Nathan Leigh Jones Interview
Nathan Leigh Jones - Broke (2011)
Welcome to OutRadio. This is JD Doyle and that was an artist from Sydney, Australia, and the song "Broke," from his latest album, "Sooner or Later." He's Nathan Leigh Jones and he's released three albums, including a brand new one, called "Brand New Christmas," premiering this month, and I've got a special interview all about that one, but you'll be able to hear that on my other show, Queer Music Heritage, because that's traditionally where I do my shows of holiday music. When I contacted him to interview about the Christmas CD I couldn't resist doing the interview in two parts, one for that project, and another, this one, to talk about his career in general. Also, as you'll hear near the end of the segment it will turn into kind of a coming out interview, and I'm very pleased to share that story. But let's start at the beginning.
JD: Nathan, welcome to Outradio.
NLJ: It is good to be out, JD, how are you.
JD: Doing good. How did you get your start in music?
NLJ: Well, it was an interesting start I think. My dad is a minister, or was a minister of the church at the time, and we lived next door, in the manse, I believe is the technical word, next door to the church, so I was lucky enough to be able to wander in, at my leisure, and play the piano and play the drums and play the organ, and have that space and that room to sing at the top of my lungs to create music, really.
JD: How old were you then?
NLJ: Well, I think I began piano lessons at about five or six years old, so ever since then it's been part of my live. But yeah, it's funny my older brother and sister were both learning from one old lady, Mrs Rose, rest in peace, Mrs Rose, I don't think she's with us any more, but she I think had a bit of a deal, like a buy two, get one free deal, so my brother and sister went along and I tagged along as the freebee but funnily enough I was the one who kept running with it.
JD: Well, I understand your first demo really jump-started your career, winning a national music competition.
NLJ: Yeah, that was really unexpected actually. It was when I was planning to relocate to Sydney anyway from my home town in Adelaide, and feeling inspired and packing my suitcases and getting ready I did slip a demo I recorded into this competition, and to kind of arrive in Sydney and in a month or two have a national award and a development deal with Sony, and a music video and all this industry opening for me was quite surprising and pretty amazing. So yeah, it was a beautifully timed event and definitely got me started on this crazy little music journey.
JD: Was that demo one that showed up on a later release?
NLJ: Yeah, it was actually, it was the song "Day After Day," which was featured on my album "Ten Letters." And that song funnily enough became the single that we did a music video for as well. So it was a very special song in my life.
JD: Talk about the song, and I've seen the video...your hair was quite a bit longer then, kind of like Sir Lancelot.
NLJ: (laughs) I really, really...on my digital to do list I need to go into YouTube and delete that video, that's on my to do list. I shouldn't, I should honor [it's history]...honestly, honestly, that video...we had a blast doing it. Well first of all the quality of that video is horrible. It was quite a long time ago now. It was a video that was lot of fun to do, but probably was a little rushed in the procedure. The funny thing about that video was that we had a helicopter though some sort of sponsorship arrangement, so we did get some great aerial shots. I had a grand piano in the middle of nowhere, it was a lot of fun to make.
JD: Beautiful setting.
NLJ: Definitely, definitely, so maybe I'll find the original version and put out an HD version at some point.
JD: Well, talk about the song itself.
NLJ: That song was written as part of a concept album, "Ten Letters," I really wanted to do an album which experienced a story that dragged these ten songs together, especially a series of letters between two people, writing back and forth, and yeah, I played with that concept for a bit. So it's quite subtle though, it's something that quite inspired me to get out of my own...coming from quite a religious background...getting out of that mindset of writing songs that are more about how you want to feel. This album gave me a chance to almost role-play in a sense, but also get some lyrics out of myself that I wouldn't really otherwise write. So, "Day After Day" was quite a dramatic turn for me, a song about such intense love lost, and all these quite adult themes for me at the time. I was in my twenties, early twenties. So yeah, I felt that was really a great experience. It got me on the path to writing the kind of material that I'm writing today.
JD: And let's hear the song, "Day After Day."
Nathan Leigh Jones - Day After Day (2006)
JD: Also from the "Ten Letters" album is "The way I'm missing you" and was released as a single, tell us about that song.
