Jay Madera has unleashed his debut solo album, Anxious Armada. The 12-track LP was fronted by the Cincinnati singer-songwriter’s singles “Curb Appeal,” “OH-126” and his political anthem, “A House Divided.”
“The whole point of the record is to not be so autobiographical, but more try to understand myself through my music and share some of that with the world,” he tells Audiofemme. “The hardest thing to do is put it out there, so anybody taking the time out of their hectic lives to listen to my music is a treat.”
The record ranges in sonic inspiration, from the soul and funk-infused “A House Divided” to the psychedelic “Screensaver.” Most of the instrumentation – guitar, piano, organ and more – was also produced by Jay himself.
“I’ve been writing music for a while and I’ve been involved with various projects, but this full-length solo album is about trying to understand the world and deal with its contrasts and not really look for my own place in it, but put music out there,” he explains.
We spoke with Jay about the inspiration and meaning behind a few of the album’s standout tracks.
“A House Divided”
“To me, it’s definitely an album opener,” says Jay.
The rousing track was released ahead of Election Day and tackles subjects like voting, racial injustice, corporatism, American history and more, many of which were at the forefront of our minds last November.
“That’s kind of one of the concepts that I gathered from a lot of this music; that we are living in a time where we can’t separate ourselves from politics and we ourselves have kind of inhabited a political space,” Jay says. “Even though that song that is overtly political, it’s still… brought really close to home, and even the more intimate songs [on the album] have commentary on society in general, so I guess I’m trying to blur the lines.”
“The Next Great American Novel”
In the bitingly ironic “The Next Great American Novel,” Jay describes the contrast between the lofty ideals we set for ourselves and our reality. Over a slow-tempo guitar, he sings, “I got high, to sit down and write my first novel/And I couldn’t even name my protagonist.”
“That’s me kind of taking a step back – it’s after three very charged, dense songs that start the record,” he explains. “This is the first slower song; it’s a little sparser, and it was me trying to write a song that’s a little less serious and show my lighter side.”
“It’s about a specific scenario, but it’s more about the ability for me to laugh at myself,” Jay continues. “We’ve all had different failures in our lives and learning to kind of laugh at the concept of, and coming to terms with, the things we said we were gonna do. It’s supposed to be a little bit cheeky, a little bit off-the-cuff, but then also hit you with some realness.”
The piano-laced “Half Staff” is another song with an anthemic feel to it. The track addresses mass shootings in the U.S. and Jay’s hesitancy to bring a child into the world.
“I was in college when I wrote that song and it was the day after the mass shooting in Orlando in 2016 at the nightclub,” he explains. “I had a lot of LGBTQ friends who were hit hard by it and I just went to a piano the next day and started writing this song.”
Though the song was written five years ago, it’s still, tragically, extremely relevant today.
“I have played that song in probably almost every gig that I’ve done, and I feel the need to keep playing it,” he says. “Each time I play it, I have to remind the audience that it’s about a specific event, because there’s been another several shootings since then. So, it can be easily misunderstood to be about another mass shooting, but that’s also kind of the point.”
“It’s also about kind of how we handle these things that are pretty hard to handle, and we’re expected to go about our day when we shouldn’t be,” he adds.
“A Faithful Foil” / “Janus-Faced”
The album climaxes at the cinematic “A Faithful Foil” and “Janus-Faced.” The two songs seamlessly blend into one another and validate needing others when we have trouble loving ourselves.
“It’s kind of a settling back in to some of the more serious tracks on the record,” Jay says. “Those songs were written as an ode to needing others even when we think we don’t need others. Needing others to show us the best part of ourselves and being okay with that.”
He continues, “There’s this idea that we’re supposed to love ourselves and not need other people for that love. The self-love movement is a very big thing right now; there’s a lot of reclaiming of the self. I personally struggle with that, and so this song is about seeing yourself through the eyes of other people and letting that go.”
Anxious Armada ends with a 58-second outro called “Sertraline.” Named after the anti-depressant, the track pieces together different recordings from Jay’s daily life, audio from the album’s recording sessions and more.
“It’s a combination of a few different things, but it’s meant to be a perception of how I hear the world sometimes,” Jay explains. “There’s some recording sessions talk-back, there’s also some embedded audio from my day job and just some of the mundane sounds of life.”
After 39 minutes of analyzing the world through Jay’s eyes, the singer uses “Sertraline” to snap the listeners back into their own reality.
“It’s meant to summate the whole album in a way that makes you almost question the narrator a little bit,” he says. “You get little snippets from each song, and they’re not complete, but at the end you’re hearing little snippets of these songs and you’re reminded that this all just how one person sees the world.”
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