I saw James walking to Worner through the windows on the first floor. He was coming to meet me for an interview I had asked him about a few days prior. He looked down when he walked with his hands in the pockets of his brightly colored shorts. He was wearing a faded red sweatshirt with a colorful hat that had a stitched weed leaf on it. He slid into the chair across from me at exactly 4:30, when we had agreed to meet. As I explained to him the purpose of my interview and my intentions with the article, he seemed a little uncertain. After we started speaking more openly, however, this vanished and he answered my questions honestly and enthusiastically.
James’s musicianship started in high school when he played bass in a band. He says this was fun for a while, but working with other people has never been one of his strong attributes, and he grew frustrated with the lack of originality they held. Around this time, he heard dubstep for the first time. He was in his friend’s basement, and the exposure to the music sparked an interest almost immediately.
“I had no idea what I was listening to, and I didn’t even like it at first, but I was so interested because I’d never heard anything that sounded like it before. It was dark, not like the candy house bullshit that we listen to clubbing, which I never really liked. It was different and dark, and I really liked that.”
He began working out little songs on Garage Band, but soon learned that you can’t really make good music on Garage Band, so he switched to a more official program that allowed him to create the music he wanted to. He taught himself how to create, watching videos and reading forums. He began with a focus on producing, learning new things constantly as he continued to experiment. James has a variety of ways that he goes about creating and producing his music. It can be linear and calculated, or emerge organically, but he made it clear that he never forces anything.
“Sometimes I’ll find vocal samples in someone else’s song that I can use, just like a snippet or something, and take it and slow it down or speed it up or make it go backwards, and then chop it up and make my own melody out of it, and then figure out a beat to go behind that. Sometimes I’ll just think about an idea for a feeling and take a whole bunch of sound bites that will lend themselves to that and throw them together and see where it goes. I find it’s easier to work, especially recently, where I don’t have an end goal in mind. I start with an idea and let myself take it wherever it goes. It ends up sounding more natural that way.”
If you want to see James DJ live, it’ll most likely be at a house party under the name “Sleepy James”. He says that this is where he primarily is able to showcase his abilities, however DJing at a house party has its benefits and drawbacks. As a DJ, James accepts a responsibility to ensure that guests have an enjoyable time. This comes at a cost to his creativity sometimes, for a medium must be achieved between what he really wants to play and what the guests want to hear.
“I can’t always play what I want to. I have to make the party happen and make sure people dance and have a good time. I can’t freak people out with the stuff that I only like. I’m trying to strike a balance between not being too weird so people can dance, but also play things that people haven’t heard before.”
At parties, James does all his mixing on the spot. He has routines that he knows well, such as what songs go well together or lead into each other, but his sets are not normally planned out or practiced. Other than his performance at Battle of the Bands, he tries to stay away from a laid out set, and finds that the longer sets where he can improvise lend themselves to more interesting and unique creations.
James says that creating music is both a routine and a distraction for him. When he starts making music he can get lost in it for hours and forget about anything else of importance. As he continues to talk about why he chooses to make music, I watch a wide grin spread its way across his face. Soon, I’m not asking any more questions, and he’s staring into space talking about the feeling he gets when he creates and DJs.
“It’s satisfying to create something from scratch and from the sounds I hear around me. There’s something in the artistic process that’s very satisfying. It’s cheesy to say I’m expressing myself, but I guess so. DJing is fun- I hope it makes the party better, and people have a great time and have something to dance to- I can make them move. I have control over the mood of the whole thing. I can get really really dark, and bring it to a place that’s happier. I can build up a drop and not drop it and everyone yells at me. It’s really fun to fuck with people like that. That sounds bad, but it’s actually really cool.”
James can fill up a house party easily. Not only is he talented in his creations and performances, but he exudes a passion that the audience can sense. I was surprised by his enthusiasm during our interview, but I realized after that I shouldn’t have been. Seeing him talk about his music openly and honestly made me understand how important it all is to him, and I hope to see him perform again before he graduates.
After graduating this spring, James plans to move back to Paris where he grew up. He’s going to continue to create music, and is hoping to find small venues in Paris to play at and showcase his work. He’s also finally going to make a soundcloud.