NLJ: Yeah, that song was the first track from "Ten Letters," and also the last track that I actually wrote before recording it, and yeah, it definitely when the album was released, it most summed up musically where I was at. There was a couple of complications with the release, as in all things with every kind of artist whose been involved with a label or third party...so in the end I was able to release that independently. And before I actually moved to New York I re-released that album and that single. It's another one of those songs where at the time I was writing, putting my heart into imagining what it would feel like to be a person like that. Funnily enough I do look back at that song in particular, and things like that have actually happened to me in real live, to me, to my friends and people who are close to me, as what happens when you do get older, life gets complicated, and I look back on it and think well, it's almost prophetic as to how adult relationships and some things in the big scary world that adults do go down, so, an interesting song.
JD: Again, we were talking about the song "The Way I'm Missing You."
Nathan Leigh Jones - The Way I'm Missing You (2006)
So, you mentioned that as a writer you were almost role-playing, were these songs your stories?
NLJ: Yeah, they were stories...they were exaggerated stories, because I think we all, even as young as we can remember we do experience emotions, we're human, so I think when writing these songs I did play that up and kind of give it that epic kind of sound, and lyrically exaggerated. Yeah, it's funny now, it doesn't seem too exaggerated at all, it seems like things that actually do happen when you do have complications in a romantic sense.
JD: So what year was the album "Ten Letters"?
NLJ: "Ten Letters" was back in 2006, but actually I had finished the writing for that album around 2004 or 2005 maybe, and I think started the project itself back in 2001, so it really is going back quite a ways.
JD: Okay, well, then talk about your musical growth from the "Ten Letters" album up through the 2011 CD "Sooner or Later."
NLJ: A huge change in that for me, and I think other people listening to the two albums between "Ten Letters" and "Sooner or Later" and obviously just see that as another album and same kind of sound, same voice, but for me it's almost night and day. For me "Sooner or Later" was a project, even though it didn't have a concept such as "Ten Letters" has about the thread of songs and the letters and all that kind of stuff. For me "Sooner or Later" is a very personal concept album cause it's the first album that I've ever written and the first eleven songs I'd ever written that every single word comes from a truthful place, and for me that was such a cathartic experience, especially coming from quite a religious family and being in that mindset where you write how you think people should hear you write, and you write what you think people want to hear, I actually wrote an album from start to finish which was what I want to say, and what I really, really think. So "Sooner or Later" is for me such a personal album, almost quite indulgent in a sense, You know, I spent so much time and so much money and so much energy, and instruments, and anything I could possibly imagine...put a choir on there, put a brass band on there, put an orchestra on there, and really just created the album I've always wanted to make. So for me releasing that and putting that out there was a really, really personal step in my journey.
JD: Well, that album has a stand-out song called "Beautiful You," and I understand it's been used in weddings and civil union ceremonies. Tell us about the song and how it feels for it to get that acceptance for one of your songs.
NLJ: It's been amazing, cause I really...it was such a simple, simple song. I almost thought it was too simple when I was writing it, but it's funny that people do connect with such a simple sentiment as that. To have it used in occasions where people are expressing their love in a public way is absolutely, absolutely flattering, and makes me...almost validates the time and the energy that goes into making a song and an album because you can't really get much more special than that, a song speaking someone's love for someone else, so. Yeah, very blown away by that and even now I'm still getting emails every now and then of people saying they're using it as their daddy-daughter dance or song they use to commemorate their special day or their anniversary. So it definitely does give me a lot of pride in that, for sure.
JD: And again, the song is called "Beautiful You."
Nathan Leigh Jones - Beautiful You (2011)
JD: You had a single a while back, a quite lively one, called "Lip Sync"...it's not mentioned on your website, which I found interesting.
NLJ: Yeah, that is interesting. For me, I love that song, I wrote that and I got the produced when I first moved to New York, so again, great memories and very special. For me, the only reason why it's probably not mentioned is because there was definitely a thread of style between "Ten Letters" and "Sooner or Later" and "Lip Sync" was my little experiment in between. I think it would confuse people, to be honest it confused iTunes, because it's a very, very pop song.
