College of Charleston alumnus Jay Shepard ’04 was an economics major with a passion for music and this month, his passion paid off. The Florence, S.C., native released his debut album, Harsh Mistress, on July 3, 2012 (internationally on July 10 through iTunes Europe) with a preview track featured on Grammy.com. Shepard worked with prominent producer, Matty Amendola, and 825 Records.
Dubbing his sound to be alternative, many of Shepard’s songs deal with themes of romance, unrequited love and sexual conquest. “As far as the sound, we were going for rock-and-roll guitars, Beatles-esque harmonies, with sly-modern production,” explained Shepard. “And of course, the most important ingredient – good songs with catchy hooks.”
Though this is his debut album, Shepard is no stranger to the music scene. He started playing the piano at age 10 and the guitar at age 13. At the College of Charleston, he debated between a major in music and economics.
“Music was my love, and economics was my fallback plan, you know, in case I broke a finger or got arthritis,” Shepard joked.
Shepard played gigs along King Street through college, before spending a year touring the Southeast and ultimately moving to New York City. At one point, he fell back on his economics degree and spent more than a year working as a personal banker at Bank of America.
Through a twist of fate, producer Matty Amendola met Shepard while playing drums on a 22-city tour with a dance troupe, in 2007. Jay came in to sub one week, playing guitar and the two instantly clicked, both musically and personally. For the past three years, Shepard has been working on the album and touring, doing 175 shows a year with various bands in venues ranging from dive bars to Radio City Music Hall.
“It was really a jazz professor at the College who made me commit to pursuing music,” Shepard says. “Before I declared a major, Jim Bastian told me to do what I love and money will come. After college, when I was in banking, my heart wasn’t in it and I decided I was going to have to work hard no matter what I was doing, so I might as well be doing something I love. My economics degree also puts me in a better position to keep an eye on the business side of music, rather than just focusing on the art.”