Written by James Henwood, published in Flaunt Magazine, August 2011.
The record: a one-man, multi-family yard sale of cricket-laced fuzz and viscous one-handed keyboard licks. The man: James Pants. And thus, our faith in the lost art form of the cohesive album can finally be restored with the Köln-based musician’s tongue-in-cheekily-titled release, Self Titled. Like dipping the frayed wires of a swarm of 1980s robotic locusts in dessert fondue, the album is crunchy and saccharine. And, you probably haven’t heard it.
So, how on Earth did this unearthly album come into existence, you might ask. Pants’ journey began in 2001, when, after his high school prom, he met Peanut Butter Wolf, the owner of Stones Throw Records, at a rave in Austin, Texas. As a fan, Pants approached Peanut Butter Wolf in the DJ booth and eventually offered to take him record shopping. That evening Pants went home with an internship at Stones Throw. Roughly half a decade later, Pants was added to Stones Throw’s roster and released his first album. Self Titled is his third.
Conceived over roughly six weeks in his parents’ Spokane, Washington basement, Self Titled is the result of solitude. His wife and two-year-old daughter were away visiting family; his mother and Presbyterian minister father were off in Mongolia. So, Pants had the entire house to himself to work out his keyboard, which he endearingly admits to only being able to play with his right hand. He can barely play guitar at all. In fact, the guitar sounds, bass sounds, and most drum tracks were played on his “cheesy” mid-‘90s RadioShack keyboard. “It was a very quiet recording process to others,” he laughs, “[but] loud in my headphones. It was super fun because I was so limited in gear. There were a couple songs I played live drums on, but I could only do that when all the neighbors were gone.”
But the lo-fidelity of the album is part of what makes it so appealing. “The keyboard,” Pants adds, “was one of those ones that advertised: ‘Including 400 plus sounds!’ It had sounds named things like ‘New Age,’ ‘Goblin,’ and ‘Glass Bells.’ So, I did the whole thing with that, a fuzz pedal, and a space echo.”
The new wave sound steam burns through misty doo-wop fogscapes, which is to say, the catchy part of Pants’ pop is buried underneath distorted atmospherics or stitched into some sort of found sound. To put it another way, it’s kind of like chewing on a cheekful of sonic turducken, delicious ambient layers and textures become the greasy caulk, wrapped in succulent, fatty sound bites.
It’s suggested the warm jets à la Brian Eno are coming through on his album, and Pants retorts, “It’s probably a big gaping error, but I really haven’t checked out a lot of his stuff. I like to find records that I stumble upon, which maybe is just arrogant or whatever, but I really need to just get his stuff. Maybe I’m subconsciously influenced by him, because everyone’s influenced by Brian Eno, and then I’m influenced. It’s like the Kevin Bacon game. No one’s really influenced by him.” Pants laughs warmly at the irony of his statement.
Inspired by a generally thin music scene in Spokane, Pants has recently sought his influence in Europe, relocating with his wife and daughter, where he now plays dates regularly and teaches at The Red Bull Music Academy. Though the move meant pawning off most of his keyboards and musical equipment, Pants feels they should have moved a long time ago. Considering the galactic proportions of Self Titled, it seems crossing the Atlantic might merely be a warm-up.
*We chased Pants in an attempt to photograph him in Spokane, Los Angeles, Oslo, Köln, Toulouse, and finally Barcelona, before settling on the photos on the right, taken by Pants’ wife, Kat, of Pants brushing his pearly whites at home.
JAMES PANTS ON TOUR
Aug 16: James Pants, Brooklyn, NY
Sep 02: James Pants, Copenhagen, Denmark
Sep 16: James Pants, Poitiers, France
Sep 17: James Pants, Tours, France
Download MP3 – James Pants "Clouds Over the Pacific"