Shrub talks new music & quarantine life [Interview]
(05/15/20 Atlanta, GA) Jay Shrub, also known as 'Shrub' is releasing his highly anticipated record "Back to Earth" on May 15. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay to gain deeper insight into his new album, how he's staying productive during quarantine, and about his admiration for his fans and colleagues.
How has the quarantine affected you? Are there any setbacks or silver linings?
JS: As far as music is concerned there have been a lot of silver linings for me to be honest. It's given me plenty of time to complete the album, schedule the release and all the planning logistics that go with debuting a new record. It has really freed up my time because my situation is a little different than the average musician. I used to tour a lot before I took a hiatus for the last 3 years -- if I was touring it would most certainly be devastating. Touring and selling merch are two of the three main facets of being a musician. It’s truly the way you make a living since music only pays so much.
I took a break and went back to my existing life where I was a software developer for a custom merch startup company. The quarantine affected us right away and as soon as the state was shut down, I was immediately laid off. It affects everyone across the board. Being a musician was a nice fallback because I had the opportunity to finish the album, work on it with Blaine Dillinger (guitarist of HIRIE) and get it out for people's ears.
As an artist do you consider yourself a solo artist or a band?
JS: Throughout the history of Shrub we've evolved. Originally I started Shrub as a solo project making music out of my basement. I met Blaine Dillinger on Craigslist I believe in '08-'09 when I posted an ad, literally 5 minutes later he contacted me introducing himself and said he would love to write music with me. Ironically enough I knew who he was because at the time he was in another band called Jakob Freely & The Mixtape Bandits. They were a REALLY freakin' good local band in Columbus, Ohio.
He and I started a project together, he was producing it and I was writing the lyrics and melodies while he wrote the accompanying music to it. After people started hearing the first album called "Senorita", we got positive feedback and a lot of encouragement to start playing shows and form a band. We put together a band with local cats Dillinger knew, which didn't take very long since he was a jazz major at The Ohio State University.
Fast forward 6-7 years later, I have had so many different versions of the Shrub band. I used to call it Shrub 2.0, then 3.0, but after so many modifications later I decided it’s just the Shrub band and whoever is in it is in it. I am Jay Shrub which is my moniker but I am also somewhat synonymous with Shrub so to speak, just like Scott Woodruff is Stick Figure. I always call Shrub a band, I don't know why-- maybe it’s wishful thinking because I want to be in a band or project with collective minds but it usually ends up being me until the next evolution. Right now Blaine and I are the Shrub band.
Blaine jetted in 2011 to join Clear Conscience in Northern California and then he joined HIRIE after that-- he's a quitter in my books! (Just kidding). In all seriousness though I'm glad that he wanted to come back and join me on this next adventure which is creating the new album.
I recently interviewed your buddy Blaine Dillinger talking about his solo projects and we talked a lot about "Back to Earth." Dillinger mentioned a few members of the HIRIE band were featured on this album. How does it feel to be collaborating with them?
JS: It was really refreshing, to be honest. I've worked with Blaine so there's a familiarity with him, we worked on two previous albums together. He and I worked on the first album entirely and on the second album, Highceratops, he worked on 5-6 songs out of the 14. There's a comfortability with him, the really cool thing was when I reached out to Blaine a few years ago and said "Hey, let's work on a third album together" and he goes "I have just the crew I want to work with!" I asked who he wanted to work with and he said "everyone in HIRIE." I was like "yes please!" I was very excited about that.
Dillinger joined forces with Matt Benoit, drummer of HIRIE, and they really forged the sound of Shrub on this album. Blaine and Matt were co-producing the album and I'm so blessed to have such gifted talent around me. That's how it has always been for Shrub -- I always try to find the people that are more talented than I am because they're only going to help boost me up and help me learn.
When you have such professionals like Blaine and Matt on this project, it was natural for other folks to be interested in working on this record. That's when Chris Del Camino, Andy McKee (which is the horn section of HIRIE), and bassist Andy Flores wanted to collaborate. I brought on Mike DeGuzman too, a buddy of mine who plays keys for Passafire. I asked him to play on a couple of the tunes and his reaction was "hell yeah!". I feel really blessed. Another person Blaine hooked up for this album was Beebs, of Beebs and her Moneymakers. She added some really tasty vocals on one of the tunes. Her voice is truly amazing, I really like what she contributed to that song. It doesn't intimidate me to bring these folks in, honestly, it energizes me and makes me think "wow I better not screw this up!"
Let me pick your brain for a moment, who have been some of your all-time favorite performers?
JS: Michael Jackson to me is the all-time greatest performer. I take a lot of what he does on stage like his high energy and using props-- what I mean by that is I'm always moving my hat on stage and flipping it around doing things with it. As subtle as it is, it's somewhat choreographed too at times. I took a lot away from him as a performer. Growing up I'd dress like him and do the moonwalk. I loved all that.
Fast forward to when I got into high school and I really got into hip hop. I was listening to artists such as Cypress Hill, The Beastie Boys, etc. They were all really strong performers that all had high energy and stood for something. When I got into college I got into reggae music and my eyes were opened to this whole new world. At the time it was Jamaican reggae, listening to Buju Banton, which was the first reggae concert I've ever been to. His energy on stage blew me away, pouring his entire heart out on stage. I had never seen the consciousness of the reggae artist on stage basically expressing his love for people, his struggles that he was experiencing at home, and I was so enthralled with his performance. That's what led me into the reggae world and of course, once I heard Sublime, reggae music just took over from there. I'm a big Stick Figure fan as well, I briefly mentioned them earlier but I've watched them grow from performing at small clubs to being one of the baddest bands in the land. They blew up and it’s so well-deserved.
