Penseyeview Interview 5/29/11


James Sera 

I see a bit of myself in our latest feature, Mr. James Sera. While I don’t possess nealy the skill level of the former Guitar Institute of Technology student, I know what he means to dive into his guitar “brain first” when he needs to get away, think a while or move on. Whenever I’m out of it, I can sit on the end of my bed for hours just playing little nothings on my 6-string; no real rhyme, reason or structure behind the notes. But the organization doesn’t matter – it just feels right. It feels good. Sera explains how the acoustic guitar helped settle an unsettled mind: “I was at a really bad place in my life spiritually, mentally and physically... I couldn't sleep at night, I was down. The more I got into the beauty of the acoustic guitar and the complexities of this type of music, the more I was inspired, it helped me. It felt really good and was a positive experience for me to do this album. The whole experience was a real life changer.”

That album Sera refers to is “Reality of the Fantasy”; a collection he says is “a whole story. It is a very personal piece of music…I think that everything leads up to the title track ‘Reality of the Fantasy’. Facing the storm, looking to resolve the situation now, the battle. I love that song.” His style of music is self-described as “atmospheric solo acoustic guitar instrumental music”, but it’s something you’d likely want to craft whenever you need to get something out of your system, sitting at the end of your bed. Check it out. “Reality of the Fantasy” is currently available at ( where you can name your price in picking up the record. The only thing that Sera asks for in return is that you turn someone on to the music. There’s a lot more to get into, so keep reading for all the answers to the XXQ’s. 

XXQs: James Sera (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others in your genre?

James Sera (JS): I usually describe it as atmospheric solo acoustic guitar instrumental music. I sometimes use the terms Psychedelic, Ambient, Neo-Folk, Neo-Classical.  I think my music is for serious music listeners that come from all different walks of life, either you like it or you don't. I don't try to follow any specific rules of  a certain genre, I try to write and  play as truthful as I can for the intent of  telling a story or capturing an emotion with music. I feel I have found a voice musically  that is my own, sure there are elements of  many different types of music that  inspires me sprinkled in here and there, but I don't aspire to be anyone else,  just myself.  

PEV: A onetime Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) student, what kind of music where you into growing up? Was anyone your main influence?

JS: I was always into a lot of different types of music, I have been into every phase of music growing up. Part of the magic of music for me  is about the exploration and the discovery of new sounds.  Music has always been a big part of my life. I got my first guitar at the age of seven being obsessed with The Beatles, Kiss and fifties Rock and Roll. By the time I was really serious about the instrument I was listening to every type of music from Punk, Progressive, classic, Metal, Alternative, Fusion, Classical,  Blues, Shred, Funk. Growing up I  listened to a lot of college radio and read a lot of different types of music magazines, which I think really turned me onto a lot of different types of music. I am a proud music nerd.

PEV: You talk about your “new musical direction away from your past as a rock-based electric guitarist” tell us why that is and how it affected your outlook on your music career?

JS: I wanted to do solo instrumental music, I had enough of playing  and relying on other people. I never really connected with the right musicians in a band situation. So I wanted to do something with one instrument. It was very different, originally it was with an electric guitar it had a very Noise Rock guitar vibe, I recorded a collection of songs with  Don Fury in Brooklyn (Producer who worked with a lot of NY hardcore bands like Helmet, Quicksand).

I was at a really bad place in my life spiritually, mentally and  physically.I was dealing with death in the family. I was very unsatisfied with a lot of  things and where I was in my life. My little brother  George who I am very close too  moved to Texas and came under attack from a very aggressive form of MS. George was a chef, I was alway so proud  and happy for him. Being a chef  was his dream and he achieved his dream. To watch it taken away from him and watch him suffer, not only physically but emotionally.

