Nearly a decade ago, Courtney Jaye was signed to Island/Def Jam by arch-mogul L.A. Reid. She did get to release her folk-pop debut album Traveling Light, but she didn’t feel like she was getting to be herself, which was enough to keep her on her guard for a while against anything that smacked of too much commercial polish.
Jaye’s long since become a well-adjusted Nashville fixture, finding kindred co-writers like Thad Cockrell, lending her luminous voice to Jessie Baylin’s latest and appearing in a JEFF the Brotherhood video. Jaye stretched her legs as a singer, songwriter and Hawaii-infatuated producer on 2010’s The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye, which boasted a duet with Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and a Zach Galifianakis endorsement. Three years and a convalescence after a car wreck later, she’s releasing her best yet, an irresistibly hooky, unabashedly well-crafted roots-pop album called Love and Forgiveness. She’ll celebrate with a Grimey’s in-store today and a full-blown show Friday night at The Stone Fox (more on that in this week’s forthcoming issue of the Scene). Jaye was only too happy to talk with the Cream about everything from her evolved musical philosophy to her Deadhead days.
Exotic Sounds had its hooks, but the ones on Love and Forgiveness are just plain bigger and brighter. You definitely didn’t beat around the bush about pop appeal this time around. Did you have to make peace with the idea of pop music after your unpleasant major label experience in the previous decade?
It wasn’t something I necessarily planned. Obviously my experience with Island [Records] was short-lived. Musically, I got such a taste of what I didn’t want out of a career in such a short span of time. … When I moved to Nashville in 2007, I moved with the intention of really having no intentions. I just moved to town and I wanted to just explore the possibility of writing songs as a job, Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. I did that for six months. I would just write with anyone, just that when-you-first-move-to-town kinda thing. You meet someone at a coffee shop: “Let’s get together.” I did that for six months, and in that time wrote a lot of songs and really cultivated some relationships creatively with people that I continue to work with to this day. So I think it was about June of that year I realized, “Oh, there’s a record somewhere in all these songs.” Then I made Exotic Sounds. That was my answer to my major label experience. I got to make this really bizarre Hawaiian country-pop record, and that was something that had been haunting me for many years, since I lived in Hawaii.
So it was sort of a palette cleanser for you?
Yeah, exactly. That record just kind of happened. I went to North Carolina to work with Seth Kauffman. I thought we would just, you know, record a couple songs. But I ended up staying for three weeks. It just evolved. It was just something that naturally happened. Once I got that out, I had to go through some more business woes. I signed a deal with Universal Republic that was again short-lived. Then I finally put Exotic Sounds out on my own in 2010. And it was in that moment that I was able to start thinking like, “Oh, I’m free now. I’ve had this record, it’s been made for a few years. I’m free to think about what I want to do next.” I just went back and revisited a bunch of really old Garage Band demos. I put seven or eight songs that I knew that I liked and I knew would see their day, I put them on this playlist and I listened to them from top to bottom, and it just hit me that it was another record. These songs had this common thread to them that hearkened back to songs that I loved from the ’70s. I just sat there and was like, “This is crazy! There’s a record here! OK, let me finish writing this record.” So that’s what I did.
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