Christopher James resides in Nashville, he plays a mix of blues, 60s r&b, soul, & rock and cites his influences as Shooter Jennings, Jamey Johnson, Steve Earl, ZZ Top, Mountain & The Black Crowes to name just a few. We caught up with Christopher and chatted to him about boxing, Beatles cover versions and the daily fight for the rights of chickens, here's how we got on....
Please introduce yourself and your music in one sentence....
I'm Christopher James, Nashville based singer, guitarist and songwriter (formerly of Blackwater James) delving into southern rock and my own brand of country.
You were former front man of Nashville rock band Blackwater James, can you tell us the story behind them?
Around 2007/2008 I was exiting a rock band that sat somewhere between Ben Folds and The Fray. I grew up on southern rock, metal, and anything that sounds even remotely offensive…so needless to say I wanted something with a little more edge and swagger. At the time I was listening to a lot of Buckcherry, Silvertide and The Black Crowes and just naturally was writing material in that vein. I had three songs tracked and called up an old buddy to play drums on the three tracks and it sounded good…so we moved forward. The bass player for the last band I was in was interested and we found Deanna through the Nashville grape-vine. The four of us spent the next 6-8 months writing and recording the first album in the basement, just like any good rock band does. This band was unlike any other band I had been involved in. We had a vision that all of us agreed upon, similar inspirations, and we wrote our songs and crafted our sound before we ever played live. We played some amazing shows and got to meet some amazing people. The response from the band’s music really surprised us, especially in the UK and Europe. It seemed like over the course of the band we started to stick out more and more (and sometimes not in the best way); sounding more like Guns N Roses and less likes Nickelback, but to each his own.
What are pros and cons of being in a band and also being solo?
The pros and cons of being in a band are surprisingly similar. What makes a band strong can tear it apart. What makes a band unique can make it inaccessible. Being in a band is tricky, especially when you were as democratic as we were. I may have steered the ship but we all hoisted the sails and put in equal work. We all had to agree upon everything. That makes decisions slow but it also makes the bonds stronger. We were, and are, still a very tight-knit group of friends. There was always someone there to bounce ideas off and filter out the crap. As a solo artist I can make decisions at the drop of a hat, but those trusted advisors are nowhere to be found. So, those ideas (whether musical or business related) better be bad-ass. Cause there’s no going back. It’s liberating and scary as shit at the same time to be on your own. Luckily I’m still jamming and writing with Todd Schlosser, the drummer from Blackwater James, and we have a really good chemistry. I’ve known Todd since 2000 and we’ve been writing ever since. He’s always there to say, “Dude…that’s awesome!” or “That was a joke right? Cause that sounded awful and made me throw up in my mouth.”
How and when did you decide that you wanted to be in a band/solo performer?
Both my parent’s were touring musicians so I grew up wanting to be just like mom and dad. Also, my grandmother is from Northern Mississippi, loved Elvis and was always playing his music and showing me videos of his Viva Las Vegas and 68' Come Back Specials. As soon as I could walk she had me doing Elvis impersonations at dinner for friends and family. Naturally I loved the attention so I carried on. I was playing blues jams and local clubs at 10 and then fell in love with rock music. Started my first rock band at 13, started touring at 15, and the bug has stuck, one way or another.
As far as a specific moment for me deciding to be a performer, I would have to be the first time I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rendition of ‘Little Wing.’ I was sitting in the back of my mom’s car with my buddy Will on a 30-minute drive from Nashville to Murfreesboro. He asked my mom if he could play a tape and he reached over the front seat and dropped it in. We listened to It on repeat until we got home. The music hit me deep, emotionally, and made my chest heavy. I knew at that point I wanted to make music that affected people the same way that one song had affected me. The power of music is strongly underestimated.
What is the best advice you ever received and who was it from?
It’s simple, ”Make mistakes and take risks”. I know its cliché but it’s even more apparent in today’s musical marketplace. If you want to stand out and make a name for yourself you can’t play it safe. This was told to me by ex-Warrior Soul guitarist X-Factor who was working with a band I was playing guitar for. We were recording an EP and working on guitar solo’s. I was having a problem nailing a take and he told me to grab the closest object….which was a beer bottle. He told me to pour it out (right there in the studio) and incorporate into my solo somehow. Long story short, it worked, sounded awesome, and then he told me to always take chances. Don’t be afraid to live outside the box, especially musically.
What does music mean to you?
Music is freedom and escape. You express yourself the way you want to and that’s that. If you can’t personally express it you can find music to relate too. No one can take away how you feel about a song…no one!
In your opinion, what is the BEST album/record ever released?
