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'I Love the Ride, But It's Hell Sometimes': Charlotte Rocker Jay Garrigan On Channeling Stage Fright Into Sonic Flight

The Eyebrows' Jay Garrigan stands to the left of bandmates Darrin Gray and Shawn Lynch.
Chris Edwards
Photo courtesy of the artist
Charlotte music veteran Jay Garrigan (far right) stands with The Eyebrows' bandmates Darrin Gray and Shawn Lynch.

To know Jay Garrigan is to know the musician who put the “hair” in “Charlotte hair rock” for more than 30 years. Through his work with beloved local bands Pop Rocket, Temperance League and The Eyebrows, Garrigan shares how he’s taken pent-up anxiety and propelled it forward through punk rock and power pop arrangements.

"I’m not one who ever gives up, even when I’m pinned down. I’ll find a way, either by changing the rules or figuring out a new move to get back on my feet. And I like to bring up people around me with me too."
– The Eyebrows' Jay Garrigan

Interview Highlights:

On his musical upbringing:

I grew up as a military brat. So the first music I was exposed to was relegated to my parents’ records and cassettes. I remember getting into The Beatles’ "Sgt. Pepper." It was also the time in the ‘70s when KISS was around, but I was too scared to buy their record. Who wouldn’t be? The demon and the make-up … being a military brat, you’re sheltered.

I feel things deeply, whether they should be felt or not. Music was a real emotional outlet for me. I don’t think it’s cool to put down how you’re brought up, but I grew up in a situation where feelings were not encouraged. It was very stoic. My mom’s side was Swedish. You could have a broken leg and your eye falling out, and they could ask how you’re doing, and you’re like, “Fine.” My dad’s side … well, that’s a whole other interview on a different podcast. Growing up with a military commander as a father has its privileges and challenges.

But when it comes to feelings and music, I started playing music in life with piano at 4 years old, and I really connected with the instrument emotionally. I would sit at the piano for hours just noodling and playing. I loved the ability to hit chords and have something resonate within me.

On feeling nervous while playing music:

My first rock band was called Lost Cause, and we played at the high school talent show. ... I remember my stomach was killing me. I didn’t know it was ulcer time! I can almost feel it right now like a muscle memory. (Laughing) I think that kind of malady followed me into my late 20s. I think it’s just being an introvert and someone who was conditioned to not express themself.

When I played in a band called Second Skin that changed its name to Violet Strange, I remember people would come out just to see me freak out, and they didn’t realize that I was really freaking out, and it wasn’t an act. But I love playing music. It’s just a nervy thing. People say, “Jay, you have great stage presence.” I’m like, “You have no idea!” I love the ride, but it’s hell to go through sometimes.

On releasing The Eyebrows’ 2021 full-length album "Fight/Flight" in a pandemic year:

Each song has a different feeling. I’ve always written about relationships. I would characterize my life as a survivor. With the whole world being turned upside down with the pandemic, while other people were waiting for it to be normal, I thought, “This is never going to be normal.” So I led the charge with my group The Eyebrows to release new music, reach new fans and play new shows when we can’t leave the basement.

I’ve always been someone who doesn’t give up. That’s why I’m still playing music at the beautiful age of 51. I’m not one who ever gives up, even when I’m pinned down. I’ll find a way, either by changing the rules or figuring out a new move to get back on my feet. And I like to bring up people around me with me, too.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

The Eyebrows - “Have Mercy, Lose Control!”
The Eyebrows - “Just Let Go”
The Eyebrows - “Until You Know”
Temperance League - “Spirit of ‘85”
The Eyebrows - “New Year’s Eve”
The Eyebrows - “Fight/Flight”
The Eyebrows - “Ice Cream Cone”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier.