RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW WELSH ARTIST PAUL JAMES
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
First of all, I should establish that I’m 65 so music has been an important part of my life for a long time. My father loved classical music and he was very keen that I learned to play the piano, but I could never take to the rigidity and formality of what I was being shown. I wanted to be inventive. I don’t like straight copying, even now I get bored by it. I guess that’s why, now I’ve found some time to give to music, I still feel the urge to be creative.
Introduce us to your musical history.
Oh, all the usual efforts and errors I suspect of a self-taught wannabe guitar player, along with the school bands, occasional solo gigs and later, the open mics – but I suspect the biggest influence was being brought up in a pub where music was the very fabric of its existence, especially acoustic folk and blues.
Name your 3 favourite albums.
I expect everybody says how impossible a question this is. I will, therefore, change it to the three albums I think were the most influential – and I’ve no doubt that as soon as I have made the choices, I’ll want to change them!
Bob Dylan has to be in there. Indeed, it would be hard just to choose three favourite Bob Dylan albums! There’s a song on my album, ‘Remember Your Name’ called ‘Amnesia (Song for a Motorcycle Enthusiast) which relates to the time of Dylan’s motorcycle accident and period of severe memory loss. Imagine that when you’re one of the world’s most famous songwriters and performers! But, anyway, which album? It really is an impossible task but the album I played repeatedly as a youth, which I still think permeates my very being, is ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,’ where he took the leap of faith to introduce the world to, largely, his own material – and what material it was!
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band must also get a mention because of his startling willingness to push the boundaries and melt the concept of musical genres whilst, at the same time, maintaining lyrical and musical synchronicity along with technical excellence. Again, where do you start when selecting an album? If you are looking for audacious innovation and daring, I guess it’s hard to look further than ‘Trout Mask Replica.’
I should mention so many others. People who know me will be startled that I’m not going to include Miles Davis or Pink Floyd amongst others here, but it’ll have to be Tom Waits, who himself was so influenced by Bob Dylan and Captain Beefheart. His ‘Small Change’ album knocked me out when I first heard it, with its combination of jazz and humorous beat-style poetry. I’m still marked by it to this day.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a musical path?
I guess you’re used to asking this question to younger people with less musical clutter and fresher memories. It was probably something like Pinky and Perky, but the songs I remember sending shivers down my spine were the likes of Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ and ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol.’ That’s a feeling/connection you don’t forget in a hurry.
The music industry is the hardest industry in the world to progress in. How do you feel you are doing?
I’ll remind you. I’m a 65-year-old retired teacher. I had opportunities to enter the music business when I was a teen, but I didn’t fancy the ‘business’ side of it. It seemed fraught with uncertainty and dangers even then. I went into teaching and found that tough enough! I think the music industry might have killed me! Now, I can dabble on the fringes of the music business with relative impunity and independence, and that’s the way I like it.
I’m seeing a lot of debate about women not feeling safe at music gigs. Any thoughts on what we need to do to help?
I really have no idea. I only attend small local gigs. If I go to a concert, it’s usually to experience classical music or opera. There are rarely any issues of which I’m aware at these venues – but I’m not a woman either. I don’t imagine I have the same sensibilities – not that I imagine all women have the same sensibilities either!
As you develop as an artist and develop using socials what ways do you get new ears on your music? Any tips?
I actually know very little about the current music scene or social media. I absorb things too easily so I’m always afraid I’ll copy stuff. It’s probably another reason why I listen, in the main, to classical music.
Tell us two truths and a lie about you.
I don’t really get the idea of this question. I try to tell the truth as much as is humanly possible – even though it would seem we’re not very well-wired for truth-telling. My memory is too poor to be a good liar – though I do try to consider people’s feelings and can occasionally get in a tangle accordingly. Telling the truth, it seems to me, is not only generally the better policy, but it’s simpler too!
One truth is I’m procrastinating with this question – and I’ve probably done too much of that in my life. Another truth is that I’m beginning to recognise that I’m an okay person. I think I’ve probably been pretty hard on myself in that regard. The lie? I hate dark chocolate!
What are your thoughts on Spotify’s monopoly on the music industry?
I didn’t even realise they had a monopoly on the music industry. I thought monopolies were illegal. Maybe that’s part of my famous naivety again! It’s not something I’ve thought about, never mind investigated. If there’s somebody out there who’s interested enough to listen to any of my songs, I’m happy. I guess I’ll have to trust in serendipity!
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
I try not to sign up for anything if I can help it. What do we really know? We are fed the scraps of information those in power feel it safe to throw in the wind.
Did you buy anything you didn’t need in the pandemic?
Some guitars I didn’t really need. I’m not sorry I’ve got them though!
What was your worst experience on stage?
My worst experiences always revolve around forgetting words (an ever-present concern and too regular an occurrence) and sound quality (which is often out of my hands).
Tell us something about you that people would be surprised about.
It seems I, unwittingly, started the first all-African rugby side in Zimbabwe when I was teaching there. It came to the attention of the newspapers, and I was subsequently interviewed on television about it.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
Nothing. I don’t stand out. There are very few artists who ‘stand out’ in any field – and I’m clearly not one of them. I’m happy if people listen!
I hear you have a new music album. What can you tell us about it?
It’s called, ‘Remember Your Name,’ which is the title of a song on the album about being honest with yourself. It was recorded very quickly with very little pre-planning or preparation by Jordan Day-Williams at COBRA Music Studio in Newport, South Wales. There was no intention to release it. It’s an honest selection of songs which I believe fairly represents where I was musically on the day it was recorded – and considering the whole process happened in a relative flash, I’m pretty comfortable with it.
Talk me through the process of the new tunes.
I simply wait for inspiration. I don’t have to sit myself down and write songs for a living or for company deadlines, therefore, I don’t have to worry about it. It either happens or it doesn’t. I do try to listen to Dylan’s advice about trying to get it all in one go when the inspiration comes. I then usually record it on my phone and put it straight onto my Facebook page in draft form – which I regard as my scrapbook. There are many songs on there that I’ve only ever played once!
What was the recording process like?
I was totally new to it, but Jordan at COBRA is a really affable, as well as a knowledgeable guy. He put me at my ease, made me feel comfortable and so we cracked on. I played. He recorded. Twenty songs into the process we discussed making an album from what we had, and he suggested I contact Ditto, which I did.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing new tunes?
The biggest learning curve for me has been to be apposite, not clever.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
No. When something is finished there is no more you can do. It’s time to move on!
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Yeah. Don’t attempt to cross the road when you’ve got your eyes on your phone and your concentration elsewhere!