Singer-songwriter Jamie Seerman is no ordinary girl with a guitar. Pegged the “darling of the New York ‘Anti-Folk’ scene” by the BBC, this Long Island songbird weaves threads of blues, folk, and jazz to create a sound that’s uniquely her own. Layered vocals, strumming guitar, and lyrics that are equal parts lovelorn and literary are the makings of quintessential Seerman—or Jaymay, as she’s known on stage.
From New York to Florida to the United Kingdom, Jaymay’s journey from open mic singer to cult favorite, has led her out of the small bars and onto the big stages. She’s played SXSW, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson—and has graced the soundtracks of Hollywood favorites like How I Met Your Mother and Happythankyoumoreplease.
On Saturday, November 24, Jaymay is heading into town to take the stage at Schubas. In anticipation of her Chicago show, The Urbaness caught up with the travelling songstress to talk all things music, inspiration, and rising fame. Please note: Jaymay's show has been cancelled. Please see the update below.
20 Questions with Jaymay
What music is generally on rotation on your iPod?
Mostly [my own]. Works in progress. Instrumentals that still need vocals. Or else the song “Little Girl” by Dangermouse and Sparklehorse. I listen to that song obsessively on the subway for some reason. Spotify is a different story. On Spotify I listen to Chet Baker, Randy Newman, [and] lots of classical. Lately a ton of Bach. Oh, and Mahalia Jackson. Ugh, she kills me.
On YouTube I listen to everyone. I will watch Lady Gaga interviews for hours. And this Randy Newman performance is perhaps my favorite. “I’m looking at the river, but I’m thinking of the sea...”
Q: What are your go-to songs when you want to
a. Belt something out in the car/shower: Usually something I’m working on. Lately, my song “Niagara Falls,” because I have a hard time memorizing the lyrics and need to practice.
b. Dance: Anything by The Strokes. Or Julian’s “11th Dimension.”
c. Wallow in self pity: I’ll usually just eat some peanut butter and go for a walk.
Q: If you could put together a dream band of musicians, living or dead, to play along with, who would you include?
Chet Baker. Jared Engel. Julian Casablancas. Nico Georis. Will Oldham. Scarlet Rivera. Sebastien Debande, [and] some guy I saw in the subway playing accordion who blew my mind. And kids. I love that album The Langley Schools Music Project.
Q: In terms of songwriting, what comes first for you, the melody or the words?
They happen simultaneously. I’ll just pick up an instrument and start making up words. Or sometimes you don’t even need an instrument. I wrote “Hard to Say” while taking a walk and “Corduroy” on the Long Island railroad.
Q: Do you ever struggle with songwriters’ block? If so, what helps you get around it and back to creating music?
I don’t struggle with that. I’m not sure I even believe in it. Certain songs though—sometimes certain songs take over two years to complete. I wouldn’t call that writer’s block though. I mean one can write other things in the meantime. Sometimes you have to be real patient and then the unfinished song will reveal itself somehow. It’s like magic. You wait and wait and hope and hope.
Anyway, you always know when a song is not done.
Q: What initially turned you on to music? If you weren’t a musician today, what would you be doing with your life?
Music is very natural. Everybody has music inside of them.
No idea what else I’d be. I know what I wouldn’t be. I wouldn’t be a pilot.
Q: What inspires you? Any favorite songs/books/movies?
Walking in Central Park is my favorite thing to do. That and drinking coffee—deadly combination.
So far I have alluded to Robinson Jeffers, Roald Dahl, Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger, Galway Kinnell, Carson McCullers and many others so it’s safe to say that literature is a big time inspiration.
Also, the movie What about Bob?
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your music? Ultimately, why do you create it?
Music is a way of getting at the truth. Not a universal truth, just my own truths. It’s how I know what I think. It’s digging deep.
Q: Your songs are clearly personal. Do you ever find yourself struggling with the idea of putting your vulnerable self out there? How do you combat self-censorship in order to make beautiful and meaningful art?
Prose scares me way more than music. Sentences are so clean and stark. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but nothing scares me more and I’m more envious of authors than anybody else on the planet. It’s a brave thing to write down what you want to say so naked like that.
I feel very safe in songwriting. People ask me all the time what does this or that mean, but it’s hard to point fingers at a song.
Q: In your experience, are there any advantages or disadvantages to being a woman in the music industry?
Nah. The music industry is rapidly fading. Now more than ever you can do your own thing and put it out there. The internet rules, not the music industry.
Q: What’s running through your head when you first take the stage during one of your performances?
I never know which song to play first. I have a friend, Dara Matthews, who once said “skip the first song and open with the second.” I think of that often.
Q: When success happens slower than you’d like, how do you keep focused and motivated to keep moving forward?
I expect it to move slow. And man, does it ever move slow! But I think very big picture. I imagine a website with hundreds of songs. That’s what I want—a huge music catalogue.
When I’m feeling uninspired I take walks. Walking is medicine.
Q: What advice can you offer other women hoping to make it as artists?
Be your authentic self. Otherwise people will see through. Work hard and drink lots of water. Water is also medicine. Don’t quit.
Q: Okay, time for a truly honest question: Do you ever Google yourself? What are you hoping to find? How do you digest anything negative that crops up in your searching? Do you ever watch any of the YouTube covers of your music?
Yes, I absolutely Google myself. I’m hoping to find something, anything. Like, do I matter? I learn from the negative stuff or else I disagree with all my heart and move on.
Yes, I watch covers of my songs. I have many talented fans.
Q: In your mind, what will be/has been the ultimate symbol that you’ve made it as a musician?
Q: You’ve performed at Schubas in Chicago a few times in past years. What are your impressions of Chicago? Are there any restaurants/cafes/bars/destinations of any kind you absolutely can’t miss when you visit the Windy City?
Chicago is my favorite after New York. The architecture is mesmerizing—totally a gotham city. And I just feel on whenever I perform there. My kind of crowd (and men from the Midwest have beautiful shoulders!). But I don’t really know much of the city apart from the venues where I perform or the hotels where I sleep.
Q: We know you’re a diehard New Yorker, but tell us honestly: Who has better pizza, Chicago or NYC?
C’mon . . . are you being for serial?
Q: If you could swap lives for one day with any woman—living or dead, fictional or non—who would it be?
Clara Barton. Oh to be an angel of the battlefield. . .
Q: Tell us, what’s it really like inside a tour bus?
It’s good or it’s bad. In essence, it all comes down to your company. One thing I will say—the irony of touring is that one ends up missing music. Mostly I don’t get to touch my guitar until sound check.
Q: What tops your bucket list of the number one thing you absolutely must do before you die?