Last week, Nashville glam/garage-rock trio Cheap Time released its third album, “Wallpaper Music,” on the label In The Red. That afternoon, the band's frontman Jeffrey Novak began writing songs and assembling the tracklist for the band's next album.
“I don't like to take time off,” says Novak, 26, talking on the phone from the small house he shares with Cheap Time bassist Cole Kinnear -- the same house where, along with drummer Ryan Sweeney, “Wallpaper Music” was recorded. Novak adds quickly, “I hope we can start recording the new one next week."
Novak's pace has been frenetic since he released his first solo album, “Southern Trash,” on the German label P. Trash, when he was only 19 years old.
Now seven years later, Novak has put out three Cheap Time albums (and a handful of 7-inches), and several singles and albums under his own name, including 2009's “After The Ball,” which he recorded in his parents' attic. By the end of this year, he plans to release his next solo album (on the label Trouble In Mind).
He's been prolific since day one, but the few months he lived in Memphis with Jay Reatard -- the legendary garage-rock musician who died in 2010 -- also had a huge impact.
The two first met when Novak was in the band Rat Traps. “One night after a show, Jay and I were hanging out in the back of this car together,” recalls Novak. “He told me that if I wanted to keep making records only 500 people would ever hear, to just continue recording on my four-track. But he said it was important to think beyond that. He was really encouraging in a way that nobody else around me was at the time.”
Reatard mastered the first Cheap Time album in 2006, and the two became roommates at the end of 2009, the winter before Reatard died.
“Both of our girlfriends had just broken up with us,” says Novak. “Whenever I think about that time, I just remember how freezing it was -- we didn't have heat, and I would always sleep with my clothes on.”
“I learned a lot from Jay,” continues Novak, whose unreleased solo album, “Baron In The Trees,” was the last album Reatard recorded. “He was always teaching me how to cook the best sweet potato fries and how to do digital clipping and mastering. He thought I had no idea what I was doing, so he wanted to school me. He always said to never do the same thing twice, and to always keep pushing forward and trying something new.”
After Reatard died, Novak relocated to Nashville (marking the first time all of Cheap Time's members lived in the same city). Much of “Wallpaper Music” is about wrestling with what he experienced during the last few months of Reatard's life.
“You're sliding off the wall/Your teeth have turned to grey,” he sings on the hard-rocking but unapologetically apocalyptic song “Night To Night.” “It's about living with Jay,” he says, referring to Reatard's chaotic and drug-fueled lifestyle. “It's about struggling to adapt to Jay's sleep-all-day, stay-up-all-night schedule.”
Much of “Wallpaper Music” explores the peaks and valleys of rock-n-roll excess (cue songs “More Cigarettes” and “Hall Of Mirrors”), but despite the sometimes bleak theme, the raucous music ensures more highs than lows.
“I think our last record really bummed people out,” says Novak. “I got off on that, but didn't want to do it again. These songs have a lot more energy and are really fun to play live, and that's what really matters to us.”