I was not in the state for upbeat and loud , I wanted to capture where I was in my life at this particular time. I couldn't sleep at night, I was down. The more I got into the beauty of the acoustic guitar and the complexities of  this type of music, the more I was inspired, it helped me. It felt really good and was a positive experience for me to do this album. The whole experience was a real life changer. It changed the way I thought, the way I play, write and how I listen to music as a whole. I always thought that with this album I would come out with  guns blazing, but I think where I was at it would have been forced or feel contrived,  not really how I feel. I feel that is why this album has heart. I think its a pretty genuine collection of songs, I think it is more about the songs and not me the guitar player.

PEV: Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself – “I am really onto something!”?

JS: It happened a couple of different times, When I was  in the writing stages or while I was playing and fine tuning them.  Sometimes during the playback of some of the early demos and the actual recording. I thought "Wow, this feels really nice." But it's  just a thought that comes and goes. I guess you can say that I am the type of person who is very self critical, I am not one of those people who loves everything they do just because they do it. I am very harsh on myself, while I feel this can be very constructive and it can also be very destructive as well. I would like to say that I am  proud of this album, I enjoy listening to it and I stand behind it.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live James Sera show?

JS: Hopefully they will get lost in the music and forget about everything else for a little while. I think that if I can take  someone away for a couple of minutes, than I consider that being a successful show.

PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage?

JS: Am I  in tune? I try to erase everything else out of my mind and almost become one or in the zone with whatever song I choose on playing as my first song, which for right now it is usually  the opening track "WISH," which is a very nice way to start the show. I think Wish is a great song to introduce  myself and the music,  it has a nice flow to it.

PEV: Do you have any pre-show rituals or do you just wing it?

JS: Well in an ideal situation you get to warm up properly, I like to do a little stretching,  be nice,  loose and limber. Have a couple of beers or some red wine or some Cabo Wabo tequila. Most of the time however I have to just wing it,  the only thing I have time for is the couple of beers , the red wine or the Cabo Wabo. It can be a little rough playing in the winter and sometimes it's so cold  your  hands feel like they're frozen, they feel very stiff , so if this happens I usually soak my my hands in really warm water in a sink for a couple of minutes, it actually helps quite a bit.

PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do get your best ideas for songs?

JS:  The underlining inspiration is life, with all the experiences, sensations, emotions, memories, declarations, celebrations,The highs and lows, the confrontations, the obstacles, the choices we make and the situations we find ourselves in. Speaking for myself  when I'm writing music a lot of is experimentation and discovery and when you find it, it kind of takes you somewhere or paints a little glimpse of a story taking place. Some people tape everything they come up with as soon as they come up with it. I don't, I usually nurture it a little before I record it. There is an old saying , I don't know who said it, I think it was either Lennon or McCartney  before the days of portable recorders, that if you didn't remember it the next day, it wasn't memorable enough. I kind of subscribe to that philosophy. I feel that a song has to really grab you and have that extra little something that makes you remember it, So if I came up with something the night before and I worked on it a little bit, and by the time I started playing again the next morning comes and I couldn't remember it, there might be a reason for that, whether consciously or subconsciously, something inside is wiping it away. The argument against that notion is that a lot of potential good ideas are lost that way. But I feel that  lost ideas  eventually resurface in  different  forms, until eventually it becomes a more memorable, stronger idea.   

PEV: Tell us about your latest release, "Reality of the Fantasy". What can fans expect from this work?

JS: I think of the album as a whole story, It is a very personal piece of music. The opening track WISH  is the introduction, once upon a time, a very sweet sounding song, but then there is  something always lurking. The second track The Ascension is where the conflict or whatever you want to call it is introduced. Track 3 Day of Celebration we're back in the story and things are pretty good, I'm really happy how that song came out it feels good playing that one. But without going into each track, I think that everything leads up to the title track Reality of the Fantasy. Facing the storm,  looking to resolve  the situation now, the battle. I love that song. The final track Someway, Somehow is the epilogue. I feel it also goes to a couple of different places emotionally. There's these long pauses at the end and goes right back into it, sometimes you have to pause for a minute take a deep breath, gather your thoughts. Life goes on and that's the beauty of it, tomorrow is another day, I think it ends on a positive note. No pun intended.   

