Jason Roy of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s The Soods Discusses Double EP and Indie Music

2021-11-18

Photo of Grand Rapids musician Jason Roy of The Soods.

Jason Roy of The Soods – Story by Anne Erickson, photo via The Soods

Local Music Beat: Jason Roy of The Soods talks “A Ray Rewired” volumes one and two, the Michigan music scene and more in this edition of the column

Multi-instrumentalist Jason Roy crafts imaginative, introspective songs featuring layers of sounds and styles. Roy released his latest EP with his Grand Rapids, Michigan-based music project The Soods earlier this year, titled “A Ray Rewired Vol. 1,” via GTG Records. Now, he’ll release “A Ray Rewired Vol. 2” on Nov. 19, also on GTG Records.

Roy caught up with Audio Ink Radio to discuss the double-EP, his journey into music, the Michigan music scene and more. Find The Soods online here.

Anne Erickson: Tell me about your journey starting The Soods and why you choose to release music under the moniker instead of your own name.

Jason Roy: I was diagnosed pretty late in life, a few years ago, with what was once known as Asperger’s, but now is just part of a broader autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. For whatever reason, around that point, I got really into Guided By Voices – probably bordering on the obsessive, as I was into half a dozen of the side projects, as well – and just started writing these song titles down. After I wrote down probably 50, I just started recording one a night. I’d start with a title and a time limit of 30 to 60 minutes to come up with the framework of a song. Sometimes they were bits of songs I had never finished. Other times they were full blown improvisations. I’d just pick a tempo, program a drum or percussion loop and play. One of my favorites from the first Soods album is a song like that, “Teenage Sunburn.” I couldn’t play you that song if you paid me a million dollars, but it captures a moment and a feeling, and I think it’s cool that it only ever got played once before it hit people’s ears.

My main instrument is guitar, but I also get to play a lot of keys and bass when recording for The Soods, and I manage to sneak in a drum part here and there. As far as the name thing, with me, not singing any songs and also not writing many of the lyrics, it would be a bit daft to call it “Jason Roy” and have every song be Jason featuring “insert singer name here.” So, I thought, I’ll do something like Damon Albarn did with Gorillaz: I’ll come up with a name that sounds like a band, but it’s really not. That is where The Soods’ name enters the picture. One of my favorite John Lennon quotes is about people’s misinterpretation of Beatles lyrics, and he says something to the effect of “oh the pseuds will love it,” meaning pseudo intellectuals. I couldn’t handle having to spell a band name like the Pseuds out all the time, so I just went with a phonetic pronunciation, which honestly has not helped the spelling issue whatsoever. For some reason, it has also led to a pronunciation problem. You can’t win them all, right?

You describe your project as an indie rock version of Gorillaz. Tell me more about how the idea inspired the band.

Mainly, I would say that it is from the standpoint that the instrumentals and song titles are what I come up with on my end, and then I somewhat just think of who I think I would like to hear sing it. From there, I will send along the instrumental and see if there is interest on their end. If so, typically, they will write the lyrics, and then we’ll either get together to record the vocals, or if they have studio space and the means to record, they will handle it on their end. Every album and EP seems to have a few little bits and bobs that Matt Ten Clay or I will record at his studio. Shane Tripp also tends to record from home, as well, but he has recently moved back into the area, so I’m sure we’ll partially revert back to doing some in-person, recording as well. A big part of the fun for me is seeing what direction we go in, once I’ve passed off the initial idea. Sometimes it stays the same, and other times, things undergo pretty radical changes.

You’re releasing two EPs this year, “A Ray Rewired” volumes one and two. What made you want to release this as a two-EP collection?

After releasing our last album, “Ornaments of Affection,” in October of 2020, I found myself with about a dozen leftover tracks in various states of completion, as well as probably a dozen or so newer tracks written right before the pandemic rolling into the pandemic itself. Originally, that album was to come out in March or April 2020, and we had about 35 shows lined up in six or seven states in April and May, so it really changed what the album was going to be. When we had to cancel the tour it kind of felt like, “Why put out an album now?,” with all the uncertainty. But in that process, myself and Steven Meltzer wrote 15 songs that were going to be their own thing. The name “A Ray Rewired” came from a song called “Symbiotic Mono Band” that we put out as a single earlier this year. After that, it came to be where there were just too many songs to really get a grip on how to best group them together. So, I kind of thought it would be cool to do a series of EPs with that material. So, volume two may be the last, or it may not. There’s still a bunch of stuff to cull from.

