By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
It’s tempting, in 2021, to assume a piece of music or art named “Free of This Disease” might be about coronavirus. After all, we’ve all been hoping to be free of the pandemic, and the ways it has upended our life.
But Montclair-based musician Jai Agnish had something very different in mind when he penned his new electronic single. He describes it as an “introspective journey through addiction, reconciliation and rebirth.”
“Free of this Disease” is one of four singles Agnish is releasing this year, with the hopes to release a complete EP or album by next year.
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“I found that as I deepened on my sobriety and kind of dealt with some personal regrets from my past, I found that my passion for music came back,” Agnish said.
In an interview with Montclair Local, Agnish only spoke broadly about his issues with addiction and recovery, but said he’d had to deal with regrets as he worked through them.
“There were things that I think were deep-seated in me, that I needed to really take head-on,” Agnish said. “I’m using music as a way to express myself and what’s in me. But I would hope that some of these feelings and these reflections are somewhat universal and can touch people and affect people in a positive way.”
In the early 2000s, Agnish released his first CD through his own music label, Blue Bunny Records. The CD, “Automata,” is described on its Amazon listing as “futuristic folk” with “quirky drum machine programming, found sound sampling and acoustic guitar grounded in lo-fi influences.”
Agnish’s friend and bandmate at the time, Sufjan Stevens — who in the time has become a Grammy and Academy Award-nominated musician with eight albums of his own — contributed with some of the recordings. In 2000, they put out a second CD, “8:21: A Blue Bunny Compilation,” on Agnish’s indie label, featuring songs by each of them.
He played in venues across New York City and New Jersey, and did a small East Coast tour traveling to Baltimore, Boston and Pennsylvania.
Agnish is also an award-winning multimedia journalist. In 2001, he ran a fanzine called “Flygirl,” a self-published magazine in order to support the known and unknown indie musicians he loved and befriended (including Stevens).
“It was a way for me to promote different artists that I knew,” Agnish said. “I did like seven or eight editions to that.”
The magazine included interviews with famed and influential indie rock musicians such as Lou Barlow and Liz Phair as well.
After running the fanzine, Agnish moved deeper into journalism focusing on writing, photography and videography. He eventually became a local reporter and editor with The Record, NorthJersey.com and the USA Today Network. He now works as a communications manager for the Archdiocese of Newark.
He’d stopped releasing music in 2008, but recently re-released his entire back-catalog to multiple streaming platforms.
With the release of this new single, Agnish hopes to get back to creating music, which he says is not so different from being a journalist.
“As a reporter, you’re basically constructing an article or you’re constructing a video. There are certain creative elements and design choices that go into that,” Agnish said. “Music is very much related. It’s a process like: ‘Hey, this is a sound, I think it’s really cool. Let me lay it down, let me try a few different things.’”
Agnish said his sense of creating music has evolved. The years running the fanzine, creating a record label and working as a reporter have made him grown as a person and as a musician, he said.
“I feel I do have something to say now and I’m a little more cautious about what I write, whereas before, my lyrics were almost just like a placeholder for the melody. Kind of like an afterthought to a degree,” Agnish said. “Now I feel I’m trying to just write better lyrics and tell stories. And give some kind of message or meaning out there to try to resonate with people.”
Agnish’s next single, “Take Me Back There,” which will be released at the end of August, is about looking back on growing up in West Milford and playing in the back yard of his house with his brother and friends. It’s got an upbeat tune, and its cover features an old photo — Agnish wants to pay homage to his childhood in a nostalgic way.
“It was a very precious moment to me spending time back there with my friends and family,” Agnish said. “And that moment is no longer with me but now we have new moments and new experiences.”
The third single and fourth single will be released in the upcoming months across music platforms and on Agnish’s website, jaiagnish.com.
Agnish said he is thinking of recording an EP or a full-length album with more acoustic guitar-based music.
“I think that’s probably the next step. I haven’t thought that far ahead yet,” Agnish said. “I’m just trying to kind of enjoy the moment and make as much music as possible.”