TEXT: SOPHIA JENNINGS ’16, CREATIVE DIRECTOR
IMAGE: TORIE WHITE ‘16, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER
There’s a moment senior year when you realize your friends are growing up. Often, it’s hearing about their first job offers. Sometimes it's their sudden “no hard liquor” mentality. Or, in the case of an interview with Jay Sharma (’16), it’s realizing that those hours (days) of drumming in WestCo were the beginning of something really, really, good.
Hidden half-way down Knowles Avenue, Jay’s house consists of 6 boys, 9 indoor plants, and a mason jar of white liquid on the kitchen table. Seeing as we lived on one of the grimier freshman halls, I assume the jar to be spoilt milk. I’m wrong. It’s sourdough Jay plans to bake later.
I sit down, noting five more plants and an abundance of sweet potato. There’s a test tube where they’re trying to grow mold. Jay carefully cracks the shells off two boiled eggs, twisting his pepper twice before reaching for his salt. He’s wholesome and conscious in every way that I’m not. I finish my Diet Coke and ask Jay’s housemate, Max Atkinson (’16), what he’s working on these days. He responds, “toasting this bagel.” He is, in fact, toasting a bagel.
I’m here to talk to Jay about his new EP, an 8-track piece recorded over a summer in Middletown. Filled with acoustic guitar, 808 drums, and vocal samples, he placed the tracks in order before finishing them, producing an operatic EP that blends track to track. The only thing the songs have in common? “I started noticing a melancholic feel,” he says.
For a title, he chose “Damiana,” an aphrodisiac herb he puts in tea and spliffs.
I ask if it’s ok to say spliff or if his mom will read the article.
He says, “No, its ok. You can say spliffs.”
A SISP major who once interned at Merrill Lynch, Jay’s musical education took place alone in his bedroom. “I bought a shitty drum set in 7th grade and taught myself through high school,” he says. “I’ve been playing drums ever since then.”
We’re interrupted by the sound of someone banging a hammer into the wall. Neither Jay nor Max seem to mind. “Must be Angus,” Max mumbles. He goes back to his bagel. Jay eats his eggs.
When it came to the EP, he started with the guitar. “I don’t know any theory,” he says. “But I know the shapes of the chords and what they will sound like after. I understand it in shapes.”
When I ask how we should listen to it, he says alone. “I want people to listen to it chilling by themselves with headphones on,” he explains. “Smoking weed if they want to. Really relaxing.”
I ask if he’ll play it live and he shakes his head. “It really is music built for headphones,” he repeats.
I bring up "Jaar Theka6666", the track that begins with tablas. “Oh yeah. The only instrument I’m technically trained in is the tablas.”
I then ask him about the first song, “Blue Dance Punch.” He explains it as the most “representative” of all the tracks. “It’s more focused on melody and chord progression than texture,” he says. It was also one of the first songs he knew before he started working. “I just went to my desk and put the melodies down. I had the structure I was thinking of.”
At this point Max goes to do work and Jay and I move to the couch.
Coming to Wesleyan changed the way Jay thought about music. “Being here and hearing people be affected by my music has allowed me to take it seriously,” he says. “I definitely used to have a lot of self doubt and think that music was just a hobby.” I make a joke about Milton Academy, Jay’s prep-school past. He laughs.
This semester, he’ll take more drumming lessons, plan more funk nights at Earth House, and experiment with some songwriting. Next year, he’s looking to move to Philly. Whatever happens, he’s sure he’ll be playing drums and producing.
After our interview, Jay goes to his room and I go to Olin to write an essay on Freud’s Dream Interpretations. I sit on the 3rd floor and listen to Damiana the whole night through. Alone.