Mikey James is worn out, but not burned out. He's jaded, but not cynical. He's stripped his latest project, Admirers, down to those he can trust to handle the music the way he hears music and creates it. Admirers is a one–man band. It's James solamente. Though he hires sidemen for live shows, all the credit, blame, work, and glory falls on James.
Having cut his teeth in New York City-based Longwave in the 90's, followed by the indie rock effervescence of Rochester's The Mercies, James' true sound came to the fore when he recorded as Mikey Jukebox. All the quirk and pop, and sugar that had been bubbling beneath finally erupted. It made sense.
But James soon buried the project, dismissing it as a one-time thing; bad news if you dug it, good news if you dig Admirers. Admirers is soon releasing "Pussyfoot," a swirling pop opus full of 80's hooks, dreamy synthetic atmosphere, disco (yes, disco), and a touch of techno thump 'n' groove. It's not merely synth-pop; at times it's rock. It's more Smiths than Ultravox.
James is a wonderful musician who has been hardened by the biz; bloody but unbowed. He's gotten a little crusty in his old age, but shows no signs of slowing down or stopping. He continues to record and produce, and has had 11 placements of his music on shows like "Gossip Girl" and "The New Girl" in the last year. So chances are you're already an admirer.
James stopped by CITY to discuss the new album, the pros and cons of being crusty, and why he hates bands. An edited transcript follows.
CITY: Why do you hate bands?
Mikey James: No, I love bands. But bands are a young man's game.
But you're 37.
Yeah, but once you're 37, and you've been through all the shit, and you've done two or three decent bands ... Now to start a band, it has to be with some sort of mutual respect, everyone would have to know what they are doing. The process has to be real natural in order to be in a band at this point. But when you're that young gang ... you can't get that at this age.
Why don't you hate Admirers?
Because it's just me. And I hire whoever I can, I try to get the best guys.
Do I detect a dash of disco in this project?
There's a disco element. There's certainly that four on the floor thing about it. I love it. I have a lot of Fairlight on there; it's early digital. Kate Bush used it, Peter Gabriel.
Where does the human element come in?
It's me playing everything for the most part. Its studio pop because I don't have a band. The bass and guitars are organic. That's what I like about it, I'm bringing the organic to the newer electronic, the 80's Paul Simon vibe into some of the disco synth. That's where I think I should head more with it.
How do you pull off working with a hired band?
They come in with the charts. It doesn't sound like the recording, nor do I care. I'm over that whole thing. "Just come in and play the root note and be yourself over it. I'll be myself and I'll sound like me." They'll add syncopations and I'll be like, "No, no, no, play it straight."
How did you come up with the concept for Admirers? Was it a way to distance yourself from Longwave and The Mercies?
I think the Mikey Jukebox stuff was my break from bands and led to this.
Then you killed Mikey. Was that hard?
Nah, I always knew it was a one-off thing. It became more and more clear that it was just this weird little idea. But it was easy to fall into self-parody with it. It felt forced, you know when you have to strive all the time. It just didn't want to be. Nobody cared.
How'd you arrive at the name for this outing?
I've googled Mike James. There're like eight of us; what are we gonna do? I just like the name Admirers; it's lateral to whatever you want it to be. I hate band names. I mean I love Arctic Monkeys, but really are you the Arctic Monkeys?
Aren't you afraid fans will find your crustiness a cliché?
Yeah, but I try to keep a smile when I'm playing. Live, you can tell I'm having a good time, but when I'm doing demo stuff...
Any joy in producing, like the awesome work you did with The Demos?
They're like your musical children. You can see the thoughts form in their heads; thoughts that you had. I didn't have me back then.
How does having you help?
I help quicken the stupid process. They've still gotta go through it, but instead of living inside a stupid idea for six months or a year, you can get them out of it in two months. The crustiness is good in that sense.
Any touring with the new CD?
Why do you stay in the game?
I don't chase it. I just do what I do. What else is there to do?