Aaron J. Shay Takes His Ukulele Folk Down the Coast

(c) JessyLou D’Aprile of Louography

In a city saturated with guitar-toting musicians, Aaron J. Shay is making his mark armed with a ukulele, clever lyrics and an infectious passion for music. He has been making the rounds in the Seattle for years with his street-folk band The Mongrel Jews (they are all Jewish, so it’s okay). But now, Aaron is making a name for himself independent from the band. After picking up the ukulele about two years ago,  Aaron started writing songs that didn’t fit The Mongrel Jews’ style; it led him to take a more serious steps towards a solo career. Shay’s recently solo release “None the Worse for Wear” (an EP that he recorded entirely DIY) is a collection of well-written, witty tunes that leaves you humming along and, occasionally, laughing aloud. Have a listen to the single “Things We’ll Never Do”, an upbeat song about love and loss, and you’ll know what I mean.

This month Shay will embark on a West Coast tour with fellow folk crooner Oliver Franklin, formerly of The Senate. A long-time fan of The Senate, Shay is looking forward to collaborating with Franklin while they’re on the road. “We’re working on some material that we’ll be performing together, which is really exciting because The Senate was a big musical find for me. It changed a lot of how I thought about performing and songwriting,” he divulges. “I try not to nerd out too much about it, but getting to play on one or two old Senate tunes has been pretty exciting.”

The tour will kick off with a free show November 8th at Cafe Racer, a venue that is dear to the Seattle music community and has received overwhelming support since making headlines earlier this year. “I’ve wanted to perform at Cafe Racer for a long time,” Shay says. “When the shooting happened on May 30th, I was terrified that this great institution was going to close. I was really happy that the community came back and supported Cafe Racer and allowed them to reopen again. It’s a really wonderful space.” Aaron’s band, The Mongrel Jews, are slated to perform at Tom Waits Tribute Night December 7th at the Conor Byrne Pub, a benefit for Cafe Racer and those affected by the events earlier this year.

In the midst of preparing for the tour, Aaron found some time to sit down with me and discuss songwriting, singing for his supper and balancing priorities.

Aaron J. Shay on…

… what his songs are about.
“When I write songs I try to be very specific about what I’m trying to write about. There was a self-interview where David Byrne was interviewing himself. One of the things that he said in that very awkward and hilarious self interview was that he didn’t include love songs on his records because love is a very big thing, and he likes to sing about very small things.  I kind of take that sort of approach; that you don’t write songs about enormous ideas, you kind of write about something very specific and that might reveal something more about bigger things.”

… his approach to writing songs.
“ When it comes to writing songs, you can approach the song from just about any angle. Some of the songs I’ve been writing started with a melody, some of them started with a chorus or a phrase. Some of them even just start with a title and I think about what song would have that title. So there’s a lot of different way to approach it. The thing that doesn’t work, I’ve found, is when you think of an idea that you want to get across and you try to write a song for that. That doesn’t get you anywhere.”

… recording his own album by himself.
“For my last two solo EPs,  I didn’t have the money [to record in a studio], nor the fan base to crowd-source it, so I just got some affordable mics and some affordable equipment and recorded it myself. Sometimes in my own little closet space. Sometimes in my living room. Sometimes going to other friends houses, busing there with my studio on my back in my backpack and recording them in their own homes. I have been asked if they are studio recordings which is really, really complimentary to me.”

… singing for his supper.
“Singing for my supper actually started because in the Summer I was changing over jobs with a tourist business job and it wasn’t picking up quite as quickly as I had hoped. I just sent out an e-mail saying ‘Hey fans, so, this is the situation. If you have me over for food, I will play you a three song set. Just for you. And I’ll do requests!’ I think I did about 4 or 5 little supper sets. It’s really fun hanging out with people who sometimes were friends, other times it was people that I had seen at shows who liked my stuff but I had never really gotten to socialize with. It was a nice way to connect with people. And I’d like to do it more. It was really fun, and food is awesome. I’m a big fan of food.”

… balancing “work” and “work”.
“I tend not to dwell too much on my day job regardless of how awesome it may or may not be. I find that what you really put your time and energy into thinking about and worrying about and getting excited about really defines what your priorities are.”

… if he would pursue music full-time.
“Absolutely. I say that as a person who has never done it so I have no idea what it would entail to be a full-time artist. But, I can’t see myself doing anything else. So, that’s helpful.”


Catch the tour kick-off!

Aaron J. Shay, Oliver Franklin, Dogwood
Cafe Racer
Thurdsay, November 8th
Show at 9pm:: 21+
Free! Donations accepted.

Connect with Aaron:

Facebook Page: Aaron J. Shay
Music: http://aaronjshay.bandcamp.com/

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