Endless, Not Empty. - An Interview with David Shay of Qajaq (pt. 2)

ICYMI: Chroma’s very own NAAL just released 0-0-0 (or “Aughts”) last week. You can find out more about that here.

Today we return to the conversation we started with David Shay of Qajaq. Dave and I talk about touring full-time, community, and get our goofiness out toward the end.

Fallon: How did touring affect [Qajaq] for you?

Dave: Touring has caused me to take music a bit more seriously now. We started putting our music on Spotify and now I get stuck checking to see how many listeners we have now. I don’t want to fall into this place where the art I make needs the validation of others or to have its worth be in the validation of other people. I want to actually like what I’m saying in “Arrow in Flight” and not pull back if people were to dislike it. Touring is amazing because it’s given us energy to put our music out there. The concept of being able to share art with others and feel like an understood person has been really valuable for me and I didn’t know I was wanting that. But it’s also shifted a lot of my understanding on some things... a lot of people want to make music their vocation but [here] you and I sit down and dissect the value of our creative works; I don’t think there’s an industry for people to be on the same page as the artist they love 100%, they just need to be like “Hey, I like how this sounds.” I’m definitely oversimplifying the process, but I’ve learned that from touring. Even artists that I’ve met who tour full time struggle with the sustainability. You can be paid more working an office job and have almost no one listen to your music, but if you’re touring full-time you can [potentially] have thousands of people who like what you do. Building Qajaq as a live experience has been an important part of the art but now I’m moving more toward the recording process and how those songs are expressed live now become secondary as I try to focus on the version of them that live inside of me.

I know Erica and I will tour more in the future. I think it’s caused me to re-evaluate the whole project. I’m glad it’s survived and grown to become this expression I’m trying to get out there. I’ve had so many projects that didn’t survive this sort of period of reflection.

Fallon: You toured for a whole year, and the more detached I am from touring the more I realize how insane it is.

Dave: How long did you tour for?

Fallon: I quit my job to tour in 2014 and this year I stopped trying to build my life around tour and music, so I guess off-and-on for about four years. I think when you’re able to come away from the place of trying to attain “success” and are able to broaden your perspective, that’s where the most valuable feedback on your art can come from. When you’re trying to interact with other people and they find out your touring and say things like, “Hey, you’re really making it now.” It’s a weird feeling. Like, was I not doing it before?

I think music is a radical thing. You’re going into public places and telling them powerful things about life. Like with Qajaq, you sing songs to people telling them not to sleep through war crimes! We are so dormant to that radical nature in day-to-day life, but having that be manifest in music is really important.

Dave: Art does that in general. Every good artist I can think of, it rarely made sense for them to do that in the Western sense. Like why don’t we all learn Japanese and go into business school? It’s not what actually fulfills those artists. Maybe someday it will be though.

Thankfully, it’s not been weird for Erica and I to come back from tour and slow down, because now I have all these ideas I want to work on.

I showed Erica The Nightmare Before Christmas for the first time and in that Jack Skellington is tired of Halloween. Then when he sings that song about in the graveyard after being shot down as Santa Claus he’s like, “That was a really good attempt; I did my best. But I’m the Pumpkin King!” That’s what it feels like to be an artist: You’re just attempting all these processes. In The Nightmare Before Christmas it’s a bit different because they don’t have to worry about money. They’re like beings that exist for holidays or something. *laughter*

Fallon: The headline for this interview is going to be “Hey, Touring Artists: Watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, It’s a Great Analogy For What You’re Doing.” *laughter*

Dave: I think it’s more of a great analogy for art, I don’t know about touring specifically. Most people have enough to entertain themselves at home with all the media that exists. And yet people are striving to make something of their own, and that’s why they drive a car to somewhere far away and get excited to play music for 12 people in someone’s living room. It’s kind of a desperation because people just want to do that. If I had a music project blow up with millions of fans it wouldn’t be because I just kept grinding and playing house shows with a dozen people. That’s important to dissect: why would I play the house show? The answer is typically to meet people who will really connect with what you’re doing.

Fallon: This is the part of the interview where I plug my Chroma article about why you create what you create! *laughter*

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Fallon: Now let’s scale back a bit and focus on some more fun questions.

