Up and Coming Musician Poised For Success
By Dave Moran
On the verge of success, all it takes is one glance around his 200-square foot studio apartment in New York City to remind Jay Brannan that he still hasn’t made it.
Brannan, 26, has already enjoyed success thanks to his engaging role as Ceth, an openly gay ex-model and aspiring singer in John Cameron Mitchell’s 2005 independent feature Shortbus. It is his music that appears ready to propel this wisp-like, soulful singer/songwriter to the top ~ and, he hopes, into a larger living space.
Goddamned, Brannan’s debut album, was released digitally July 1 and shot to Number 26 on the list of iTunes Top Downloaded Albums. Within a day of its release, it became the second-most downloaded album on the site’s Folk Chart. The CD version dropped July 15 in the midst of Brannan’s ten-city national tour which kicked off July 11 at The Paradise in Boston.
Despite all the accolades, Brannan still isn’t entirely comfortable in the limelight.
“I’m pretty insecure,” Brannan said. “I’m not the most confident person in my abilities, so I can’t say that I write music for anyone else. For me, it’s kind of like the way to put a voice to all these thoughts that have been racing around in my head for years.”
Openly gay in his own life, Brannan was born into a Texas Baptist household. He was the son of a petroleum engineer father and a schoolteacher mother. He acknowledged that his sexuality made for something of a turbulent adolescence ~ especially in Texas (he graduated high school in three years because he was “so miserable”).
After dropping out of college, finding little success as an actor in California and discovering a newfound passion for the acoustic guitar, Brannan packed up all his belongings and made the jump to New York City, where he found a role in Shortbus.
Mitchell allowed Brannan to sing one of his own songs, “Soda Shop,” during a key scene of the film. The song found its way onto the soundtrack and became the album’s most downloaded track.
Brannan traveled extensively to promote Shortbus. He landed gigs along the way to play his own compositions at local cubs and theaters.
One night, Brannan posted an extremely unrefined performance of “Soda Shop” on YouTube. The video garnered 1.5 million page views.
It didn’t take long for major record labels to come calling for Brannan’s services. Electing to go it alone, Brannan shouldered all the production costs thanks to a string of credit cards and the salary from his day job proofreading legal documents for a translation company.
“I feel like everything I do is just based on… it’s just very me,” Brannan said. “I feel like it’s honest, and that’s why people have responded to it. I think that a major label would just sort of strangle all those impulses that are what people have responded to and that are what have gotten me to this point.”
Fan interaction through the Internet and live performances is something that Brannan feels has been extremely vital to the success of his career thus far.
“It’s cool to be able to put it out there,” Brannan said. “I like writing songs and playing them for people, and it’s cool that people respond to it. That in a way kind of keeps me doing it as far as doing it in the public eye. I get e-mails from people all over the place saying, ‘Come play in our city.’ It’s just a weird sensation to know that there are people in these places that I’ve never been to and then I get to show up there and they know the names of my songs and sometimes they sing along with the lyrics.”
So what does the future hold for Brannan?
“I try to just take one thing at a time because if I think too far ahead I get really freaked out ~ too much responsibility,” Brannan joked. “I definitely would like to make a living from both music and film and possibly even some TV work. It would just be nice to be able to make a comfortable living. I want to be able to quit my day job and put all my energy towards being creative.”
Photo credit: Karl Simone
Styled by John Tan