James goes beyond the usual formula

Joshua James has finally accepted the “singer-songwriter” label, but that doesn’t mean that he likes
Joshua James will play Saturday at Valentine’s in Albany.
Joshua James will play Saturday at Valentine’s in Albany.

Joshua James has finally accepted the “singer-songwriter” label. However, that doesn’t mean that he likes it.

“I don’t think it’s a terrible thing,” he said during a phone interview while heading to a tour stop in Chapel Hill, N.C. “But when people hear ‘singer-songwriter,’ they just think of a guy in a coffee shop singing about love. I don’t want to be classified as that, but it is what it is.”

The first song on James’ 2007 debut, “The Sun is Always Brighter,” would seem to affirm his desire to not sing about love. “The New Love Song” is a scathing attack on pop radio love songs, with a chorus that borrows straight from Paul McCartney in declaring James’ distaste: “Well, another silly love song could make me sick.” Despite the venom in James’ delivery, he says love songs in general are not necessarily bad.

“I write love songs, I love love, I am in love,” James said. “The typical love song we hear on the radio is so cheesy and fake and not sincere, and that’s more of the meaning behind that. I’m not anti-love songs. There are so many beautiful love songs and I’d be a fool to really think that, but you turn on the radio right now, put it to a station, and it’ll be a stupid song about whatever. It feels like such an oversaturated topic, not that it’s not important.”

Album tour

The Utah-based, 25-year-old musician is currently touring the U.S. in support of his album, and will be at Valentine’s on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. It’s his second appearance at the venue, having made his debut solo at Valentine’s in November to a “humble crowd” of about 50 or 60.

This performance will be different, however, as James is now touring for the first time with a backing band. The resulting fleshed-out arrangements have helped to shift his sound away from the singer-songwriter genre slightly.

“This will be a full-band extravaganza,” he said. “I’m sort of excited; it’s definitely a different dynamic with a band than when I play by myself.”

James lands squarely in the indie rock vein, bringing to mind artists such as Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst, whom he cites as an influence, along with old standbys Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

He grew up in Nebraska listening to Led Zeppelin, The Doors and Pink Floyd, but never had much desire to become a musician himself. He was attending college in Utah when he picked up his first guitar at age 21 and began performing.

“It was more of an outlet for me than anything; it was never a plan to play music with people, but that’s what it’s sort of become,” James said. “I was actually going into nursing school when things started happening, and then I had this record, and my manager and other people thought we should start touring. I haven’t had time to do any schooling since the beginning of this whole thing.”

James started out performing covers, but soon began writing his own material. His songs tackle issues from the environment (“Geese”) to war (“Our Brother’s Blood”) to suicide (“Tell My Pa”).

Eye-opening trip

His songwriting was inspired, in part, by a trip to Venezuela shortly before he began playing music, undertaken on a whim.

“It kind of just happened; it was a journey, I guess, a soul-searching-esque journey, kind of just experiencing other things,” James said. “I grew up in Nebraska, where it’s very slack, humid and hot. It’s different from other places such as Utah and Venezuela, it’s a completely different dynamic.”

His experiences there became a starting point for much of his lyrical content.

“It obviously was a big cornerstone of what I write about, because of the differences between the U.S. and South America, the different cultures, different people, seeing things, the poverty and humility of the people there. It obviously influenced how I think, write and am now,” James said. “It plays a very large role in what I am, and plays a large role in the songs.”

Joshua James

when: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Valentine’s, 17 New Scotland Avenue, Albany

how much: $10

more info: 432-6572, www.valentinesalbany.com

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply