Artist Interview – Gavin James

“It’s not where you go, it’s where you’re going, and who’s the company” – Remember Me

If you scroll through my twitter from the last eight months, 90% of the lyrics I tweet are those written by Gavin James. Before I start with the interview part of this article, I’ll tell you a little about how this unbelievably talented 24 year old from Dublin Ireland became one of my favorite artists.  On August 24, 2015 I got the pleasure of seeing Sam Smith at my all time favorite amphitheatre in the country; Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado.  While Sam Smith was breathtaking, it was really the opener that set the mood for the rest of the show.  I had never heard the name of the opener, Gavin James, before this day but as soon as he set foot on stage and started singing, I would never ever forget his name.  From meaningful lyrics to beautiful guitar to high notes that literally give you goosebumps, he is truly one of a kind. 

“I wish time would slow down, so I could keep your heart around” – For You

When I was presented with the opportunity to meet and interview Gavin James and attend the show where he opened for Ben Rector at The Observatory North Park in San Diego, I couldn’t pass it up.  Even though I’ve never actually done an interview with anyone before, much less one of my favorite artists.  Obviously I was nervous to meet and chat with Gavin but the nerves immediately went away when I was greeted by Gavin James and his manager with big hugs and banter about the horrible traffic from Los Angeles to San Diego. 

“Cause lately I was thinking I never told you that every time I see you my heart sings” – Nervous

Carson Stoltz: How old were you when you started to write and sing your own songs?

Gavin James: I was about fourteen more or less, I didn’t have much to write about then though. And then I really started writing when I was doing pub gigs and open mic nights, meeting loads of people when I was like sixteen or seventeen.

CS: Living or dead, who would you want to collaborate with most?

GJ: Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson cause he’s just awesome, Hozier – I love Hozier! And he’s Irish and he lives pretty much down the road.

CS: Have you met Hozier?

GJ: Yeah I actually did a radio gig about three years ago in Dublin and I hadn’t heard about him and we just did this radio show and he started paying and that was the first time I’ve ever cursed on the radio in more whole life; after he played.  He did Take Me to Church and nobody had ever heard it before, and I just looked at him and I was just like “ahhh what the f***” he just blew my mind

CS: Who are your biggest influences in your music?

GJ: Probably Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell.  All the old school singer songwriters, and a lot of Damien Rice

CS: You just started the tour with Ben Rector but how is it so far?

GJ: It’s great! It’s the third show that I’ve done!  Been in California for awhile.  He’s a lovely guy.  It’s so hot here! I really didn’t think it would be so hot, it’s only March! But it’s really hot.  I got majorly sunburned as well.  I sat in the sun for like an hour, and I knew it was happening just cause I’m ginger and I burn very easily.

CS: What is your favorite place that you’ve played so far?

GJ: I did this really cool thing in Germany, it was by the sea.  Crowds in Europe are really nice.  It was very cold though, it was so much fun though!

CS: Are you from a musical background? Do your parents play music or anything?

GJ: Yeah my mom and dad sing! My sister is a gospel singer.  My great grandparents were opera singers.  My granddad was a comedian.  My family brought us all up with music for sure though.

CS: Do you have any pre-show rituals?

GJ: Not really, I get really nervous though liken 20 minutes before the show.  Doesn’t matter where, just like 20 minutes before I get really nervous.  I get so nervous but once I step foot on stage it all goes away.  I just pace, do jumping-jacks to get myself to not think about being nervous and then it’s fine.  It’s a little harder here in America though because I talk really fast and no one understands me, I’m like a leprechaun on speed. 

CS: What made you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

GJ: I worked lots of other jobs and I kind of realized I didn’t want to do anything else.  Then I did pub shows, like really long shows.  Like three hour shows a night and I loved that, it was my favorite thing ever.  And I was just doing cover shows then, but then I started doing my own songs and people started coming in and requesting my songs and when people started singing them back I knew I should try to gig around Ireland.

