Born in a nursing home in late 1970s downtown Bangkok, Jay Zieseniss knew from an early age that he was different. This may have had something to do with the fact that that he found himself attending the International School of Bangkok - at the time predominantly populated by the children of American Military and Embassy Staff (his father is Thai, his mother is American) - and he sensed he had a unique perspective on the relationship between the local contingent and the military/diplomatic presence – “I could pass for white and people would say things in front of me that they wouldn’t say in front of other people,” he says now – although it could just as easily be that he had been told he was the great, great grandson of King Chulalongkom, Rama V, King of Siam, the widely-lauded monarch (known as The Royal Buddha), credited with abolishing slavery in Siam in 1905. For our purposes, however, we’d like to believe it is because his parents (unlike any others he came across) owned vinyl copies of records by Miles Davis, Santana, The Doors, Neil Young, Randy Newman and Kris Kristofferson and this – more than any special privileges he might have been afforded – informed his nascent musical outsider-dom.
As a young teenager, Zieseniss was packed off to boarding school (Le Rosey) in Switzerland where he joined the choir and became aware that a certain Sean Lennon had only just vacated the premises. Other Le Rosey luminaries included Albert Hammond Jnr and Julian Casablancas and before too long Zieseniss had struck up a friendship with the latter, becoming roommates and forming a band together. Naturally, this outfit never became the Strokes but Zieseniss did “fall in love with grunge music” and leave school with a determination to pursue a career in music. Subsequent forays into the live arena have seen Zieseniss performing at Thailand’s largest jazz festival as well as Le Festival des Trois Mondes in Lille and supporting Finlay Quaye, Towers Of London, The Zombies, Rooney, Hard Fi, The Kaiser Chiefs and The Libertines.
Zieseniss is perhaps best known as the lead guitarist/singer in Five By Five – think Kings Of Leon meets Pearl Jam - but it is as a solo performer that his attempts to “write the truth” really hit the spot: the White Stripes-influenced Prairie Survivor – “a fever dream about a man moving across the USA on thetrail that leads from the East Coast to the West” – acknowledges the colonization of America by the white man; Shanghaireimagines that exotic idyll as “a mythical place, an amalgamation of my childhood memories, playing on the streets in a concrete jungle all mixed in with Serge Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America, a fictional opium den like the one De Niro spends his time in in the film”; Good Fight is another “truth” – “It’s like raking up old leaves just to watch them blow away” – that proves uncomfortable reading; and The Distance is rock ‘n’ roll stripped of all escapism and where Zieseniss looks directly at the messiness and beauty of life as it is actually lived. These songs, in short, encompass both escapism and reality in equal measure and it is testament to Zieseniss’s half-Thai, half American upbringing that he can immerse himself in such antithetical dramas. Long may he continue.
- Phill Savidge