The Contenders are Jay Nash and Josh Day, two artists who have been at it long enough to know what they want. Both having had successful careers up to this point, they are veterans who have learned that you can’t write good music by trying to appease an audience. In order to stay true, you have to focus on writing the best possible songs. It’s only through writing the best possible music that you can find your true audience.
The truth of their folk / Americana-twinged songs comes through stories and honest depictions of the world around them. They write music that they don’t struggle for or against, but they just let happen. Their album, “Meet the Contenders” (releasing Nov 18), is just like that. It is unflinching in its commitment to fidelity, written by two artists who bring their whole heart every time they step into the ring.
NYMM: You guys have known each other for a while, so what made you decide to start this project, and why now?
Jay: Josh had been playing with Sara Bareilles for around 10 years, then he came out on tour with me for my album Letters From the Lost. The audiences responded to it really well, so I suggested that we should try working together as a duo, and surprisingly, Josh was amenable to the idea.
Josh: After a while of being on the road together and getting to know each other, we decided to just write together and see what happens.
NYMM: Did any of the songs come from before your collaboration, or were they all written together?
Jay: They were all written together in one week in December. There were seeds of inspiration, ideas from before that we pulled from, but they had no lyrical basis before we got together and figured out what we wanted them to be.
NYMM: Was there a concept of the album on the front end?
Jay: We felt like there was, and is, a little bit of a void in the songwriter-driven music that’s out there that we wanted to fill in homage to our influences like The Band and Grateful Dead. We wanted to have a strong rhythmic backbone, and we think there is something interesting about the way our voices work together. We like the idea of having two voices right out front, side by side. It is also important for us to have a lyrical narrative that is honest and true and resonates.
Jay: That was our only premeditation. Writing songs is kind of a mystical process. You start with something and hope that it keeps leading to the next step. You hope that the parts trigger something that has resonance.
NYMM: When you’re writing within a genre that already has such a rich history, how do you make sure that you are doing something original and not just duplicating what has already been done?
Jay: I think if you start from your own truth, you have a good chance of doing something new.
Josh: You can’t insist that a song has to sound a certain way. You have to just take all of your influences and put them in your toolbox and pick things out. That’s how music has been created since day one. One idea influences another, and each writer has a bag that they pull from. For us, we had a mutual bag of influences that we were able to pull from.
NYMM: You guys have been around the music industry for a while. What do you think people generally misunderstand about what you do?
Jay: I think a lot of people assume that you’re either a huge rock star or a starving artist. There are a lot of degrees of success in between. If you make a good record, to some extent, it will find its audience. I believe that in most cases that can happen on a sustainable level, even without a record label.
You can actually make a nice living without playing into the vacancy that makes up a lot of popular music. Whether it’s good or bad, much of that is, through repetition, being shoved down the public’s throat. That’s not the only way to achieve success.
NYMM: It’s encouraging to hear someone who’s been around for a while suggest that a good record will find its audience.
Jay: I believe that. I say that from the experience of putting out some records that are better than others and hearing people respond to them.
Josh: I’ve never actually put out anything that wasn’t a hit [laughs].
Jay: Everything Josh touches turns into diamond-encrusted platinum.
NYMM: Tell me a little about one of the songs on the album.
Josh: The first one that comes to mind for me is “The Contender“. It’s about observing a lot of our friends, who are great musicians, who have had great success either in the public eye or behind the scenes.
Jay: They might be on the edge of widespread success. A lot of our friends are getting up on stage every night and doing it whether they get that big break or not. They’re doing it because it’s in their DNA. It’s so inspiring to know these people personally.
The idea is that each of these people, including us and each of our songs, this project itself – each of these is a contender. It’s about the tenacity that is required to pursue music and the idea that it is rewarding whether it has the big payoff or not.
You can find more of The Contenders here:
Photos by Jon Karr
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