In an ideal world, Jay Scøtt would have carried on releasing songs on his YouTube channel and wouldn’t have thought about a first album just yet.
“Sadly, though, that’s not how the industry works. I couldn’t have gotten my foot in the door just with singles,” says the singer-songwriter, who’s responsible for two of the biggest current hits on commercial radio in Québec (“Broken” and “Copilote,” a duet with FouKi).
In light of this unexpected success, the 32-year-old artist collected the best songs he’s recorded over the last two years on an album, Ses plus grands succès – which does indeed feel like a greatest hits compilation. Those folk-ish songs were recorded with the bare minimum of gear, sometimes with nothing other than a single mic in the middle of a room in his apartment in Terrebonne (a suburb Northeast of Montréal). He released them surreptitiously on the internet, without ever thinking they would one day land him on the radio. “I didn’t think of this as a bona fide album, but it’s still my first professionally released album. It truly was recorded with whatever was on hand,” he confides.
Coming from a guy who grew up in the hip-hop world, this first official release on a record label – 117 Records, the sister label of Disques 7 ième Ciel – is indeed quite surprising.
After bursting on the scene almost a decade ago under the alias PL3, Jay Scøtt also made an impression on college radio, alongside his partner in crime, Smitty Bacalley, as a member of satirical (in other words, vulgar) rap combo Les Drogues Fortes. “It’s funny, ‘cause I used to use Auto-Tune a lot, but when I noticed everyone [in Québec] was using it, I decided to stop – and that’s when my career took off!” he says, laughing.
And the fact that the guitar and the piano have taken the place of Auto-Tune and sequencers doesn’t mean that Ses plus grands succès shuns Jay Scøtt’s rap roots. Inspired as much by the hardcore emo wave of the 2000s as he is by Québec rap in the wake of Alaclair Ensemble’s 4.99 – an album that changed his way of seeing music – the singer, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist has kept his nasal, lightning-fast, melodious flow, while multiplying punchlines, multi-syllabic rhymes, and references to popular culture – the three pillars of rap writing.
“I consider what I write as rap, on a technical level. Nothing has changed when it comes to my writing technique,” says the artist, who references Limp Bizkit, Nirvana, and Sans Pression in his lyrics; three bands emblematic of his generation. “People identify to references like those. It allows them to connect with my music,” he says.
The album’s stripped-down aesthetic also allows for a greater connection with his lyrics, and renders listeners witnesses, like never before, to the depth of his vulnerability. The profound disarray of a broken heart is one of the central themes of the album, but so is a latent resilience that occasionally takes centre stage, notably on “42 Long.” The inspiration for these short stories doesn’t necessarily come from his own experience: “When I started writing these songs, I’d just started a new job where I worked nights in a mental health crisis centre. A lot of my deeper songs were inspired by stories I heard there. Stories of breakups, domestic violence… I’d get home and find myself inspired by all that.”
Another topic Scøtt touches on in his songs is his disdain for routine, and his desire for freedom. For those songs, he didn’t have to look very far for inspiration. “That’s 100% me,” he says. “Every time I got up to go to work, I couldn’t believe it… I couldn’t believe that I had to work 50 hours a week for someone else, just to get a few days off. And during that time off, you have to clean up the house, prepare meals… In other words, you never have time for yourself!” says the man who’s held a myriad of menial jobs while caressing his dream of making it in the music world. “Nowadays, my life has completely switched,” he says. “I’m my own boss. And I’ll have no one else to blame if business isn’t good.”
At the moment, Scøtt is living some of the greatest moments of his life so far, but he’s well aware that he shouldn’t take anything for granted. “There’s no point in stressing out with that,” he says. “I don’t want to calculate my next moves. What I like is creating songs and recording them at home. The rest isn’t much fun to me,” he admits. “Over time, I’ve learned to accept that once I release a song, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. I’m not the one who decides whether it’s a hit or not. Putting that kind of pressure on yourself can only lead to disappointment.”