“Here it comes, every red rose has its thorn that cuts” – Two Hearts

It’s hard to describe Gavin James’ music in words.  He’s one of those artist that you have to listen to, or go to a show to really understand how incredible his voice and his music are.  Not only is his music amazing, he is also someone that I would want to hang out with on a daily basis.  He made my first interview so easy, more like a chat than an interview.  His debut album came out just a few weeks ago on March 11, 2016 and he is already making a substantial presence in the music world, especially in Europe.  With several songs on the Spotify Artists to Watch in Europe.  Gavin James is really one to keep an eye on in the future. 

Interview with RAC, coming to San Diego on 11/22

I got an amazing opportunity to chat with an artist I’ve been a fan of since my early high school years. His name is André Allen Anjos, and he is the face behind RAC. Currently on tour, RAC will be playing at the Observatory North Park in San Diego on November 22, 2015 alongside St. Lucia. Check out the interview below, and you’ll see just how chill and down-to-earth he is.

A: Hey Jasmine, how’s it going?
J: Hi Andre, it’s great! How are you?
A: I’m good, I’m good. We’re setting up here in Boston.
J: Sweet, so you’re in Boston right now?
A: Yeah, we’re setting up. We’re playing tonight at the Royale. It’s here in Boston, so we’re going through the whole process of loading in, setting it up, you know, it takes several hours.
J: Sounds busy, haha.
A: Nah, it’s all good, all good. We take it at a leisurely pace. *chuckles*

J: How long have you been making music?
A: Man, I think I’ve been making music since I was about maybe 13 years old? So, when I think I was maybe 10, I asked my parents for a fake guitar. It was like a guitar where you could just press buttons on it and it would play chords, basically like an easy way to play guitar. And it was like a toy. I asked my parents for a toy and my parents actually gave me a real guitar instead. And I was pissed, like, “What is this?” because I want the easy way out… Anyways, they got me the real thing and that got me started, and I kind of got really into it and at about 13, I started taking it a little more seriously. I was getting into Nirvana and stuff like that. Those are very accessible songs as a guitar player, so, yeah that’s the very beginning.

J: How did music influence your childhood?
A: It’s funny because even though I did take it seriously early on, I never really saw it as a career path until maybe I was going to college. It was always just this fun thing to do, and I grew up with this mentality that for musicians, it’s very difficult to make a living. So, I never really saw it as a practical thing. And part of that was just growing up in Portugal where it’s even more difficult to make a living as a musician and so I never really took it that seriously. When I was picking a school to go to, I think that was sort of a deciding factor. I was actually interested in design—industrial design and graphic design. So I was thinking of going that route—which my life would have turned out very differently—or to go to a music school, and I ended up going to music school. Not that the music school informs that, but that was sort of a deciding moment I guess, where I said,”Okay, I’m gonna pursue this for real,” much to my parents’ worry.

J: What was it like moving from Portugal to the United States?
A: Well, my mom’s American. I grew up in bible school so it was a very natural thing for me. I had actually lived in the U.S. before when I was a kid. I went to 3rdand 4th grade in the U.S. So I was pretty aware of American culture and the language, obviously, which helps a lot. You know, Portugal is not that vastly different than America in that way, but there’s still a little bit of culture shock. Mostly with the difference between the size of things, everything’s a little bigger in the U.S. I think anyone that goes to Europe can probably attest to that. So it was little things like that, nothing too drastic. It was a pretty easy transition. And with music I sort of adopted a certain DIY quality about doing everything myself, trying to take my career into my own hands I guess, and so I think that helped me out a lot when I first moved to the U.S.

