Somojo interview 11/10/11
Reality of the Fantasy
Hi James, how are you?
Excellent, How are you?
What made you decide to be a solo artist and not want to be in a band?
To be honest I never really hooked up with the right musicians who were on the same page or had the same vision for a band, Most of the people that I played with aren't even playing their instruments that they played in the band, or they came from a different way of thinking, in the end everyone wanted to be the guitar player. I could write a book on that subject. Playing solo acoustic guitar instrumental music you are responsible for everything that is being heard. the bass parts, the pulse, the melody, the harmony, the mood. There is also a sense of freedom it gives you in terms of improvisation and direction. Don't get me wrong. it is wonderful to play in a band with other musicians and interact with drums and bass and whoever else is there. There is such a feeling of being connected to the music and being part of a bigger sound. But, The notion that the only way to create and perform music is through a band, is not true.
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t yet heard you?
I like to use terms like neo-folk, Ambient, or psychedelic. But right now it is solo acoustic guitar instrumental music. No mater what type of music whether it is electric with a band or solo, I think my music has a hypnotic quality. I like to create ambience and play with ringing harmonic overtones. With this album, I think it's music to relax, chill and zone out too.
What music did you listen to while growing up?
I istened to all kinds of music. Growing up I probably went thrugh every type of phase of music, every type of Rock music: Metal, Punk, Alternative, Progressive, Classic. I always listened to college radio and read a lot of different types of Rock magazines, so I was always discovering new non-mainstream artists. As I was progressing on the guitar i also acquired a real taste for other types of music like Fusion, Blues, Classical, Jazz, Funk, Flamenco etc. I love it all, I am a proud music nerd and I can appreciate every type of music, I think there is a time and a place for every type of music.
Which artist or track inspired you to want to make music yourself?
Since I got my first guitar at the age of seven it was The Beatles, Elvis, Kiss and a lots of fifties music. ever since then I threw away my toys and never looked back. I would say everyday I discover new music and artists that inspires me to make music.
When was the ‘I want to do that!’ moment?
With music there is and always will be "I want to do that." moment. Since I was seven years old up to yesterday and all different types of music.
The artist who inspired me to do solo acoustic guitar was Kaki King, I was doing more of a singer songwriting with a electric guitar type of thing, I had a very bad taste of working in a band situation so I decided to just rely on myself. I saw kaki open up for Tony Levin at the bottom line in NYC and she blew my mind, I had seen a lot of instrumental artists play before but that was always with a band backing them. It was really the first time I had seen someone just with an acoustic guitar and it totally mesmerized me. About a year or 2 later, my very good friend (David Rosser) who I grew up with was in town with his wife and I think it was a Sunday and Kaki was playing at the old Knitting Factory in NYC. I think this was around the time where she was transitioning her sound, it was right before "...Until We Felt Red" album. She was amazing as always, after the show Dave turns around to me and says "you know James I can see you doing that type of music." I said "You know Dave, I think you read my mind." I recorded an albums worth of instrumental material with NY hardcore producer Don Fury (Helmet. Quicksand), with an electric guitar. But by this time I really fell in love with the sound and the purity of the acoustic guitar and decided not to release it and to take a couple of years or however long it would take to refine and find out what it is I wanted to say. I would like to say that I never try to emulate or copy anyone. I have always been concerned with finding my own voice. I am influenced by so many different types of music and artists. I try to use these different elements as spices or as vocabulary for me to express what I want to expresss musically. I think that is what every artist should aspire to be, no matter what art form they are doing, is to use their influences to find their own voice
What was the last music you put on your ipod or mp3 player?
I just got the Digital box set of Nick Drake. It's over 3 and a half hours long. It is one of my favorite collections of music from one of my new favorite artists of all time. It's perfect if your driving long distances. I just moved to Brooklyn, so I like to take these long walks exploring everywhere I possibly can. I just pick a direction and walk as far as I can and when I head back, I go down a different street and its a whole new experience.I actually just got turned on to Nick's music through my Jango listeners. When I first set up my page on Jango, it gives you stats on people who become your listeners, for instance it will tell you, people who like your music likes..... so for the first 3 months the most popular group was "The Doors." That made me feel so good inside. I have loved The Doors my whole life. I have always loved how they were always experimenting, they did not sound like anyone else, they were always trying to push the boundaries, they were a band that treated music as Art. They were a band that either you got or you didn't, They had this almost happy carnival like sound on the surface, but underneath there was this strong under current of darkness going on. I could go on why I love The Doors so much and why The Doors are such a monumental band not only to Rock and Roll but in contemporary 21st century music as well.
