Jake Hays Interview: Son of Runaway Cherie Currie and Actor Robert Hays Stakes His Own Claim
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Musicians
Image attributed to Olivia DeLaurentis
Jake Hays was born into the heart of the entertainment industry. The son of actor Robert Hays (Airplane!) and musician Cherie Currie (The Runaways), Jake is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, actor, VFX (visual effects) artist and producer. After releasing his debut EP on Vagrant Records (under the project name Maudlin Strangers), his musical talent has taken him on several international tours with artists such as Cold War Kids, Coasts and Bad Suns.
At 19 years old, Jake collaborated with his mom on her latest album, Blvds of Splendor, which had been in the works for ten years (and released earlier this year). In November 2018, while he was away in Texas filming the indie 80s-inspired action movie Night Run, Jake lost his home and recording studio in the Woolsey fire. He rebuilt a small recording setup in the following months and began writing and recording as many songs as possible including the debut single “Sleep Talk,” which was the first song ever released under his birth name, and it was included on his debut EP titled Room 13.
"I really lucked out in getting a very awesome pair of badass, hilarious, amazing people to be my parents. When it comes to childhood, I’ll have these faint memories, kind of vivid-like flashes and photos from childhood."
The video and single “Sober,” which is about realizing one’s addiction and trying to pull yourself out of it, was released in June of 2020. On July 10, 2020, the single “Threads” came out and can be heard on Spotify.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Jake, how are you doing in these strange times of quarantining?
Jake Hays: I’m doing pretty great. I’m doing as good as you can in this crazy world, you know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Bingewatching or indulging in video games?
Jake Hays: Oh, my God! I think a healthy mix of both. It’s been an absurd amount of bingewatching terrible reality TV shows. That’s been one thing that’s been poisoning my brain (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I have been really enjoying your music!
Jake Hays: Thank you so much! I really appreciate that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You were recently featured in American Songwriter. The article mentioned your song “Sober” and also compared your vocals to Alex Turner, the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys. Is that band a musical influence?
Jake Hays: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. The Arctic Monkeys and Alex Turner have always been one of my favorites and specifically Alex’s voice. Back in 2015, I had a project called Maudlin Strangers and was signed to Vagrant Records, which is an indie label, and the constant comparison was to the Arctic Monkeys. So I love that. Alex has one of my favorite voices, so I figure if somebody thinks I sound like him, then I’m lucking out.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The American Songwriter article also says that in “Sober,” you explore the idea of sobriety and drug use. My take was that the song was about any addition. Is that right?
Jake Hays: Yes. Exactly like you said. It really is applicable to any addiction. Whether it’s actual substance or relationships or whatever it is, we’ve all experienced a feeling of unhealthy addiction. It’s the moment you realize that maybe this isn’t the healthiest thing for me. Maybe I should get out. It’s something that’s difficult to realize and even more difficult to pull yourself outof.
I have a history of substance abuse in my family. Coming from an entertainment industry family of the 70s, 80s and 90s, you can imagine all the drugs and addition that went through that. So I definitely have an understanding how brutal addiction can be and just how dark. With the music video, the story with alcoholics is that they’ll find themselves closed off from the outside world and put themselves in their own home.
So the idea of the video is being stuck in the house with the addiction, which was personified in kind of a devilish form in the video, but it’s really about not being able to pull yourself away from it and being trapped. It’s something I feel like a lot of people have felt in one way or another. Again, whether it’s with early relationship or long relationships or actual substance abuse, I feel that it’s just such a common feeling.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So you’re not speaking from personal experiences you've had yourself?
Jake Hays: It’s primarily observation, however, I’ve been a big weed advocate for the past decade of my life. I do notice the addiction tendencies with weed. Certainly with my parents, I know that I have addictive tendencies in my blood. My mom’s dad died an alcoholic. He literally died from cirrhosis of the liver. I grew up really being aware of alcohol and aware of how evil it can be and the hold it can take on you. It thankfully caused me to be a hell of a lot more cautious when it came to that stuff and just to be aware of not taking things too far.
However, with marijuana, I definitely found a friend in that, especially creatively and with stress. This was my way of eliminating high stress levels without having it turn into something more detrimental health wise or turning to actual drugs that I never wanted to touch. Weed was my way of avoiding all that stuff. But yet, I can still recognize the tendencies in it. But, yes, in a long-winded way of answering your question, it’s primarily witnessing addiction happen in other people that I’m close to.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So what were you going for exactly with the lighting and ambience in the “Sober” video?
Jake Hays: The lighting was supposed to be a character itself, and the red light is like the addiction is back. In the chorus when it drops, the red lights all come up, and previously, they had just been down the hall being the impending light. It was supposed to be that the addiction is in the room, and then in the second verse when I’m outside of the house and trying to get away from the addiction, the addiction still follows me outside.
