The year was 1993. Jay Thomas arrived in Sydney with a suitcase and a dream, leaving behind all the comforts of everything he called home in the Sunshine State of Queensland, Australia. It was an exciting time for the 17-year-old.
“I had no idea what lay ahead; I just knew I wanted to make music. That’s it.”
With three other aspiring musicians, the all-male, award-winning R&B act Kulcha was formed, exploding onto the Australian music scene in a mass whirlwind of success.
“It felt like I stepped off the bus and onto a stage. It all happened so fast, and honestly, I had no clue what to do other than to just go with it.”
Together with his soul brothers, Joe, Eric & Richie, Kulcha ended up with 7 Top 40 hits between 1994 & 1997. 4 top 20 singles, a gold album, two major Australian Music Awards, and the main support act for sell-out tours with Janet Jackson, Boys II Men, Salt N Pepa & the Fugees.
Today, reggae soul singer, songwriter & producer Jay Thomas has proved himself to be a deeply devoted independent artist. His music is uncompromising as he transcends all conventional r&b and reggae music. His music is an eclectic blend of soulful, vibrant influences ranging from reggae, roots, and r&b to soul, dub & hip hop.
“I’ve really been pushing the boundaries of creating music as I’ve known it. Being solely responsible for my creations from start to finish has been massive for my growth not only as a musician but as a human”.
Jay embarked on his solo career in 2019 when he decided to take a hiatus from his band of 12 years, Queensland-based reggae outfit Paua. Co-founded in 2008, Jay and his bandmates spent a solid two years writing and developing original material. Twelve years later, with two albums, an EP, and multiple single releases topping iTunes reggae charts globally, Paua became an unstoppable force bringing all of their crucial signature elements to reggae music. Paua has been blessed to share the stage with reggae giants UB40, Steel Pulse, Julian & Ky-Mani Marley, Black Slate, Raging Fyah, Tarrus Riley, Third World & Katchafire, to name just a few. Paua also performed at multiple sold-out iconic “One Love Festivals” in NZ and Australia. As frontman and lyricist for the band, Jay explored a wide range of topics and themes he continues today.
“I get enormous satisfaction from taking just a pebble of an idea and developing it into a complete creation. That for me is the ultimate soul satisfier.”
In 2019 Jay felt it was apt timing to explore writing and recording music for his own solo journey.
“This has always been a heart project for me, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years. I appreciate that becoming a solo artist is no easy feat, and I’m ready for that challenge.”
Jay has since independently written, self-produced, and released four singles. His songs embody his life loves: Reggae, Soul, our beautiful Earth & Love. With such a massive wealth of experience in the music industry spanning almost 30 years, Jay has been able to culminate every inch of experience and churn out incredibly profound lyrics, themes, and timeless melodies.
Jay Thomas INTERVIEW
IRIE. What was your childhood like growing up in Auckland, New Zealand?
Jay Thomas. I was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and moved to Brisbane, Australia, with my family when I was 13, so essentially I grew up in both countries.
I was surrounded by music from day one. My parents, grandparents, and various uncles and aunties were musicians and singers, so there was always a band jam, rehearsal, or singalong.
Initially, moving to Australia was a bit of a culture shock. I was the only Maori (Native New Zealander) in my school, so settling in took a little time. One constant at home, though, was always music.
IRIE. Did you know from an early age that you would have a career in music, particularly reggae music?
Jay Thomas. I was around 14 when I started getting interested in the creative side of music. My father had a little drum machine and keyboard, and I taught myself the basics of how to use them, then I wrote my first song. It was definitely primitive, haha, but that was when I realized how much I enjoyed writing and creating music, and it set me on the path. I have always loved many styles/genres of music, in particular soul, r&b, and hip hop, but reggae was my first love and was always the music I wanted to make.
IRIE. Who were some of your musical influences that helped shape your music?
Jay Thomas. Growing up, Bob Marley, UB40, Maxi Priest, Dennis Brown, Gregory Issacs, and Aswad were massive favorites of mine. But, of course, being a youngster down in New Zealand, I was limited to only what I could hear on the radio back then.
As I got older and the world headed into the internet age, I started discovering so many amazing reggae artists and producers from all different eras that I’d previously not had access to.
I believe artists ranging from Sam Cooke to Michael Jackson, Jodeci to The Eagles, and many more have influenced my own music.