JD: It's quite different.
NLJ: It is, it is, yeah, and I guess my vibe is that earthly piano vocal style. I thought, oh, I should probably maybe keep my music style a little similar just for now. Well, you know I do want to get back to that at some point, and I may use that song again and re-record. I really want to do a pop album.
JD: So, "Lip Sync" was kind of Ben Fold-ed over backward?
NLJ: (laughs) I so wish I used that at the time, JD, why didn't I know you then.
JD: And here's the song "Lip Sync."
Nathan Leigh Jones - Lip Sync (2011)
JD: How did you get connected with David Raleigh?
NLJ: David and I met through a bizarre chain of events. I think any time you do meet someone that you can't really imagine your life without it's always hard to trace back those steps, and realize how it is that you kind of came across them, but I really was just ready for an adventure with New York and I jumped essentially off the edge of a metaphorical cliff and had no one to catch me and I was actually going through a website which was couchsurfing.com. I was a little more adventuresome back then and had no qualms with meeting up with strangers and crashing on their couch if it meant seeing more of the world. Yup, through a friend there...he actually went to a church, of all things, MCC, and I found that absolutely eye-opening and a fantastic experience and met a guy, David Raleigh, who was then playing the piano at this church. And we hung out from there and he showed me a bit of New York and I heard some of his songs, loved his music. He needed a producer for one of his songs, so I produced one of his songs, and that led to producing his first album. That led to going on tour with him, which led to working on his next album. It's been a great musical relationship since. We're both different enough and similar enough to have a really great musical connection.
JD: Well, people may be wondering, who is David Raleigh, why are you talking about him. Well, he's an accomplished artist. He's an excellent singer. I've played him on my show before. His last album was "Beginning Again." Nathan produced that one, and you're producing the next album, and, what's it going to be called?
NLJ: We haven't got a name just yet, but we've actually recorded the bulk of it, so, it's in a stage now where we're getting it edited up and sorting out the technical bits and pieces behind it, but it's, yeah, it's a great album, it's got great songs on it...we wrote them all together, actually.
JD: Well, I don't do this for very many artists, cause I just can't afford it, but I pre-ordered his album last July.
JD: In 2011 you two spear-headed an inspiring project, a remake of "That's What Friends are For" with you as producer, and tell us about some of the stellar talent you rounded up, and how did you get them all together?
NLJ: Well, first of all David Raleigh is a very convincing person and no one can really say no to him, so luckily he's got some great friends that he asked and they said yes. One of them is Ari Gold, who I believe is Sir Ari Gold now, who is a great little pop star...
JD: I've interviewed him several times.
NLJ: Yeah, he's the face of gay pop in a lot of ways. He's fantastic, and also Alan Cumming, who is obviously a fantastic actor and singer, yeah, he is friends with David as well. And a great drawing card now, especially in light of this year's events, Billy Porter, who won Best Actor at the Tony's recently...said yes as well. All those guys were amazing. For me to walk in there and produce that, have someone like Billy singing his head off and nailing it in one take, is just amazing, really cool experience, so producing that and getting it together was a real thrill.
JD: And, produced by Nathan Leigh Jones, here's David Raleigh, Ari Gold, Alan Cumming and Billy Porter, singing "That's What Friends Are For."
David Raleigh, Sir Ari Gold, Alan Cumming, Billy Porter - That's What Friends Are For (2011)
JD: From searching you on the internet, it seems that New York City is your second home, how is it to work out of two continents?
NLJ: I think for me it's exactly what I need. I get a little restless sometimes, and I love new scenery and a new point of view, so for me I think Sydney and New York, they just go hand in hand. Especially, like New York is such a buzz and so exciting and there's so much stuff going on and I definitely need that every few months, that vibe. Sydney is also a great place to round that off. I love just hanging at the beach here, and the lifestyle even though I am busy with projects. It's less cutthroat and a little more relaxing, so it's great to have both, and I love travelling, so it works out well for me.
JD: In an interview I found online, that someone did in 2012 you said you tend to write your music in your darkest moments.
