The Whispers that have been building around the world about Jay recently, are threatening to become a roar. For this independent, Australian act there is a rare and remarkable aura surrounding the name.
Those who have seen find themselves eagerly spreading the word about a striking singer with powerful original songs able to conjure up a mesmerizing mood. A mood as potent at the Metro, where she toured australia supporting INXS and the ornate State Theatre, where she opened for Hall and Oates. From the intimate confines of London’s Kashmir Klub , Bar Fly, Enterprise and China White, to Los Angeles Hotel Café and Ghengis Cohen, round to New Yorks Bitter End and Living Room, she weaves a seductive spell in the company of an acoustic guitarist, cellist and piano. She is striking, moving and unforgettable.
Some of those drawn and entranced by Jay’s breadth of musicality become collaborators.
People like INXS members Kirk Pengilly, Andrew and Tim Farris, Billy Steinberg,,Sir Tim Rice, Rick Nowels, Tore Johannson, Andrew Powell, Steve Lironi, Oskar Paul, Craig Bartok, Trevor Steele but to name a few world renowned songwriter/producers.
It was in 1997 that Black and White magazine observed:
“While her extraordinary vocal range matches that of Kate Bush, lyrically Jay Smith exhibits a social conscience and a feminist slant.”
That, however, was far from the beginning of her impact. By that stage she had performed, and been enthused over, from the Brittish Isles to the East Indies, Central Europe, to the South Pacific.
Dancing by the age of five and singing by the age of seven, Jay was only ever interested in making music. And for an Adelaide schoolgirl that meant taking advantage of any opportunity that presented itself. “My first television appearance happened when I was 12 and I started singing with bands when I was still at school” she recalls. “I was always petrified at being caught out by police for being underage.”
From fourteen to seventeen Jay was a member of an extensively trained dance team called The Australian Drill Team. After appearing at the famed Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland, she eased back from dance and hooked up with a local bands to do her first professional gigs in pubs and clubs.
“I’d finished highschool and had to think about the future” she reveals, “and that future had me as a recording artist! I ran around my home town doing small pub gigs for a couple of years to get some live experience and when I was eighteen I left Adelaide and moved to Sydney. It was an incredibly daunting leap, being a small fish in a rather large pond but hell, it was a great learning curve.”
Talent will out and so will a voice like Jay’s, that soars, swoops and serenades with impressive agility. She found herself singing at global song festivals and competitions and inexorably her star rose. She was invited to Indonesia in 1995 and the following year was flown to Romania to represent Australia at the International Golden Stag Festival in Brashov, along side Christina Aguelera. Performing her original songs “Ordinary Day” and “Wedding Band” she came in third behind contestants from the home country and Norway.
In 1999 (by which time she was enjoying popular attention as a part of “The Nevilles” on
Australia’s Channel 9 “The Footy Show”) she triumphed in Australia’s most prestigious song competition, The Australian Open Singing Championships, beating 15 other finalists to first place and a $75,000 purse. Two months later she was announced as one of 16 finalists in the South Pacific International Song Contest (which attracted 3,000 entrants) and went on to win the Best independent Category with her own song, “Down With The Worms”. By the end of an extraordinary year she took out first prize at the prestigious Benelux international Song Festival with two songs written with Danny McCarthy – “Heaven Sent” and “Wicked Little Way”. This led to invitations to perform in Dubai and New York.
By 2002 she was based in London with world wide management and had penned almost a hundred and fifty songs – many of them quirky and compelling. When interpreted with her ethereal voice they simply knocked over whoever was listening. Comparisons to the young Kate Bush were not uncommon. “I’ve always loved singing opera” she explains. “I did some operatic training in Adelaide and I really enjoyed it, so I started down a track for a while of trying to combine an operatic thing with a contemporary feel, even though nobody wanted to know about it, or at least nobody who was in a position to sign me. It was just too different, too out there.”
“I have some copies of that early stuff and it is really self indulgent. I loved twisted adult fairy tales and I think they found their way into my lyrics, which were kind of confrontational, with a twist of dark humor. I tended to depict the harsh realities of life. That’s where I started writing I guess over the past five years I’ve brought it back to more of an accessible thing but still with my own stamp. I loved stories as a youth – which is actually where a lot of this early writing came from. “
By late 2003 she signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell UK
It was Jay’s passion and intensity, overlayed with the beguiling whimsy of such highlight songs as “Angel For Tea” and the show stopping - “Can I have my Ball Back” which captured imaginations at her Big Apple showcases at The Living Room in bohemian Soho, Los Angeles Hotel Café and Ghengis Cohen and upstate in Woodstock..
. “ The gigs I did in New York, LA and London last year made me realize that if I could fit in there I could fit in anywhere in the world. After living in London for the past two years, writing, playing and recording, I feel that the music is valid. It has a very strong essence. It’s believable because it’s honest. I have managed to stay true to myself as an artist and haven’t compromised. It’s something I am very proud of.”
The year 2004 was devoted to solid work on her first ep,, “Brilliant Idiot”, which she sees as a summary of her fifteen years as a writer. The ep was recorded in London with producer Martin Bushell and includes some wonderful performances on piano by “Level 42’s” Mike Lindup and on cello by world music artist – Ivan Hussy – “Cello Man”.
At the age of 28, Jay has a wide range of musical reference points both heard first hand and learned. Her childhood years were bombarded by Madonna, Queen, Meatloaf, Duran Duran, Culture Club and Adam and the Ants but she also found her way to artist like Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Carol King, Cat Stevens, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, classic soul, an array of Jazz, some symphonic sounds and other “rootsy-folky stuff”.
All of it has coalesced into a vital part of her muse. “I think I’d be quite unbalanced if I wasn’t able to write songs !” she offers. “I’ve always believed that I am incredibly fortunate to be able to express feelings and emotions through music. It is an essential part of my make-up and truly a gift. My hope for the release of this ep is that whoever it may come across,in the world, that it reaches them sincerely.”
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