Cape Town based roots and blues master, Andrew James, talks lap slide, steady tigers, an album that is red in tooth and claw – and a girl with a pair of distinctive boots under the umbrella.
Starting at the very beginning. Describe the definitive moment your love affair with music began.
Andrew: My father used to play the piano at night. I can remember him playing Rags and John Lennon. So there was a solid foundation of music in my early years.
I have distinct memories build around music as a child. The first was going to see Paul Simon play in Port Elizabeth in 1992. It was obviously a sensitive time in our history and I had not been to a concert or a real gig before in my life. I can remember sitting on my father’s shoulders and listening to Slip sliding away – being so moved – I can still remember how it felt, to be transported away by the music.
Another memory i have is of lying in the back of our family car, listening to Extreme’s More than Words on the radio and making my mind up – then and there – that I would learn to play the guitar – no matter what!
Your music has a roots and blues feel – with a smidge of soft rock stirred in. Musical inspiration behind your sound?
Andrew: Ani Difranco, Dave Matthews, Jose Gonzalez, John Butler, Led Zepplin, Nick Drake, Xavier Rudd, Ben Harper.
You’re a bit of a lap slide guitar genius. When and how did you make the decision to take to the lap slide method?
Was it something you grew up with…something you came across?
Andrew: It’s something I came across. I remember watching a live DVD of Ben Harper about 5 years ago. He was playing the lap slide and I remember thinking, “Wow that’s how he gets that particular sound! I must have one!”. I did some research online and found out how I could cheaply convert my spare acoustic guitar into a lap slide.
I bought an instructional DVD by Kelly Joe Phelps and I was away. I started coming across more contemporary lap slide players like John Butler, Xavier Rudd and Indian slide players like Debashish Batachariya. I listened to what they were doing and tried to figure out – how.
The musical influence that had on me, completely changed my approach to the normal acoustic guitar as well. Because the lap slide is played in open tunings using alternate thumb picking techniques – I started applying this to my other guitar and slowly developed a particular style and sound. A lot of roots music is played in open tunings using this finger style approach. It gives the music a definite flavor which people mostly relate to blues & roots.
The collaboration between you and The Steady Tiger – James van Minnen – is pure magic.
For a guitarist and a drummer to produce the sound you do is profound.
What lead to the birth of this collaboration?
Is it a once off colab, or a more permanent combination?
Andrew: At this stage, it’s quite permanent. I wanted to work with a drummer and I guess it was never going to be a straight up rock drummer. A mutual friend suggested that we play together and I guess we hit it off immediately.
James is perfect in that there is so much texture to his playing. The fact that there are only two of us gives him space to express this.
Let’s talk a bit about the album you have out – Red in tooth and claw.
Where did you record…with whom… How long did the recording process take?
The whole enchilada…
Andrew: It was recorded during June 2011 at Peace of Eden Studio’s in the Knysna forest and was mixed back in Cape Town by Matt James at Sound and Motion studio’s.
We funded the album by successfully running a campaign on Indiegogo.com (A Crowd Funding platform). This enabled us to hire producer, Aron Turest-Swartz, as well as book enough time to mix the album with amazing engineers.
We spent 10 days recording and 10 days mixing, which is still a really tight schedule!
Aron Turest-Swartz founded the well-known South African band, FreshlyGround, and has since gone on to become a producer. Throughout the process, as far as possible, we set out to capture the integrity of our live sound – the illusive dialogue between two musicians in a live context.
What has been the response to Red in Tooth and Claw?
Andrew: The response has been phenomenal. We are starting to get serious interest from publishers and overseas promoters on the strength of the album.
We didn’t really have the money or resources to “launch” the album officially so we want to do that in June. We only pressed 500 for the first run – we saw that as testing the water.
Your songs are beautifully written with soul – conveying your honest and at times…raw messages.
Tell me a bit about that which fuels the creativity behind the feel of your sound.
Andrew: I think that pure authentic expression is something that is developed. I was lucky to have an amazing art teacher at school and studied fine art as well. I think you are always learning how to sharpen your creative sword even in other artistic disciplines.
I do feel like there was a specific point where I started to get out of the way of myself, if you know what I mean – when your ego’s able to step out of the creative channel and let something authentic come through.
One of the songs that capture one’s imagination is the tale – Under the Umbrella. What’s the story behind the song?
Andrew: Ahh yes – I often tell it at gigs.
I had a girlfriend who liked to wear a specific pair of black army boots. They were very specific. It ended between us and I was still pining for her. I was at a surfing event and it was raining, when i saw her walking past – with another guy. They were both deeply buried under an umbrella, but it was the boots that confirmed her identity.
Needless to say I was bleak. I went home and wrote a song.
Your definition of a true musician.
Do you consider yourself one?
Andrew: A true musician is essentially someone who is a true artist.
It goes back to my earlier answer.
In a world so saturated with music and art and people – are you still able to authentically create and not reproduce? Nothing is entirely original but you can tell when someone’s expression is real. When their playing has a “voice”.
AS for myself, I am constantly striving.
Making it in our local music industry is no easy chore.
What are the challenges you experience in living your musical dream.
Andrew: Money & Time. Whenever I pour myself into playing & promoting music I run out of money and have to go back to freelancing – I’m on a constant see saw.
Another challenge is that South African festivals, bookers and promoters often make very safe choices. Who can blame them though as they are also just trying to map a buck. It’s frustrating though as this sees the same bands getting booked over and over again – the ones that are safe, upbeat, un-offensive & mainstream.
Where do you see Andrew James in three years’ time?
Andrew: Based in SA – having a solid fan base. Would love a van base in Australia & Canada so that we can tour there for 3/4 months a year.
I see myself as a full time musician and flourishing.
Any interesting tidbits of something going hellishly wrong with/during a show, you’d care to share?
Andrew: We once played 3/4 of a gig with our monitors on but no front of house (there was no sound engineer). It was in a noisy bar and I think people just thought the sound was terrible. That was until someone eventually came and suggested to us that maybe the speakers weren’t working.
Eish… That’s my worst story.
What advice do you have for upcoming young muso’s?
Andrew: Develop all aspects of your creativity.
Work on your instrument as well as your writing and your ability to translate your experience and express it in a way that is authentic to you. There is so much music out there these days – it’s so easy to get lost in sound and imitation. What really sets amazing musicians apart is their very subtle, intangible ability to weave authentic stories into music.
Andrew James is socially connectable. To download his soulful sounds and stay up to date with the latest happenings on his musical journey make a break for his webpage, and twitface pages.