The vanity shot is a tradition in music for artists with massive egos. When your head is so far up your own ass, it makes sense to put your perfectly touched up mug on the cover of your album. Why put some messy, confusing piece of art on there when you could show how beautiful and/or iconic you are? Bob Dylan, Phil Collins, Britney Spears, Dido, Miles Davis, Mos Def, Gavin Rossdale—they all love their own faces.
And then there’s Jay Arner. You probably don’t know that name, but he’s a pretty rad singer-songwriter out of Vancouver whose music falls somewhere between Ariel Pink and Mac DeMarco. This summer he released his debut album, conveniently and sensibly named Jay Arner. As you can see, it features a “giant fucking photo” of his face, but make no mistake, he didn’t do it for the same reasons, as repeat offender, Phil Collins. Not since Jonny Polonsky’s long-forgotten 1996 debut, Hi My Name Is Jonny, has there been a more puzzling close up album cover.
Noisey spoke with Jay Arner in Toronto before his gig at the Silver Dollar, to discuss why a self-proclaimed shy guy would do such a thing, whether he was naked for the photo shoot, and if his cover has become the next big sleeveface sensation.
Oh, and below is the premiere for his video for "Broken Glass."
Noisey: So what made you decide to put that "giant fucking photo" of your face on the album cover?
Jay Arner: That’s a quote, isn’t it? It completes the album conceptually because it’s called Jay Arner, I’m the only one that’s on it, and what else am I gonna put on the cover? It goes with me not having a band name. That’s the thing: it’s Jay Arner and I’m gonna put myself on the album cover. And it’s kind of forcing myself to do something that makes me uncomfortable. I think it would make most people uncomfortable. It’s pretty unflattering, or rather, not very glamorized, just a photo of my face. I’m not making an expression. So to do that and then replicate it 500, or however many times, made me uncomfortable, which I like. It’s good to do that otherwise you’d be eating your spaghetti and meatballs every day, and going to your day job. It’s good to try new things.
I find that a lot of big name stars have done that. Do you think someone like Phil Collins felt it was an exercise in making himself uncomfortable for the cover of No Jacket Required? Or the cover of Face Value? Or Testify? Or is it just ego?
I’m not a big name star. I don’t have the ego, I don’t think to puff myself up to be okay with it. I wasn’t okay with it and when I went to Mint and saw all the copies, I was aghast. But it’s not a big deal. It’s a fun, stupid thing. Obviously I take the music seriously… I just felt like I was playing a prank on someone and it turned out to be me.
Has anyone misunderstood the cover and accused you of being a narcissist?
I don’t think so. I’ve been pretty straightforward with my reasons, and how it’s been in line with the whole solo project. I am just putting myself out there and laying out my motives, like now, in a long-winded and circular fashion.
How anal were you about finding the right photo?
Medium anal, I think. We took probably a few hundred photos with a digital camera. It was probably about 20 minutes of me sitting there on a couple different days. Aside from that—not very anal. To be honest, I can’t grow a beard…
I can’t either.
I’m with you on that. I feel you. You can see I didn’t prepare for this, so I’m unshaven. The way my beard grows in—that’s technically beard hair on the cover—there are these hairs which made it look like I had a goatee. I photoshopped them out.
Yeah, I did. It looked like I had a stubble goatee, and this was the best photo I could muster. Is that medium anal?
[His girlfriend and bandmate Jessica Delisle interrupts]
Jessica Delisle: Now the original is gonna come out and they’re gonna do a comparison and it will be shocking!
You’ll be in the tabloids.
I want to be on one of those sites where it’s like Lindsay Lohan: before and after.
Did you ask anyone’s advice about this decision?
No, I don’t think.
How quickly do you think you'll get sick of seeing your face like the one in the "giant fucking photo”?
I am fairly desensitized now. It’s actually been a very good exercise in personal growth. I’m more comfortable looking at myself because of it. I might have face dysmorphic disorder or something, but I’m pretty camera shy. I’m a very self-critical person. I still go to a venue in a different city and say, “Whoahoa! There’s my face.” But I’m a little more okay with that. It’s jarring, sure.
So you don’t regret not choosing #232?
No. There’s nothing I can do about it now, so why worry about it. I can stand to look at it and that’s great.
What artists or album covers did you look to for the artwork?
David Bowie’s “Heroes”—I almost did it in black and white. And also Aladdin Sane. He’s got a lot more style though, and so instead of trying to have more style, I just took everything away including clothes, and make it plain. I guess that goes in line with the self-recording and everything: to present it as plainly as possible.
Sleevefacing: Jay and Jessica.
It looks like you could be naked in this photo. Are you?
I’m not wearing a shirt. It would be pointless to be naked because the photo is cut off. I wanted it to be a little weird and to beg that question: Is he really naked?
So, you were trying to be provocative?
My answer is yes.
Have you tried sleevefacing with the cover?
Some of our bandmates have. Everyone is doing it and putting it on Twitter. But it’s not to scale.
This might be our favorite Cam Lindsey interview ever. Cam's on Twitter - @yasidnimac.