Miami-based gay singer-songwriter Jay Thomas and his musician-producer and boyfriend Oscar Quesada decided to make the best of it after the pandemic brought live performances to a halt.
They created a quarantine album: “Concierta Quarantina.”
Thomas’ sister Zjolie (who lived down the block) joined the pair on the mini-album recorded in their one-bedroom apartment. It features three tracks: "Orphans," "Walls (Wish I Could Touch You)," and "Outside."
The album was naturally influenced by all the uncertainty of weeks of quarantine, but also by family experiences.
Thomas said he and his sister were latchkey kids with mostly absent parents and largely raised by neighbors. His parents divorced when they were young and their mother died when they were young as well.
Thomas would end up living with his father – now a Rod Stewart impersonator who performs in South Florida. They haven’t spoken in several years.
--The year is 2020, there has been a pandemic outbreak
--It's a killer corona
--There are bodies piling up at the churches I've social-distanced from
--Our amici tried to warn us, but we're holdin' on to our rights and guns.
Those lines are from the opening track of “Orphans,” a song with fast beats and heavy guitar. The words "I still want you" is sung and repeated by Zjolie in the track as an ode to missing their parents. The album is also meant to show the emotional rawness people went through during quarantine. Thomas said he wasn’t looking for a “let’s all love each other” message.
Quesada, who is also the program manager for Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center, produced and recorded “Concierta Quarantina,” adding background harmonies and string work.
‘Not love at first sight’
Thomas and Quesada have been together since they met during the second semester of their freshman year at Florida State University in Tallahassee about 14 years ago. Thomas majored in philosophy, Quesada in commercial music.
“My apartment was the weed-smoking apartment and Oscar and his buddies would come over and I’d have horror movies on,” Thomas said. “It was not love at first sight. We thought each other were so weird. Oscar was like a music nerd who had never been to a party.”
Thomas introduced Quesada to college parties and his love for horror movies.
“He was like this annoyingly hyper gay,” Quesada said with a smile. “I’ve lived a very sheltered life compared to Jay’s very wild party house life.”
At FSU, the two formed the band Bluejay with Zjolie (also known as Jojo Sunshine). Bluejay – acoustic with an indie-folk vibe – produced two albums and toured. The first Bluejay album, “Goblins,” was created as part of Quesada’s senior project.
Thomas would later drop the Bluejay name and record his first solo album “Fantasma Tropical” with dark, ethereal tracks and driving beats and grooves.
Gay Florida life
Thomas was born in Hollywood and Quesada in Miami.
Quesada has been a musician since the fourth grade. He played violin, sang in the chorus and played steel pan. He soon switched from violin to cello, which he’s been playing ever since and is known for. But he’s a specialist on several instruments and is known for creating sensuous arrangements.
Quesada was the first and only of his siblings to leave South Florida for college. He’s the youngest of three boys in a Cuban-American household.
Thomas said he was the only out gay person in his high school class at South Broward High School and Quesada came out at Coral Reef High School – the summer before ninth grade. He also openly dated a high school senior at the time.
“For a long time with Jay, I’d say ‘I love you’ and he’d be like ‘Thank you,’” Quesada said.
“That’s my Scottish cold side,” Thomas said.
Music is half of their life and Pokémon Go and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” the other half. “What more do you need?” Thomas said.
‘Want people to feel free’
After releasing “Concierta Quarantina,” Thomas and Quesada were awarded a competitive grant from the Knight Foundation to produce another album.
“I knew I wanted to write an album that was going to set people free after quarantine,” Thomas said. “Now we have the ability and skills behind us to react more to the now. I want every lyric of this album to feel good.”
“Butterfly Parade” will be released later this year, about 40 minutes long with 10 tracks. Thomas and Quesada are scheduled to perform it for the first time live at the North Beach Bandshell on March 17, 2022.
The album will feature full string sections, a choir – and when live performances commence – Thomas said he’ll have dancers and video projections to create an immersive experience.
“I want a witch to go down the aisles with sage,” Thomas said. “I want a fully sensual event with lights and smells. I want people to feel free.”
Whereas “Concierta Quarantina” was about “fuck this [and] claustrophobia,” the idea with Butterfly Parade, Thomas said, is “gratitude for investing in a deep inner-world.”
“I want to delve into the pain and loss of this last year, but I want to do it in a way that inspires wonder and connection,” Thomas said. “I would like this album to be mushroom-safe. Like, you could be tripping out and the lyrics will hold you on the journey. I want to conjure empathy over fear, beholding darkness as eternal rather than confronting or embodying it.”
To connect, go to @heyjaythomas and @oscarquesada on social media or online at heyjaythomas.com.