Jae Tyler grew up in Kansas, a farming state not generally known for its creative scene. Sensing something different within himself, the musician hit the road, eventually finding his way to the Icelandic capital Reykjavik.
Clash meets up with Jae a few moments prior to a glitter-clad, ultra-theatrical, show-stealing performance at Iceland Airwaves, and he’s clearly in a reflective mood, opening up about his path thus far.
“My situation is kind of unique,” he muses. “In Kansas, I mean, a lot of people just don't seem to have much of an interest in getting out and really exploring the world and going everywhere. For some reason I always have had that interest and I've always wanted to get out and just live in new and different exciting places.”
Reykjavik is certainly exciting. Small but immaculately formed, the city’s bustling creative community helped give Jae the confidence to follow his artistic whims, to pursue his outlandish goals.
“I mean I didn't start writing music until I was 23, which I guess is kind of late,” he says with a wry smile. “I've been playing the guitar since I was eight years old, and I studied classical guitar for a while. Went to school for it for a little bit and then just kind of hated the academic aspect of music, so I just decided to drop out. It took me a while to build up the courage to start writing my own music.”
Marrying while in Iceland – a fellow musician and artist, in fact – the two then relocated to Berlin, another of Europe’s creative citadels. It’s a move that has allowed Jae to blossom, removing some of the final barriers in front of his glammed up, extrovert songwriting.
“There is something really special about that place,” he says. “You'll hear a lot of people talk about how they get pretty sucked into the party culture and everything... It's kind of easy to do. I felt pretty inspired by it and I started writing funner music in my opinion. We're playing one of the songs tonight, it's like the very last song of the set. It's one of the newer songs I've written.”
Oh really? A party anthem?
“It's actually called 'Nuclear Holocaust Party Anthem 2017'. Inspired by the whole Trump and Kim Jong Un showdown shit.”
The title alone gives a glimpse of where he’s coming from. Befriending fellow Iceland resident Mike Lindsay – also of Tunng – the two worked on his debut EP, the manic, wonderfully entertaining ‘It’s Jae Tyler’. “It is a really open, accepting, fertile artistic landscape here,” he insists. “I feel like people just take art for what it is, and just accept it. It's just so accepting here and I think that's a lot of the reason why I first opened up when I moved here, and was able to just start really writing myself into the music.”
Defiantly post-genre, Jae’s magpie touch fuses psychedelic with pop, oddball electronics with songwriting patterns that somehow cross off boxes marked ‘progressive’, ‘prog’, and ‘helter skelter’. “I've always just heard music as like a big sort of oddball, hotchpotch of all the different sounds that I get excited by,” he says simply. “I think, all too often, music in my opinion sounds too one dimensional, too much confined to a genre, and I think I just don't really care about genre.”
“You just get a computer and go sit in your room,” he shrugs. “Do whatever you want. The idea of being confined to a genre just… it seems so outdated and so kind of stifling. I think that to be known as amorphous, that's where I kind of see my identity as an artist, fitting into whatever sound I'm trying to create.”
It’s an approach that intrudes on all aspects of his art. From Jae’s colourful videos to his extrovert live shows, he uses costumes, make up and more to blur the lines of identity, sexuality, and gender. “People have asked me the question, like, how can such a seemingly straight married guy be so pansexual and gender-fluid and blah, blah, blah… and I'm like, I don't understand! To me I don't really understand how those two things have to exist as opposites.”
“It's like, if you're a heterosexual male then you're not allowed to experiment with what it would be like to look like a woman, without it being some sort of taboo… or stigmatised in some way by society. I just think we're really moving away from that. I just think society's eyes are opening to pan-sexuality or whatever you want to call it.”
Moving free of definition, Jae Tyler is set to welcome the New Year with open arms – whatever music he decides to make, and wherever he decides to lay his hat.
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