But I always noticed the name Nick Drake being listed. I was always saying to myself who is this Nick Drake? On Jango the listeners can leave comments for you to read. So one day this listener writes how much they loved my playing and that I reminded him of the great Nick Drake. I said that's it, I have to find out who this Nick Drake is. When I did, I was so moved, I think it was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me in my life. Nick's songs or compositions just really move me. His guitar playing, his singing, his lyrics his feel, everything . There is such a what I call a sensitivity to his music and in this sensitivity there is a darkness that comes from this sensitivity. I would recommend reading the lyrics to "Fruit Tree," a very happy sounding title with this beautiful music, the lyrics and the delivery are DEEP!
I also recently discovered Genesis with Peter Gabriel which is phenominal! Growing up I just knew Peter Gabriel as a solo artist and Genesis with Phil Collins. Wow! I really got into the album "Foxtrot," a really great album.
I also just downloaded East Harlem by Beruit, who I am a fan of. The new Gillian Welch "The Harrow and the Harvest.." I recommend that album if you want to hear some real heartfelt beautiful music. I also got Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack to "Superfly." If your a fan of 70's Funky wah wah guitar driven R&B Soul with orchestration, this album is for you.
What have you been up to recently?
Promoting my album 'Reality of the Fantasy', it's a solo acoustic guitar instrumental album. So I've been trying to get the word out, which has been a real learning experience.
What can your fans look forward to in the next 12 months?
Hopefully a tour. I will probably have another Ep recorded as well, which will be a little different than this album.
What is your current equipment?
My main Guitar is my Adamas Guitar, I have various effect pedals that I use for Reverbs and tones when I play live, I like to create a big wide full sound and anything that I can use to achieve I will use.
If you had an unlimited equipment budget what would be on your shopping list?
If I had an unlimited budget, Acoustic guitar wise I would love anything handmade like a Petros, Froggy Bottom, Goodall, Lowden, Collings, Taylor, a super high end or vintage Martin, most of these guitars go for anywhewre between 5000 - 25,000 US Dollars. I have been really getting into nylon string guitars, Dobros and pedal steel. Electric wise I really want a custom shop Telecaster more specifically a Nocaster. Anything custom shop from Fender like a Stratocaster. I would also like a Custom shop Gibson Les Paul and I also want a really nice hollowbody like a (Gibson) ES-175. Amp wise some Fender Princetons or an old Twin Reverb. Some boutique amps and I love Mesa-Boogies. Don't get me started about effects, mixers, monitors or any other instruments like basses, Drums or synths. I would also like a professional recording studio.
Do you use the same equipment live as you do when in a studio?
I use whatever I have to get me the best possible sound at the time.
Do you try to capture your ‘live’ sound on recordings or do you think that the ‘live’ sound and recorded sound should be different experiences for your fans?
I think I have a very live feel on this record and live I try to stay true to the record, sometimes if the moment calls for it and I'm feeling it, I might go into an improv, sometimes its more of an extended remix of the song, sometimes it's based on an emotional burst that is in response to the song, that I might be feeling for the moment, even possibly leaving the song entirely and then going back into it, but sometimes things eveolve into something that I feel really improves or defines certain passages or phrases. that is how I usually write, things kind of evolve into what they ultimately become on record and sometimes that evolution continues even after you record them, but the big difference is that there is a certain level of respect for the essence of the recorded song. That's why for me, I like to let the music mature and be certain of direction and content because that is the statement that is going to be used to listen to once its recorded. Although, to be honest when I go into the studio to record, anything can change in an instant of a second. There are a couple of moments on the record when I was recording and being really inspired by this great studio and the beautiful Landscape of Vermont. For example, there is a part in Someway, Somehow, I just started playing this little music passage during the soundcheck and it was just a perfect addition to the song,
How much involvement do you have with the arranging and production of the songs when recording?
I usually have a vision for the song, the way it's constructed, the feel, the overall sound. I also know that in order to make these desicions you have to seperate yourself from being the performer, the writer. You have to treat the song as a istener and sometimes for the good of the song you have to cut back on something that is really fun to play or something that you wrote that is not really saying what has to be said properly and for some that is not an easy thing to do.
