There was this expectation of a long, detailed saga on how singer and songwriter Jay Mickens found his way into music and has reached the point where he finds himself now. However, a carefree attitude seemed to reveal a past that with a simple decision, allowed for a journey to unfold in developing his unique sound, with influences that aren’t out in plain sight. With inspirations rooted in bands known for a harder sound, it is intriguing when first listening to Mickens’ music and finding a soulful, soft rock, coming from the speakers.
It’s been all eyes on Mickens for the past couple of years, playing numerous shows, taking the stage with only his acoustic guitar alongside him. Now there’s a new twist to his story, which sees him welcoming two other fellow musicians on stage, performing as the Jay Mickens Trio. This also has opened a new door for Mickens that may take fans on a new listening adventure that was not heard on his recent EP, If You Just Believe.
With guitar in hand, Mickens took time to speak about his music and provide background music while we spoke. What was also played was a piece from his song, “Leah,” which is one of the two upcoming music videos that he is excited to reveal to fans. Also on the agenda is getting new music out to listeners, but with a small catch.
What got you into making music?
I always wanted to play when I was a kid, but I never really got a chance to. It was senior year of high school when I was like ‘You know, I’m just going to buy a guitar.’ And I did. Then my friends were like ‘You got a guitar, now you need to learn how to play it.’
Were you looking to join a band right away?
Not really. A bunch of my friends had bands and I thought that was pretty cool. I guess eventually I did, but I was just starting out so I didn’t want to jump into anything too deep.
Who were the artists that inspired you to start playing?
Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana.
Do you feel they mix well together?
Maybe not [laughs]. But they both taught me a lot with song writing and playing guitar. I feel that if you listen to my music before I started playing with the trio, you wouldn’t really be able to tell about the Jimi Hendrix influence because it’s just the acoustic, soul stuff and there are no solos. Maybe a little Nirvana, but I really don’t get compared to Nirvana.
I hear a lot more similarities to singers like John Mayer and Dave Matthews in your music. Do you also look up to them?
Absolutely. Both are fantastic songwriters. I hear people say that I’m like the ‘black Dave Matthews.’
How does your writing process go?
A lot of crying, a lot of tears and a lot of Jameson. Usually I come up with a guitar part first, that’s how I’ve always done it. I come up with a riff, or a chord progression and then at least the guitar part for the verse or the chorus before I even try and write the lyrics.
Why are you so sad?
[Laughs] It’s a good question.
Does the mood of the music ever affect where you go with the lyrics from what you originally sought out to write?
Yeah, I mean, I feel that the music, however it sounds, it just sets the whole pace of things of what kind of song it’s going to be. How it sounds and how it makes me feel is kind of how I go off with it. Like how does this chord progression make me feel or how does this riff make me feel and I kind of go and make a melody line to go over it and see what comes out.
What’s the main theme that runs through your lyrics?
A lot of it is about girls. Love I guess—is that cheesy?
Who are some of your favorite lyricists?
I feel that Damien Rice is awesome. Leonard Cohen and Jesse Lacey from Brand New, he’s fantastic.
I hear you have an obsession with Brand New. What got you into them?
I don’t know. In college my one roommate listened to them a lot and I wasn’t really into it because I was into like Nirvana, Hendrix and metal, so I wasn’t really into it. But recently, like a year or two ago, I just went and downloaded The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me and I was just blown away by the imagery and how he uses the lyrics is just really intense. I love that album and [it’s] definitely in my top five.
I just saw on Facebook you would release a new song if you got a certain amount of ‘Likes.’ Why are you holding new music ransom from your fans?
[Laughs] Well I was working on an album for a little bit, but that didn’t go as planned. I think it’s probably for the better because now I have my trio and I can go work out things with them before I go into the studio and record. I have a bunch of songs that I’ve done solo that I haven’t released yet because I feel they weren’t ready for the EP and I feel like I want a full-length for my next release, but I might just put them up on SoundCloud for people to hear.
How is a full-length developing? Is it something that’s in the near future or do you need more time to analyze it?
I would like to play with my band a little more because I’m so used to playing by myself. I feel like, there already is a lot of chemistry, but I would like to build upon that before I try to go into the studio. Some of the songs are being played differently. Before when I was playing by myself, I was like ‘I’m going to play like this because that’s what’s going to work playing solo.’ But now that I have a bass player and drummer, Elizabeth Pelikan and Kyle Rowland, I’ve been like, pulling out my electric guitar.
I feel like it’s the first time on stage I’m playing my electric guitar, which is awesome and kind of freeing playing guitar solos. It’s one of the reasons why I started playing guitar—because I love Hendrix solos and how you can go off in playing them. So yeah, I think I want a little more time to play around with these songs and find the best arrangement for a band setting. I think I may release two versions of songs like an acoustic version and then a full band.
How is it adjusting from playing as a solo act to doing shows with backing musicians?
Well, you have all eyes on you when it’s solo and having the whole band it takes the edge off and you have other people to feed off of and they have your back. It’s more like hanging out and jamming.
How do you feel you guys all click together?
It’s going pretty well. I feel there’s definitely this chemistry when we play on stage. I think it can only get better in the future as we continue to play with each other.
What’s a live show from you like?
The one upcoming show it’s just me and Liz playing, so it’s just basically like my solo show, but with a little more funk in it because of the bass going on. It’s chill music, it’s not like ‘let’s rock out’ and start, like, skanking.
Would you mind if people did that?
[Laughs] No, I’m all for it.
You can catch the Jay Mickens Trio at Endless Vine in Franklin Lakes on Friday, Feb. 3. For more information go to jaymickens.com.