James Henry delivers punchy, guitar-driven songs with sweet melodies, succulent harmonies and sharp lyrics. Think Merseybeat meets Squeeze meets Weezer.
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to James about that “seize the day” mentality, Frank Zappa, dipshit rubbish beats, and the release of his great new record ‘Pluck’.
What was the moment you knew you were on to something?
Regarding my new album, Pluck, there was a gap between the final mixdown and initiating the process of release, where I had not listened to the songs at all. I suddenly had to do so to prepare for mastering, and I came to that listening experience almost as a separate person – someone detached from the writing and recording of these things. It was surprising – I really liked what I heard! I thought, “There should be a few others out there who will like this too.”
I think it’s the best thing I’ve done, by a long way. It’s the sort of music I would buy – I hope that doesn’t come across as arrogant at all. At the very least, it’s a competent album.
When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?
In late 2020/early 2021, I began to contact blogs and radio stations that I thought may be receptive to this work. I’ve had a pretty good reaction to the album from most of the people who responded. One review in particular from the site “PopRock Record” was incredible.
The guy who runs the enterprise, Dennis Pilon, had taken the trouble to carefully listen to the whole thing and made authentic links with the work of other artists that I was considerably proud of.
Getting comments such as these from people who’ve never heard of you before is a real confidence boost.
The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?
Creating an album independently and having it available as a physical product constitutes success in my book. The online world gives musicians a route to release that just wasn’t generally available to them previously. The problem then arises of getting that release noticed – there is so much noise out there. I’m grateful for any recognition! Added success would be selling a reasonable amount of CDs and gaining fans who are genuinely interested in what I do and willing to support more of it. I’d like to achieve that someday.
How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics
The urge for me to carry on is strong as I have quite a backlog of material which, if it all turns out to be listenable, I would like to have released. In doing so, it might be good to have the support of a label, but if not, I’ll try and continue to do it myself.
I like writing and recording and have done so for many years. Even if I weren’t looking to put something out, I’d still write. It’s a fun activity. I’m also a huge fan of the guitar and will maintain my desire to thrash about on one until my calloused hands wither and my arthritic fingers crack and crumble.
As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?
I suppose that can appear in certain songs, but I honestly don’t set out to “show my emotions” or bare my soul through songwriting. In terms of lyrics, I do see a freedom to say what’s on your mind. Still, I also enjoy highlighting the unorthodox attitudes and behaviors, which often provide a chance to introduce humor into a musical situation. I like lyrics that raise a laugh or an eyebrow.
You can pick three co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?
If you twisted my arm, I wouldn’t mind trying to come up with something sat opposite Paul McCartney. He’s a genius, a master of modern pop songwriting, and you’d be a complete fool not to learn from him.
Chrissie Hynde and Ray Davies spring to mind, too – their approaches to writing and performing are unique, and I’d like to witness how that all begins.
If I had a choice of working with an artist who’s passed on, then Frank Zappa or Prince would be my choices. Both were outlandishly talented – and I know Frank wouldn’t have been shy of sharing a forthright opinion.
Lyrics are too often taken for granted. What is the line of text, or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember? And why?
From my song “Tomorrow May Be Too Late”, the title alone is pretty much to the point. The first lines are “Tomorrow may be too late, so why do you sit and wait? Get out of your chair, start tempting fate – tomorrow may be too late”. I like that “seize the day” mentality if, as a listener, you feel you need to invoke it.
For more “self-help” style wordage, the song “Afterthought” may be appropriate: “Why do you treat me like an afterthought? I can’t compete if I’m your last resort. I won’t be Plan B – I want to rewrite your history, but…… I’m never going to be anybody’s afterthought”. I would say many of us have been in relationships where we’ve been taken for granted, so to speak. If so, this could be your battle cry.
When was the last time you thought, ‘I just wrote a hit!’?
I can’t ever tell! I write ultimately for my own amusement. I’ve heard many songs in the past by famous artists where I’ve thought, “That’s a number one,” only for it to disappear without trace or languish around the lower reaches of a chart while some dipshit rubbish beats everything else and sells millions.
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
Absolutely! The technology to make a convincing record at home is pretty staggering to me, compared to what I used to get out of an Atari ST1040 and a 4-track cassette recorder. Getting it heard in the right place, though, is nigh on impossible, especially with the amount of material that’s out there online. The mainstream media still seems resolutely impenetrable to me, without having a shed load of money to buy your way in. Getting a sync placement or a spot play on a major radio or TV outlet has proven beyond my capabilities over the years…….but you never know, eh? Gotta keep tryin’ ……..
Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?
“Saturday Morning” (from the album “Sweetener”), “The Sun Is Cracking The Flags”, “I’d Be All Over That” (both from the album “Overspill”), “Available For Selection” and “So Many Times Before” (both from the new album “Pluck”).
Recording music. What’s all the fun about?
You’re the director of the entire film that is your song. You can have anything happen at any time, in any order, with pretty much any instrument your computer can muster. You can mess with your guitar sounds; you can throw a Moog synth phrase in there; you can say rude words and everything. It’s hard work because there’s a basic level of technical stuff you HAVE to incorporate, which may be boring or impenetrable to many. But…..if the end product is close to what you first heard in your head, there is no bigger thrill than hearing it coming back at you. It keeps you out of mischief – or deeply in it, depending on your point of view.
You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?
Many of my songs have a 60’s musical influence. What I think often sets them apart is the guitar work that’s bludgeoned into a lot of the material, which stops it from sounding too contrived. I like aggressive lead guitar sounds, and in that respect, I’m influenced a great deal by Adrian Belew. He makes noises on a guitar you can’t believe.
They expect ‘the roaring 20s v2.0’. What kind of party are you looking for?
Anywhere that offers tasty small sausages, the freedom to wear a baker boy cap, and plays “A Girl Like You” nice and loud.