Phillip James

Call & Response: Philip James

Free album releases are more important for independent artists and bands these days, and word of mouth has become even more crucial these days for bands hoping to build an audience. Just take a look at Toronto's Foxes in Fiction and Heartbeat Hotel, or New York City's Cults, whose free 7-inch turned them into one of the most talked-about musical acts. Philip James is another artist who has decided to go the free route. You can download James' 2011 LP Nights for free on his Bandcamp page. And James is another excellent addition to the psychedelic and shoegaze community. Here's what he had to say about his new album.

What directly influences your musical style?

It's a mish-mash of many artists, but the acoustic finger styling of John Fahey has been a big influence on my musicianship. He was a self-taught player who had created his own genre of acoustic finger styling called "American Primitivism". He was able to take the blue grass finger styling technique and make it into a true compositional medium, as opposed to a form of guitar playing made to match with vocals. As a producer, many hip-hop and experimental producers really help me evaluate the use of sampling and beat making: Flying Lotus, J Dilla, Eric Copeland, Panda Bear, and Aphex Twin just to name a few.

Sound design in general is a great interest of mine, so when I'm going around downtown and hear a really fresh sound, I will try to either capture the sound with my phone being the field recorder, or if I can, I will try and source a similar sound in my library. It can be anything really: a nice summer day ambience by a creek, a construction site noise, a defective washroom fan, etc. If the sound interests me, I'll try to incorporate it into a track, usually as a bridging point between songs.

How would you describe the shoegaze scene in Toronto? Would you say that Toronto has a good environment for ("bedroom") musicians like yourself?

I have been hearing a lot about emerging Toronto artists from this scene, and it is always great to see Canadian music being recognized on a large scale. I believe Toronto has quite a diverse set of subcultures, and that it's a great place for bedroom musicians, because there is an audience for everything. If you put dedication and craft into your music, you will be able to find a home for it here.

Most people - not just musicians - struggle to be heard. What's your goal as an artist?

I would say that as an artist, I want to share a part of myself with the world. I have been writing songs since I was 16, and started producing music under Philip James since I was about eighteen, and I've been trying to get myself heard for quite a while. I want to keep working at my production skills and live performance so that I can get as many people to hear me as possible.

There are so many layers in your songs. When do you feel you're finished with a track?

I think it's just intuitive, really. When I'm making a track, I'll be jamming on my guitar with some effects, and find a really cool sound or a sample I like, and use it as my starting layer. From there I will tinker with a song for days, listening to demos of it on my music player until I feel it is finished. The vocals are usually the last part implemented into a track, and I can tell the instrumental is good when I can figure out a vocal melody quickly thereafter.

Resentment seems to be a recurring theme in Nights. What sort of things do you feel when you hear your own music?

Nights as an album is an assortment of songs I've made over the past year, and I think one or two tracks written two years ago. I have had serious troubles with anxiety and depression for most of my life, which has prevented me doing a lot of things. It has made me resent choices I've made, and resent others for being easy off and carefree, whether or not that is the case. Some of the songs are very energizing despite the subject matter, and other songs still make me feel very exposed when I listen to them, which I think has helped me heal in a way.

What's the story behind "Nostalgia" (one of my favourites in the album)?

I wrote this song in early January of this year. I had just gotten a new pitch-shifting pedal, and decided to try and write a new song before a performance at Rancho Relaxo that night. I had made some cool sounding guitar loops on my SP404, and went from there. I just wanted to make a fun, danceable song with some lyrics that my friends would enjoy about times from our youth.

What can people expect at your next show at The Drake Hotel?

I always aim to please when I play. People can expect to hear some modified works from Nights, as well as some unreleased material. The show is on Election Day, so maybe I'll add in a couple of zingers to Harper if I can fit them in.


Catch Philip James, along with Cherry Chapstick, and other special guests at The Drake Hotel on May, May 2nd.

You can download James' LP Nights for free on his Bandcamp page, and download "Nostalgia" - previously featured on The Neighbourhood Mixtape: Quiet Hours - below.

Philip James - "Nostalgia" (MP3)

Lead photo of Philip James by Meghan Gribben.

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