Analogue Music | Jay Gonzalez

Jay Gonzalez

By Matt Conner

'Back to the Hive' is a wonderfully opportunistic offering.

Of course, Jay Gonzalez would never have asked for the sort of break—er, shutdown, really—provided by a global pandemic, but he was keen to utilize the given downtime well. In a typical year, Gonzalez would be out and about on countless tour dates with the Drive-By Truckers, but in a season stuck at home like this, Gonzalez and producer/friend Chris Grehan decided to wrap up a long-gestating solo album that'd simmered for long enough.

Back to the Hive is a rewarding listen, one that's right in line with his previous solo offerings, largely inspired by '70s power-pop. While he might be more devoted to the Truckers as the COVID cloud dissipates, Gonzalez would do well to make sure to keep something new on the back burner for the next time he's given some time off.

We recently sat down with Gonzalez to hear more about the last year, why it's taken so long to get back to another solo album, and the beauty of collaboration.

Analogue: Given the album release in the middle of a pandemic, is it safe to assume you’ve felt pretty creative in this time?

Jay Gonzalez: I’ve got guilt, probably from being raised Catholic, that I’m feeling pretty creative, because a lot of creative friends of mine have struggled. Not everybody, but depending on your situation, you can shut down. For others of us who are borderline hermits, you always have that ability to block out the world while you’re working on stuff. [Laughs]

I don’t think this album would have been able to completely wrap up if not for the pandemic with my friend Chris Grehan. In a way it gave me a window of time to sink into my own thing. I love the Trucker thing and the touring and I can’t wait to do it again, but it is a balance of time. My priority balance isn’t great, so this forced the issue to talk to Chris about mixes and finish up overdubs and even do some remote recording with friends for it.

Hive Index
Hive Index

Analogue: In the past, if you were to create songs for a project like this, it’s in between other demands, like playing with the Truckers or whatnot. When you have all this extra space/time to focus, did that change the songwriting?

Jay: I think anything you listen to gets filtered through your stuff. Anything you’re involved in also filters through. We started this album a few years ago, so it has a rock band base to it. But I think I tend to get maybe weird and quirkier sonically when I’m deep into my own thing, stuck by myself at home in the music room.

I think I was able to put the polished chrome on easier than if I’d been on tour. It’s just a matter of focus, which I don’t have in general. [Laughs] I’m so scattered. I think it shows in the fact that I never pick one instrument to really learn well. I always try to do a little bit of each. And so in ways, I’ve benefited from it but in order to get what really needs to be done, it takes a lot of focus. Fortunately Chris is a focused person and he keeps the bar high. I know if I throw something at him, if it gets past him, it’s good for me.

Analogue: That generalist nature seems to have served you quite well. Do you have moments when you feel differently?

Jay: Sure, when you see someone who’s doesn’t have to think about playing or anything, it just flows out of them. That just takes such a long time of focus, of practice and living in that world. But having said that, I’m well into my middle age and I’ve been around a while, so for a few years at a time, I have been able to focus on one instrument or another.

The keyboard was my first love. Buying Glass Houses by Billy Joel at the department store with my mom when I was seven made me ask for piano lessons. In the suburbs of New York, it was probably a pretty common story back in 1980, and I did that for years. Then you hit teenage years and the guitar is infinitely cooler and I stuck with that for a while.

Then I’m in Athens, Georgia. It’s a small town, but that point, there were 200-300 bands and everybody plays guitar and there were significantly less keyboard players in town. I was able to join a band The Possibilities and the keyboard thing is what got me in. So it’s served me well.

Especially being a writer, it’s helped a lot to be able to have two options between guitar and piano, because it is two slightly different approaches. So I’ve always written on both since I was younger. It’s just become more focused.

Analogue: At what point did you know there would be another solo album?

Jay: You mean after The Bitter Suite?

Analogue: Yeah.

Jay: Pretty soon after. We recorded The Bitter Suite at Studio 1093 in Athens. Chris is friends with the owner, Jim Hawkins, a great engineer who built the studio. He has this beautiful space and we did the whole Bitter Suite there. Then when we had another break between my tour and Chris’s work in New York, he came down and we did the basic tracks for a little over half of this album.

We’ve worked on it over the last couple years and just honed it down. We weren’t really able to do much more in the room together, but we were able to figure out which songs work and then add over time.

Some of the songs we picked for the original sessions were recent, but the single, “I Want To Hold You,” is from 2000 if not earlier. So it’s almost like a greatest hits that no one’s ever heard, a greatest hits for someone who never puts out albums. [Laughs]

When the pandemic started and we realized we had the time to finish it, I had over 30 songs written with Pete Smith, but that one I mentioned earlier fit so well with the Everly Brothers kind of thing. Then he helped me with “Never Felt Bad About Feeling Good” and also “Trampoline”.

Analogue: How does this feel to release something of your own compared to last time?

Jay: It’s probably equally as vulnerable, but I have friends helping figure things out. My buddy John Britt makes these videos and he’s also helped me plan the release. Chris, at the end of last year, said we need to put this out and that it’s healthy for us to move on to other projects. So with the help of buddies like that. I have a small circle of friends who really helped me keep my confidence up.

Otherwise I’m in a weird spot where I’m with the Truckers and they’re on ATO. They’ve been doing it forever and they have a big sort of thing going on. It doesn’t always translate but I also haven’t pursued it a lot. The idea of self-releasing now just makes the most sense. It’s not that I was shopping it around or anything, but you don’t know where it stands. But now that we’re releasing singles and we’ve gotten positive feedback from friends and family, it’s much better.

I did lose all sense of how it was because we’d been working on it so long. But I do feel inside that it’s really solid. It’s as solid as we’re going to be able to do. So I’m really happy to get it out there.

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