NYC queer artist Jack Tracy will release the final part of his For You trilogy of albums on March 14th. Recorded at Redbird Studios and mixed by Grammy nominated sound engineer Brent Kolatalo and Sam Palumbo at Dubway Studios, Part 3 features songs from an explicitly LGBTQ perspective. Part 1 was “bold and brassy”, Part 2 was “thematically heavy, tackling subjects like body image and the legitimacy of gay sex work”. Part 3 is “the wind down, full of bedroom jams that all stem from love” Tracy tells us.
Ahead of the new album launch The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke to Jack Tracy in New York about how personal his new album is, his musical idols and inspirations, why more queer artists aren’t explicit about their sexuality in their work and why he wants to be, and the impact that Alan Downs’ book The Velvet Rage had on him.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: For You feels very honest and raw, as well as fun. How autobiographical is the new album, in what ways does it reflect how you were feeling at the time you put it together?
Jack Tracy: “Everything I do is partly autobiographical and so most of the songs are quite personal. Petty & Ready, for instance, was me sort of processing what I now know to be the normal churn of online trolling. When I first started I had a churn of negative or sniping comments on my videos, and in some cases it seemed like one or two people going out of their way to comment on everything I did, and I really wanted to write a song that got out all my feelings about that. Shame is also pretty personal. Recording music and performing has really made me confront some carried shame that I had about putting myself out there. I really have a huge problem with “attention seeking” and carry a lot of judgment about that, and so being a performer, that’s obviously very counter to what I’m trying to do. And in my youth there was much more shame associated with being identifiably queer. So I wanted to write a song that sort of processed that. Pretend To Love Me is another great example because as my life turned into one dedicated to producing my art, I saw old friendships fall away and my new friendships were really based around the fact that I was paying people to say my words or dance my dances, and so I had this epiphany that now the people who “love” me are people I pay to.”
What are some of the themes you aim to explore with the new album?
“So part of the triple meaning of the title, For You, was about making an album for the LGBTQ community that specifically addressed universal themes of love, sexuality, sadness, regret, anger and loneliness through the specific lens of the LGBTQ experience. Afar is really trying to speak to the queer person who feels the need to be exceptional and show back up at the high school reunion and rub it in some faces. BDE specifically addresses the rampant racism and femme-shaming on the hookup apps. Learned Me, which is one of my favourites, is a ballad about a “first time” that perfectly accepts that the experience had nothing to do with love, but that didn’t make it any less special.”
Tell us about who you collaborated with on the album.
“As always, I’m a one man band. No guests, no producers, I do it all in putting it together, including directing the videos and choreographing the dances. But this time, after my first album, I really wanted to make sure that the mixing and mastering was top notch so I worked with Sam Palumbo at Dubway Studios – who I worked with on the first album – but also got Grammy-nominated mixing engineer Brent Kolatolo to get in on it. Mastering wise I went to Joe Lampbert mastering.”
I think far too few queer musical artists make their sexuality explicit in their work. What’s your own take on that?
“Well, it depends what you want to do. Let’s be real here – a gay man singing honestly about his sexuality and the things he enjoys and not switching pronouns is going to turn off a huge potential audience. It just is. And it’s not just music, you see that in stand-up comedy, you see that in romantic comedies. For some reason, it is expected of us to fully embrace heterosexual content and “apply it to ourselves” and consume it, but we don’t really ask for the reverse. Now, if you’re a young artist who is trying to launch their superstar career, then you’ve got to play the game. Sing the songs for the people who are going to buy your records – which aren’t gay men – and then hopefully you get enough clout to sneak a song like Bloom onto the charts. But, if you’re an old man like me who is realistic about his ability to climb to pop superstardom and can make his money elsewhere, you can afford to take a little more risk and hopefully open a few minds.”
I love your music videos. It looks like you put a lot of work and creativity into them! Tell me a bit about some of the concepts behind your videos for the new album and who you’ve been collaborating with on putting them together.
“Thank you! The vision is mostly me, but I had some really great collaborators on some key parts that I just don’t have the skills for. Erik Schneider was the Artistic Director for the project, and we sat down before we started filming anything and he mapped out ideas for my “looks.” I really wanted to step it up from the last album, in which I was really only comfortable doing elevated dance costumes, usually all in black. It really speaks to my hesitance to put myself out there. So I told Erik to force me to wear things I’d never wear, put some make-up on me, really make me a pop star. And I think he did an excellent job creating a specific character for each video. My other godsend is Joseph Patric Conroy, my director of photography, who I met on the set of a gay web series that I guested in. I really vibed with him on set and hired him to help make sure the shots were framed interestingly and lit well and I think he did a spectacular job adding a professional gloss. Sehee Kim and JJ Bozeman are regular collaborators of mine who are really “hop on and do everything” people who did a million thankless jobs on set that I couldn’t have done without. We’ve got two more videos to film over the next few weeks and after these last few months of hiatus, I’m really excited to see them all again.”
Who are the musical artists you most admire? Were you channelling anyone in particular on any of the tracks on the new album?
“So Janet Jackson is my love, and the second is Prince. Some Type Of Way was really my ode to Janet, and there are 11 references in there to song titles of hers. Prince was a heavy inspiration for Learned Me and Robyn really inspired Pretend to Love Me. I really appreciate the people who have full creative control over how they present themselves, from writing and recording to planning the videos and looks and tours. I admire the artists who build their machine and are involved in every little aspect to make sure it’s authentic and true to what they want to say. I feel like we’ve really lost that. Beyoncé became that post-Destiny’s Child and Lady Gaga is another great recent example, but there aren’t a lot of them that get truly successful and that’s probably because the studio machine prefers really talented technical singers they can plug into whatever, feed songs to, control and process. And some of them are lovely and fill my iTunes. Yes, I buy music! But I will take someone who isn’t the greatest technical singer, but is a master of their world and vision over the last person who won The Voice any day.”
When it comes to LGBTQ+ art, which film, TV series, book, play, piece of music or artwork has resonated with you most over the years and why? Or it could be something that you’re currently loving.
“Alan Downs’ The Velvet Rage, which I think is a must read for all gay men. I cried reading that book. I nodded my head without thinking reading that book. It was the first thing I ever felt was truly me, and that’s powerful when you really see yourself in something. And I hope that by being open, honest and unedited in what I do, people who don’t normally see themselves represented in popular music see themselves in my work. Because this album is For You.”
Jack Tracy’s For You Part 3, along with the entire For You trilogy album, are being distributed through his label, Necessary Outlet, and will be available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon on March 14th 2020.