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By: Eliot Fearey

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In 2005, up and coming musician, Derek James, co-produced his debut album Stray, which has since crept onto the iPods of music lovers on the downtown Manhattan and college circuit. The beats are infectious and the lyrics resonate days after a concert. But, what is most appealing is the depth, both in terms of style and lyrical content, which the young artist has managed to reach. Drawing upon personal experience as the primary source of inspiration, James delivers songs that speak to the chance relationships (perhaps better known as “Free Love”) that one enjoys in his twenties as well as his generation’s desire to redirect the lunatic political trajectory of the last few years. Stylistically, he uses a number of sources, including Bob Dylan’s earlier work and the American ragtime sound of the 1910s. The diversity of the tracks appeals to any audience. In other words, it doesn’t get tired.  Three years later, the artist is bursting with creative energy and ready to produce another album. Many have predicted that he is on his way to becoming the next John Mayer or Jack Johnson and it is my recommendation that you catch him in concert while the venues are small and the shows remain intimate.

Thirsty: In 2005, you came out with your first album, Stray, which was self-released.

Derek James: Yes, this was after I had been living in France, for about eight months, playing gigs in bars and on the streets of Aix en Provence, with a bunch of French guys, who I had met there. So, when I came back home, I found myself working as a live in nanny and writing a bunch of songs in this family’s basement. These songs eventually became the basis for Stray, which I released on my own imprint.

Thirsty: You mention that you are inspired by a lot of older artists. I’m curious about the level on which you relate to these musicians. Do you try and imitate their style or do you pick up on a bit of a song and try to elaborate from there?

Derek James: Wow, that’s a good question. I always try to create something new. I’m definitely very inspired by melodic patterns, rhythms and song textures of an older generation. I like the rawness of the old Bob Dylan, very simple guitar, lyrics, and a raspy voice. Then, I love the bounce of Ringo’s drumming and am very much drawn to the tambourine and rhythm of Clearance Clearwater Revival. Those are the kind of songs that I really love. I am not consciously trying to write songs in this vein, it is just naturally what I want to come up with.

Thirsty: Then, in terms of your writing process, do you start with a lyric, or a riff, and then build from there?

Derek James: It can start in a variety of ways. It can start from a lyric. For example, I was at the movies once, seeing Blood Diamond and there is a line where Leonardo diCaprio’s character is dying and says, “I am exactly where I am supposed to be.” Lyrics can come to me from all sorts of different ways, but that’s where that line is from. My girlfriend at that time, who is a songwriter too, actually pointed it out, and I stole her attention to that line. But, I took that line, started singing it and playing with the guitar, and then the song followed.

Thirsty: Which song is it in?

Derek James: It is actually not on the CD.  That one will be on my next album. 

Writing Process continued….
Or, again in terms of process, a lot of times it will just be a melody, or guitar chords, that I like. I’ll sing gibberish along to a progression, the way I like to hear the gibberish and after that I’ll come up with real words to replace the gibberish.

Thirsty: Are personal experiences a drawing pool, or source of inspiration, for your songs?

Derek James: Definitely. A lot of it comes from personal experience.  I can get pretty imaginative at times, but nothing is as easy or meaningful for me to write as things that I relate to directly.

Thirsty: Is it difficult to reveal personal experiences to a public audience?

Derek James: I think that is a decision every artist has to make, how much of themselves they are going to expose. I could write songs about more intimate things than I have written. All of my stuff is very personal, but I try not to spell out exactly what it is I am talking about.

Thirsty: How do you know when a song is done?

Derek James: That’s a great question. I often start playing a song out live before its done, which I like and I don’t like. I like it because when I write a song, I’ll only continue to write it if I am excited about it and like to play it out live.  I have a hard time saying when a song is done, because I often think of them as amorphous forever.  I still change some lyrics to older songs when I sing them today.

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Thirsty: Is audience feedback a big part of that?

Derek James: It is definitely. Not so much in their personal comments after, more so in how they are responding, if they are dancing, and how I feel.

Thirsty: You do a lot of promotion through the Internet: MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. Is the web changing the dynamic of how musicians get out there? Has it made it easier?

Derek James: Well, the Internet has been around since I started doing this. So, I think it is interesting to wonder how my music would fare in an era without the Internet. I think it has definitely exposed my music to a lot more people. MySpace is great for putting your music in people’s hands who never would have had access to it before. At the same time there is just this flood of media and everyone is putting himself out there. However, it still seems like everybody is able to filter through. The things that are good get spread around more than the stuff people don’t like as much.

Thirsty: In terms of upcoming projects, are there any plans for a new album?

Derek James: Well, I have material for over three CDs, but recording is expensive, if you are going to do it the way that I want to do it. I’d want to work with certain musicians who would charge me money. But, I’m excited to record a second album because the songs will have a new maturity that’s happened since the first record.

Thirsty: Do you plan to keep working as a solo artist or will Derek James and the Lovely Fools produce the second album together as a band?

Derek James: Derek James and the Lovely Fools is a moniker for the guys that I play with, I don’t have a set band. This is not because I don’t want a band, but because I think of a band as a marriage. I haven’t found anybody that I want to settle down with. There are a lot of musicians that I love playing with, each one for their own special characteristics and musical qualities. There have been people who I wanted to make permanent fixtures within my musical creations. For example, one of these producers, who is a fantastic bass player, I would sign off for him to be my permanent bass player for the next five years. Nearly everything he plays is so musically aligned and in sync with what I love, so it is just a great match. I feel the same way about the drummer on the Stray CD. But, all of these guys ultimately want to produce music more than perform it. They aren’t ready to commit or they are already musically married themselves.



All opinions expressed by Eliot Fearey are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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