Williamsburg-based funk and soul outfit Pimps Of Joytime are gearing up for a very promising year. 2017 is poised to be full of exciting highlights and expectant moments for the band. The Pimps are currently back on the East Coast, fresh off of a run out West and now in the middle of their Spring Tour. The band is armed with a slew of fresh new tracks from their album Third Wall Chronicles (Sugar Road Records), which added another chapter to their ever-blossoming career.
Every once in awhile a musician comes along and completely breaks the mold. It doesn’t matter what that person is doing, they’re usually doing it in their own unique way and dancing to the beat of their own drum. Brian Jay, The Pimps Of Joytime bandleader, is a perfect example of that creative-genius type of musician. For Brian, “music is life” as he candidly put it. On the surface Jay seems to abide to this happy-go-lucky way of life, casually drifting through this world at his own pace. On the inside, he is a well-calculated and determined professional who’s eager to push his own boundaries through music.
I caught up with Brian Jay at Gypsy Sally’s in Washington D.C. to talk about everything from the new album, working with Ivan Neville, what’s in store for The Pimps Of Joytime in 2017 and his plans for juggling his many different side projects.
JAMBASE: You’re just over halfway through your Spring Tour and this is your first show back on the east coast, how’s it going so far?
Brian Jay: Pretty damn hectic [laughs]. Just dealing with the different challenges of getting back on the road, showing up late, we’re missing this piece of gear, we’re missing something else. It’s crazy. Everything aside, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m ready to rock the show. It’s good to be back with my crew.
JAMBASE: You just wrapped up a run of dates with the MarchFourth Marching Band, which is a huge ensemble that’s very different from The Pimps Of Joytime. What did a band like that bring to the table as an opener?
BJ: It was really interesting. I have to say it was a little intimidating at first because that group is such an extravaganza. They come with dancers and people walking on stilts, it’s great. Plus they’re just a really good band. They have like 10 horns. It’s a huge production with a lot of energy. It wound up working really well, they would just get the crowd into a frenzy, get them all warmed up and feeling great, then when we came on and completely switch the vibe up. It was a really successful endeavor.
JAMBASE: Third Wall Chronicles came out officially on March 24th. What are most proud of about the new album?
BJ: I like the sound of it as a whole. I like the grooves. I like the vibe. I like the vocals. It’s listenable. I worked hard on the mixes to just make it feel good. I didn’t want it to be too aggressive or too soft. I wanted to find that sweet spot where it hits hard but it’s still listenable.
JAMBASE: You teamed up with Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) to help co-produce the album, how did that relationship develop?
BJ: He’s a Portland guy and we have a bunch of mutual friends. He’s come to our shows and stuff so we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the years. When I finished the first draft of the record I sent to him and he really liked it. Right away he told me he had a lot of ideas. He actually came out to New York for about 10 days and we sort of went through the songs and he definitely contributed a lot. He’s also a great guy to bounce ideas off of, he really helped bring a lot out of me.
JAMBASE: There’s a lot of responsibility being a bandleader, a role that you seem to take head on. What motivates you to juggle so many extra responsibilities for the band?
BJ: The passion of not just doing it, but to do it right. This is a childhood passion of mine. To see it through, you know, it’s a mission. I want to see this band elevate and there’s a certain thrill to hearing your music. When we get together, as a band, and really start to fire on all cylinders it’s such a good feeling.
JAMBASE: Tell me about producing the record, how important is it for you to see the project all the way through?
BJ: I mixed it, and Steve [Berlin] was really helpful with that. He gave me a lot of great ideas. Mastering is sort of a voodoo thing for me, I think it sounds good when I mixed it, and the guy who mastered the album the first time around — I ended up not really liking the end results. I did some very minor mastering: taking the levels up, a little compression, no EQ, and I told him to make it sound more like that. It’s all a long process. I have a great manager who’s heading up the team with the label who’s releasing the album, I’m always happy to take a little backseat on the business side of things and keep my head in the music.
JAMBASE: The band encapsulates such a rich and diverse sound. How would you sum it up?
BJ: I don’t know, I usually just let other people describe how it makes them feel. For me it’s life, music is life. This band is centered on groove and funk. There’s a lot of blues in there. I started busting out my acoustic guitar, which has just taken everything in an entirely new direction. Adding the acoustic element has been great. I feel like it’s opened this door of intimacy and no tricks – it’s just us in an acoustic setting with maybe some percussion. We’ve been trying something different on this tour by starting the shows in an acoustic setting. It was great with MarchFourth because they would just crush it and we would come out with acoustics and everybody came right up to the front of the stage. It really worked. It’s a lot of fun.
JAMBASE: What can you tell me about working with Ivan Neville on the new album?
BJ: Ivan is just such a great talent and a character. He just brings it. The things he does, I mean, he’s the best at it. I sent him that tune (“Mud”) and what he sent back was just immaculate. I wasn’t there in the studio, he just did everything on his own. He played the organ, the clavinet and he sang. Everything was just so good, especially the vocals. It was really fun to listen back and I just thought “damn, I wish I could do that.” (laughs)
JAMBASE: “Mud” was inspired by the election results. What could you tell me about that?
BJ: Well, it was originally supposed to be an instrumental track, then I started writing some lyrics. Those ideas came because I wasn’t feeling so good, like a lot of people, after the election. Those lyrics somewhat represent what was on my mind and in my heart on that day.
JAMBASE: Where were you on election night as the results were coming in?
BJ: I was at a bar with a friend. What a dark day. Not a good week. You know through all of it, just going through that made me more determined if anything. Music, art and any endeavor that’s spiritual are just so important – now more so than ever. It has made me so much more determined and appreciative that I have the vehicle to do something spiritual. Music is so healing. I just hope the audience gets what I get out of it as well.
JAMBASE: What are you most excited for as far as the band’s future in 2017?
BJ: Well we’re going to Europe in the summer. I really want something to catch on and take us to the next level. We all work so hard and I believe you have to earn it, there’s a little luck involved, but you really, really have to earn it. I try to make the best music and put on the best show, and I just hope it’s good enough. It’s just so much fun. We played in San Francisco, at The Fillmore, and there were over 1,000 people there. It was almost sold-out. Before the show I was walking around and seeing all the people around the venue and it was just so gratifying. I couldn’t help but to think we’ve come a long way. It’s a good feeling to feel that success and share that with people who have devoted so much time and energy into everything.
JAMBASE: After May, Pimps only have a few festivals booked. I know you said you’re going to Europe in the summer, what else do you have in the summer and the fall?
BJ: The festival schedule is still coming in. When we’re not out on the road, I have some other musical endeavors to keep me busy. I usually try to get back to writing as well. Just enjoying some quality of life. Recently I worked with Bernard Purdie on his new record, which also features Ivan [Neville] and Pete [Shand] from The New Mastersounds. That’s coming out soon. I also made a duo record with Cedric Burnside, we actually tried something different I’m actually playing drums on that record and Cedric is playing the electric guitar. If you’re into hill country blues I think you’re really going to dig it. Cedric is so good too man, he’s just so authentic, he’s not trying to be like anybody else.
JAMBASE: Is there anything else you want to shine a light on?
BJ: Dave [Bailis, Pimps Of Joytime bass player] has a great blog and Instagram page called Tourganic, it’s all about staying healthy and fit while on the road. He’s actually getting ready to release a podcast featuring other health-conscious touring acts. So definitely check out @tourganic. People can also keep with the band on Instagram by following @pimpsofjoytime and my personal page @brianjaymusic.