On a recent afternoon, we met Jay Stolar at The Meatball Shop on Bedford Avenue, near his home in Williamsburg, to talk about More Than You Think, his first album since leaving Julius C, the five-man band that piqued the interest of New York’s indie circuit in 2010 with a 30-day, 30-show tour. Stolar’s new album, which lands on October 8, consists of supremely smooth, radio-ready pop songs, and the single “Like You Do” was picked up for an episode of the CW’s 90210 (the video for “Leading Me Down,” released today, is below). In August, Stolar launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the release of the album and ended up raising $50,000, more than three times the initial goal. With CMJ shows coming up at The Delancey on Oct. 16 and Rockwood Music Hall on Oct. 19, Stolar talked about recording the album, being inspired by Amanda Palmer, and covering Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”
Julius C had a very different sound from what you’re doing now. Was that a conscious choice?
No, I don’t think so. It was just a different setting. After Julius C broke up I spent a month and a half where I just forced myself to write. After that I started playing with Jason [Wexler] from Julius C again, and some other guys, all acoustic. We ended up doing a residency at Rockwood Music Hall on Thursdays at 1 a.m. for 28 weeks in a row. It was like, upright bass, a cajón – a little Brazilian drum – another guitar and some backup vocals. I got to test like 40 songs over that period, and by the end of that time there was a sound. It happened pretty organically, just putting a bunch of people in a room with the songs and carving them all out.
Were you involved with music before Julius C?
I started singing when I was nine, pretty seriously, like all of a sudden this was my entire life. I was always deeply in love with Michael Jackson; Earth, Wind & Fire; Stevie Wonder. I got beat up at camp for having a Stevie Wonder cassette tape, in fourth grade. Everyone else was listening to, like, Onyx. It was always important to me, that kind of music. When I was 12 or 13 I started writing songs and produced a couple of them. I had a MiniDisc recorder and I would try different things. It was terrible.
What’s the idea behind the Kickstarter project?
It will allow us to run our own record label pretty much for the next 12 to 18 months. The [Kickstarter] video talks a bit about what I want to do as an artist – which, besides creating deep songs that move people spiritually, physically, emotionally – is finding a way to connect people and create happiness through music.
What did you think of the Amanda Palmer Kickstarter controversy?
I watched her TED talk. That was a huge influence. What she talks about is the fact that it really is an exchange, and you have to make sure that it’s an exchange. If somebody gives you one dollar, you better make sure you give them your heart and soul. It’s a pretty beautiful connection and transaction. I think people didn’t quite understand the relationship that Amanda Palmer has with her fans. Amanda Palmer and her fans are family. She creates brave art; not everybody is going to like it, but the people who do, love it.
Speaking of controversy, why did you want to do a “Blurred Lines” cover?
It’s an awesome song. More than that, though: in 2001, Robin Thicke came out with an album called A Beautiful World, and this album is colorful, super creative, a mix of hip-hop, R&B, the Beatles, rock, funk, soul. After that, I felt like [his work] wasn’t quite as interesting. So when he came out with this, it was the first time in 10 years or more that I had heard the Robin Thicke that I really knew. On the record, we don’t get to do a lot of synthesizers or beatboxing, so it was like, “Let’s do stuff we don’t get to do.”
What are some of the influences on the album? I read a review that called it “Bruno Mars by way of Smokey Robinson.” Can you really put those two together?
I wouldn’t say that Bruno Mars is an influence musically – I think that was more about my voice. Smokey Robinson, absolutely. “My Girl” is one of the greatest soul songs of all time. For this album, I was listening to Otis Redding, Al Green and Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. And modern stuff, mainly Mumford and Sons and Adele. What was influential to me was how consistent and honest their records were.
Do you ever worry that your music isn’t “edgy” enough for Williamsburg?
No. What’s most important to me as a writer is to write things that are true. If I’m writing [songs] for someone else, it’s important to figure out, okay, what is real about this person, what are their stories and their struggles and their emotions. It’s the same for me.
Last thing: name a musician that you really, really hate.
Scott Stapp and Creed. I hate Creed. I feel bad for the rest of the members of the band, because I really do think it was just Scott Stapp that made them so bad. In my old apartment, we had like eight musicians living there, everyone started writing band names on the wall. We did this for two years. The whole wall was covered in band names, and the only rule, the singular rule in the apartment, was that you couldn’t write Creed.