The Jay Berndt revival continues

Magnificent bastard
By CHRIS CONTI  |  March 30, 2011

SAFE HAVEN Berndt at Moto Destructo.
A few months back, former Kilgore frontman Jay Berndt unleashed his official solo debut Sad Bastard Songs (Rusty Knuckles Music), a fistful of growlers we're highly fond of around here (Berndt's album as well as his bruising, Hungry Man-sized baritone are saluted in our 2011 Best Music Poll), with Berndt injecting a glorious dose of acoustic blues ("I Still Believe In You," "Running Blues") and country ("Nameless") while purging his demons with gospel-stomping anthems (the mighty "Requiem for a Heavyweight") and unnerving, stone-cold pleas for peace of mind (the chain-gang album closer "Spiritual" is a killer). Sad Bastard Songs brims with introspective anecdotes, as opposed to the social/political issues Berndt clawed and howled at with Kilgore.

Berndt is an enigmatic and engaging one-man show (look up his high-octane, acoustic cover of "Ace of Spades"). At a recent CD release show at the Met, he had the room captivated while telling the story of reuniting with his grandfather, who he grew up assuming was just a cold and bitter old man.

We caught up with Berndt prior to his show at the German Club last weekend, and on Friday he'll be one of a dozen prominent local artists performing at the Tom Waits tribute at the 201, with proceeds benefiting Amos House. See you there.

HOW HAS YOUR APPROACH TO SONGWRITING DIFFERED FROM THE KILGORE DAYS? The biggest difference is I'm no longer an angry man in my 20s. I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder and was trying to be deep by speaking about social and political issues, while only scratching the surface of who I really was. Even with the Preachers and Brimstone, I wrote mostly humorous anecdotes, but my best songs were always the honest ones. That's where I am now; the songs speak honestly about what I've been through and who I am.

WHEN/WHERE DOES INSPIRATION HIT YOU TO WRITE, AND HOW DOES THE SUBJECT MATTER COME TO LIFE IN THE STUDIO? "CONSIDERING TAKING MY LIFE" COMES TO MIND. I spend a lot of time trying to find a good melody to sing, and then the tone of the melody will dictate the mood of the song. Once I find a story to sing about, I typically sit down with a pot of coffee and a guitar, and just work it out. "Considering . . ." was written after the death my friend Brian Redman and how I had never really accepted death and loss as a part of life. I had always run from those feelings, but I felt I needed to finally address it head on.

I WANTED TO REVISIT THE STORY YOU TOLD AT THE MET ABOUT YOUR GRANDFATHER; YOU HAD THE ROOM TOTALLY ENGAGED. That story was about the last time I saw my maternal grandfather. He had just opened up and told me these stories about horrible things he had endured in his life. I feel like maybe he was trying to come to terms with whom he was and searching for some type of redemption. I never want to live with that kind of fear, so I write about it in my songs.

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