What is your favorite song on the new Qajaq album?

Dave: If I went with my gut, the first song I think of that I’m most proud of would be “The Bad Year.” It came together just how I wanted in the songwriting and the expression of ideas. I also really like “Nation of Myself” a lot. “The Bad Year” is a song I’m talking a lot about the woes of our society and desperation to feel like anything matters, which is generally where my head’s at. “Nation of Myself” I appreciate because it’s a more positive outlook I still feel. But I remember when I started writing The Bad Year and thought, “I’m gonna feel mad in this one.” so it was really cathartic.

Fallon: So is that the one you would show to people who’ve haven’t listened to Canopy yet?

Dave: Yeah, I think it showcases the themes present in Qajaq as well as the instrumentation. I love the electric guitar that Erica and Dave Mantel threw down, and Dave put some synthesizer on there I really appreciate.

Fallon: If you could sum up the current state of Qajaq and what’s next for the project, what would you have for us?

Dave: We’re slowing down as far as touring and shows go, but not as much with writing and recording. Like I mentioned earlier we have two albums in the works, one that’s more focused and personal, as well as a simpler instrumentation. The second album is going to be a bit more band focused, lush and instrumentally driven. Then Erica has her Dead Birds album, so we’ll be slowing down with Qajaq in some ways just to make room for more music in others.

Fallon: When I hear you talk about all these moving parts I think of you building a village with all these characters that cohabitate and balance with one another.

Dave: I like that. With Every Day, as a solo act, you were still having people work with you on drums for the EP, so even a solo act isn’t 100% solo. I mean, I’m sure some people pull it off, but...

But yeah, Qajaq is in a regroup moment. Majority of the shows are with the duo, me and Erica, but we’re excited to play more live with our friends Dave Mantel, Sam Arias, and Caleb Allan.

Fallon: You released Canopy through Chroma: I’m curious to hear about your experience with that and what your plans are moving forward with Chroma?

Dave: Well first I was blown away with how many people were willing to share it. It’s nice to be with a team. When you put out art you don’t want to be rejected and with Chroma I have people who I know and love and we respect one another’s art so I don’t have to worry about that rejection.

Fallon: I’m glad to hear that because that’s a side of Chroma I don’t think people have talked about much. We’ve discussed the community side of it, but more so on the promotional side. There’s a layer of depth and value that comes with working together here.

Dave: Yeah, we’re all pals! Anyone can take the songs we’ve written and make personal connections with the art, but I also love to see how the personal side of things can develop and that’s only something we can see through that connection. The experience I’m talking about isn’t something you would have with a Netflix show. When you see the seeds of the songs we write within the community of artists we’ve formed it can blow your mind to see the life of someone behind the songs they make.

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Fallon: Okay, time for the extra fun questions that have nothing to do with anything.

What’s your go-to Dungeons and Dragons class?

Dave: I’m a very simple person, so I usually go for a barbarian or a fighter. They’re easy to us and when I play the game I don’t want to worry about all the mechanics you have to use. A barbarian has a pretty straightforward place in society, but a fighter has a little more freedom. There’s something very interesting about the barbarian being brought into a city and people saying, “Hey, you can’t do that.” and having their response be, “Well I literally always do whatever I want.”

Fallon: Would you rather put all the trash in the world into a volcano or half of the trash in the world into space?

Dave: I think I’d have to do more research before answering that. It seems like space is the safer one but I’m not sure. What would you say?

Fallon: Based on my surface-level knowledge I’d say send it to space! But I also have read a lot of science-fiction that says that’s how you get entities of pure consumption. *laughter* And if the rocket explodes and trash flies everywhere it’s not like it wasn’t going to be on Earth before.

What’s your favorite spooky-not-scary Halloween thing?

Dave: I usually watch Coraline this time of year, so let’s say that.

Fallon: Last thing! Is there anything you want to tell people about here last-minute?

Dave: We’ll have Dead Birds and Families stuff to look out for soon.

There you have it, y’all! Be sure to listen to A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky right here, as well as on any major streaming platform. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for the new Dead Birds and Families on the horizon.