical artists would you like to work with that you haven't worked with already?
I'd like to work with David Bowie. I think we would go well together. He seems to be open to try new things.
I love your scoring for Martha Colburn's films. How did that partnership come about? Was the music created specifically for her animations? What about her work made you feel your music was a good match?
Martha used to live with Jason Willett. I've recorded a lot of albums with him and spent a few months living with Martha and Jason. Martha is a major talent. I love her art and her films. She's used my music for several films. A couple times the film came first and I did music to go along with it, and a few times she chose music that was already done. I've played along to her films at a couple museums. That's a lot of fun. I hope I get the chance to do it again.
Your music and art is fueled by teenage themes and an apparently uncontrolled, child-like energy - the essential stuff of rock n roll. Have your interests changed as you've matured? Is it difficult to maintain a connection to your own older material? How do you keep the inspiration and spontaneity burning? In general, how has aging affected your work?
I usually prefer a musician's earliest work the best. My favorite solo release of mine is my first EP The Zombies Of Mora Tau. The main difference in my work now has less to do with age than it does priorities. Most of my time now is spent doing paper cuttings. It's difficult to make a living off of music unless you're willing to do a ton of touring. I like cutting paper and it's good to be able to work at home.
Did you ever feel compelled to, I don't know, make concessions to conventional music making processes?
I've done a few sessions at the BBC. They've always been polite and friendly, but it's clear that they're in control over the recording process. I usually like to record with levels pushed in order to get a bigger sound, but I'm fine with most recording situations.
What is inspiring to you?
Hearing someone say something I've never heard before always makes me wake up.
Are you political Jad? Does your art have any place for politics in it?
I'm a Democrat, but I've never had that enter into my art or music.
The historical rap on Half Japanese is that the band is sui generis, was born entirely out of you and your brother's will, without any regard for other bands or existing traditions. Does that seem right to you? What bands were you listening to when you started Half Japanese? Is there an ancestral family tree for your music?
When David and I were young we were listening to Sun Ra, Lol Coxhill, Captain Beefheart, The Stooges, and the MC5. My brother and I didn't try to sound like any of those bands, but I'm sure our music would not have been the same without their influence.
Will the world ever see the tell-all autobiography of Jad Fair, Ladies Man?
How did you end up in Austin? What about that city makes it a good home base for you?
My wife was living in Austin. After I married Patty I thought I might as well live in the same town she does, so I moved there. Austin is a great town for art and music. I like the weather and the food.
What's upcoming? Any big dreams for new projects on the horizon?
I'll have a new solo album out in February, and a 3 CD Best of Jad Fair release. David and I are working on an idea for a cartoon show. We're working with Paul Bellini and Thom Chapman. I hope it'll happen. I'm also working on some new books. I've started some new recordings with Strobe Talbot, and in March I'll be recording in Tokyo with Tenniscoats.
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