Close encounters with Jad Fair

Meghan Killeen chats to the DIY musician and artist ahead of his Japan tour

Close encounters with Jad Fair

Jad Fair with his dog, Sandy Carson

Despite a musical career that has spanned over three decades, Jad Fair’s minimalistic sound still remains as youthful as the teenage years it encapsulates. He first took up music as one half of legendary lo-fi punk band, Half Japanese (the other half being his brother, David Fair), launched in 1977 in their parents’ livingroom, and he would go on to collaborate with an enviable indie lineup, ranging from Teenage Fanclub and Yo La Tengo to Thurston Moore, topping off the list with an opening performance for Nirvana on their 1993 In Utero tour.

'The only chord I know is the one that connects the guitar to the amp,' admits Fair in the documentary, Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King. It's an homage that is equal parts Spinal Tap and home video. Bolstered by the punk DIY rally of the late ‘70’s, Jad’s early inexperience with instruments served more as inspiration than a hurdle, eased by his wide-eyed enthusiasm and affably kitschy charm. 'Some people think that it is difficult to play music when you’ve never played an instrument before…but on day one of the beginning of the band, I was a drummer, guitarist and vocalist, and anything else I would put in my hands, I could play it and play it well.'

Fair’s pared-down approach to music, his shyness and wry vocals were all key elements in his nerd anthems for the perennially pubescent, often gushing about his two favorite loves, girls and monsters. With album titles such as Zombies of Mora-Tau (Half Japanese, 1982), 26 Monster Songs for Children (with David Fair, 1998), and Strange But True (Yo La Tengo, 1998), we wondered if Jad any 'strange but true stories' of his own.

'I once saw a UFO,' he told us in a recent interview. 'It was at night. My brother and I saw a huge round light in the sky. It was very bright and slowly moving down into a wooded area. I called the police to report it. When I called, I expected that they would think I was a nut but I was told that they had other calls about it. I have no idea what it was.' As for the girls, songs such as “Sex at Your Parent’s House” (Music to Strip By, 1987) and "1,000,000,000,000 Kisses" (Charmed Life, 1988) seem fairly self-explanatory.

Fair’s tongue-in-cheek songs of youthful obsession and out-of-tune guitar stylings were as much of a personal and instinctual necessity as they were a tribute to the punk era. Fair’s own DIY efforts included mastering the cassettes for Half Japanese and taking out ads in rock 'zines to promote them. This hands-on approach also inspired him to design many of the covers for Half Japanese, as well as the covers for his solo work, using a unique paper cutting technique. He explains, 'I first started cutting paper because I wanted something to do while traveling on tours. I don't like to read books when I'm in a van because there's too much movement. I tried drawing, but my hand was unsteady.'

Fair’s artistic leanings also led to collaboration with artist/filmmaker, Martha Colburn, who shares his love for campy creepiness, as evidenced in their collaborative short films, Spiders in Love: An Arachnogasmic Musical (2000) and Evil Dracula (1997), where Jad, 'added sound effects and music changes to go along with the action in the film.'

Over the course of his far-reaching career, he has managed to retain both his indie sensibility and an uncanny, child-like awe that has characterized much of his song writing (he once wrote a song about Disney Land, of which he enthuses, 'I really love Disney Land,' before deadpanning, 'I’ve been there once').

Fair has also tried his hand as a minstrel for everyday life, offering, on his website, to compose custom-made songs for a smallish fee. Fair explains that most of the requests have been for birthdays or baby showers, although his most challenging request was for a wedding proposal. 'The pressure was on,' he recalls. 'I felt if I didn't come up with a good song she might say no to the proposal.'

Jad Fair’s musical simplicity remains the same, though his recording space has changed. His parent’s living room has now been swapped for a barn outside Austin, Texas, where he currently lives with his wife. He'll be performing at the upcoming South by Southwest (SXSW) music and film festival in March, promoting his recent solo releases, the humorously titled, His Name Itself Is Music and Beautiful Songs — The Best of Jad Fair (both available on Fire Records), and then on to a Half Japanese tour in Europe scheduled for May. As for his artwork, he'll be showcasing his work at an exhibition in France and promoting a selection of recently published books. A cartoon based on the performing antics of Half Japanese is also in the works, and Jad assures us, because we're concerned about these things, 'there will be a lot of monsters in it.'

Jad Fair teams up with Tenniscoats, March 5-6, at O-Nest, Shibuya. Fair’s art show, Celebrate The Celebration, will also be on display at Hiromart Gallery from March 4-April 10, 2011. The opening reception, with Fair in attendance is Friday, March 4, from 7pm

By Meghan Killeen
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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