J: Can you explain the meaning of the name RAC?
A: Yeah! Well, basically when I started it—it stands for Remix Artist Collectives—and that was the original idea that I had when I was in college. I wanted to create a collective of remixers that would essentially work for hire. We’d work with labels or artists, anybody that wanted a remix that we felt like it could be creatively interesting; it was sort of like a creative agency, almost like working behind the scenes. I never really intended for it to be like a front-facing-artist thing. And that was the beginning. That was what I envisioned at first. The reality was very different from that. I was doing pretty much all the remixes myself and it just never really took off in that way. I was doing a lot of remix work, but I was sort of making a name for myself as an artist in that way. It was becoming like a recognizable name. Especially when I later moved into original work, the name just kind of lost its meaning. So at this point, I see it as almost like a brand or a name that you attach to things. Hopefully, if they enjoy my remix work, they’d enjoy my original work and whatever else I decide to do. So it’s sort of like an umbrella for me to make music under.
J: It’s nice how that worked out!
A: Yeah, it never worked out how I wanted it. I’m just kind of going with it now.

J: How would you describe your music to those who haven’t listened to you yet?
A: Well, let me put it this way. When people ask me, I just say it’s electronic music. But when I really think about what it is…to me, it’s pop music. And that’s what I’m kind of trying to do. I use a lot of electronic sounds, and I use a lot of more traditional sounds too. So to me, it feels like I’m trying to write catchy music and poppy music that is enjoyable but also has substance. I’m trying to make functional art I guess, or practical art. Somewhere in the middle where I can reach a vast amount of people but also fulfill that creative need that I have.

J: Is there something you have to do or say to prepare yourself before a show?
A: Not really… I’ve kind of been doing this for a while, and a lot of people do have routines. For me, I just chill out for an hour. About 10 minutes before we go on, I just go and hang out by the stage, just kinda hang out by myself, kinda regain my thoughts, stuff like that. There’s not really any kind of special process or anything like that. It’s kinda, sit there and relax for a second, and get ready to jump around for an hour, I guess.

J: What are you looking forward to in the future of your career?
A: I guess just to try new things. It’s been kind of a theme from the very beginning. As I mentioned, I had a grand idea of what it would become and it never became that. So the things that have worked out in my life are things where I go with the flow and try new challenges and try to stretch myself as a musician. Whether that’s remixes or lately it’s been trying film, or TV, or I just did a video game soundtrack, too. So it’s stuff like that, projects that are interesting to me that are out of the norm, anything to keep it interesting, whether that’s like a genre of music or…just something. I basically want to keep doing this as long as I possibly can, and I think a big part of doing it long-term is not get burnt out. So that’s sort of my way of not getting burnt out, it’s just by trying new things and keeping it interesting.
J: That sounds like a good strategy!
A: Yeah! I mean, it’s worked so far. We’ll see.

J: And last but not least, if you were stranded alone on a deserted island, what are three things you’d want to have with you?
A: Oooh, hahaha.
J: It’s tough, so take your time.
A: Probably a guitar for sure. It’s one of those things that I’ve had to sort of force myself to just sit down with a guitar and just play music, for fun. You know, what an idea, to play music for fun. But for me, because it’s my job, sometimes I feel this immense pressure that any time I’m working on music, it has to be for work. And sometimes I have to remind myself to just enjoy myself and to play music without any project in mind, and just do it for fun. So definitely if I was stranded on an island, I would want that escape. Hmm, although I’d probably break some strings and then I’d be kind of screwed but, hypothetical anyway. Let’s see, other two things… I think the core of that question is what you value in life. So the other things are friends, obviously. I’m kind of answering your question in a broader way, but friends are something that I definitely value more and more. Especially helps with staying alive and it’s basically just hanging out with your friends for a month in a semi-stressful situation. Oh, I also just got kittens so I want them to hang out with, too.

Connect with RAC:

A Moment with the Artist: Eskimeaux

Since 2007, Gabrielle Smith has been making music as Eskimeaux, often collaborating with fellow members of The Epoch, a Brooklyn-based collective of artists and songwriters. With a discography ranging in style from experimental ambient to colorful and upbeat pop, each listen of an Eskimeaux album is a new and refreshing experience on its own. After having spent most of 2014 touring with her various bands (including Frankie Cosmos and Told Slant), Smith is gearing up for the release of her newest album O.K. this May (the first single “Broken Necks” can be heard below). I caught up with Smith shortly before the start of her tour with Crying to discuss home recording, her roots in songwriting, and a look back on the past few years.