Oh wow…I hate this question cause I feel like it changes constantly. Off the top of my head I would have to say Black Crowes ‘By Your Side’. I know it’s not one of their most celebrated records but damn it's good! To me, that record has everything; soul, rock, funk, sex, drugs, spirituality and it sounds amazing. Favourite track being ‘Horsehead’.
Being an unsigned musician how hard is it to get noticed?
Real hard, but I struggle with the signed/indie thing constantly. I’m from Nashville, and it’s just as full of success stories as it is nightmares, so there are definitely pros and cons to being signed. Being an unsigned musician is always difficult but I have to default to Dave Grohl. I saw an interview of Dave’s, not to long ago, and he talks about being a successful musician and I couldn’t have said it better. Essentially he says get in the garage and suck, write some tunes, make some noise, and PLAY LIVE! If you’re good enough people will notice.
How has social media aided your music?
Social media has given me a direct link to fans. I can interact with them and gain lifelong relationships with the people that will sustain my career for the long haul. I love being able to interact and know what my fans and friends are thinking, what they’re listening too, etc… It’s all about collaboration.
Being a boxing fan what were your thoughts on the Carl Froch vs George Groves bout on May 31st?
I was super excited about the match and was not surprised at all by the outcome. Froch is a beast and that man has a vicious right hand! Definitely wish I could have been there…I heard the atmosphere was electric!
Greatest boxer of all time?
I’ve got to go with Roberto Duran, the hands of stone! Its hard to find a fighter that is both insanely ruthless and that skilled.
What classic song would you have liked to have recorded and why?
Probably Wilson Pickett & Duane Allman’s version of ‘Hey Jude’….just listen to it and you’ll know why.
First gig you ever went to?
Probably Lynyrd Skynyrd & ZZ Top. My mom saw the same show in the 70’s with the original Skynyrd line-up and she thought it would be cool if I saw the same show later….and she was right. Also, Billy Gibbons is easily one of my top 5 guitar influences!
First song you learnt to play?
I think it was ‘Dance The Night Away’ by The Mavericks and ‘The Four Horsemen’ by Metallica.
The guitar riff that everytime you hear feels like an orgasm?
‘Mississippi Queen’ by Mountain….that opening riff & solo hits me in all the right places.
Name three people (alive, dead or fictional) that you would like as party guests?
Slash, Denis Leary & Rocky Balboa. Sounds like a kick ass party right???
There are many good bands and musicians out there, who would you ask the readers of musicmuso to look out for?
They’re not new by any means, but Silvertide is releasing a new single and If you haven’t heard them already you’re missing out! Their album ‘Show & Tell’ is a rock n’ roll masterpiece with one of my favourite guitarists, Nick Perri.
If you could describe your music in the form of a fictional character, who would it be?
Probably David Wooderson from Dazed & Confused….Matthew McConaughey’s character.
Do you think we can ever live in a world where a chicken can cross the road without having its motives questioned?
As a vegan I fight daily for the rights of the chicken…change can be made!
What are your plans for what remains of 2014?
Finishing up my solo debut. It’s sitting stylistically somewhere between ZZ Top & Keith Urban. As soon as the record is finished I will be giving away my single and launching a new website.
Have you had any ‘Spinal Tap’ Moments? If yes, please share!
Aside from the usual band hijinks, I cant say I’ve ever been locked in a stage cocoon or opened for a puppet show…but there’s still time.
Whilst he was further discussing issuing a bill of rights for chickens about to cross the road, we decided to throw in a few quick fire questions to lighten the mood....
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, unless of course you’re talking about southern style sweet-iced tea.
Coke or Pepsi?
Neither….RC Cola. It’s a southern thing ;)
Drum machine or the real deal?
Much to Todd’s enjoyment I prefer live drums.
Mac or PC?
Mac, hands down.
Taco or Burger?
I'm a vegan so either way it’s a lose/lose, but I’ll go with burger.
Lemmy (Motorhead) or Ozzy (Black Sabbath)?
Lemmy….SNAKE BITE LOVE!!!!! Saw them open for Foo Fighters a few years back. Mind = Blown!
CD or Vinyl?
CD. Vinyl is too easy for me to destroy, and it melts. Had a great vinyl collection as well as a house fire….once.
Car or Motorbike?
Car….specifically a late 60’s Cadillac.
Acoustic or electric?
Electric. I turn into a blathering idiot when someone hands me an acoustic guitar. It’s a completely different animal.
Shower or Bath?
Shower, quick and scalding.
Tattoos or Piercings?
Robert de Niro or Al Pacino?
Raging Bull or Scarface? That’s a tough one! Even though Im an avid boxer I gotta go with Pacino.
God or Google?
Definitely Google…. definitely.
We'd like to thank Christopher for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him every success in the future, especially with the launch of his solo debut album.
Interview by Mark Wincott