Premiere: With ‘DEARMAN Down’ EP, Mitchell Jay is tired of feeling helpless
The Weekend Run Club frontman Mitchell Jay’s new solo EP, “DEARMAN Down,” is a deep dive into the Naperville musician’s psyche.
Mitchell Jay knows his experiences, like most people’s, are unique to him, but not so unique that they’re not relatable.
With his single “I Don’t Know,” out last fall, he stepped back to his younger self to address a particular situation, partially in hopes that others in the same boat wouldn’t feel alone. But he also aimed to vent some long-standing anger.
“As much as I’d like to come out swinging,” he said, “I think the most effective way for me to talk about this is to say, ‘This was my experience, and what kind of questions do you have about it or what does that make you think of?'”
This week, Jay released the four-song solo EP “DEARMAN Down,” a further dive into The Weekend Run Club’s frontman’s psyche. He answered some questions for us about the new EP, the previous single, and what it all means.
Q. The four songs on “DEARMAN Down” glide along on a more pensive, self-analytical plane than songs you’ve written for The Weekend Run Club. What made you decide to take a step inward to write these solo tracks?
A. I’ve always had a lot that I wanted to share with people. Most of the content that I want to talk about is tangible for The Weekend Run Club to work with, though there are some things that I’m so afraid to talk about in the first place that it’s much easier to talk about them all on my own. The EP explores trauma and self discovery through a very specific lens; even though it’s likely that the songs would be more polished and advanced if the band wrote them, it doesn’t feel like it’s my place to be speaking on behalf of everyone else in the group about some of this material. A lot of thematic content does crossover with TWRC originals. The songs on the EP are still very much about navigating the queer experience and my struggle to shed the skin of a haunting past to emerge as a better person, but they just take a slightly more direct and explicit approach. TWRC is the first band I’ve ever been in, and though I wouldn’t trade my place in the group for the world, this EP gave me a chance to explore some of the other capabilities I have as a musician and vocalist without having to worry about letting anyone down but myself. I really wanted to prove myself that I can write, record, and produce music all on my own, even if it’s not my biggest strength.
Q. With how introspective this EP is, did you have a different process you used to write these songs than in your other musical projects?
A. I really got to create my own process with this EP which was both freeing and terrifying. I don’t personally believe that there is a right way to write music, but I still had to be very patient with myself when writing these songs. Often times, my songs stem from scraps of poetry that I write. Usually, a song is written around a fraction of a larger poem; it’s centered on one or two central themes. That being said, each song had different origins. Discount Benjamin and Vibe Milk stemmed from my time studying composition when I was still in college while songs like I Don’t Know and Shapeshift and Lie were a lot more conceptual. I tend to be really critical of the fact that I can’t play guitar since most of the music I like has guitar in it. Despite this self criticism, I was able to apply the little knowledge I have of piano, music theory, and production techniques to create vessels for my poetry and my voice. I definitely got in my own head at times. I often missed having a friend to be there to give me reassurance about something I had written or to flat out tell me that it wasn’t good. This was a really healthy exercise for forcing myself to take a stance on something vulnerable, and I often had to remind myself that even if people don’t like my music, at least I’ll have created it.
Q. Does “DEARMAN Down” have an overarching message you’re trying to convey? Something you’re trying to work through or things you want listeners to consider while enjoying the songs?
A. I want to inspire people, including myself, to be more vulnerable, empathetic, and self-forgiving. I’ve always admired people who could be like that. I don’t want to edit myself when it comes to more embarrassing topics like being a sexual entity or admitting my own collusion with an often bigoted and ignorant society. In some ways, I think I accomplished a certain, raw honesty and authenticity with this EP, but I could also name plenty of ways in which I didn’t. I’ve grown a lot in the past years but I still often feel quite inadequate in most headspaces. This EP is about a very dark chapter in my life and it’s special to me because there’s no major resolution. It shouldn’t matter whether I came out on top or failed miserably because success cannot be what is important if I want to make it through this life. Letting myself be alive and make mistakes is what I want to matter to me the most. Realizing that I’m capable of growth and change is priceless to me. When people are real to me, I feel invigorated. I want to have that effect on people too. This EP is about embracing the journey. If merely existing is ever enough for me, I’ll know I’ve arrived.
Q. Your previously released single and accompanying video “I Don’t Know” tackled a long-standing frustration born from others’ reactions to your experiences as a young gay man. How did it feel sharing such personal writing with music fans?
A. Releasing this song was one of the most invigorating yet simultaneously disappointing things I’ve ever experienced. I felt very powerful and brave for writing about something that gave me such a hard time and something that is constantly silenced by Catholic institutions. I got a ton of really positive feedback, and then the world didn’t change. Most positive feedback I got from priests or religious people was quickly overshadowed by the hundreds of priests who didn’t respond and the people who wrote the song off. I didn’t logically think that I was going to save the world and cure homophobia from this earth, but my subconscious was pretty frustrated to be reminded that I cannot change people. I can only change myself. It was actually really lonely. That being said, I was able to witness catharsis from actual people. That made my tummy really fuzzy to be honest. I will continue to share the song and speak out about the injustices that I see in religious circles.
Q. How did this last year spent mostly in lockdowns and quarantine effect or further the process of creating this EP?
A. To be honest, I may not have written the EP if it weren’t for quarantine. Quarantine enabled a lot of self reflection and downtime. With a change in the TWRC lineup and no shows on the horizon, I fell into a bit of a panic. I feared the worst: that the band would fall apart and I’d be all on my own. That’s obviously a bit dramatic, but this is my brain we are dealing with, remember? I really wanted to feel like I could pull my weight and I wanted to be able to work on something in my own time when everyone else was busy. I Don’t Know was already written. Two other song concepts had already been birthed as well, so I figured I’d shoot for the stars and try to put an EP together. I really wanted to explore new things with my voice and I thought this would be a great way to document that.
Q. Of the four, what’s a standout song for you? (Whether it was the most challenging to put together, the one you’re most proud of, etc.)
A. I’ve already talked about I Don’t Know so much, so I think I’ll shift my attention to Shapeshift and Lie. That song is really special to me because it’s the first time I ever wrote something for guitar. I couldn’t play it, so I invited Bridget and Haley from OK Cool/TWRC to help me track it and it was so much fun. I learned so much about mixing different instruments and the anatomy of drums. I’ve always loved harsher vocal styles as well, so letting myself explore with screaming and grittier vocals was really exciting. My background is in classical voice and musical theatre, so I really had to venture into new territory and, to be honest, I have never felt more at home. I think the song ties the EP together really nicely because it acknowledges the last 24 years of my life from a truthful and compassionate perspective. I often feel really sad for adolescent Mitchell, but I’m so glad that he has grown up enough to realize that he isn’t helpless anymore and he can speak for himself.