Joey Bautista: How long have you been going by Eskimeaux, and what is the inspiration behind the name?

Gabrielle Smith: I’ve been using the moniker Eskimeaux since 2007. I created the band name for three reasons. Firstly, it was important to me that it was “easily google-able.” Secondly, I wanted the name to represent me. I was adopted and the only part of my heritage that we know is that I am part Tlingit, indigenous peoples from the Pacific Northwest. Thirdly, I wanted the name to represent my sound. I think of the music I make as layers upon layers of sounds that all come together to make a simple thing: a song. That’s where -eaux comes from; it’s a jumble of letters that all come together to create the simple “o” sound.

JB: What were your first experiences with recording music?

GS: I had a handful of experiences recording music in a really entry-level way, but there were a couple of pivotal moments in the beginning of Eskimeaux that were important.

One was hearing and learning about the recording process of Brandon Can’t Dance. His songs were these really interesting, super-short, layered recordings that he made on the Windows Voice Recorder. I don’t know if you have ever seen that program, but it’s extremely primitive and is basically just for quick voice-memos. It actually has to be tricked into making multi-tracked recordings. And yet, he would make really complex songs with multiple instruments. I was really inspired not only by his music, but by how possible it was to make really personal, short songs. I felt really connected to the music he was making even though usually the songs were only one minute long and had maybe two sentences for the lyrics. I remember a while later when I showed him GarageBand for the first time — he was astounded by the ability to see, edit, and effect multiple tracks, it was really funny.

The other was watching Ben Schurr from Br’er record. I went to visit him in Philadelphia when he was working on an EP called Filled With Guilt and Diamonds. His songs were incredibly complicated, combining orchestral arrangements, noise elements, and passionate, dark songwriting. He would record in Cubase, a program that is still over my head, even after working with it on one of the later Eskimeaux albums with him. The whole time I was visiting him, which was about two weeks, he worked on the recordings, including having Nat Baldwin come over and record some upright bass for him. It was so crazy to me that someone could have such dense compositions all worked out in their head! And then to just make it happen! It was very inspiring and after that experience I set out to (try to) make work like that.


JB: Your upcoming album O.K. is being released in May on Double Double Whammy. How did you get involved with the label?

GS: Dave Benton reached out to me over the summer (of 2014), just to see what I was working on. I was on tour with Told Slant at the time, but I told him that when I got home I would send him my latest recordings. I had met them through their work with Frankie Cosmos.

JB: O.K. features reworkings of several songs that were originally home demos on Igluenza. Could you describe what your home recording setup is like?

GS: My home recording set up, for Igluenza (and all of my demos), was mostly GarageBand and a Yeti microphone. For O.K. we set up Jack Greenleaf’s fancy desktop with Logic on it in this funny, tiny, window-less room in our house (which basically just became Jack’s bedroom at a certain point). He also has a really cool, eight-channel interface that we used a bunch, but most of the vocals were still recorded on the Yeti in GarageBand.

JB: Where do you draw inspiration for lyrics? They’re often among the most captivating elements of your music.

GS: I would say that my most important lyrical influences are Phil Elverum, Joanna Newsom, Frankie Cosmos, Bellows, and Adrian Orange. Whenever I’m writing poems (which later turn into songs, for the most part), I think to myself, “how would ____________ see this?” Obviously I could never know that, so their influence gets pushed through my filter and becomes a song.

Eskimeaux at Shea Stadium

JB: How has playing in several different bands influenced your songwriting process as a solo artist?

GS: It has influenced it a lot! First and foremost, being in all of the bands I’m in (and have been in in the past) and playing different instruments for each has made me a much better musician. I started out writing music with a basic knowledge of violin and proper choral singing. Now, I can confidently say that I am proficient at guitar, singing, bass, synthesizer, keyboard, and violin. I wouldn’t say I’m “good” at it, but I even got to learn how to play cello for one band I used to be in.

