Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Shortbus star takes his music on the road

Jay Brannan heads to Toronto and Vancouver

“Viagra doesn’t make you horny. It doesn’t turn you on. It just sort of facilitates an erection when you’ve already become aroused. It’s not like a miracle drug. You know what I mean? It’s not like you take it and you’ve got a big one,” laughs Jay Brannan, remembering his failed attempt to use Viagra while filming his famous Shortbus sex scene.

Brannan, who made a name for himself in the highly acclaimed 2006 film, played Ceth, the ex-model who has an explicit on-screen threeway with gay couple Jamie and James that combines rimming, blowing and the Star Spangled Banner.

With an award-winning movie already in his back pocket, a rapidly building music career and a very clear view of how the world should be (sexually liberated), the gay actor-singer-songwriter seems destined for something big.

There is no doubt that Brannan’s upbringing in religiously coated Southern Texas has had an impact on how his life as an artist has developed.

“I come from this very Southern Baptist, conservative background. You’re taught that you keep your feelings to yourself and that things you are going through are private and not to be expressed on a public level. Or there are only certain people you’re allowed to be honest with. So acting was a way for me to be honest about emotions, or at least express emotions — whether it was through a character and some written lines — and it was socially acceptable.”

Music was another positive outlet for Brannan, who sang in church choir and entered talent shows as a child. Coming from a musical family, he learned to play the piano and took lessons for six years.

But his strict upbringing continued to chafe.

“I grew up in this restricted society where you couldn’t talk about a lot of things,” he says, “and later on you find out that these things are so normal and so natural and so human and characteristic of everyone’s experience. So you start to wonder, ‘Well, why is it that we can’t talk about these things when we all go through the same things?'”

Filming Shortbus was a way to challenge some of the restrictions surrounding him.

“I don’t think that the movie or my music is changing the world or anything, but I do think that it’s a small way in which I can contribute. I think that if we present things like sexuality in music and film, among other things that are sort of taboo in American culture, eventually we’re going to have to get used to it.”

These days, Brannan is focusing mainly on his music, his lyrics laced with the truth of his life and experiences as a gay man. “My music, at this point, is really something that I do in the middle of the night in my apartment, alone, saying things that I need to say or things that I always felt like I couldn’t say. It’s kind of my way of being heard. I just try to be as honest as I can and I try not to censor myself or filter anything, because that’s what my instincts tell me to do and how I’ve decided to live my life.”

Brannan’s instincts seem to be spot on as his music career has started to take off around the world in the last year. The singer just returned from sold out shows in London and Paris in November, and also had the chance to perform in South Africa and Israel.

With his own brand of angst-filled, bubblegum acoustic pop, a delicate and nuanced singing voice, a charmingly goofy sense of humour and devilishly model-like good looks, Brannan is like a folked up, minimalist Justin Timberlake — but with brilliantly constructed songs, lyrically, melodically and emotionally.

His stripped-down guitar and vocal style captivated an astonishing number of fans with his self-recorded home videos on YouTube. A video recorded in his bathroom of his song “Soda Shop,” which was incidentally on the Shortbus soundtrack (he performed it in the movie), has received nearly 1.2 million hits on the site. He also gets over 2,000 plays on his MySpace page on a daily basis.

With all this success, it’s hard to believe that Brannan has yet to record a full-length album, something he is planning to accomplish in Los Angeles next month.

While he has recently signed on with Nettwerk Records for management, the artist remains label-free in order to keep his music as close to his own creation as he can. “[Nettwerk] has a lot of resources and they can set me up to release the record on my own, under my own record label, and I can use those resources but maintain all creative control and make all the choices myself. I can choose how I want the album to be marketed, what I want it to look like, what I want it to sound like.”

In the next month or so, Brannan will be hitting all four corners of the North American music industry with shows in LA (Jan 17), Vancouver (Jan 20), Toronto (Jan 24) and New York (Feb 16). With the album scheduled for release in the summer, he will undoubtedly be touring the continent and the world, getting his music out to his eagerly awaiting fans. And while he will continue to speak out about his sexuality, his music will stay true to the words of his most intimate feelings, which he believes to be more of a collective experience with people of all types. “I’m not singing about being gay. I’m just singing about what everyone else is singing about. I play live a lot and my shows are probably 50 percent straight women. It’s not all gay men — there’s definitely gay women and straight women and sometimes straight guys show up too. My hope is that it just won’t matter. I think that music can speak to all people, regardless of the sexuality of the singer. I think these experiences of love and of broken hearts — it’s all universal.”

Jay Brannan.
Jan 20, doors 7 pm/show 8 pm.
Media Club, 695 Cambie St.
Advance tickets $15.

Jan 24, doors 8:30pm/show 9:30pm.
Supermarket, 268 Augusta Ave.
Tickets $15.