From the moment he picked up his father’s electric guitar, Jay Killman rarely thought about much else other than music. By age 10, playing music became his favorite pastime. Now 23-year-old Killman is booking gigs all over the Cape Fear region. His unique, instrumental sound reflects elements of jazz, rock and indie folk.
“It has always been a struggle to express myself in the form of words,” he explains. “A result from that was a heavier focus on my actions: guitar-playing and playing instruments in general. It is much easier for me to describe past emotions, future dreams and feelings of all types in the form of music.”
Born and raised in Wilmington, Jay Killman started his own band, the Jay Killman Project, a year ago. His family and friends had a huge impact on his drive as a musician.
“I remember the first time I picked up my dad’s guitar,” Killman tells. “I played it on full blast; it was electric of course. I played it sideways in my lap with my thumb and just made a bunch of noise. It was the greatest thing in the world.”
With his dad providing Killman his foundation for guitar basics, Killman began to explore and teach himself everything about the instrument. The same can be said about his experience on drums, bass, keyboard, and saxophone. During childhood the young musician listened to everything from Eric Clapton to Steely Dan, to Beck and The Beatles. “I breathed Jimi Hendrix,” he admits. “Of course, I was fascinated and mesmerized by his guitar playing, but more so with his attitude and personalty, especially his outlook on a musical perspective.”
Killman writes from personal experiences of his loved ones and is inspired by nature. One of his newest songs, “You & I,” is a look on relationships in general. “It was not written with any specific relationship in mind,” he clarifies, “but the idea and thought of how beautiful, and sometimes devastating, love can be.”
Finding his footing on this musical path has been challenging. Mainly, facing the fear of failure haunts him. “When I started playing, it was originally a very nerve-racking experience,” Killman tells. “At my first show, the guy up front told me I was too loud—more or less. So I stopped playing for 20 or 30 minutes; I had no idea what was going on. But it was exciting.”
Accepting the pre-show jitters, Killman has realized it is all part of the territory. “It is the same feeling that a soccer player would get before a game, or along those lines,” he notes. “I had to accept that it is a part of playing music and without the initial jitters of a show, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable.”
Killman has honed his skills at gauging the audience and ensuring proper stage etiquacy. Since the Jay Killman Project only includes him, it’s challenging for recording and creating music. Killman is basically a one-man show, from musician to producer. He typically totes an acoustic or electric guitar to the stage, and utilizes the help of a loop pedal to add layers of sound, as if a band is playing along.
Though his solo career just started—he plays up to four shows a week—Killman also begun a new band, Black Heart Gold. The group recently played their first show at Fermental and have aspirations to create an EP of five songs in September.
Black Heart Gold’s lyricist, Matthew Harden, has been pursuing music professionally for over 10 years with his hip-hop group, Built to Write. They have released two albums thus far, “El Sci” and “Face Valyou.” His musical experience offers promise and high hopes for Black Heart Gold, according to Killman.
The band formed when Harden moved to Wilmington from Virginia six months ago. He knew Black Heart Gold’s keyboardist, Rene Plowden, with whom Killman had been friends since childhood. Plowden also introduced Black Heart’s drummer, Brandon Campbell, and bass player Sean Shanahan into the mix. After a successful “jam session” amongst these potential members, Black Heart Gold formed.
While Killman’s sound is strictly instrumental, he wrote the music for Black Heart Gold as a cross between jazz, hip-hop, rock, and R&B. “It is something to be heard for sure,” he explains. “The greatest aspect about this group is our overall sound. Everyone brings a different [musical] background to the melting pot.”
Along with Black Heart Gold, Killman plans to continue the Jay Killman Project. Killman has high goals. However, the main one stands as being true to himself.
“I just want to play and express myself; all other goals are secondary,” he says. “So, in that theory, I am achieving it as we speak. If I were to choose another goal it would be to reach a wide range of audiences. It would make me very happy for people to hear my music and hopefully, in return, inspire people.”
The Jay Killman Project will be playing at Fermental on July 11, 8 p.m.