In the 36 years since forming Half Japanese out of the bedroom he shared with brother David in Coldwater, Michigan, Jad Fair has become one of the most multi-faceted faces of alternative music. Alongside creating some of the most charming and joyously naïve music ever put to tape with Half Japanese, Fair has also led a meandering and yet constantly progressive solo career; pushing the boundaries of outsider music, releasing dozens of records with shocking consistency, and collaborating with an all-star cast of co-conspirators ranging from Yo La Tengo to Teenage Fanclub to The Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker.

With his recently released solo effort His Name Itself Is Music pushing new sonic territory for Fair, largely eschewing guitar altogether, and all 14 Half Japanese albums being reissued by Fire in 2012, things are as busy as ever for Jad Fair. I caught up with him in a Dalston cafe on a grey Friday afternoon, amidst the fallout from a stellar show the night before at the Lexington, to chat about everything from Dada to UFOs.

The new record definitely seems like one of your most sonically adventurous, what were your influences when making it? Musical or otherwise?

I really don’t give it much thought. I turn on the recorder and do it. It’s not anything I give too much thought too, I’m sure there is some thinking involved (laughs), I’m just not aware of it.

Compared to early Half Japanese stuff, it feels like you’ve come a long way; it seems like there’s a minimal amount of guitar on this record compared to your previous output.

Very little, there’s some synthesizer and samples but lots of vocals.

Was that a conscious decision to move away from guitar?

Well, I was wanting to do something different because I’ve done so many albums with guitar, I thought it would be nice to do one without.

Releasing as many albums as you have over the years, I guess it’s always good to mix things up. With all these Half Japanese albums being reissued, what’s your personal favourite?

The very first EP my brother and I did, The Calling All Girls EP. Or, my first solo EP The Zombies of Mora-Tau, that’s one of my favourites. The album Hot is very strong and Charmed Life…I like very much.

Musically and lyrically, you seem to be able to put things across in simple and effective terms, is this something that comes naturally or do you have to work hard to achieve it?

I like to keep things natural and being natural comes very easy for me (laughs). I think a lot of musicians start out trying to sound like somebody else. They want to play guitar like Eric, what’s his name? Eric Clapton. But me when I started playing guitar, I just wanted to sound like me playing guitar, so that comes very fast and I can be natural and direct; those would be the key words.

I think that’s something a lot of people could take a page from.

Well you would think that being yourself would be the easiest thing possible. Yet being yourself is something that a lot of people seem to have a problem with.

Over the years you’ve collaborated with a lot of people; Yo La Tengo, Teenage Fanclub et al. Did you imagine, all those years ago when you started Half Japanese with David, that you’d make a career out of it, let alone such a successful one?

No I didn’t. I thought I would be an artist. I was planning to go into commercial artwork and I’m still doing a bit of that now. When I was going to college, that’s what I thought I would do but then music took up more and more of my time and I shifted direction. Now I’m getting back to doing more artwork.

You’ve designed a lot of artwork for your records over the years; when you design it do you have the music on the record in mind as you’re doing it? Or do you like to keep the two separate?

Well they’re pretty separate. Usually the music will come first, and then for the artwork I’ll come up with several different designs, send copies to the different band members, and ask them if they have a favourite. And that’s how it comes together.

So it’s quite a democratic process deciding on the artwork?

I mean I definitely call the shots, but it’s friendly (laughs).

What is it about paper-cutting that appeals to you? What got you into it in the first place?

My brother David was doing paper-cuttings, and I really liked what he was doing. I like the simplicity of the look; it’s black-and-white, it’s so stark. To me it reminds me a bit of print-making; the process is obviously different but there’s some very similar things to them.

It seems like avant-garde art, and the more outsider face of it, is getting a lot more attention than experimental or outsider music, in terms of press and public acclaim, as you’re an artist and a musician, what’s your perspective on this?

I think that art publications as a whole are more progressive than most music publications – so many music publications just seem conservative to me. You’ll see a music publication saying if I’m playing guitar and not tuning then I’m not playing chords. Whereas if I’m doing artwork, and an art magazine said the colours I’m using aren’t realistic then that would seem so square – they would never say that. I mean, back in like 1915, before the Dada movement, the art world was very conservative but after Dada I think the art scene press was very much open to things, much more so than the music press.

With music that’s noisy, it almost seems like you’re only allowed to do that if you’re recognized by museums or by colleges, but if you’re just somebody doing it and you don’t have those credentials, or if you don’t have a PhD, they snub you.

I remember reading a while ago about you seeing a UFO, what’s the story behind that? How did it happen?

Well, I was out with my brother David and we saw a very bright light up in the sky; it was circular, it was extremely bright and it was coming down slowly into a wooded area – so I called the police department. And I thought the police would be insolent to me, that they’d ridicule me for saying that I’m seeing a UFO, but they said that a number of other people had called in saying that they’d seen the same thing. And I have absolutely no idea what it was. I’m not saying it was a flying saucer; I’m just saying it was something up in the sky that I’ve never seen before.

On a final note, anything else you’d like to add?

Well that Mick Hobbs and I are working on a couple of albums with the band (Strobe Talbot) and that’s all going very well…John Dieterich from Deerhoof is mixing it.

Sounds great, thanks Jad.