Jay Van Raalte & The Spectrum: the perfect power trio

Jay Van Raalte is a 21st century guitar slinger, former competitive surfer, visionary mathematician, and dedicated servant of the song. Emerging in high school as the guitarist for Charleston, South Carolina’s Jump Castle Riot, Van Raalte, 23, has segued neatly into the leader of The Spectrum, a lean trio offering mood-altering six-string power pop on their vanguard EP “Linearity.”

“That EP was made in 2019, and then its release got delayed because of the pandemic,” said Van Raalte during a recent mid-morning phone call from her home. “At the time, it was a side project. I didn’t really intend it to be my new thing. I was busy in Jump Castle and other projects and I had these songs that didn’t really fit anywhere, but I still loved them and I wanted them to get recorded. Life happened and that ended up being the first EP under this new project which is now my main thing.”

Songs on “Linearity” like “Used To Be” and “Origami Stars” repel expectations of domesticity and conformity, while “Best Times” confronts the fallacy that everything is downhill after high school or college.

“Those songs were written when I was going to college and they very much reflect that time,” Van Raalte said. “I don’t think I realized when I wrote them how rooted they were in the time I was writing them, but as we’ve been on the road and I sing them now, I’ve started to notice a kind of distance. Not that I don’t still relate to them because I absolutely do, but I started to notice a kind of distance from the person I was then and the person and the experiences that I’m having now.”Slated for release this summer, Van Raalte’s next project, “Something More and Kind Of Less,” moves past the notions of her previous work without changing stride to focus on narratives that are more “future forward.” The album’s intended first single, “The Road Ahead,” tackles the darkness and uncertainty of the pandemic.

“That was written probably in the summer of 2020, definitely as many people– myself included– were experiencing some upheaval of the lives we thought we were going to be leading,” she said. “It sent some major changes my way, but many of them have ended up sending me to really great places that I probably wouldn’t have ended up in otherwise. There’s a bright side to be found if you look for it, I guess.”

With The Spectrum (which features her father Derk Van Raalte on bass and drummer Bradley Palles), Jay embraced the challenge of migrating from the side stage as a lead guitarist for Jump Castle Riot to the center mic as the outfit’s main face and voice. But her time as “Keef” to JCR’s Nina Murchison’s “Mick” was a joy by design.

“I was really frustrated early on by people who looked at me and assumed that I would want to be a singer or want to be fronting the band. I just wanted to play guitar. I was ecstatic to have a singer who was so talented to play against – but it turns out that I am pretty naturally inclined towards the songwriting and the production,” admitted Van Raalte. “I am very naturally a behind-the-scenes person. I like being in supportive roles, I like doing hired gun guitar work. I still do a lot of that. I know some people represent that as some kind of lesser alternative, ‘If you couldn’t be an artist then I guess you have to be a hired gun,’ which is not at all my experience!”

Still, whether in support or taking command, the focus has always been on what’s best for the song.

“My early idols, The Edge (from U2), Peter Buck from R.E.M., were people who were not looking for the spotlight themselves, but just trying to support everything else that’s going on and build something with the people they were playing with, Van Raalte said. “I’ve always taken that really seriously, so even when I say ‘guitarist that writes songs’ I don’t want to oversell that. My skill set has always been more focused on the production aspect, even before I knew formally what music production was, the kind of editing and thoughtfulness that it takes to get a great arrangement or a great song and put it all together, that’s what I feel I gravitate to.”

During the pandemic, Van Raalte took the opportunity to upgrade their home studio. In addition to producing the forthcoming “Something More and Kind Of Less,” Jay was also indulged in another passion.

“I got hired to play guitar for this original rock musical, which then snowballed into me becoming the recording studio for it and one of the writers – music writers not story writers – which was just an incredible experience so far out of my comfort zone of rock n’ roll,” she said. “But (it was) such a gift to get to work with so many talented people that I wouldn’t have met just playing bar gigs.”

Van Raalte & The Spectrum offer up the perfect power trio – gloriously pop with shades of alternative bite that knows when to dip toward melancholy and rise toward proper rock ‘n’ roll in service of creating and delivering good songs.

“Nile Rodgers, the guitar player best known for Chic, but he’s also a producer behind all sorts of stuff from Bowie records to Michael Jackson records to Daft Punk’s song “Get Lucky,” has this theory he talks about, the DHM – the Deep Hidden Meaning,” Van Raalte said. “It’s kind of like the DNA of the song. There’s this immutable character of a song and he says about his live band that as long as they’re respecting that, they can shake things up on the road and do something different and it’s all going to work as long as they’re keeping that DHM in mind and continuing to serve it. That’s what I think about songwriting and production as well. As long as everything you’re doing is in service of articulating whatever that little spark is, the thing that got you excited in the first place, then everything’s going to work out right.”

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