Being in a bunch of projects has also given me the opportunity to see music through a lot of different eyes. Told Slant, Frankie Cosmos, Bellows, Real Life Buildings, and Eskimeaux songs are all written from completely different perspectives and therefore have to be arranged in completely different ways. I get to be “behind the scenes” for all of it, so I can take my new knowledge home and apply it experimentally to my own work. It makes songwriting really exciting!

JB: What have you been listening to lately?

GS: Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Girlpool, Krill, Taylor Swift, Mitski, and Frankie Cosmos. Also in the car, since we only have a CD player, we listen to Hall & Oates, Celestial Shore, the Empire Records soundtrack, and also Girlpool. A lot of Girlpool.

JB: You’ve done an extensive amount of touring over the past several months, and you have another one coming up at the end of the month with Crying. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned after so many hours on the road?

GS: I’ve learned that sometimes you just need to have a hot meal.

JB: You released your first album as Eskimeaux way back in 2008. Having been at this for seven years now, what’s going through your head at this point in your life?

GS: Every time I release an album that is important to me I take a break from songwriting to enjoy what I’ve accomplished and let ideas accrue. Now, I feel like that break is over!

More info on Eskimeaux’s upcoming tour with Crying can be found here.
O.K. will be released on May 12 by Double Double Whammy (now available for pre-order).
Photos courtesy of Andrew Piccone.

A Moment with the Artist: Elvis Depressedly

Mathew Lee Cothran has been writing and releasing music for almost a decade as Coma Cinema, but he’s about to embark on a brief tour with his band Elvis Depressedly to preface the release of their upcoming album, New Alhambra. Shortly before the start of this tour, I caught up with Cothran to talk about moving across states, touring, and his mindset looking forward.

Joey Bautista: You’re about to spend a good part of December touring the Northeast and Midwest (including a few shows in Canada) with Told Slant. The last couple of months have been pretty hectic with your move from Columbia to Asheville. Now that you seem to have settled in, how would you compare your pre-tour sentiments to those of your cross-country tour with Alex G this past summer?

Mat Cothran: Hectic is a good way to put it for sure. Delaney and I hated Columbia and South Carolina in general. It’s where we grew up, but the state’s anti-art mentality challenged us forever and we just got sick of it. It was wearing us down and we had enough, so we moved to North Carolina which isn’t that far away, but it’s a different world out here. We love it so much and we’re excited to be a part of the art scene here because there are so many talented, hungry people.

Our tour with Alex G was fucking awesome because Delaney and I are big fans of Alex’s music and have been repping him for so long now, and just seeing people respond to his music was phenomenal. We’re also big into Told Slant, so we’re looking forward to this tour in a similar fashion. We live to turn people on to cool art and we’ve always wanted that to be our focus no matter what, be it our music or our friends’ music.

I can be kind of a dick and kind of negative about touring because there is so much work involved that I feel sometimes takes away from what I’m best at (recording albums), so I usually go into the shit with a negative attitude, but that fades away pretty quickly. I’m excited to see Told Slant play and to share them with an audience that might not be familiar. Everyone involved in that band is hard working and kind as fuck and deserves every shot they can get.

Delaney is the brains behind our operation and she always gets me motivated before touring, but sometimes I’m very hesitant and uncertain about going out on the road. So much can go wrong, but I try to keep in mind how wild and crazy it is that we show up in cities we’ve never been to, and people are out there and excited to see us play. That shit definitely keeps me going and means so much to me. It’s a weird life, but I don’t know what else I’d be doing.

Mathew Lee Cothran and Delaney Mills (photo by Sam Ray)

Mat Cothran and Delaney Mills (photo by Sam Ray)

JBIt’s really uplifting whenever you speak so fondly about your peers and listeners. One show on your upcoming tour that’s been getting a lot of attention is the one at The Cave in Toronto which is listed as 19+. You’re a very vocal advocate of all-ages shows, and you’ve said that you’re willing to play an early show outside the venue if that’s what it takes. It’s reassuring to hear you say that, because 21+ shows have kept me from seeing several of my favorite artists here in San Diego. What’s your opinion on age-restricted shows/venues?

