Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Interview With LFK's Nicholas St. James: "I'm just an honest vaudeville performer."

Perhaps you've recently wandered into the Replay or Jackpot late at night, expecting to encounter the usual three or four-piece rock band bashing their way through a set, and discovered instead a heavily-bearded solo songwriter, hunched over his guitar, making a helluva racket, howling those "Gypsy blues," sounding his "barbaric yawp" over the roofs of LFK (if you catch our Whitman reference).  Well, if so, that was Mr. Nicholas St. James, and you'll find him at the Replay again this Saturday, releasing an EP on a triple-bill with Westerners and The Sluts (who are also releasing an EP).

We sat down with Nicholas to find out how he's managing to carve out a solo career alongside these rockers.  Check out his website to sample some tunes from the Honeysuckle EP and enjoy the interview.

Chip:  Increasingly, the good citizens of LFK are seeing the name "Nicholas St. James" popping up on bills alongside their favorite local rockers.  So who IS Nicholas St. James, and what does he stand for?

Nicholas:  Who IS Nicholas St. James? I'm not sure... If you have any ideas, I'd be open to hearing them! I moved to Lawrence about seven years ago and only within the past year have I decided to make the move to performing publicly. A lot of the music I listen to was made seventy or so years ago--stuff like Robert Johnson, Fats Domino, old Smithsonian Folkways recordings--but the local scene here in Lawrence is easily producing some of my favorite contemporary music.  We live in such a diverse music town where you really can see nearly anything you want on any given night. I spent my first six years here soaking up everything that Lawrence had to offer before I felt like I had something to say that added to the "conversation." I would be the first to tell you that a lot of my influences show in my music, but what's made things interesting, for me at least, is that those influences really shouldn't belong together.  However, I think this has also allowed me to share the stage with someone like Tyler Gregory and then play with a band like The Sluts the very next night. 

My show is usually just myself on acoustic guitar, playing through a couple of tube amps and trying to give the impression that there's a lot more going on than there actually is. I don't use loops or any "programed" equipment, but I'm always looking for ways to make the crowd ignore the fact it's really just a single guy with an acoustic guitar up there. 

I'd heard someone say once that they like beautiful melodies telling them terrible things, like a nursery rhyme detailing a car accident, and that's usually where I go when I sit-down to write a tune. Coming from a personal space is always difficult for me to do when writing, but I enjoy finding the not-so-good quirks that make us all human and telling a story. We seem to be living in a time where everything has this shiny, plastic, artificial perfection, and folks seem to buy into that, a lot.  However, that's not really the world we live in. 

I'm just an honest vaudeville performer. 

Richard:  As Chip suggests, you seem to be popping up on the rock circuit as much or more than the folkie kind of shows that other solo artists might play.  How do you describe your sound and how is it being received by the rowdy late night rock crowds?  Are they paying attention?

Nicholas:  I Heart Local Music described my tunes as Gypsy Blues in a recent write-up and, I have to say, I could not have asked for or thought up a better description. A lot of what I do is just my take on artists like Lead Belly, so there is a lot of simplicity and storytelling involved in my music, but I also have a fondness for surprises and 90 degree turns in tunes that can make someone's ears perk-up. I recently told a friend who was at my house playing a few tunes with me that I wanted his part to sound like "a turn-of-the-century circus put on by pirates," and that is really what I'm aiming for each time I write a tune--I want to write THAT soundtrack!

As I mentioned already, I bring a lot of gear with me that any other solo artist might not, so there is a bit more noise and tonal possibility available to me than, say, someone with just an acoustic guitar, but none of that matters if the tunes aren't there--everything else is just a distraction, a 90 degree turn, to get folks to listen to the tunes. The being said, those "distractions" afford me the opportunity to share the stage with a wide-range of diverse, amazing acts because I can "turn-up" and get gritty if need be.  

I have been incredibly lucky over the past year to get a lot of validation and help from some of the more established acts in town, and I think that has helped anyone who may be listening to accept what it is I am doing. It's one thing for someone at a show to come-up and say they appreciate what it is you're doing, but when another musician tells you they dig, it's this strange feeling of parental-approval because, really, all of the acts in this town, no matter how diverse, are all in this together and you know those people are "fighting" for the same thing you are. So, yeah, people seemingly are starting to pay attention, and I continue to work on the live show to "hook" those ears from walking out the door. The great thing about music is it's all so diverse and there is something for everyone, so people won't always like what you do because it's not for them, and there is no problem with that. should always put all you have into it while you're on stage to grab those that may be interested and show them that you're just as committed to the experience they're sharing with you. 

Chip:  I was just listening to "Before I Quit It" from the Honeysuckle EP prior to this interview.  That's some harrowing shit!  Now I'm a little bit scared of you.  Should I be?

Nicholas:  Yes. 

Well, no. As I alluded to earlier, I like to write about things that may not be entirely pleasant, but things that make us human. I've been told by folks I meet after shows that they were taken back by how approachable I was, which is a hoot. It's nice not being able to write personal tunes because I can focus more on a performance and not an emotion, which allows that "switch" to be flipped much easier. So, no, don't be scared. Let's be best friends!

Richard:  Leave our readers with a blurb that convinces them they absolutely  NEED to make it out for the Replay EP release show with The Sluts and Westerners on the 26th.

Nicholas:  Why come to the EP release show on July 26th at Replay? Well, for starters, because The Sluts and Westerners will be playing! Also, The Sluts are releasing their very own EP that night as well, The Loser EP, so you have choices, should you care to leave the show with some music!

The show obviously hasn't happened yet, and maybe this isn't something I should be saying as an act on the bill, but what an amazing event showcasing three local bands that are all doing something a little different! All three of us are going to be bringing out a few surprises and you're sure to see a thing or two from me that I haven't included in the act before that'd I'd love to share here, but a lady never tells...

Here's the great poster you've been seeing all over town!  REDRUM! 

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