THE REATARDS: GO REALLY REALLY WRONG
Jay Reatard was about 15 when he started the Reatards, who were the brightest young scum in the Memphis rock ‘n’ roll scene. After several frightening albums recorded on his famous broken four-track, he purchased some old keyboards and started a new band called the Lost Sounds, but they finally broke up and now Jay is back as a Reatard and playing some of the first songs he ever wrote. He speaks now while recovering from a 33-hour Greyhound ride to the West Coast to start the first tour.
Did you meet any Reatards fans on the Greyhound?
Met a lot of retards. We were in a circle of carnies–they were arguing who could set up and break down certain rides the fastest, and then one guy started telling this lady’s four-year-old kid that he shouldn’t go to school, and then he said when he went to school, he brought a gun to scare this Chinese kid and he said ‘I put it in that Chink bastard’s face and I haven’t seen him since!’ And there was an Asian man sitting at the front of the bus, and the little kid pointed at him and said, ‘There’s the bastard!’
I just put on some headphones and ate some muscle relaxers.
How does it feel to be back in the Reatards?
Kind of strange. Still fun, but slightly a nostalgia trip. Some of the songs I wrote when I was 14 or 15, trying to write from an adult’s perspective. We’d play shows with bands that were almost 30 when we were like 15, so a lot of the lyrics were about stuff I didn’t really know about. But some ended up being pretty right on.
About paying taxes and getting grey hair?
I’ve never paid taxes–one day they’ll probably knock on my door and catch me.
No one on Greyhound pays taxes.
These carnie guys–they all know each other, and they were talking carnie legends. One guy said his wife left him five years ago and stole his kids, and he told them her carnie name, and this other guy was like, ‘I know her!’ He told him she was still with the dude she left him for. The guy was freaking out–he didn’t know whether to kick his ass or give him his number so they could stay in touch. He had all his kids’ names tattooed into his arms, like home-made tattoos–a big ink blob you couldn’t ever read. I think of it as inspiration for the beginning of tour. Fucking human filth–I guess you can call them humans, I don’t know.
Do a lot of humans like the Reatards now?
It’s kind of hard to gauge–we were never a popular band, even when we were around, but we definitely sell more records now. And there’s the crazy weird super-fans–at the Goner Fest, I was smashing beer bottles everywhere, and I smashed a bottle on the ceiling and a sliver slashed into this girl’s thigh. I was apologizing and the girl wiped the blood on her boyfriend’s face and said, ‘It’s OK if you make out with my boyfriend.’ I was like, ‘OK, you’re pretty cool, I guess. . .’
Do you get more than the normal share of weird shit in your life?
Definitely–I stay nervous waiting for it to come for me. Life has been better, but it’s usually pretty chaotic. I just try and keep the chaos down and play songs.
But people want to see the blood.
Some people wanna see that shit–those are probably the more simple-minded people. It’s entertainment for them. If that happens, it happens, but if anybody expects to pay five or ten bucks for someone to destroy themselves every night–and for it to be spontaneous–that almost proves that they don’t care what they listen to. If they expect it, that almost means it’s not real. At the Dot Dash fest, people were like, ‘Oh, you guys weren’t that crazy.’ I mean, I actually broke some Cuban dude’s nose, fuck–you want your nose broken?
Just have them line up after the set.
Some people want a big chaotic experience, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s just what happens when you mix too much booze with a band on the verge of falling apart. Every time we play, I don’t know if we’ll make it through the set or not. Sometimes when things go wrong, I make sure they go really really wrong.
You said once you were really into rap when you were like 15.
For a quick period when I was 15, I was convinced I was black. One day at school, I realized I’m wearing khakis and a Duckhead shirt, trying to be a prep and do the normal thing and fit in with the rest of the kids, and I realized I wanted to beat them all! I don’t relate to those kids–all the girls made fun of me and all the dudes beat me up, so I started hanging out with the rap kids. I related to the violent lyrics of the Geto Boys, things like that. If I wouldn’t have gotten into the Dead Kennedys, I definitely could have been a Newport smoking, FUBU wearing white thug gangster. I’d probably be in jail thinking Eminem is God.
Did you ever get into Three 6 Mafia?
I definitely got into them–their album Chapter Two: World Domination–I don’t think there was a chapter one–man, those fucking lyrics were more punk rock than any band in Memphis when they came out. Completely violent, desperate lyrics. I related to it. I think they’re terrible now–they believe their own press, and they got too much money. Once you take desperation out of something like that… I think money ruins a lot of real music. That really alienated me–before, it was all about basically taking down the man, making money to get somewhere they wanted to be and not caring who got in the way, and now they’re there and rubbing it in the face of people who don’t have anything. Bullshit lyrics about spinners. But Lost Sounds used to steal keyboard parts out of their songs!
Did they ever sample Lost Sounds back?
I know Alicja was talking to a label about making rap tracks–they pay you $50 a song, to a click track, so they can sample whatever. You can do ten a day. They go through and take what they want.
Do you feel desperate like you used to?
Absolutely. Why be alive if you don’t want something more? I haven’t got anywhere I feel comfortable.
What would it take?
I don’t think anything. As soon as artists become satisfied and enjoy their work, that’s when they suck.
How do you manage to wake up each morning?
Just wake up, drink coffee, write some songs. Go to the post office, maybe punch a hole in the wall.