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It’s not uncommon to apply for graduate school to buy some time while figuring out how to navigate the career market, figuring out where you fit in. It is, however, rather uncommon that a masters graduate and his band of over five years ends up signing a deal with a record label just weeks after the spring commencement. That’s now; let’s back up to when things started.
Jay Martinez had just graduated high school and enrolled in the University of Texas at San Antonio when he realized that he needed a social group, a small network to enjoy while he wasn’t studying for his, at the time, undeclared major. So, he did what any sane person with a laptop seeking friends would do: posted an add on Craigslist. And as they say in the business, the rest is history.
Well, not quite that easy. Jay said he just wanted some people to hang out with.
“I posted a craigslist ad to see if anyone wanted to come over and play, and that was an adventure on its own. We pieced it together from there. None of us ever imagined this would be a career pursuit,” said Jay.
After sifting through the odd, scary, and off-putting responses, Jay secured 4 friends to play music with him to pass the time, and just like that the band had a name, Across the Atlantic, and his social endeavor transformed into a way of life. Eventually.
Jason Lugo (Guitar), Julio Bautista (Guitar), Jayy Garza (Bass). and Cody Cook (Drums) would meet up and play regularly at Jay’s (vocals) parent’s house, slowly realizing that the group they had formed may be more than a casual jam session to pass the time. Eventually, the band realized that not knowing each other and recording with a group of strangers was a blessing in disguise, creating the authentic and diverse sound that they produce today. So, the band agreed their music would become their top priority over friends, school, and even relationships.
“It took such a toll on all of us, but we all had a common goal to make the band everything we knew it could be. We were quite messy in the beginning, but it ended up working for us,” said Jay.
The band managed to release two albums on their own, scraping by financially and working day and night to promote their music for any sort of return on their investment. But the albums did not make money and would not see a profit for a long time. Even so, Jay and the band continued to write, produce, and tour by using their own dollar and own expertise. Luckily, Jay’s education proved most helpful.
After happening into his communication studies major in his undergrad, Jay realized his passion for communication with an audience, through spoken word, song, or otherwise.
“I took my first public speaking course and that was a game changer for me. I was always very shy when speaking, but I learned that speaking could be a performance. The more I did speeches, the more I was charismatic in my performance, “ said Jay.
And Jay never stopped performing, both on and off stage. His time in the SJMC at Texas State the past two years taught him a valuable lesson- never underestimate your own power to market yourself.
“People aren’t going to go spend money on a concert for a band they have never heard of, so we had to sell ourselves. What I learned in class was how important your image is, how important content is, and how important engagement with your audience is. These aren’t practical skills for most, and I learned this firsthand,” said Jay.
After learning that starting a band is not as easy as writing songs and making good music, Jay applied some of his practical skills from the classroom. His class with Dr. Judy Oskam, Creative Problem-Solving, proved to him that there is always a way to navigate an issue.
“I had always heard about how great Dr. Oskam was, but I hadn’t had a class with her yet. So I signed up and ended up learning that there is no problem too large. Dr. Oskam’s help and feedback were amazing,” said Jay.
Jay’s education and the band’s drive to succeed kept them above water for five years, but things began to take a turn as Jay began his last month of his graduate program. He began to feel the pressure of the financial constraints and began to compare himself to everyone else in his life who had their lives together, a family, kids. So he turned to his friends and family for sage advice, and the result was not what he anticipated.
“The people I went to suggested putting everything (the band) to the side and focusing more on my ‘career’- that was my fire. At that moment, I wanted to prove everybody wrong and that was the inspiration for this album. It’s not that they wanted to hurt me, they believed in me and wanted the best for me and everything they said was true. This is what provoked me to continue,” said Jay.
And so, he wrote. He worked with his music and lyrics in a way that he had never before.
“I went in thinking this is the last bit of music that I may produce. Writing this album was the first time that I wrote with no inhibitions, and just so much ambition. I put everything out there. I wanted to be at peace if this was it. And that sort of mentality drove me to a place where I found complete freedom in writing,” said Jay.
He and the band, who he had not yet told about his reservations to continue with the band, started recording their most recent album in the spring. Knowing that this album may be the last he worked on, Jay felt conflicted. After they recorded the music and were mixing the tape, he let the band know that this may be his last go.
“It took everybody by a huge surprise. We were still in the studio mixing and things were tense for the next two days. No one knew what the future held for the band,” said Jay.
But just as unexpected as successfully piecing together a band from a Craigslist ad, things took a dramatic turn two days later as they sat in their hotel lobby at a quiet breakfast.
“My phone rang and the caller ID said ‘Germany’ which I had never seen before. On the other end, a person with broken English began to speak, introducing themselves as a person from Sharp Tone Records…they offered us a record deal! It was so unexpected. We are just so thankful for our producer, who gave us the guidance and advice of how to maneuver ourselves through the ranks,” said Jay.
As you may have guessed, the band accepted the deal and Jay’s decision was confirmed- the show must go on. This summer the band began preparing for their first international tour ever, leaving for Europe in September, where they will debut songs from their most recent album, Works of Progress.
“These songs are so much more emotional than our last albums. Our albums are just so diverse. You can find metal, acoustic, and pop, and everybody defines us differently. It gives us so much freedom knowing that I am not boxed in by any constraints. As long as it sounds good, everything goes,” said Jay.
The band is excited to debut themselves alongside their new label abroad, which Jay says is a suitable start to a new beginning.
“This band was established on the foundation of diversity. It was hard at first to take other influences into our music at first, but different views have made our music what it is today. Across the Atlantic is the embodiment of being open to different people and different backgrounds. I think music is one of the things in life that can be considered as universal, regardless of religion, who you are, where you live,” said Jay.
Works of Progress, a fitting title to describe their journey and progress, debuts on Labor Day and is available on the Across the Atlantic’s website, Sharp Tone Records site, and on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Spotify for streaming. Three singles have already been released for your listening pleasure. The band is also presenting a free show to give back to the community that has supported them for over five years: San Antonio and surrounding areas. The concert is on August 18th, starting at 7:00 pm at The Korova in San Antonio. The band is expected to take the stage around 9:30 pm.
The band will be selling their new album at The Korova and it is available for preorder today. Check it out on any of the services mentioned above.
“I eventually want to focus on leaving my imprint on the media market by teaching so that I can be on both sides of the industry. But I am listening to my heart right now and that is what I want to inspire people to do. Don’t ever give up on your passion, just learn to trust your heart and emotions to lead you in the right direction,” said Jay.
It is this passion and drive to start the band that fuels each member today. Follow Jay and the band on their social platforms and Jay’s blog to see what they are up to next. If the past is any indicator of the future, we know it will be an amazing journey to follow.
Check out their music video and PSA against domestic violence: “Sundress Funeral”