NLJ: Yeah, I do, I think previously that was definitely the case. It's funny hearing quotes back that you said in another life almost, because I think that does lead to where I was at the time, music always being that outlet, it's the only place where I can kind of be honest with myself, be honest with the moment and the way that I feel. Look, I think that's changed with this recent Christmas album that I've done. I decided to do an album that's happy and that's great and that's really enlightened me musically, it's given a lot of joy to me and my writing and my music...
JD: I think the difference is, for the Christmas one you were focused on a project; when you're dealing with issues you need to get them out. When you're happy as a clam...music? I don't want to write a song...
NLJ: Exactly, let's go to the beach, yeah, you're probably right there, I think, yeah, so...and that's not such a bad thing that you can write songs in those dark places, and to be honest, I still do if I'm going through a stage when my heart's been broken. Even now I definitely still go to the piano and get it out in a song, yeah, I think music helps in that way, and I've always said that I think, yeah, for every dollar I've lost on creating albums and putting music out there, I think I've saved it in therapy. If I've had a therapist all these years it probably would have tallied up to the same amount. So music is my therapist and I'm so grateful that I have it.
JD: What song do you use the most for the finale of your shows?
NLJ: Ah, funnily enough I think the first track of my last album is "Who The Hell I Am," I usually like to end off with that, because, first of all, it has the key change, and JD, a key change is wonderful for a last track, it adds finality. But also I think it's quite an empowering song, and I love people to leave shows with us, going like, this had an insight into themselves and it had a little bit of an escape and they feel a little bit stronger in themselves, and their outlook of what they're returning to when they leave the venue or the place I'm performing, so that song as for me that strength to it that I love to leave people with.
Nathan Leigh Jones - Who the Hell I Am (2011)
JD: Which song live gets the most audience reaction?
NLJ: Um, it does change from show to show, but a song like "Bubble Wrap" actually is one that people...you can kind of at times see their eyes light up, because it's just got that because it's got that little catchy (sings) and people like a hook, yeah, it does seem with that song that by the time you reintroduce that hook, after the second chorus, people are singing along, and people are getting into it. That song always does surprise me that people pick up on it so quickly. I guess it has that catchy nature to it.
Nathan Leigh Jones - Bubble Wrap (2011)
JD: And from the 2011 album "Sooner or Later," that was "Bubble Wrap"
I want to talk about your coming out. Now, I've been aware of you for a while, and I have a clear memory of playing the Christmas song you did with David Raleigh on my December 2010 show, and...
NLJ: You did? Wow, that's awesome.
JD: At the time I tried to determine if you were gay....I'll pause, for my listeners, and state for any new listeners, my policy is that I only play openly LGBT artists, and google didn't help me out back in 2010, but as David was openly gay the song qualified, So, moving on, in 2011 you released a new album, called "Sooner or Later," and on it is the song "Crying Out for Love." That's been called a marriage equality song, and has some important lyrics
Would you give the verse that starts "every man and every woman"
Yeah, well, sure the lyrics for that are:
For me, coming from a Christian family, and as you say, coming out and having that whole experience was a real eye-opening moment for me writing that song and it almost spoke of where I was at, as far as from a philosophical, almost religious point of view...that was my belief, that was who I was, that everybody is in the same boat and if we all just show that love to each other, and if we just show undiscriminatory love for each other, then the world will be a more positive place. So, that was huge step for me in the process, particularly putting that song out there and even, funnily enough, coming from such a conservative Christian background, even having the word "gay" on an album, for me when I was releasing it was a pretty big step...because I used to sing about Jesus, and for a lot of people those concepts aren't compatible with each other, which is really sad.
JD: Okay, well, I'm going to be picky, singing a song about same sex marriage is not saying you're gay, so in July, you got the new video and I found a couple articles on Australian websites, that, gee, you're out of the closet.
NLJ: (laughs) I'm out! It was a really interesting time and it's been a huge year in that way, because what happened with the video and the release was I was, I guess, out with friends and family at that point, too, and actually I just thought, and we filmed the video over two weekends...between one of the weekends when we started filming, and the next weekend when we actually filmed the rally and those parts of the video. Within that week, I went out and had breakfast at the cafe, with my laptop, and actually just started writing an open letter, I guess, as to what I would want people to feel about me, and what I would want them to feel when they watch the video, and I think coming from an honest place was probably a better position to take, rather than being coy about "am I or aren't I" whatever.