Is the production side of things something you’d like to get involved more in the future, maybe working with other artists?
Yes, but not right now, I still have a lot to learn, I might have multiple instruments on the next project. Each recording is a learning experience, so before I work on someone elses recording, I am going to make sure I can do that at a level that would be a positive addition to the quality of the overall sound of their recording. Working with the great Grammy award winning Corin Nelsen, was such a great experience and I hope I can work with him on the next album, because he is so profficient, professional, he is a master engineer and mixer. He helped me so much with this album, he made me feel very comfortable the second I got to the studio and I am not usually that at home in a situation that is new to me.
Do you find the process of recording enjoyable and does it get easier the more you do?
I love recording, I have only had great experiences in the studio. I feel hat there is a real sense of purpose and hopefully at the end of the day you have something you can be proud of. It is also a lot of hard work, the focus and accuracy involved can be very intense at times. I remember during the recording of In The Evening, my hand cramping really bad, the only way I can explain the pain is, if you ever had your calf muscle cramp. I remember my hand cramping, my fingers and thumb kind of locked and this pain started shooting up all the way to my wrist then up into my forearm. It was very painful. I didn't know what was happening. That was the first and only time that happened to me. Do you have any new recordings planned?
I'm working on a piece of music for an ep it's over 20 minutes, I might include some existing tracks I already have recorded, But I have to see how it flows with the main piece.
During this past year I jammed with Kendale Johnson, he's a percussionist who has worked with such artists as Stephen Marley, it felt good to play with someone who is a great percussionist. So it might have percussion, maybe cello, it might have some electric guitar, maybe some other musicians on it or even some vocals on it. I would love to do something that is very rhythm based, that is atmospheric at times but yet has a real natural tribal, strong vibe to it and something that really grooves. I've been experimenting with a lot of different colors and feels. I've been playing quite a bit of slide guitar lately. So I'm not really sure when, but it is in the works.
I feel really good about the next recording, I think its going to be different but related.
Which are your favourite original tracks?
I'm really happy at the way the whole album turned out as a whole, each track has a special meaning to them. I think it should be viewed as one big piece. it has a certain flow not only conceeptually but also for the listening aspect to it as well. I wanted to create on one level a almost journey type of listening experience. The conceptual aspect is that it starts out with the song "WISH" as the introductions and once upon a time and sets a certain tone as a very dreamlike state, WISH for me has a very airy, dreamy feel to it. The second song "The Ascension" is almost is the opposite of WISH, it has very dark overtones to it, something lurking around the corner as opposed to the bright feel of WISH and then it goes back into the story with "Day of Celebration" which is a very upbeat feel good song that still retains a very strong emotional feel. For me that song is like a first dance at a wedding or a birth, its a moment of love.
I also wanted to create something for the listener to experience. I was going through a lot of overwhelming things in my life, My brother George coming down with a very aggressive form of MS. Really affected me. My brother George was a great chef. he was someone you knew who was successful in life and doing what he loved doing. He was the type of chef who knew the ins and out of cooking, why and how different herbs, spices and flavors blended and reacted to each other. He was a true artist in the art of cooking. To see that taken away from him is heartbraking. He gets what they call the falls, thats when his brain doesn't communicate to his legs, sometimes while he is walking he can just fall, flat on his face., sometimes on concrete, on stairs. He has really hurt himself. I love my little brother so much, he is one of my closest and dearest souls in my life.
Personally speaking, for me it was a time of self realizations of my life. I can tell you that I have lived a life of not believung in myself. Always thinking I was never good enough or you don't look good enough, always putting others above you. and one day you wake up in life and say WTF? (what the Fuck?) and what have I done to my life and you realize certain things about yourself and others, that call out inside you and make a stand. It was a time in my life where there were a lot of things on my mind and needless to say there was a a lot of sleepless nights for me. I was so overwhelmed with everything coming at me and hitting me from all different aspects of my lifes. But I do believe in taking responsibility for your situation and what you've accomplished or what you didn't accomplish in your life and I think that takes an honest critique of yourself even if the truth hurts. I have always been and still very critical on myself and my music., But this time I didn't blame anyone else for my situations I took responsibiloity and once I did, I became in control of the situation, maybe for the very first time in my life. I love the fact that this is a solo instrumental album, It's just me, myself and no one else.
