Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Contenders bringing honest, emotional sound to S.P.A.CE. in Evanston

Photo credit: Anna Ulery

After discovering the strong musical connection that existed between the two of them, Vermont-based singer/songwriter Jay Nash and Nashville-based Josh Day decided to put their talents together and form the group The Contenders.

In advance of the release of The Contenders debut EP, "Meet The Contenders" on Nov. 18, the duo will perform Nov. 3 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to Nash and Day about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you. How has the tour been going? 

Nash - The tour has been a blast so far.  The audience response to the new music has been
overwhelmingly positive. In contrast to years of touring either as a solo artist or as the bandleader, aka 'boss,' it is really great to have a partner in crime with Josh.

Q - What should people expect if they come out to the show at S.P.A.CE. on Nov. 3?

Nash -
I'm always a little hesitant to answer this question for fear of sounding like a total dork, but I am truly excited about this show. Musically, it delivers a good dose of rock 'n' roll, harmony, electric guitar and back beat.

You will also find equal measure of humor, heartbreak and hope. Ultimately, we are just trying to achieve a similar connection that we found a long while back in the music that originally inspired us to pick up our instruments in the first place.

Q - You guys have been touring as The Contenders since 2012. What made you want to release an EP at this time?

Nash - That's not exactly true. This is our first tour as the Contenders.

In 2012, we played a show together, then in 2013, I hired Josh as my drummer for about 70 shows supporting the release of my record, "Letters from the Lost.'' At the end of that stretch, we realized that there was something very cool about what we were doing together musically, so we decided to join forces on the creative process and start writing and recording together.

Q - In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a double meaning behind the name of the EP?
Nash - I would say our main goal in writing for the EP was to write and record honest songs that tell a story, and ultimately feel good. And I do believe we accomplished that.

We set out to tell compelling stories and pair them with resonant melody, harmony and rhythm.

Day - This process was new to me, as I am usually hired as a drummer /percussionist, or producer. So this was my first real writing experience. And I have to say, Jay really pulled things out of me creatively that I didn't even know existed.

Q - Your sound is more classic country than today's mainstream country. Who are your biggest musical influences?

Nash - It's funny - I didn't even realize that we were making country music until CMT Edge premiered our first tune, "The Contender." But we both are big fans of The Band, Willie, Waylon and Johnny Cash. 

We also love the Dead, Little Feet, Darrel Scott and Jackson Browne.

Day - I would say Jay and I both really appreciate where the classic country guys were coming from. Again, It was all about telling a story without all of the bells and whistles.

Q - I understand you met each other more than a decade ago. Did things click musically right away? Why do you think it is a good musical partnership?

Nash - We have always had a good rapport on the few gigs that we have a had a chance to collaborate on over the years. It wasn't until the summer of 2012, when Sara Bareilles and Josh came up to the town that I grew up spending my summers in, Clayton, NY, for a benefit concert that I put on there every year called Rock for the River, that really had a chance to dig in.

Then in 2013, I hired Josh as a drummer for my tour in support of my record, "Letters from the Lost." We played about 70 gigs together. That experience galvanized our friendship and our musical connection.

We realized that our voices had a very cool symbiosis. We also found a lot of common ground in our rhythmic approach.

Q - I know the both of you have your own music projects as well. Is it hard juggling this music project with your own music projects? What are the short-term and long-term goals of The Contenders?

Nash - Balancing any facet of a musical career with real life is key to happiness and success, I would guess, for most musicians.

There are definitely a lot of days where we both feel as though we are 'drinking from the firehose' because there is a lot coming at us. But it's worth it.

We think that there is something very special about this musical partnership and we feel strongly that the songs are worth the effort.

The short term goal is to get this EP out there, have a successful and healthy tour and better ourselves as musicians, so that we can exceed the expectations that we have of ourselves, musically....and hopefully exceed whatever expectations audiences may have.

The long term goals?  We would really like to get to a point where we can sell out Red Rocks and put on a show that resonates with audiences in the same way that our heroes did for us when we were first beginning to make music.

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