James Pants – Alone by CMJ Network
Stones Throw artist James Pants was recently offered a job with Red Bull Music Academy. He accepted and, along with his wife and daughter, packed up his things and left for Cologne, Germany. “It’s pretty sweet because the advantages of a socialist country are nice,” he muses. “I need to learn how to speak German though.” Due to his fortunately newfound distance, Pants now speaks to us about his self-titled third studio album (although he originally wanted it to be called Love Kraft—the Super Furry Animals however beat him to it, so he retracted the idea) through a small Skype window. Kraftwerk posters hang on the wall behind him.
How long have you been working on this album?
I think I started it maybe November 2009, and then I think I finished it in April 2010. I don’t usually spend too long making a record. I make 50 or 60 songs and pick the best.
50 or 60 songs?
Yeah, at least. Only a few are fully completed. For my first record I made like 100 songs, and for my second, 50 or 60. So I have a ton of songs that will never come out, which is nice. I try to do quantity and then pick the quality instead of take too long on one song.
I read somewhere that you had been watching a lot of Twin Peaks and call this your “rebel record.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
I think Twin Peaks refers to how it is those ’50s and early ’60s diner kind of songs, which I associate with that whole motorcycle riding, hamburger stand, drag racing, whole late ’50s/early ’60s American culture. I was listening to a lot of 1950s classic pop like Frankie Avalon, and it’s just got that doo-wop vibe to it. I can’t really give a reference, but in my head it’s just got that tough guy kind of mentality. I feel like a lot of people have spent a lot of time rehashing the ’80s, and even though there are some ’80s sounds, I was influenced more by the ’50s and ’60s but trying to make a whole new sound.
So it doesn’t have anything to do with the sort of ominous and sinister Twin Peak-y sort of sound?
Well, in a way I like everything creepy. My M.O. is that I want pop songs but with a sinister side. Maybe that’s from too much Gary Wilson and stuff like that. I guess it is slightly ominous, I like to use a lot of sounds that are slightly dissonant. Creepy on top of smooth sounds.
So you’re always aware of the contrasting elements and try to put them together?
I think the key to having a good song or any hit is to have that good contrast. Like Prince, “I Would Die For You” really hits that balance of sound.
Were you actually listening to any Angelo Badalamenti [composer of the Twin Peaks score]?
Of course, like the Julee Cruise albums, I just love [them]. I really like the Cocteau Twins too. I read that they were a huge influence on David Lynch. To me all their stuff is very beautiful but creepy at the same time. That’s really the mentality that I was trying to reach on this record.
You’ve always shied away from big city living, and Twin Peaks is based in a small town. Do you think that this aspect of your life is coming out on this record?
I think so. I’m a pretty private person in a way, as far as how awkward socially I am—live shows aside, as I try to be more crazy for that. Big cities usually tend to be more overwhelming for me. They’re super fun, I always love visiting, but living there is much more of a grind. I feel like there are more scenes going on which is good, but if I live in a town where there is no music scene, I will still be able to make my own music. You’re not being hit over the head with all these influences, so you’re able to make more original stuff. And it’s cheaper, that’s the main thing. There’s more money for records and thrift store stuff.
When I look at music and the weirdos of the world, that’s the kind of thing I’ve been seeing—they’re from some town that you’ve heard of but never think of. To me there’s a lot more originality in the smaller towns than the big ones.