I wanted to listen to something that soothed me that would help me escape so I could relax or not have to be told how to think or feel. In this life and in this world things can change in a flash of a second, both good or bad. I wanted something that you culd put on and get lost for a little while, I like to put it on at night it helps me relax. in this fast paced world, where every record and every Hollywood movie and every commercial they ram down your throat with a fast cut edit. everything has to start with a bang these days. So to put on a record and hear something that starts slow and automatically tells you this is not like everything in this world. I think thats one of the things that makes this record kind of different I would also like to say that there is some intense moments emotionally and compositionally as well, if you stay with it it does have a lot of dramtic peaks in it as well. Like for instance "Chemistry in Motion," "In the Evening," and "Reality of the Fantasy" and "Someway, Somehow."
I think the title "Reality of the Fantasy," is that every fantasy has a reality, whether its a new job, a new place to live, a first date, a first album, every fantasy has a reality and its not always pretty or perfect, in fact it can be very harsh.
Who are your favourite songwriters?
I have so many favorite songwriters from all different types of music from all different time periods and all for different reasons.
Do you have a method for writing?
For me it is to clear all my thoughts and distractions from the day and forget everything I know how to play on the guitar.
Do you find song writing easy or difficult?
Speaking for myself, I find songwriting the most rewarding aspect of music. There is such a feeling inside when you stumble onto something the first time and the entire picture comes to you at once, the story, the emotions, the energy. Songwriting like everything else is something you have to develop, the more you do it the more experiencd you become. For me music is about expression, to be able to get to a level where you can truly express your thoughts and feelings where you are almost as one with the music is such a rewarding, spiritual, zen like state. It's hard to describe, But I think as with any art, the artist should be at one with whatever they are creating.
Would you sign with a major record company?
I really have never thought about it, playing instrumental acoustic guitar music, you don't really do it with the intention of playing Madison Square Garden and being played on mainstream radio. There are some great artists that are signed on both major label and Indie labels. There are a lot of indie labels that are affiliated and a lot that are owned by a major label.
There are pluses and minuses to everything, Depending on who and what is the offer. I am an artist first, who would rather be creating, performing. I'm not a business man who knows the ins and outs of how this business works. For myself, I'm not the type of person who likes to push themselves onto people and keep promoting to promote. on the contrary, I'm kind of shy, I'm the type of person that has be invited, otherwise I won't enter. My music is very personal to me, which I think is what makes it hard for me to be a salesman, I have too much of myself in my music. I think for someone like myself that can be very difficult, That is why you really have to believe 100% in what you're created.
On the other hand who is going to work harder and has more to lose than yourself, Who cares more about your music than you do? I feel to much like an outsider to even think about the very idea of a major record label wanting to sign me, it's really alien to me, thats such a different world, that I do not belong too.
Do you think such sites and the internet are good tools for independent and unsigned artists?
I think it is great for everyone, independent, signed, unsigned artists and listeners. The internet is such a great source of information for music, art of every kind can now get the word out. I think we are living in great times in terms of someone can actually reach and communicate their ideas to the world. The question is will it remain like this or will that freedom of discovery be somehow controlled or taken away.
I love discovering new music and right now there is no better way than the internet. There is still a purity of people who truly love music and are doing it for the love and I think that is what the saving grace for art of all kinds to flourish right now.
What is your opinion on ‘battle of the bands’ competitions?
I don't like them at all! Music is not competition, it is Art. To promote competition in music is unhealthy in my opinion. Art is subjective and when it comes down to it, it is based on personal opinion. For instance If you look at the Grammy awards and look at who won the best album of the year for the past 30 years, where they really the best albums of that year? These songwriting competitions for instance, who is doing the preliminary round listening? I am sure there are some qualified people doing it, but I am sure for every good person there is an equal amount of people who are not.. are there some bitter ex-musicians or are there some judges who really don't have a clue of what is good unless it is hyped and safe to say its good? Or is it that they have to listen to 500 songs in a certain amount of time and there is probably a lot of bad songs to go through, or are they in a bad mood that particular moment they are listening to your song or are they the right person who listens to the type of music you play.
Has your music been used on any film soundtracks?
I'm trying to get my stuff heard to the right people.
Is composing for film or tv something you’d like to get involved in if the opportunity came along?
Absolutely, That would be something I would really enjoy doing
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it. I would also like to say to everyone, Live with love and with the goal of improving. improve yourself in everything you do, whether professional or personal, big or small, once you stop improving, thats when things become stagnant and once you become stagnant, that is when things start to decay.