Chicago singer/songwriter and guitarist Jay Mathes is obsessed. Love, human redemption, inadequacy and forgiveness, are all topics to which he returns, mining his life to create art. Although Mathes got a taste of mainstream approval when he was selected to play at a Wisconsin Gap as part of a nationwide simultaneous performance, he’s still working toward his big break. However, he continues to forge ahead, focused on making his voice heard.
Our Town Describe your sound.
Jay Mathes Guitar-driven pop/rock with memorable melodies and lyrics that resonate with the human experience.
OT Was performing always a goal?
JM I didn't consider music as a career until high school, didn't even know how to sing. On a whim a buddy of mine said, "Hey, let's sign up for choir, that way, we'll have at least one class together. Plus, I've heard there are a lot of chicks." I began writing songs seriously the same week we started classes. [But] the big shift to performing started when my parents bought me my first Harmony-brand electric guitar, for my thirteenth birthday.
OT What inspires you?
JM I try to read a lot, classic literature and poetry. I listen to a lot of music; I get outdoors, rock climbing and camping. Oh yeah, and I drink a lot of coffee and beer, but not necessarily at the same time. I try to write every day, just write about whatever [I’m] experiencing or thinking about. Recently, what has come out has been pretty dark. This has been a period of real struggle for me, particularly pursuing music as a full-time income source.
OT So no day job?
JM Until March of 2010, I taught private guitar lessons. Week in and out, I was telling my students to follow their dreams, pursue their passions, and do something with their lives. It was time for me to take my own advice. Little by little, I'm eating in to my savings account [but] I have to believe all of my investments in my music, not just financial, [but] strain on relationships and time away from family, [will] pay off. In the meantime, my wife is pulling in more cash than I, and we're making it work as best we can. My situation is not common; I have a unique opportunity to put time into my music right now, a real gift from my family.
OT There’s a Christian music feeling to several of your songs, but you don’t describe yourself as a Christian musician. Why?
JM There's a big difference between Christian music and music made by a Christian. I find most Christian pop music to be hokey, glib, contrived, and self-serving, not to mention poorly executed and written with almost no artistry whatsoever. So yeah, I intentionally don't call myself a Christian musician. I try to sing about it all; and if it gets people to think and ask questions about the ever-evasive meaning of life, then I’ve done what I set out to.
OT What can listeners expect from your forthcoming album?
JM "Fundamental" is first a live performance - no overdubs, no metronome, no vocal tuning, no fancy production tricks. The record is just me and an acoustic guitar. There is no more honest an instrument.
OT Favorite Chicago venue?
JM As an artist, I've always loved The Cubby Bear. As a fan, I’d say when the Metro is packed, there are few rooms that feel the same. The atmosphere is electric.
OT Any advice for aspiring musicians?
JM Perform as often as you can. Hone your craft on stage. Perform with other, better musicians. Finally, cultivate a heart of thanksgiving. Don't be bitter about the successes of others - especially when you know that your music is better than theirs. There's no short cut to the top - even if it seems like there is.
A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez