As the final UK tour date promoting his new album From The Top Of Willamette Mountain nears, we talk to Joshua James about ghost hunting, the album making process, culture, and even farm life.
First things first; What’s the tour been like so far?
The tour’s been great so far! I mean really, really great crowds, good sales of merchandise, the people seem to like the new record and the new songs, and the travel’s been really easy in comparison to what we’re used to in the states, which is long drives. The drives are shorter than what we’re used to, so in that sense it’s been really great, and good crowds, it’s been fun.
We’ve seen parts of the world we’ve never seen before.
You’ve been doing a lot of couchsurfing, how’s that been?
Yeah for the most part, we’ve stayed in a hotel three, maybe four nights. I love couchsurfing. I love meeting people from the area to show us around. Sometimes we show up really late after the show and have to leave at noon, one, two-ish so don’t see as much of the town as we’d hoped, but I just like that interaction so much better than a hotel. Hotels are just very depressing for me, so in that sense I always love couch surfing so it’s all good.
I read on your blog that one of the first nights here you were staying in a place with ghosts. Did you encounter any in the end?
Oh yeah we went ghost hunting in Stockton-on-Tees! It was great, we were up really late. Uh, I didn’t feel any ghosts, didn’t see any ghosts, didn’t hear any ghosts, but it was an eventful night, our drummer hurt his hand that night and it stretched out for the whole tour, and it was kind of the kick-off couch surfing experience of the tour. Our couchsurfer host Heather, in Darlington, was really kind. It was a really great stay, nice and warm and she was very accommodating. But no, I didn’t see any ghosts.
How do you guys find walking around in this kind of a society? Like the culture clash. It’s easy to get along with people, but there are obvious intricacies.
Obviously the accent barrier can be intense sometimes, I found that more in Ireland than anywhere else. Especially when we went to Belfast, there were a couple of people after the show that I literally could not understand what they were saying to me. So that was a little hard, but apart from that, culturally speaking I feel like people we have associated with have been kind good people. It hasn’t been a hard adjustment for me at all. I feel like we’re the five guys travelling with easy going, easily compatible individuals so it hasn’t been that crazy. It’s more the landscape, the structures and the towns are so different to what I’m used to in Utah and the mid-west. It’s been great.
So is this the first time you guys came to Europe?
Me and Evan have actually been to London one time for 2 weeks or so, but never really toured the UK, this is our first UK tour.
How about the rest of Europe?
Never. This is our first time out of the US that is ‘touring’, we’ve played Canada a few times here and there, but never really ‘toured’ anywhere other than the US.
On ‘Willamette Mountain’, I guess you drew quite a bit of inspiration from the landscape. Are they any key differences in inspiration for this album and your previous? I felt that although there are still those dark undertones, especially in the lyrics, it does seem a lot more upbeat.
Yeah it does seem more upbeat, a little more happy maybe. I think that I was just in a different place when I wrote songs for this record than during the time I wrote songs for the old record. I wonder if I was trying so hard to paint a specific portrait of a theme. With this new record I kind of let the songs live how they were written, I let them be produced how Richard [Swift] wanted to produce them. It was just a more natural process than slaving and tiring over a song, which in my opinion can be a bad thing for a song.
You mean to make it sound a certain way?
Yeah, you have a certain mission for it and you try so hard to accomplish it, and it’s not really working but you still just push it to that place maybe it was never meant to go. With these songs it was such a quick thing. We recorded the song in such a fast manner that that’s it, that was the song, move onto the next. It was a different process than I’ve ever worked with in the past, and I liked it. I prefer it to the way I’ve done in the past, which is, like I said, slaving over it. Overthinking it often times. Overdubbing so many… whether it’s vocals, guitars, percussion, whatever the case is.
So you much prefer the straight take approach? As it sounds more natural?
Yeah, here’s the song, put a couple things on it, let it live, you know?
You mentioned Richard Swift what was it like working with him? He’s the current keyboardist of The Shins, a Singer/songwriter, and produced a bit before as well.
It was great, I mean it was amazing working with him. He’s kind of a force unto himself. He does what he does. He hears things a certain way. He’s very particular about how he wants things, but it was awesome because I feel like I’m the same way with records I produce. It was nice to let him take the reins and take control over it. In that sense I loved working with Swift, it was a really fun time
Franklin & James have just finished so I don’t want to keep you much longer. I’ve got a small question: If you could have any one animal to add for your farm, what would it be? Any animal in the world.
If I had a bigger farm… we looked at alpacas. I looked at horses but they don’t do much. Alpacas would be really fun. I’d probably say alpacas.
Like beautiful llamas!
Yeah, and they don’t spit at you! But even then, in comparison to goats, when I went and looked at alpacas with my wife on my birthday, they don’t want a relationship with you. Goats want a relationship with you. That’s what I think I like about goats so much. Like dogs and cats, they want a relationship with you. But alpacas would be fun in that you can shear them and spin the wool, we took a spinning wheel class, my wife does it a lot more than I do, but she spins wool and we knit hot pads. To be honest, what we have now is probably more than enough. The five ladies in the goat area, they have three kids, so we have eight goats living with us right now. It’s a lot to take care of. My lady back home, when I’m doing my fantastical music journey, she has to take care of it all; milk the goats, feed the chickens, pluck the eggs.