Even at the very end of the music video when all the lights one-by-one finally drop down, and there are no lights on at all, a few frames before it cuts to black, you see the red light coming back down the hall. It’s like the moment you think you have it under control, but it’s still there trying to put its claws in you no matter what. So it’s scary.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is the video just one of the projects you’ve worked on with your girlfriend Olivia DeLaurentis?
Jake Hays: Yeah. We’ve been quarantined together actually. I have been quarantining with my best friend/roommate who did the lighting in the video, and then in the process with everything happening, I ended up moving back to my mom’s house in West Hills. I had lived with my dad since 2005 in high school, and our house burned down in the Woolsey fire that happened in the end of 2018. I had a studio that was lost in the fire, and the following year, I was trying to get my footing again and to find out what felt like home.
Oddly enough, I ended back in my childhood home, which is funny. Now, I have a studio set up here. But I’ve been quarantined with my girlfriend, and we’ve just started making little projects because there’s nothing else to do. I did a VFX color correction for the show she had out on Snapchat because she’s an actress, director and writer. Her show on Snapchat is called Apocalypse Goals. It’s a funny dark comedy, and I got to do the VFX work for all that. It recently came out. Now, we’re planning a video on the song “Threads” which came out July 10. With everything changing and touring not going to happen until realistically next year, it’s been interesting to just shift everything over to an online persona. I wanted to get a lot of music and video content out there because … why not?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What is “Threads” about?
Jake Hays: It’s basically about a relationship going sour, but they’re still wanting to work for it and make it right. It’s an “I want to work this out kind of thing because we have so much history.” That’s essentially the foundation of the song. I’d had this song prior to the fire, and I brought it with me on a hard drive while I was filming Night Run, an 80s action movie. That’s why I was gone when the fire happened. But it was one of the very few songs that survived the fire technically because I had brought it with me for some reason. So then I added new lyrics and everything, but the music is actually the same.
It’s kind of fun because it feels like it’s from a different part of my life because after the fire, there was this weird chapter shift where I just felt like a blank slate. It’s hard to think of my life before. It feels more like I was watching a movie or something because so much weird stuff has happened. Everything’s changed so drastically in a year that it just feels a little surreal. So this song is fun for me because I see some of pre-fire and post-fire in it. It’s a fun kind of 80s-feel, up-tempo song.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I love your mom, by the way. She’s interviewed with us several times. Just a sweetheart.
Jake Hays: Oh, thank you! I love her, too. She’s the best.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Cherie’s latest album, Blvds of Splendor, is exceptional, and you were a part of that magic. What was the experience like working with your mom?
Jake Hays: You know, it was such an amazing experience, and it was over ten years ago, too, which is crazy that it took so long for the album to come out. I was 19 at the time, and to be put in a room with Matt Sorum from Velvet Revolver and Guns N’ Roses and all those high-caliber musicians and getting to jam with them was just amazing! I had to audition for it still even thought I was my mom’s son. She was like, “I want my son to at least come in and audition, but I’m rooting for him!” I went in and played some songs with Matt, and it was just so fun and felt so comfortable. It was like, “Cool! This is the band now.”
I got to play an amazing show at the Pacific Amphitheatre in front of about 9,500 people. It overflowed into the back lawn behind the seats. That experience was one of the most surreal nights of my life just looking out over that sea of people and my mom walking up and kissing my cheek on stage. It was just a fun little thing to be able to share with her forever. Then the album came after that, and I really learned so much from that experience and saw the hardships you go through making an album. Songwriting is a very vulnerable experience.
But I had such a blast with it, and I love the album. I think it’s just a kickass rock album, and the fact that it’s finally out makes me so happy. Mom’s just showing it, and her voice sounds spectacular. Her voice only gets better as time goes on, which is crazy. But it doesn’t change. It only gets better.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I definitely agree. Tell me about growing up with Cherie Currie and Robert Hays.
Jake Hays: I really lucked out in getting a very awesome pair of badass, hilarious, amazing people to be my parents. When it comes to childhood, I’ll have these faint memories, kind of vivid-like flashes and photos from childhood. But my parents did also get divorced when I was relatively young. So I kind of remember the split, going to other houses, that kind of transition a little more than I remember my young, young childhood. But they were amazing because they knew by how they handled getting the divorce was going to determine how messed up I would be growing up. They remained friends. They did everything so cordially, and they became better friends after they were married than they were when they were married.