Would you say there are any major themes on the two EPs, and if so, what are they?

I think it ranges from the uncertainties of life to the more whimsical side of things in certain respects. A song like “Hobo Pie” or “Bicycle In Pursuit,” both from volume one, are very lighthearted and silly compared to something like “Drowning In A Dream Again” from volume two. I didn’t write any of the lyrics for these two EPs, so I can’t be too specific, but at the same time, I think it allows people to draw their own conclusions.

How did the pandemic influence the writing or recording of “A Ray Rewired,” if at all?

I would say that the writing process stayed the same, but some of the recording was forced to be remote due to trying to do it as safely as possible. Mainly, I recorded on my own with my iPad at home or tracking Steven’s vocals at his house. Some additional recording was done at Matt Ten Clay’s studio Amber Lit Audio here in Grand Rapids. Matt’s very instrumental in taking songs up a notch, whether it be with his ability to add backing and harmony vocals and instrumental overdubs or just his general sonic wizardry. The guy is like some kind of sound sorcerer. If I can think it up, he can make it happen.

You’re based in Grand Rapids. What are your thoughts on the local music scene in Grand Rapids and around Michigan?

I’m trying to think of the kindest way to answer this. Grand Rapids is pretty cliquey, honestly, so it’s very splintered in terms of a true “scene.” With a few exceptions, it’s a lot of the same people playing the same places and getting certain opportunities. I’m sure it’s not too different from quite a few other places in that respect. It seems to be bouncing back, though, as far as venues booking local bands, as well national acts again, so that’s good. I tend to keep up the most with the people I collaborate with, as far as who I’m in tune with. I don’t really have a much more diplomatic answer than that! (Laughs)

Tell me about your involvement with Lansing’s GTG Records and how the label has supported local independent music.

I’ve been lucky enough to know Tommy Plural, aka Tommy McCord, for quite a few years. He and Matt Ten Clay are probably the two nicest guys in the music business. So, my understanding has always been that GTG is mainly Tommy’s baby, and I know other people help out a lot, but I mainly deal directly with Tommy. GTG does a nice job helping with the physical media side of things, as far as CDs and vinyl go, for sure. They also put on GTG Fest every year, which is a couple of nights and days celebrating the label and the folks on it. That usually is a great night. GTG also is a great resource for booking Lansing, for sure, as well as a few other spots, and connections with bands on the label is a nice resource, as well.

The pandemic was rough on independent music venues across the U.S. Are there any local venues throughout Michigan that have closed after this past year that you miss?

You know, my nostalgia bone was sad to see Mac’s Bar in Lansing go. That was always a place I enjoyed playing, because it was so dive-y. (Laughs) Other than that, I’m pretty detached, at the moment, from the venue side of things, because I haven’t been trying to book anything, and I’m not on social media. Venue-wise, I really enjoy Bell’s in Kalamazoo and The Avenue in Lansing. The latter usually guarantees some extra fun, because it means I’m with the GTG gang.

What are you most looking forward to when it comes to getting back on the road?

It’s probably just playing music in real time with other people at this point. Obviously, the connection of playing in front of real live humans, as well, but equally important is the connection among your bandmates in a live setting.

What are some local, independent bands that you think should be on people’s radar from Grand Rapids, Michigan and beyond?

Shane Tripp, Matt Ten Clay & the Howlers, Ryne Clarke (aka the Ryne Experience), McWeakerton and Lazy Genius, as far as Grand Rapids goes. Beyond that, probably The Rutabega from Kalamazoo, The Stick Arounds from the Lansing area and Jeremy Porter from Detroit.

Anne Erickson’s column appears regularly in Audio Ink Radio. Have a band or concert to share? Contact her at anne@audioinkradio.com.

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