What’s in a Name?

Jay Reatard attempts to harness his wunderkind workaholism.

Memphis garage-rocker Jay Reatard is a living, breathing
misnomer.

When Jay Lindsey was fifteen years old he decided to name his first
his band the Reatards, then he changed his last name to make the
playfully spelled “Reatard” his own. It must have felt all too
appropriate. Most feel retarded, at least in the colloquial sense of
maladjustment, during those early teenage years. On top of the age’s
commonplace insecurities, young Jay had an unstable home life to
contend with and few friends to share his adolescent angst with. So
instead of going to classes, he stayed home to play music in his
bedroom. Jay Reatard didn’t fit in — he was abnormal. He was a
“retard.”

But it’s easy to forget the definition of “retard” in its verb form.
It means to hinder, slow, or delay. And in this real sense, Jay Reatard
has been wringing his self-imposed surname with action ever since. By
the age of eighteen, when some of his peers hoped to tour Europe with a
backpack, he had already traveled the continent with his own band. In
the years since changing his name, Reatard (now 28) has released dozens
of records, and been in at least eight bands, most notably the Reatards
and the synth-based Lost Sounds. This workaholic even has his own
record label, Shattered. Following one’s passions is vital for any
artist, but Reatard grew tired of continually recording and touring for
so many different projects that involved so many other musicians.

“I was feeling creatively repressed,” says Reatard. “I hadn’t had a
chance to make an album that completely represented my ideas.”

He began focusing on solo work, simply labeling it with his own
name. In 2006, In The Red Records released Reatard’s solo LP, Blood
Visions
, a hyperkinetic romp of punk guitar and Joey
Ramone–style vocals. For music played with such speed and volume,
the album displayed Reatard’s surprising ear for melody.

The tuneful nature of the music is that much more unexpected after
looking at the album’s cover, which bears an image of the nearly naked
songwriter covered in blood.”The idea was that I would be this fat,
bloody baby being reborn into the world,” says the renascent
Reatard.

Though he’d already built a decent fan base from touring with his
many Memphis-based projects over the years, Blood Visions
gradually gained a new audience of fans and journalists. All the new
exposure and momentum paid off when Reatard was touring in New York
City one day and a friend in the Ponys, a garage rock band from
Chicago, told him NYC’s Matador Records was interested in signing him.
Reatard began speaking with Matador, the gold standard of indie
labels.

“Then there were eight months of negotiations to settle everything
… which were really exhausting. It was like, ‘Hey man, let’s stop
talking about this shit and start making a record!’ I’d never gone more
than six months without making a full-length.”

Reatard released six, 7-inch singles with Matador last year, which
were compiled on an EP. His next full-length disc comes out this
spring.

Though Reatard’s career looks to be ascendant, he doesn’t plan on
any major life changes. For one, he has no intention to leave his
hometown of Memphis.

“Memphis is pretty vital to the creative process for me. Some bands
decide to move to LA and then they immediately begin to suck. I feel
like if a big city didn’t create a band, a band shouldn’t expect to
move to a big city and continue to be nurtured creatively.”If there is
a perceivable alteration in Reatard’s lifestyle, it’s a shift away from
his historically scattered musical endeavors. “Six months ago I decided
to try something I’ve never done before — and that’s focus. ….
I don’t have enough time to sleep much less to play drums in some
crappy punk band.”

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