A few years ago, Evan Patterson found himself spending a lot of time in New Mexico. His then-partner was in grad school in Santa Fe, and on frequent visits to see her, without a car or much to do, he wrote songs.
Patterson, who spoke to City Paper over the phone from his home in Louisville, Ky., has been playing in bands since he was a young teen, and is probably best known as the frontman for long-running post-punk band Young Widows. He’s no stranger to songwriting. But this felt different. “I was just … writing songs on a guitar that could barely play,” he says with a slow, subtle drawl. “I was writing songs with no direction or purpose.”
Those songs, haphazardly born from Southwestern landscapes and boredom, spawned a new musical project, Jaye Jayle, whose haunting debut full-length, House Cricks and Other Excuses to Get Out, was released in February.
A name like that may inspire some speculation — who is Jaye Jayle? A band or a man? And it’s both, sort of. What started out as a solo project with a name inspired by the often-amusing pseudonyms adopted by old blues artists is now a full band. It’s a shift which came about as organically as the songs: Once Patterson’s friends heard what he’d been working on, they were eager to help him flesh it out. The lineup has undergone changes since then, but more recently has settled into something steadier, and “more productive,” Patterson says.
Young Widows fans will likely listen for musical overlap, but while both projects showcase Patterson’s rich vocals (Leonard Cohen and Captain Beefheart have become major influences in recent years), Jaye Jayle swaps Young Widow’s noisy, melodic aggression for menacing, slow-burning minimalism. House Cricks brings to mind The Firstborn Is Dead-era Nick Cave, or dark alt-country band 16 Horsepower, and a cursory listen suggests connections to ’80s goth and Americana. “With Young Widows there was a lot of teen angst, and the punk-rock [idea of] going against anything and everything,” he says. “And I still feel like that’s there with any music I make because I’m never trying to fit into any pop-culture world … that’s never been inspiring to me.”
There’s a lot buried under Jaye Jayle’s deceptively simple songs, and much to be revealed through close listening. “I’ve been obsessed with blues music for a long time, and also ambient music like Tangerine Dream,” Patterson says. And he’s not afraid of experimentation: A couple of weeks ago, he organized the first and only performance of a project he called TRAMALANDA, which featured 10 people playing hi-hats, while Patterson played a tremolo-effected synthesizer. “In a lot of old country, or even jazz, there’s that subtle tremolo effect … whenever I hear that, I really cling to a song.” And though that was a one-off, it exemplifies a deep love and curiosity for all kinds of sounds, as well as resistance to categorization. “I’ve never had the desire to be pegged down, because that’s not what kind of fan I am of music,” he explains. “A genre of music is not my identity as an artist or as a fan.”