PEV: Do you ever find yourself getting writer’s block and if so, how do you get over that?

JS: I don't know anyone who doesn't get writers block. I think there are a million reasons why it happens and it doesn't matter why. Maybe your just not inspired, maybe mentally you can't clear your thoughts, maybe something is bothering you, maybe your putting to much stress or pressure trying to force an idea.When this happens I like to do the opposite of  creating,   I  like to work on my guitar playing, I just start practicing different techniques and scales. I like to learn new concepts in the theory of music and  expand my language  for the purpose of composition. I try to separate myself as a writer and a guitar player, they are two different ways of thinking, I find that most people are either/or.  They are either stronger writers than musicians or vise versa they are great musicians  and can not write a lick. So by suppressing the creative aspect of  the brain with  technical only studies, after a couple of days or weeks, you just stop studying forget everything you've been working on and just start playing with no pretenses or expectations, speaking for myself , I feel rejuvenated writing again.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about James Sera?

JS: So many things come to mind but, I got to roadie and meet the Ramones on their farewell tour at a club I worked at. They did a very small meet and greet in their dressing room, it was very surreal, It was something straight out of Rock and Roll High School. I even think they were eating pizza. I told them that I was a fan since I was 12 and I was from Queens as well. It was awesome. I think I even got a couple of my fellow Tower record employees backstage.    

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?

JS: Since, really at the age of seven, when I got my first guitar for christmas. I stopped playing with toys at that moment. I love Music! Always have and always will! I can honestly say Music can really get you through  hard times and they can make the good times even better. There was never any question about it

PEV: What one word best describes James Sera?

JS: Sincere.

PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?

JS: The best part for me is the element of adventure, the unknown and the sense of  freedom you feel on the road and its all in the name of music. The worst part for me is that you don't spend a lot of time in any given place You get a little taste of the place and then its time to get to the next destination, sometimes all you see is the highway, the exit, the venue and that's it.

PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?

JS:While I am alive, I would like to visit as many places as possible. The first place that comes to mind is  Japan, I love the History, the Art, the culture, I studied Aikido (traditional soft Martial Art that does not involve striking or attacking). It has a certain spiritual quality to it in its philosophy. It's all based upon redirecting the energy of your attacker with as little effort as possible.   I would also love to tour Australia.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?

JS: Anyone that really knows me, knows the passion I have for music. Playing a hometown show is fun  it's always great seeing people you know.  

PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?

JS: I really enjoy going out to see live music,  living in New York is great because every night there is something going on, you always have a choice for something, it all depends on how adventurous you want to be musically. but for me a great night is  dinner,  a show and then a bar/club.  

PEV:  Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?

JS: There is so much great music out there today. I just saw Sharon Van Etten a few weeks ago, if you like heartfelt indie Rock songs, her album Epic is really a great record.  I would also like to mention  that I have been listening to a James Sera Radio station on LASTFM. Where they match a lot of up and coming artists that fits with what I do and there is some great music on there. They play artists like Magnum Universum, Nimbrethil, Pillarcat, Langtry,  Ancestral House of the Sun,  Cat Green Bike,  William McAteer,  SeaBuck Thorn,  Bell Plaines,  Aleh Pascal. It's a very atmospheric, Ambient,  group of artists, I highly recommend the James Sera Radio station on LASTFM.

PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think you would be doing as your career?

JS: I think it was David St Hubbins from Spinal Tap who said it best " I'd be a full time dreamer."

PEV: So, what is next for James Sera?

JS: I would like to spend a solid year and really get the word out about this album. Now that I completed this album, which is something I spiritually had to do. I feel very free  and now  I really want to experiment  with a lot of different types of emotions, styles, feel  and rhythms ..I am going through a very creative phase right now,  But I  like to let ideas and songs evolve and mature over time. I feel a real closeness with the songs on this album, so my number one priority is getting the music heard to the people who would appreciate this type of music.