Jay Pray is not your typical 25-year-old musician. In fact, considering that he’s been in the business for more than half of those 25 years, you could already call him a lifer.
So it’s not surprising that on his latest single, “Surrender,” there isn’t that tendency of younger artists to leave too much fluff around the edges and call it artistic exploration. Jay aka Justin Romanos gets in and out in two minutes and 18 seconds, takes you to another place and leaves you wanting more.
“This song isn’t really like a single,” he said. “It was a beat that I made back in college, but I was going through old demos while I was recording and I found that one and I said, ‘I’ve got to do something with this.’ It doesn’t really have the format of verse-chorus, but I think it’s a good song. It sounds cool and I think people will dig that it’s a little unconventional. Everyone was like, ‘I like this song,’ and we think people will like it.”
As the opener on the B-side of the vinyl version of his self-titled debut album, which hits on March 3, “Surrender,” according to Romanos, “Defines the later part of the record,” and it’s also representative of where the Connecticut native is heading in a songwriting sense because, like most artists, he’s already looking past March.
“I think any musician will agree with me that once you’re done, you’re already working on the next thing,” he said. “With this record, I had to force myself not to write because we’d start cutting songs that were already recorded to fit in these new ones. So at one point, I had to stop. But I started writing the next record already because I had so much time to do it.”
That time was a product of progress, as his desire to work with producer Brandon Bost at Electric Lady Studios in NYC meant fitting into the schedule of the man who has worked with the likes of Lady Gaga and The Kills.
“He’s got credits on the new Lady Gaga record and he’s working with the biggest artists you can think of, so I only got to record with him on his free time, which was virtually never, so I would say the general theme of this record is waiting.”
Romanos laughs, but as the old saying goes, good things come to those who wait, and if anything, he knows the ins and outs of the business from having been in it since before he was a teenager.
“I’ve been doing it for a really, really long time and since a really, really young age,” he said. “I started playing shows in sixth grade. It’s really comical looking at pictures and videos and to think back because if I showed up to a show as a headliner and one of the openers was a bunch of sixth graders, I’d probably laugh.”
It laid a foundation though, one Romanos took through college as he studied at Drexel University in their renowned Music Industry program.
“Drexel was such an incredible experience, being surrounded by like-minded people who are doing the same thing as you,” he said. “It was like a microcosm of the music industry in general. What I realized is that it’s a really small world once you’re in it. Everybody knows everybody and that was my doorway into it.”
And while he kept playing, primarily with his band SHMNS, when college ended — literally — he decided the next step would be as a solo artist.
“We actually played our last show on the day I graduated college,” he said. “It was an event. We went out with a bang.”
But did everyone know it was the last show?
“None of us said anything, but we all sort of knew and we all handled it in our own way,” Romanos explained. “I’ve been a solo artist longer than I’ve been a band member. It’s so much easier. You don’t have to deal with the politics and all that other stuff. You can do whatever you want.”
Now he is, and with his debut album on the way, 2017 looks like it will be an interesting one for Mr. Romanos. As for his last salvo for 2016, he’ll leave that up to the listener.
“What people will take away from it, I don’t know; that’s up to the listener,” he said of “Surrender.” “There are certain songs that are more personal to me, but some of those ones that are more open-ended, you have to make your own interpretation.”
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