Moe Berg (The Pursuit Of Happiness) says “James takes the power pop traditions of The Beatles, Jellyfish and Split Enz and combines them with the high IQ lyrics of Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. The result makes him one of Canada’s greatest unsung songwriters”.
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to James about how The Colour Of Happy came about.
What was the moment you knew you were on to something?
Looking back, I think that every time I’ve started a new project, I have felt like I’m onto something. But with this new album, “The Colour Of Happy” I ‘m definitely onto something! This is the one! No, really, REALLY this time!
How did this record come together?
Due to life’s other plans, it was a slow process to say the least. In October 2017 Moe Berg and I began talking about working together again on a new JCI album (he had produced most of the last album, “Yesterday’s Misadventures”). I eventually began sending Moe demos of songs and by the end of 2018 we had picked the songs to record. We didn’t actually get into the studio until May 0f 2019 for various reasons. We spent the rest of that year recording off and on, whenever schedules would allow, and it looked like tracking would finally be finished by March 2020. But as I mentioned earlier, life had other plans. We had one last session booked when the first Covid lock down struck. So, we ended up having to wait until September 2020 to finish the tracking. Mixing took place through the fall and was wrapped up by December. Mastering was completed in the early new year and… Ta Da! Just like that, here we are!
When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?
I don’t usually like to ask for a lot of opinions. Too many cooks can spoil the souffle. However, half of the songs on the album were worked up by the band and performed live to test drive them. The other half were originally demoed as simple guitar and voice recordings and sent to Moe. He and I arranged those songs together and were never performed until we got into the studio.
The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?
As I understand it, success these days for an artist is to get your music on as many Spotify playlists as you possibly can. As much as that would be a real high to have happen and I hope it does find an audience in that regard, I already feel a great sense of reward knowing that this group of amazing musicians, singers and engineers have created a “hit album.” The only missing component is the opportunity to tour the album. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to do that at some point.
How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?
Frustratingly great! Because the making of the new album was such a long process, I can’t help but look at those songs as being quite old to me although I know they are brand new to the world. But there has always been a big part of me that just wants to keep moving forward. With not a lot of anything going on this past year, I’ve spent a large part of it writing. I’m already thinking of the next album and what it might sound like. If I’m not creating, then I’m not “The Colour Of Happy.”
What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?
It would be a two-way tie for different reasons. We played an outdoor festival show in June of 2017. My mother was very ill at the time, but she had decided that she wanted to attend. It was a lovely moment to look out from the stage and see her smiling and obviously having a good time. She passed a couple of months later and so that memory of her really enjoying herself for probably the last time in her life remains very vivid with me. A few months later we were at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto opening up a sold-out show for The Pursuit Of Happiness. There’s no better feeling than having a sold-out room of people who are there to see the other band, digging your songs and your sound.
When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?
Every time I release an album the little braggart inside of me thinks he’s written at least one hit. But on this new album he thinks he’s written a few! Once the album was mixed and mastered, Moe stated that if this was a different time, we’d have a smash hit on our hands. I would definitely agree. So yes, this time the little braggart might be right but he’s a few decades off.
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
Absolutely! But I may say that because I love recording. There’s that old saying that says once the record is finished that that’s when the real work begins. That’s when it’s time to do my promo cap and my promo cap isn’t the most comfortable fit. Let’s face it, there is a whole lot of music out there these days competing for everyone’s short attention span.
Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?
The last 5 songs I listened to today. 1. Too Many people – Paul McCartney 2. History Never Repeats – Split Enz 3. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown – Frank Sinatra 4. Fat Pop – Paul Weller 5. The Only Living Boy In New York – Simon & Garfunkel.
You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?
I’ve been told that the lyrics are my strongest point, and they are certainly what I spend the most time on. Maybe a little too much time but I won’t release anything until I’m satisfied that I’ve not overused the word “baby”. On a side note, because The Colour Of Happy has been released on vinyl, it gave me the opportunity to include a lyric sheet this time around.