Some artists that I'm currently influenced by, especially in the reggae-rock world, I'm a huge Movement fan. There's something about their songwriting that really resonates with me. I really appreciate their blend of love and life. We played with The Movement like six years ago at a small little house in Cincinnati, but it was a venue. After our opening set, I was feeling confident that my band had a decent show and then The Movement goes on stage and totally blew us out of the water! It's not even an apples to apples comparison. This show was a benefit for a girl that passed away, and they took requests to play any song the audience wanted for donations.
A guy held up a $100 bill and said "Play 'Set Sail!'" and they played it. He held up another $100 bill and said "Play 'Set Sail!'" and they played it again. People kept paying for them to perform this song. Over and over again. The girl that passed away, her favorite song was ‘Set Sail’ They killed it every single time they played it, and what I took away from this night was the impact this band had on this girl's life. I really like it when I see artists get personal with their fans. All those people in that room felt like best friends with The Movement and I really admired that.
I admire the authenticity of an artist to fan relationship.
JS: I think that's what Shrub is about, one thing we love to do is engage with the crowd when performing and really connecting, it’s not just about playing songs. I think all the people want to have a connection with their fans. One of the coolest things I loved about touring was creating band merchandise. It wasn't just about the money, it was about creating a brand that people love and the comradery of having something with a band you love.
Personally, I love buying all my favorite band's t-shirts. I used to work the merch table all the time before and after my performances and enjoyed the engagement. I started doing this game where if you bought something from the merch table, no matter how much you've paid for it, we would flip a coin. If you guessed correctly on what side the quarter lands on, you would get the merchandise for free, if you guessed incorrectly you paid full price. The hype got people interested and eventually the lines started to get longer. That was so much fun.
It’s always flattering when someone tells what a song means to them, but I am almost more interested in their lives. Why are you here tonight? What else are you listening to? I don’t think I’m trying to be famous, of course, everyone wants to be successful. I'm really doing this because I love making an impact on someone's life.
One time we had a guy come up to us and said that recently his brother had put a gun to his own head, and he was contemplating taking his own life. But he was listening to music and one of our songs called 'Cherries' came on and he heard the sadness in my voice and realized he wasn't alone in this life battle and put the gun down. When you know you've had one of those moments where you've impacted someone's life in such a way, that's the payoff. That's why I love making music. Artists like Dirty Heads sing amazing songs about being on 'Vacation', and of course we try to tap into those fun vibes as well, but at the same time there's so much more to life than throwing a party and getting wasted.
I remember when this guy’s brother told me that story. I was thinking about why I originally wrote that song and the place I was in at that moment. I was in a bad place, I wasn't suicidal but I was definitely in a bad place where I didn't know what was coming next in my life. It was a scary transition to a whole new phase in my life. I remember being distraught, breaking down, and crying when I wrote that song. I still get very emotional playing that song on stage because I remember that place I was in. I often think about that guy. "I was pretty desperate then too". it easily could've been me at that moment. Creating music was my therapy, and maybe this guy didn't have any cathartic outlets. I couldn't believe a song that Blaine and I created impacted someone in that way. I wanted to meet his brother but unfortunately, he wasn't at the show. I wanted to give him a hug, I wanted to connect with him face to face and talk to him.
How have you been passing the time while we're stuck in quarantine?
JS: I've been watching so many movies lately. I'm going through all the movie channels, not Netflix, just recording movies on my DVR. Yesterday I watched a movie called 'War Dogs' with Jonah Hill which was a great movie. I've been watching documentaries on bands like Duran Duran. I really enjoy watching the evolution of bands. It's funny because it's usually the same pattern. Everyone's struggling and then drugs come in the picture, money disputes, and dealing with fame. All these things always happen, to some degree I can relate to it where they're trying to make music and touring. But I also watch them and think "damn, I'm glad that's not me". A lot of folks fall off the deep end and I'm thankful to not have fallen too far.
I have a daughter who's 12 and she's here with me for two weeks out of the month and the other 2 weeks she's with her mom. Right now she wants nothing to do with me because she's into her friends and playing video games on her phone. I try to spend as much time with her as I can. I'm also into training my Cavapoo dog, 'Radio', new tricks.
I'm one of those people that are self-aware of what's going on, I wouldn't say I'm paranoid but I'm trying to do my part to not spread this virus. I believe science is right, so I'm just trying to be as cautious as possible. There's a song on "Back to Earth" called 'My Radio'. Funny thing is, everyone thinks I'm referring to walking around with a radio but I'm referring to my dog. He is this little muppet looking character, he wants nothing to do more in life than to lay down in your lap and snuggle.
In your opinion what do you think makes this album unique from your previous albums?
JS: I think musically you're going to hear a lot more electronic influence on this album. Matt Benoit programmed the drums, he's not physically playing drums so there's a foundation that's there that is electronic. Maybe the album is a little darker, I think the underlying feeling of the songs are a little deeper and darker. I've always taken pride in being real but on this album, more than ever, I wear my heart on my sleeve. 'Shrub Love' is the first song on the record. It pays homage to the reggae community but done hopefully in a slick and savvy way. It's about thanking people for taking care of us for a really long time. The rest of the album you really hear my soul. With the past two albums, you hear more of an upbeat tone, more festival-friendly sound. I think this album has less reggae-influenced but there's still some undertones of it. I think there's a place on the spectrum for everyone. We have a weed song called 'Help Me Ganja' but if you really listen to this song, it’s a painful song. It’s about smoking weed to get me through a tough time. It’s as real as I can be, so I’m curious to hear what people think of the new evolution.
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