In Cheap Time, Jeffrey Novak fuses punk-rock fuzz with glam-rock swagger. Since its inception, in 2006, and with a variety of line-ups, Novak has led Cheap Time on the road with bands like Yo La Tengo and now, on its biggest tour to date, Social Distortion. The bad has a new full-length on the way from In the Red Records. The Nashville-based singer and songwriter spoke with us about quality control and making the Tennessee garage scene under the tutelage of the late Jay Reatard.
As the story goes, Jay Reatard told you that your initial sound would only get you so far and that your efforts to expand on that sound evolved into Cheap Time, is that the case?
Yeah, that's definitely the case. When Jay said that to me, I only made records on 4-tracks or 2-tracks, on cassette. He was just very encouraging that I try to do something more than I'd already done. I did start Cheap Time shortly after he told me that ... those were definitely big words of wisdom at the time.
Did you have a vision when Cheap Time started of what the band could or couldn't be?
I feel like when I was starting the band, I had a lot more limited ideas [about] the kind of influences we wanted to have. I think it was more rooted in trash-culture ideas of, like, Alice Cooper and Redd Kross. Then, I felt pretty pigeonholed. After that, it became about trying to pop that mold or challenge myself [to do something] outside of that. I don't think I've always succeeded with every record ... I'd say the Kinks are definitely one of my favorite bands, and how they expanded their sound just in the '60s alone is pretty crazy.
Can you think of a time when you started down a certain path and decided, "This isn't our thing, this isn't what it's about"?
Many times. I just decided a week or two ago that I was going to stop working on this solo record that I've been working on. I throw away a lot of stuff. I don't want to put out a lot of records, but I do work on music all the time.
Your recent solo record, Baron in the Trees, felt like a departure from your Cheap Time stuff. Do you reserve your poppier material for your solo records?
I don't know about that. I think they're all pop songs, at least that's what I aspire to ... The solo records are more like experiments to me for how to figure out things for the Cheap Time records. ... Making a solo record to me is like stepping back and being 16 again and just being in your bedroom and getting to just envision the record and dream about this record you want to make.
Did you feel a need to prove yourself to Jay?
Definitely, yeah. He was like an older brother to me. I grew up with sisters. My relationship with my sisters has always been that you want to eclipse your sisters. You just want to outdo them [because] you don't want to live in their shadow. There was definitely that with Jay, [he] was just so encouraging ... but, he gave me a lot of bad advice, too. [Laughs] Everybody looked up to Jay, especially in Memphis, [where] there was nobody else like Jay. Everyone else was lazy compared to him. He was different.