In an age of paint-by-numbers pop, Torontonian Lamont James is a breath of fresh air. An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, James spent many years in cover bands before bailing from music altogether. It wasn’t long before he was drawn back in however, ultimately writing, recording and releasing his debut album Poppies. James sound owes as much to Big Star as it does Burt Bacharach. His knack for creating timeless pop music is evident throughout Poppies, which you can download for free here.
Lamont recently released a video for his track Sun Brings You Home, which you can check out directly below the Q&A that I recent;y had the pleasure of conducting with Lamont.
I hear a number of 70’s pop influences in your music; you’re not shy about wearing your influences on your sleeve (which I think is fantastic). What did you grow up listening to that set you on this path?
James: Thank you! I always found artists who are precious about their influences or try to deny them tiresome. Unless your name is Dylan or Lennon, Clapton, Hendrix or Townsend, there isn’t a whole lot left you can lay claim to. And those guys were ripping off Leadbelly or Woody Guthrie. So everything comes from somewhere. I grew up listening to the widest variety of music imaginable. My dad always had music on in the house, in the car, everywhere; everything from Count Basie and Oscar Peterson, Sinatra and Tony Bennett, to Simon and Garfunkel and Wings. One of my earliest loves though was Gladys Knight and the Pips’ Midnight Train to Georgia, which just blew me away. Not only the vocal performances, which are exquisite, but the whole story line of the song which is so tragic – guy goes to LA to chase his dreams and he fails, and his dreams die, and he just packs it in and takes that midnight train back home. I couldn’t imagine anything more bleak and depressing at the time and it still has the same effect on me. Also in heavy rotation in my early world were A Night at the Opera by Queen, The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John, The Who’s Tommy, as well as Look Sharp by Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello’s first record, The Jam, Bowie’s Hunky Dory …I could go on and on…
There is a simplicity to your songs that seems to be lacking in music today as a whole. Do you subscribe to the whole “less is more” mentality?
James: Yes and no. If you are talking purely about what/how many instruments and parts are in a song, then the answer is yes. That also goes for writing; say what you want to say then shut up. I believe that the quality of your work also depends very heavily on your ability to self-edit. There are many parts of songs that I liked but ultimately cut because they did not serve the song. There are also tracks of mine that I love that didn’t make it on Poppies because they just didn’t fit with that body of work.
On the other hand, there often can be a great deal of extra effort in the studio that goes into achieving that “simple” sound. If you want to have the sound of one guitar, bass, drums and a vocal without all the trimmings then you have to be bloody sure the actual sounds are well recorded and the chord structures and harmonies are rich. The Beatles were the absolute masters of this.
You stopped making music for a period of time. Did taking a break give you a new perspective when you started making music again?
James: I stopped because the whole cover-band thing I was doing at the time just burned me out. I had gone back to university to graduate school as I felt it was time to get a so-called real job, or at least have the qualifications to do so, since my wife and I had just had twins. Another factor was I just found the music business grotesque. I still do, but now the artist has so much more control provided he plays his cards right. The trade-off for that of course are that the traditional sources of income for musicians (album sales and airplay) have pretty much dried up.
The break absolutely gave me a fresh perspective. For one thing it showed me that the passion for writing and recording music still burned deeply inside of me. There was a time when I questioned even that, which from the present viewpoint, I now find almost too depressing to even consider! All the time I had supposedly given up on music though, I was listening to everything, taking it apart in my mind and trying to figure out what made geniuses like Alex Chilton and Brian Wilson tick as writers and arrangers.