James, can you please repeat once again – but maybe for the first time for the Italian public – your incredible American Dream-like story?
Sure. I was a huge fan of Stones Throw for some time. This was around 98-99. The records they were putting out at the time were more on the underground rap end of things. Like Homeliss Derelix, Peanut Butter Wolf, Lootpack, Rasco, etc. Anyways, I saw that PB Wolf was going to be DJing in Austin, Texas (where I lived at the time). I desperately wanted to go, but it was the night of my high-school prom, and I had a date (Cindy Huckabay). So I emailed PBWolf out of the blue by guessing what his email might be (I tried a million permutations), and asked if he wanted to go record shopping. Strangely, he got back to me and agreed. I was so nervous. So after my prom dance, I took my date to his show, where he had already finished playing. We exchanged phone numbers and met up in the following days to go record shopping. A dream come true. We kept in loose touch and I would see Wolf at other shows throughout the years. Towards the end of my university degree, I asked him if I could do an internship, and again, he said yes! I went to LA for a bit and worked in the office. I don't remember much of what I did. I didn't show my own personal music to him. I made friends with one of the designers there, and we swapped some music. I guess it later got into the hands of Wolf, because a year later or so he offered me a record deal. Greatest day of my life.
You imagery is made up of pop and grotesque elements. American suburbia, American lifestyle, soulful music from the 50s and from the 80s – there's something Lynchian in this musical cocktail – kistcherie, plastic toys, etc. You mesh together a pop sensibility and a weird inspiration. So, what are your extra-musical interests?
I think you pegged it. You mean my interests outside of music? I like riding a bicycle. I like record shopping. I like cooking quite a bit (I actually wanted to quit music for a time and become a chef). I'm a big fan of reading books and watching 60s horror/suspense films. I hang out with my wife and 2 year old daughter. She really likes to dance to either 80s boogie, or nursery rhymes. But mainly, I just sit outside and do nothing and drink coffee.
Do you really read Saint John's Apocalypse as preparatory work for your last excellent Seven Seals?
No, but I'm quite versed in all that stuff. My dad is a Presbyterian minister. He is definitely not the Apocalyptic, fire-and-brimstone, snake-handling, send-your-money-to-Jesus type of guy. He's quite cool. But the messed up side of Christianity (and Hell) is definitely a lot more exciting for the imagination (and news) than the real stuff.
Can you describe us your formation as a musician (and as a multi-instrumentalist) and as a record listener? How do you approached music and when? What did you listen to? Have you got any formal musical education?
I've been a music freak forever. My parents bought me a drumset (a cheap, paper-head kind) when I was three and I would play along to Whitney Houston records. I later played the viola for a couple years, and then switched back to drums. I played drums in a jazz context and orchestral context all throughout school. I even did marching band. The whole time, I was in garage bands as well. Sometime in high-school I saw DJ QBert play, and instantly knew I wanted to be a battle DJ. I stopped caring about drums for a while. But I was never any good as a battle DJ. I then got into sampling, making beats, etc, which led me down the path to discover all this crazy music out there. Finally, I feel like I've come full circle where I really enjoy good ol' garage rock, and pop and things again. A lot of the records I used to spit on when I was a "crate-digger" are the ones I enjoy most today.
Tell me more about so-called "fresh beat". It sounds like a juicy lo-fi version of raw hip hop beats, 80's dance, sick new-wave…
I don't make fresh beat. That was some marketing person that came up with that. I just make whatever I feel like that day, whether it be new age, rap, jazz, soul, pop, whatever.
I'll tell you some artists' names and you'll tell me whatever you wanna, whatever you think about 'em. Residents.
The Mole People! I really like The Making Of A Soul off of Not Available. The sax reminds me of some nightmarish exotica band. That's the sound I want.
He's really hit or miss for me. I really like his early stuff like Prunes and Help, I'm a Rock, but some of his later stuff gets too proggish. But I also really like some of his prog stuff like Florentine Pogen. So, yeah, the jury is out.
100% Professional. I saw him make a song start to finish where he played every instrument back to back in like 10 minutes. And the song was good. He's also one of the nicest dudes in showbiz you will ever meet, and no one can hate on those basslines.
Let's go in-deep to the Residents' topic. I can feel a "skin deep" influence of their sounds and voices and as general atmosphere and mood in your music. Particularly an influence of their pop grotesque masterpiece Commercial Album (see All The Hits format and purpose: short jingle-like songs). Is it true? Can you tell me more?
Maybe so. I only have two Residents records, maybe three. It's definitely a band I need to check out more. I really like a lot of what they do musically. I don't always like their vocals.
It seems that you play, record and produce your music all alone, like a true autarchic. The feminine voice on your upcoming album is sampled or it's a real live featuring? And, moreover, have you got a regular band of musicians to play your tunes live?
I definitely work best alone. I find it very hard to collaborate with others. I don't know why. I think I just get nervous, and when I'm alone there are no nerves. On the new record, Lucrecia Dalt sings on a couple songs (whom I met at the Red Bull Music Academy.) All the background female voices were my wife. As far as a band, I have one I play with in Spokane, Washington. They are wicked and all friends from a long time ago, so it's fun. However, I'm in Germany now, so I have to recruit some new 13-year olds to join my band.
Are there any contemporary artists you enjoy specifically? People such FlyLo, Toro Y Moi, Tune-Yards, etc.?
I like Sunn 0))), Flying Lotus, Toro y Moi, Mark Pritchard, Memoryhouse, Ariel Pink, Daedelus, Teen Inc, Broadcast, Bubonic Plague, Ghost Box stuff, Ghostface, Build an Ark, Nissenenmondai, Anika, Beak, Lil B, Felix Kubin, Oneohtrix Point Never, Weedeater, Addison Groove, Kaval, Freddie Gibbs, just a few.