Review & Interview: “Anxious Armada” by Jay Madera

Jay Madera’s debut album Anxious Armada is a collection of thoughtful, straight- forward tunes that capture the singer and songwriter’s unique perspective and style. With songs ranging from folk to classic rock and roll, Anxious Armada is a strong debut from an artist that has a lot to say.

Anxious Armada begins with the song “A House Divided”, a political jam that touches on the country’s current issues with a rock and roll flair straight out of the golden age. “You Make Sense” is next, a thoughtful song with gorgeous piano melodies and dark, emotive instrumentation that perfectly matches Madera’s soulful, textured vocal delivery. “Curb Appeal” is an intense, upbeat track driven by confident piano rhythm and uplifting percussion peppered with electric guitar that adds an exciting depth to the catchy song.

“The Next Great American Novel” shows Madera’s americana side with acoustic guitar and banjo instrumentation and raw, narrative lyrics that play out like a movie scene. “Screensaver” transports you to another world with an ambient sitar intro that leads into a dreamy scene of electric guitar strums and subtle riffs that channel the energy of classic folk rock. “Half Staff” returns to the piano-driven roots of the album with a bluesy tone that again perfectly highlight’s Madera’s versatile and emotional voice in another song that touches on political topics. He sings “your flag is always at half-staff” as he beautifully depicts the issues in the United States today.

“People in Your Place” is a peaceful, light piano tune that plays almost like a lullaby in its serene, thoughtful orchestration that waxes and wanes in subtle intensity. “A Faithful Foil” is an instrumental track that boasts cinematic orchestrations and driving piano that unexpectedly acts as an intro to following song “Janus-Faced”, an honest tale that revs up into a rock anthem without a moment’s notice. “New Car Smell” continues with the trend of rhythmic piano chords and throwback classic rock stylings. “OH-126” brings back the acoustic guitar with a laid-back feel; its sparce instrumentation seems to request that you listen to this song while swinging on a hammock in the breeze. The album closes with “Sertraline”, a short patchwork track comprised of musical sounds and discussions that perfectly bookends the complex album with an artful departure.

Anxious Armada is an incredible 12-song album that showcases the Cincinnati, Ohio- based Jay Madera’s versatile and consistent talent for crafting artistic, modern songs with a classic feel. With an inviting, textured voice that works in just about any style and lyrics that tell raw tales with an unmistakable honestly, Anxious Armada takes you on a journey that you’ll want to revisit again and again.

Written by Katrina Charles

Q&A with Jay Madera

Q: Congrats on the new record! Anxious Armada is a strong debut filled with earnest and honest lyrics. How does it feel now that it’s out?

JAY: I think it’s a relief that it can finally be out in the world as a full project. This is really my first creative solo project to be fully-realized, so it’s crucial to get it out there. I have a stained t-shirt somewhere that I exercise in. It says “Don’t Let The Music Die Within You.” I got it as some industry giveaway, but that’s how I feel; it didn’t die as a voice memo on someone’s phone, a lyric sheet on legal pad, or a demo file on some computer, like far many songs do. Regardless of whether the album has legs, it at least has a lane on the track. I’m grateful for that.

Q: The opening track, “A House Divided”, is about acknowledging our history and using it to inform our current actions. How has the current political climate shaped your work and how do you think music can play a role in raising awareness to important issues?

JAY: I think everything I write is inherently shaped by our time.*checks Twitter* I mean, I’m living through it, aren’t I? I think artists of all kinds have the ability to get through to people who don’t want to be put in a position that forces them to think about their own feelings surrounding politics, humanity, social justice, etc. Practically everyone listens to music. Whether or not we realize it as it’s happening, music can craft the minds of an entire generation. It gets through to people who don’t follow the news, even the people who actively avoid the news. It’s the State of the Union address that you can’t really avoid. It’s right in your headphones. It’s in restaurants. It’s in the grocery store. The trick is making people listen, and having lyrics worth listening to. That’s a whole different ballgame.


Q: The original demo of “Curb Appeal” was a slow piano ballad. What inspired you to change the production to the upbeat, anthemic version we know today?

JAY: When we got the song into the studio, it started to have this bounce to it. My producer and I realized that drum beat that felt right was almost a disco kick, hi-hat pattern. Then we began to tinker with it. We layered this really tight Daft Punk/Nile Rodgers electric guitar track over it that you hear featured prominently in the final mix. After that was on the track, it was game over. There was no going back to its earlier feel, which was more downtrodden and melancholic. It now had that groove that made the lyrics and the message of the song feel just that more empowering. Everything else we added after that was just extra layers of icing. The ‘woo’ you hear me exclaim, right before the coda, just kinda happened by accident on the last vocal take. It just felt fun in that moment, and I went for it.


Q: Which song is your favorite on Anxious Armada and why?

JAY: Oh, this is the hardest question. They all feel like my babies, so I can’t pick a favorite, but I’ll pick one that wasn’t released as a single or featured prominently from the album, just to shed more light on it. The song is called “New Car Smell,” and while their are definitely a few concepts to the song lyrically, I get more caught up in the mood of the track. It has this really airy synth pad as well as an organ part I’m playing over a ’50s or ’60s doo-wop chord progression that has this anachronistic feel to it. I always hear the song as you’re at a middle school dance in the early ’70s, and the band is playing this really outdated material, and then they break into a liver version of Rocket Man by Elton John that JUST came out. And you’ve never heard the version on the record. This is the first time you’re hearing Rocket Man and it’s blowing your mind. Not saying I’m Elton John or anything.. “New Car Smell” just has this feeling to it that feels instantly classic and timeless, yet positioned in a very contemporary way at the same time.


Q: You’ve been writing songs since you were a teenager. What was the name of the first song you ever wrote and what was it about?

JAY: The first I ever wrote was in 6th or 7th grade I think, and it was called “Part of Me.” It was about my first “girlfriend” and no, I never played it for her. It was an absolutely terrible song, but it had this pubescent boyhood sound that is sorta charming. A few months later we broke up at choir rehearsal. Yes, I am a dork. How did you know? I think I still have the original lyric sheet for the song, but I have no clue how the melody went. I think my first twenty songs I ever wrote were about naïve love that was over before it began. From Adele to Zappa, I think that’s probably how every songwriter from ever learns to write songs.


Q: At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?

JAY: I know everyone hates this answer, but… my music, respectfully, isn’t my music after people listen. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. I had a mentor tell me once, do you think anyone knows or cares whatever the heck Bohemian Rhapsody is about? That stuck with me. I’ve had people tell me that the same exact song is about twenty different things. So it’s really more about that co-creation of meaning. The artist creates the recording, but the artist and the fan create the song. As for ‘the end of the day,’ I hope that they just listen and it makes them think. If my music could make just one person think or heal or get through their day, that’s the only takeaway.

Interviewed by Brynn Hinnant

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