So I just wrote that more so as just a letter for me to get in the right space. As soon as I finished I thought everyone should hear this. What's the point in not writing this, what's my fear, is it because I'll be less popular, less marketable, people won't like the song? What are my reasons? So, in this letter I had the lyrics to the song "Sooner or Later" and I thought, you know what, I'll put the song on and make a video and just put it on my Facebook page, and yeah, a little digital coming out to everyone else. So from that point on, online magazines and articles were able to take that information and use that when promoting the video for "Crying Out For Love."
JD: Well, on a personal level, yes the song is terrific, the video is terrific, but it must have felt personally that you just jumped over a mountain.
NLJ: Yeah, it did in a lot of ways, and it's funny, and terrible in a sense that it has to feel like that, and I think in years to go we'll look back and realize just how crazy it was that you do feel that you have to keep part of you a secret for so long, but yeah, it is a bizarre feeling, almost psychologically it's tricky, cause even though you do put yourself out there and you do something as bold as posting on your Facebook, and putting a song out there, and all this kind of stuff, it still does come down to the point that at times when someone tries to talk with you about it, and you're still falling back on those triggers...oh you know, it's not really something I want to talk about right now...it's bizarre, I'm still obviously going through those emotions and learning to be strong with myself and being happy with myself. But I think about where I did come from and I think about where I am now, and life is just so amazing, life is better, life is great, and I think being honest with yourself, and being honest with the people you love, and even being honest with the wider public and community is something that even though it's hard at first, there's no substitute for it, and I'm so happy that this year has gone the way it has.
JD: I think you've just answered my next question, I was going to ask, it's been a few months now, but it seems that you're viewing that video as part of your journey.
NLJ: Yeah, I am, I am, I mean...I did reach a point recently where I was at a crossroad of do I use my music just for commercial reasons and try to achieve a career in that way, or do I kind of tie in with my personal life and do what I love, and yeah, that was essentially the choice I made and I thought it was best to run with that until I get in bed with my emotions and what I'm going through as a person.
JD: What's your next step in coming out?
Oh, my next step in coming out...I've got another album actually on
the way, which is bizarre, because I'm still releasing one at the
moment, just kind of firing up the ammunition, and I have another
song that I've actually written that I'm really, really excited about,
that I hope, I really do hope..."Crying Out For Love" was
as you said, very coy in what it is, but I hope this next one is going
to be a bit of an anthem of the LGBT community, so I have new ideas,
so hopefully that's going to be coming up soon too.
NLJ: (laughs) That's probably not a bad summery of it all, maybe I'll use that was well, is it too late to change the title?
JD: I think so, I think so. This is JD Doyle, and I'm going to wrap up this, as you can tell, very fun interview with Nathan Leigh Jones, and I'm going to ask Nathan to intro the song "Crying Out For Love."
NLJ: Well, this is a song that I ripped my heart out, put it back in, put it through the ringer of all kinds of emotions, but at the end of the day, I can stand up as a person and say that I am indeed "Crying Out For Love."
Nathan Leigh Jones - Crying out for love (2013)
Gina - Sway of Her Hips (2013)
This is JD Doyle and welcome to Part 2 of OutRadio for December. And starting off this segment were the songs "Sway of Her Hips" and "Mardi Gras Valentine Surprise," and singing those tracks was a band from Arkansas calling themselves Big Bad Gina. Now, as none of the members are named Gina, I'm wondering if it's really pronounced 'Gina. Anyway, I'm going to keep things a bit country with a Houston artist, Curtis Braly, and the title track from his 2006 CD "Second Chance," followed by his brand new single.
Braly - Second Chance (2006)
Great job on that one, that was Curtis Braly, and his new single "Live, Laugh and Love." And here comes another Houston artist, one I've known a long time. I first started playing her music in 2004. She's Sarah Golden, and she recently won a RightOutTV Music Award for this track, and it's called "Who Gives a Damn.''