So it was really amazing, and because of that, I feel like it allowed me to have such a healthy relationship with both of them. I was able to see both of them on holidays. We’d all get together. It wasn’t like a weird separation where I couldn’t talk about my mom or I couldn’t talk about my dad in front of the other one. It was never like that. There was always so much love no matter what the circumstance was. There was always so much love. And for that, I’m very grateful to them because they consciously did what was right for their child throughout all of the heartache. I just can’t believe they did that, but I’m forever grateful that they did.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: When did you realize you wanted to join the family business, and was it an interest in music or acting that came first?
Jake Hays: It’s funny. It has been both my whole life, and it flip flops. One of my early memories is in first grade casting my friends to be in a zombie film that I was going to make, which never happened. I’ve always been a very artistically driven person. So when I was a kid, I would cast friends for movies I was going to make. I would make all of the props and kind of start writing a script, but I’d mainly get all the costumes and décor and all this stuff that’s so not necessary until there’s an actual script (laughs). Then I would never make the movie. I was always very artistic, and I was drawn to filmmaking and all that.
My dad had a little voiceover studio at his house, and a friend of his (who was also in my mom’s band) was using it to record music. He had this awesome green-sparkled drum set. And Oh, my God, I got to sit down and just mess around with it. It became just this magical feeling. Then I started jamming with his son who was a guitar player and older than me. I got to play the one drumbeat I’d figured out how to play. That just started to grow this little love for music.
Mickey Miller was his name, and he taught me “Stairway to Heaven” as my first song on guitar (laughs). Once I learned that, I started messing with the recording programs, everything changed, and I was all about music. My dad got me my first guitar from Costco. So instead of casting friends to be in my films, I was getting friends to be in my band. I was just all about music. That continued for the rest of my life up until probably about 2016 when I decided to take a break from music to pursue acting, something I’ve always wanted to do. I figured that was the time to do it because I’d been touring a bunch, and touring was really difficult. I’d gotten chickenpox on tour, and touring had just beat the hell out of me.
So I wanted to take some time off and pursue acting. Then I did that for a couple of years until the fire. After the fire, I just would find so much healing in writing music again, which I really hadn’t been doing. And then, it dawned on me, “You idiot! Why did you ever stop music? This is what you’re supposed to do. This is what you love to do.” So now I’m glad I took the break.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, I’m old enough to remember your dad guest starring on Marcus Welby, M.D., in the 70s. Did youever think of trying your acting skills on television?
Jake Hays: That’s awesome (laughs). I did. And I still love acting so much. Each day, I still have those feelings that it would be fun to pursue acting, but I realize I’m such a bad multitasker, I should just focus on music for a while. Sticking with music would be easier to transition into the other field and play around in acting. My end goal is to be able to do both.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your parents both had and have successful careers. Do you feel any pressure living up to that?
Jake Hays: There’s absolutely pressure I put on myself just in general. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself. I don’t feel pressure from either of them. They’ve been so supportive and very much like, “Hey, this is your journey. Do it however you want. Just enjoy the ride and learn from your mistakes.” That’s how they raised me. They took me to church once when I was a little kid and said, “How do you feel about that?” I was like, “I don’t know.” They said, “Cool. You don’t ever have to do it again if you don’t want to.”
They weren’t force feeding me anything. They wanted me to make my own discoveries and just let my brain inject the world around me. The world’s always changing, so they said to make my own viewpoints on it. That’s been very nice. And the same goes for the career, too. They’re very much like, “Do whatever you want to do as long as you’re happy and safe.” For me, I need to make sure I do everything to the best I possibly can, which will hinder certain songs from being released because I’ll say, “Oh, this isn’t good enough.” So it’s a blessing and a curse for putting so much pressure on yourself. It’s a good motivator, but the stress can definitely get to you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’re close to 30 years old. Are you where you want to be, Jake?
Jake Hays: I will be 30 in February, and that’s just the craziest thing because I’m wondering where all the time went. Yeah. If I had found any success far earlier, I would somehow have sabotaged it. I wasn’t mature enough to understand how to maintain it and how to prioritize certain things. So I’m definitely happy with the fact that things have turned out the way they have, and I’m very hopeful and really excited for all the new music to come. But I’m certainly a planner and very much like, “Whatever the hell happens, we’ll make it work, and we’ll get through it.”
The fire absolutely gave me that mentality of, “You know what? I shouldn’t stress about this right now because tomorrow everything could change.” It’s made a lot of things easier, which is nice. It’s been a weight off of me. Some of that pressure has left and just gone back to, “Hey, how about you just enjoy what you do?”
That was the other thing. I had started putting so much pressure on my music back in 2015 and touring that it became a chore. It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t feel like I was making music for the right reasons. My A&R guy at the label was getting in my head about my songwriting and telling me it was wrong and all this stuff. It really messed me up for a little bit and took all of the sweetness out of the music so that it was only sour. I just needed to step away from it. That break was crucial though because now I’m just having more fun than I’ve ever had. So that’s a good thing.
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