MC: I get why venues do age-restricted shows to an extent. I understand that the venues we typically play are between 150-500 capacity and you want to get as many money spending (drinking) motherfuckers in there as you can, but our audience is the youth and we want to be a positive and cool thing for kids to come out and see. So there is sometimes a dispute between venues and us about what kind of audience we’re bringing in.

What needs to happen is there to be more youth oriented spots. Why the fuck do bands always have to play in bars? I mean, I’m a drinker and I’m a grown man, but I have no shame in playing a straight edge spot if people are going to be there and be excited about our art. The world needs more accepting spaces in general. Every space should be a safe space. I think venues miss the fucking cue when they deny the youth a show. I mean fuck, if you have to charge a buck for a Coke or something, do it. I’ll tell anyone to their face I have a drinking problem, but I’m willing to put all that shit aside if we’re playing a space that is anti-drinking and open to the youth.

What I care about most is the art, and what I care about almost as much is our listeners, and a lot of them are young and I’m grateful for that. So whatever I have to do to give these kids a show, I’m going to fucking do. If the venue says they can’t have these kids who have supported me and paid my bills by buying t-shirts and records, then fuck that, I’m going to do a show outside because I care more about our listeners than I do some building with a sound system.

Elvis Depressedly @ The Dial in Murrieta, CA (8/1/2014)

Elvis Depressedly @ The Dial in Murrieta, CA (photo by Anthony Vincent)

Toronto might be a little weird and we’re still working with our booker (who is fucking great by the way, a true blue motherfucker) to try and get around this 19+ bullshit. We’re going to do what’s best for our listeners because at the end of the day, these people are supporting the hell out of us and we give a shit about that. We’re not going to ignore them because of a venue or a law or some other shit. We’re making art and art is for everybody, not just people who are old enough to drink.

JB: This is going to be your last tour before the release of the new Elvis Depressedly album, New Alhambra. It was originally slated to be out this month, but you’ve pushed it back to early next year for a wider, more opportune release. I can speak for the rest of your listeners when I say I couldn’t be more excited for what you have in store. You’ve said multiple times that this is the best work you’ve done to date–do you feel anxious sitting on this for so long?

MC: I do, because I know it’s our best work ever, and as lame as it sounds, I’m a little worried as to what our listeners will think. While Delaney was responsible for a lot of the music, I was responsible for a lot of the lyrical shit. I’m not sure if people who got into us via Holo Pleasures will fuck with it, but I can’t really let that get to us because I know in my heart this is the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of. The songs are the best I’ve written, the best Delaney has arranged, and then we had the best bass player in the world Mike Roberts and the best cello player in the world Amy Cuthbertson on this album. I’m so happy with it, and it makes me sick that I have to wait to let people hear it, but there’s still some fear in there that I might let people down and that’s just something I gotta deal with.

We have such an intense relationship with our listeners that sometimes it can be too much and I don’t know who I’m writing for, but on this album I put everything aside and wrote nine songs that I feel truly define who I am. Delaney came in and orchestrated them perfectly because she’s a fucking music genius, and Mike Roberts, our good friend and touring bassist, came in and made the songs real and purposeful.

It’s scary to go from a record like Holo Pleasures that I kind of orchestrated purposefully to be hip and funny to something that is deeply personal to me and bares all without hesitation. At this point, I’ve been at this shit for nearly ten years and I felt like the time was right to make what I thought was the best album I could make. I didn’t hold back, so it’s scary to be that out there and know people are gonna hear it and judge it based on what I’ve done before.

But I think people will vibe with it and understand where we’re coming from. I’m so proud of this record and of the stuff we’re doing right now.

Elvis Depressedly will be on tour with Told Slant this December, more info on it here.
New Alhambra will be released in Spring 2015 by Run For Cover Records.