Golden - Who Gives a Damn (2013)
And that was Amy Lewis and the title track from her new CD "Leave the Right Way." Up next, well, I'm going to give you an example of how I find some of the cool artists I play. If you listened to my Xmas Music Special on my show Queer Music Heritage, I played a great track by a group of Canadian artists, going by the name the Spectra Singers. I heard that 10 of the 12 singers on it identify as openly LGBT, so I started checking them out. And one was this artist, Tristan Jackson. Here are two tracks from his CD, called "Anti-Gravity" and "Save the World Tonight."
Jackson - Anti-Gravity / Save the World Tonight (2013)
Yes, that was a gay cover of the song "Mickey," with the original of course by Toni Basil, and before it was an original, called "Fall Apart," both from the debut EP by Kenyth Mogan. And here's a song where the lyrics immediately got my attention.
- Still Pretty / Super Heroes (2013)
Very fun. That artist goes by KENN, with two n's, and he's got two releases. I started with the brand new one, named "Who Killed KENN," and took the tracks "Still Pretty" and "Super Heroes." And then I went to his 2012 album, "Pomomo," and grabbed one called "It's a Boy." Oh, and I love the self-introduction KENN has on his website. It says "I'm a post-pop cowboy at a homo-erotic dance party or, as your grandpa would say, some queer with a microphone>"
And here's an artist brand new to me, Reigen, and he spells that r-e-i-g-e-n. He's another Houston artist, though he's moved to New York City this year, and he's already singing about it, in a track called "Real New Yorker." And also by him you'll hear "Mission 2 Mars."
- Real New Yorker / Mission 2 Mars (2013)
And that very dancey track, just called "H723," was put together by Chris Allen, a Houston-based DJ and producer.
This is JD Doyle and I'm closing Part 2 of OutRadio with a new track from Michelle Chamuel. She was runner-up on the TV show "The Voice" last season and I think she's terrific. The new song is called "Go Down Singing."
Chamuel - Go Down Singing (2013)
This is JD Doyle and for the first half of Part 3 of OutRadio I have, I think, a special treat for you. Let me set it up. In addition to producing this show and Queer Music Heritage, I'm also co-host on the show Queer Voices, which airs weekly on KPFT in Houston. It's mostly a public affairs show, though I provide them with all the music to be used between segments, my way of making sure they are always playing LGBT artists. On the show we don't often have the opportunity to have artists performing live, but I made that happen on the show November 4th, when an artist I adore came to town. She's Summer Osborne and I'm bringing you the entire half hour guest spot with her. Here goes.
Osborne Radio Performance (2013) 28:11
as I wrote as the caption when I posted this on Facebook: Summer Osborne
And as you can tell, that was very fun. That's not the end of this show, however, as I've got another thirty minutes of music you'll likely hear nowhere else, like this next one. Here's group called Dawnstar. They are originally from the UK but are now living in Hungary. From their album "Saturine Valentines" they sent me the track "Love's Gonna Be Tender."
- Love's Gonna Be Tender (2013)
For that last one, I have a Facebook friend, Joe Pop, who hosts the weekly rock 'n' roll DJ sessions at London's Retro Bar. His partner, David Hargreaves, is lead singer for the band Bete Noire, and you just heard their song "Out & Proud." And I'm starting off another lively set, with an artist going by the name Solomon, and his song "Life Goes On."
- Life Goes On (2013)
In the middle was Sir Paul, and a new release called "Every Single Moment" and then I played an artist I've played often. From London, his name is Rod Thomas, but for his music he goes by Bright Light Bright Light. That song was "In Your Care."
I've got time for the latest single by Mason Roberts. It's from his brand new album, "Under the Spell," and is called "Sink or Swim."
Mason Roberts - Sink or Swim (2013)
And, this is JD Doyle and it's time to finish up OutRadio for December. Again, you'll find all my holiday music on my Xmas Music Special on my Queer Music Heritage show, but I decided to try to lure you over there with a track by Ernest Kohl. I've actually played this on my 2004 show, but he's done a remix of it and really revved it up. I'm joining him in wishing you a "Happy New Year."
Ernest Kohl - Happy New Year (remix, 2013)