One special mention is the beautiful vocal harmonies of a legendary Maori vocal group from New Zealand in the 1970’s called The Hi Marks. My father always played their albums in our house all the time when I was young. This nurtured my love for harmonies in the years to come.
IRIE. You were part of a boy band at the beginning of your music career. Can you share that story with us?
Jay Thomas. When I was 17, 3 friends and I formed an R&B group called ‘Kulcha”. We moved to Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, to chase the dream of a recording contract.
We spent a year writing songs together, recording demos, and playing live shows before realizing our goal and signing to a major record label.
Success came almost instantly, and in our first year and a half with the label, we’d released 4 top 20 singles, a gold album, won 2 Australian Music Awards, and were the main support act for sellout tours with Janet Jackson, Boys II Men, and Salt N Pepa. It sure was a whirlwind!
We continued to record and tour (including a national tour with the Fugees) before calling time to focus on other things.
IRIE. As a solo artist, your music is a powerful fusion of multiple genres and cultures. How would you describe your sound?
Jay Thomas. This has always been a tricky question for me to answer because so much depends on what I’m feeling or the particular mood I’m aiming for.
I really enjoy experimenting with different musical elements, sounds, and vibes in my production, but the heart of my music is always soulful reggae.
IRIE. Where do you get your inspiration for your songs? Is it important that each song has a significant meaning behind it?
Jay Thomas. The biggest inspiration for me comes from life. Just from being alive and the experiences, feelings, and observations that go with it. Good, bad, and everything in between.
Music is such a powerful and healing medium that at this time, I feel the need to bring positive, uplifting vibes that the world needs right now.
Although the message and lyrics are important to me, it’s not always essential. Sometimes a great song can just carry itself with good vibrations.
IRIE. Can you take us through your creative process when creating new music?
Jay Thomas. The process varies but usually, I’ll get started with a melody. A vocal melody or maybe a bass line will be floating around in my mind. I’ll lay down a rough beat, some chords, then record the rough melody line.
With that as the foundation, I’ll build the track. Sometimes I’ll arrange all the vocals and write the lyrics straight away; other times, I’ll let it breathe for a while.
Sometimes I’ll have a lyric idea first and build the music around that.
So the process isn’t the same for every song. Still, whichever way it unfolds, crafting a simple melody idea into a fully-fledged song is definitely a soul-satisfying feeling every time.
IRIE. Can you share with us the meaning of your upcoming single, Soul Feeling?
Jay Thomas. I was 17 when I wrote the original Soul Feeling in 1993. It was the first single off Kulcha’s debut album, reaching number 16 on the Australian charts.
Although on an R&B album, Soul Feeling stood out essentially as a reggae track. A few months ago, I had the idea to re-work the original version and turn it into a new song.
So that’s what I did, re-wrote and produced a brand-new song using the original as the inspiration. I’ve invited young up-and-coming Australian artist Kia Maia to feature on the track.
Soul Feeling is a good-time summer vibes song about the soul feeling between 2 people in love.
IRIE. Is there a song in your discography that resonates most with you? If so, why?
Jay Thomas. There are definitely a few to choose from, but ‘Coming Home’ would have be the one. It was a spiritual experience for me as a songwriter, and I feel the lyrics wrote themselves.
There’s a soul to that song that is hard to explain, and I never imagined the impact it would have on people in the years to follow. Hearing crowds sing along with me word for word is and will always be a very humbling experience.
IRIE. What do you hope your fans and first-time listeners take with them after listening to your music?
Jay Thomas. I would just hope that people feel an honest artist, making honest music from the heart.
IRIE. What’s in store for Jay Thomas in 2022?
Jay Thomas. Given the state of the world today, that’s a really tough question. I will say, though, through all of the madness we’ve been hit with these past two years, music has helped keep society hopeful.
It’s the one last universal language we have left, and God willing, I’ll continue contributing to that passion for as long as I can. I aspire to make a difference with my songs, lyrics, and music; by difference, I mean hope, joy, and heart.
IRIE. Is there anything you would like to say or share with the Irie Magazine audience
Jay Thomas. I’d like to give special thanks to IRIE for believing in me and my journey. It’s so hard to find a genuine support network that is sincerely doing great things in the realm of music and other artistic facets of creative industries. What you do to keep artists’ in tune, inspired and motivated, is epic. The way you promote artists far and wide GLOBALLY is also absolutely incredible. A massive thank you from the heart.
Much Love & Respect, Jay Thomas!
ZOOLOOK. Yes, I! One Love, Jay Thomas!
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