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Jay Flash’s Rapidly Evolving Experimental Folk

Nov. 17, 2010
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Jeff Flashinski does not have the disposition of a born performer. He’s soft-spoken and shy, and he tellingly cites among his heroes Jacques Brel, the French singer so nervous he famously threw up before every concert. Flashinski’s anxiety isn’t that severe, but nerves cut short his first live performance in 2008, and today he still fights onstage jitters.

For as nervous as he can be in concert, though, Flashinski certainly doesn’t come across that way on the records he makes under his pseudonym Jay Flash. Over a steady succession of albums released almost as quickly as he can record them—he’s put out four in less than three years—the 20-something Milwaukee singer-songwriter has traced in nearly real time his evolution from a warts-and-all folk singer with experimental tendencies to something much more bold and unclassifiable. Jay Flash’s latest and most striking release, Property Is Theft, an album-length EP he posted for free download this month to his Bandcamp site, is already far removed from the naked guitar and piano confessionals of his first recordings. Taking inspiration from Animal Collective’s recent work, he built these tracks from beats, samples and unidentifiable electronics.

“I’m always kind of experimenting with different genres, trying to play songs in as many different styles as I can, but at first my songs were a lot simpler, usually just solo acoustic guitar or solo piano,” Flashinski says. “In just the last year I’ve gotten some electronic instruments that have really given me a different sound: a microKORG, a Kaossilator, a sampler. That’s really inspired the newer stuff. I got Pro Tools about this time last year, so now that I’m using recording software, that changes everything, even the way I write songs, since now the writing takes place while I’m recording.”

With technology buoying his confidence, Flashinski’s voice has also grown more assertive. Where he once disguised its shakiness under a punk sneer, he summons a proud, confrontational caterwaul on Property Is Theft’s opening track, “Fantasy.”

“About a half year ago I started singing through a delay pedal,” he says. “I like how singing through a delay turns your voice into an instrument. That’s been another big shift from what I was doing earlier. Before, my vocals were always direct statements, and the songs were written around the vocals more than the instruments, but now I can use my voice as part of the arrangement.”

Property Is Theft
echoes with themes of political despair and global crisis. Its most explicitly political track, “The Portent,” is set to a sample of a Noam Chomsky lecture.

“The lecture is a few years old, but Chomsky talks about the potential for fascism to rise in this country, which seems relevant right now,” Flashinski says. “That was probably the quickest song I’ve ever made, though after I finished it I felt like I was pushing doomsday a little bit. I certainly don’t want to just fill people with dread, but I do think people should be prepared for some of the dangers ahead. It just doesn’t seem like people in this country are fully grasping the reality of threats like global warming, nuclear warfare, disease and so many other issues. I don’t know if people are dealing with it.”

Flashinski explains that he’s more confident in his political convictions than he is in himself as a performer—of the songs where he sounds most assertive, he dismissively says, “I’m probably just trying to sing like The Walkmen or Bob Dylan to put myself in that mind frame”—but he says he’s beginning to embrace his nervousness.

“For a while, being nervous seemed a little crippling, because it was causing me to perform not as well, but now I’m starting to look at it as a good thing,” Flashinski says. “Now I think that if you’re not nervous, maybe you don’t care enough. Music and art should be about expressing some kind of deep emotion that you’re trying to share with people. There should be anxiety with that process.”


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