Waiting To Inhale
James Michael’s Inhale starts off with a blast of fresh air, catchy pulses of guitar fuzz that lead from strolling verses to singalong choruses. His new album, due October 10th on Beyond Records, is a pop rocker’s dream, a classy collection of stick-in-your-head goodness. I spoke to James Michael in between bouts of publicity and promotion.
What have you been up to lately?
Well, I’m gearing up for the release of my record. I just got done with a radio promo tour, where I went around the country playing at a bunch of radio stations. It’s taken a couple of months out of my life. I’m back for a couple of days, then heading through Colorado and the West Coast for more radio dates. And then out with a band, playing clubs in November.
I noticed you played most of the instruments in Inhale yourself. Is the band from those people who guested on the record?
A couple of those musicians are with me in this band, It’s about half and half. I made the record up in northern California, and I’ve moved to L.A. since then. I wanted to use some Los Angeles musicians and keep it kinda close.
Where in northern California were you?
I was in the Bay Area, a little town called Alameda. I used to have a house and recording studio up there — it’s a little island off Oakland.
Is this a record that has been cooking for a while?
It really is. I’ve made a few records with bands, but this is really the first time that I’ve sat down and made a record the way I’ve wanted to make it, and kept complete control over it. That’s why I ended up playing a lot of the instruments myself — I had been in so many situations where I was writing songs, I had a band, and I’d let the whole band arrange it, and end up losing a lot of the severity of the song. I was never really happy with the way the songs ended up. I wanted this record to be something I could look back at and at least feel like I was expressing myself and be proud of. Which is the way it turned out, I think.
What other records do you think someone who likes James Michael would have?
Early Tom Petty, early Cars. Do you remember Gary Myrick and the Figures? I was really taken by their first record. That really early ’80s pop rock, almost Brit-rock type of feel, with a little punk thrown in there.
It’s pretty punchy.
It was really easy to make the record sound this way; it ended up sounding like a lot of these old records that I used to love, the old Joe Jackson stuff, the old Cars, Gary Numan and Tubeway Army, the synthesizer textures worked in with rock guitars. It didn’t take much thought; it came and turned out that way. When I think of the top ten records I’d like to listen to, they are those old records.
I saw the Joe Jackson cover in there [“Is She Really Going Out With Him”]…
The reason I put that on the record is that when I was a little kid, I was living in London, in a building that was a bit of an artist’s building — musicians, visual artists, whatever, they lived there. My father is an artist, and he was teaching over there for a while. We had a woman that lived beneath us that was a classical pianist, and the guy that lived above us was a French hornist. They would practice eight hours a day, just plodding away on their instruments.
So out of necessity, I would take this English old-fashioned radio and just crank it up, listen to British radio all day. It was right around the time Joe Jackson was breaking huge, getting heavy rotation in England, and that song was playing every ten minutes, it seemed. I was so taken by that, I think that over the years I’ve unwittingly applied his phrasing and melodic approach to my music. When I got about halfway through making my record, I thought I heard a lot of his influence. What a perfect thing — I’ll just pop in the cover in there. I never intended to go out and play it, but now people are asking for it so I’ll have to teach it to the band.
Do you hear French horns and pianos every time that song comes on now?
I don’t — fortunately, I’ve suppressed those memories. When I think back to those times, I think of an incredibly electric time on radio. It wasn’t heavily punk, but there was this punk influence. It was such a healthy time in music.
So when you say you’re influenced by British power pop and rock influence, it’s probably direct from the radio.
Absolutely. I definitely carried that with me, and when we moved back to the States, it was Tom Petty time, and Cars time, and I think I am really a product of whatever was playing on pop radio at the time.