Feature: James Pants

Picture of James Pants

Interview by Marc Kets

Spokane, Washington resident James Pants is unbelievably difficult to pigeon-hole - Is he new wave? Is he disco? Is he boogie? Is he electro? Is he hip hop? Truth is, he isn’t any of those, James’ music exists in those utterly unique little pockets of magic that join all those genres together. He quite proudly proclaims his music to be, “the sound of really cheap equipment, listening to a lot of records, and goofing off," and if records like ‘We’re Through’, ‘KA$H’ and his rather brilliant version of Adonis’ ‘Rocking Down The House’ are anything to go by then you can be sure that Stones Throw have unearthed an artist that will always have fresh ideas and who isn’t afraid of throwing out a few twists and turns along the way all while being incredibly original. His new album ‘Welcome’ drops on May 27th and it doesn’t matter where your musical allegiances lie, there will be something on the record that will excite you, and when was the last time we could honestly say that about an artist? I, for one, am very excited for what the future holds for James and I’ve already made space on my record shelves for his future releases.

How did you hook up with Peanut Butter Wolf?
Strange story, but I met him first on the night of my high school prom. I heard he was playing in town (Austin, TX) and emailed him to see if he wanted to go record shopping. Sure enough, he did. I met after bringing my date to his show, and ended up driving him around Austin for the next few days to some vinyl spots. I guess I just kept in contact ever since...

When did you start making music?
I've been making music since I was 11 or 12. I have been a drummer since then, and was really into jazz early on. I played in a lot of bands throughout high school and such. I didn't really get serious about making music towards the end of my high school career and into college. I guess I'm not really that serious though. It's mostly me going wild in the studio, just for fun.

You're influenced by a wide-range of music, are there any particular albums or producers that have had a great significance on your output?
There are lots, but I think I really gravitate towards the oddball producers and musicians. People like Bruce Haack, Gary Wilson, Silver Apples, Madlib, Mikey Dread, Strawberry Alarm Clock. I also like T.I. though.

Your work doesn't seem to rely on samples, is there a particular reason for this?
Not really, I still use samples sometimes, but find it much harder to make an interesting song relying on them. You're kind of stuck with the chord progression in the sample, so it's always hard to switch it up.

Your initial goal was to have a 45 on Stones Throw but you've exceeded that and now have an album on the label. What is the next goal?
I think another album would be in order. I really want to do a gospel-psych record. Either that or open a burrito stand pulled behind a bicycle.

Tell us about your album 'Welcome'?
It's really all over the place. I spent a couple of years making songs that appear on the album, but I didn't really have an album in mind when I was making them. I ended with over a hundred and turned those into PB Wolf for him to decide what should go on there. This album is kind of a "greatest-hits" of those tracks. I feel pretty good about it though. There seems to be a couple songs for everyone on the record, whether you're into psych, hip-hop, new wave, boogie, or rock. I'm just hoping girls like it.

What is the best thing and the worst thing about living in Spokane?
One of the best things for sure in the thrift stores (I believe you call them charity shops). Just the other day I found a hollowed out turtle, a giant zodiac star necklace, an Asian barber shop robe, a synthesizer, and a wooden dragon mask. It's incredible. The other I like about this town is the cost of living is very low. I have a lot of student loans to pay, so a cheap town is very much appreciated. There is no real music scene here either, so you can kind of make it what you want without any politics. I always share bills with all kinds of different acts, from metal to reggae bands. On the downside, there is not really much going on here, so relying on the town for cultural fulfillment is futile. There are also a lot of ignorant types here. People who like to drive massive trucks and spit tobacco on the elderly. Overall though, it's my favorite place to live - as long as you get out of town enough.

Do you see your work as having correlations with any of the other Stones Throw releases? Where do you see yourself fitting in on the label?
I'm really not sure yet. I'm a fan of all the Stones Throw releases and I think PBWolf and Egon have some of the best ears in the business. I just hope my record is a natural extension to the roster. I will say though, I really like playing shows with Dam Funk, Wolf, and Baron Zen. I guess I fit into the weirdo category on the label.

I personally love 'We're Through', what was the story behind the record?
I wish there was a cool breakup story for that song, but I was happily married at the time. I still am, I should say. I don't really write lyrics down, so I usually just wing it while I'm recording. Most of the lyrics end up being about girls, I don't know why. I might need to look into that... I think the lyrics to "We're Through" just came together really quickly, which almost always means the song will be alright.

Tell us about how you came to work with Gary Davis aka The Professor.
I was a journalism major in college, and ended up doing a piece on Gary for Elemental magazine, as he is one of my favorite all-time producers/composers. I think I found his phone number online. I just called him up, and after the interview, asked if he would be interested in recording some new stuff. To my amazement, he was. I sent him a few tracks and he put his magic touch on them. Now we stay in touch a fair amount, and I'm definitely hoping on doing more projects with Gary. Everybody needs to hear his stuff.

What is the connection with James Chance, and what do you admire about his work?
Well, contrary to popular belief, my name didn't come from James Chance. My wife actually came up with the James Pants, as she used to always call me "Fancy Pants" and just modified it. However, I will say I am a James Chance fan, so it works out well. I love his vocal delivery style, and how spastic and raw his sound was. I don't know too much about him except that he was a white weirdo doing black-influenced music quite well. Maybe one day I can do it quite well, too.

Your video for 'Do a Couple of Things' is hilarious. Where did the idea for the video come from?
I think Wolf suggested that the premise of the video would be me trying to see Arabian Prince DJ, but we just winged most of the video. I went down to LA and we just took a lot of strange shots. Oh yeah, Wolf hired his nieces to be the dancers, which was a good touch.

You're about to tour with Jamie Lidell, are there any plans for a collaboration? Who would you most like to collaborate with?
No plans for a collaboration yet, but I haven't even talked to him personally at this point. Maybe so though... I would really like to collaborate with Gary Davis, Ariel Pink, and the remaining member of Silver Apples. Let's add T.I. to the list as well, if I get my game together. I think that would be an interesting record.

You've just recorded two podcasts for Fabric in London, which you did in your 'broadcasting voice. Was there a gameplan going into the recording or did you and PBW do it on the fly? For my money it's one of the strongest in the series.
We basically just did it on the fly in the studio there. I still get really nervous about talking on microphones, so I remember saying some awkward stuff.

Did you have any interaction with Parra who did the artwork for your album?
I met Parra a few years ago in Miami for the WMC, and was a big fan of his artwork right away, especially the bird people. As far as this album, we just decided it would be best to make it look somewhat generic, so that you can't tell what decade it is from. Parra aced it as usual.

Tell us about your mix 'Ice Castles' and do you have a plan for a follow up?
I have always been buying new age records, mainly because they are always incredibly cheap. (Like all good music before its time.) At first I found the covers fascinating, but then I ended up loving the music. The genre can be quite fulfilling and relaxing. It's kind of the opposite of dance music, so it keeps me balanced. There is also some incredibly weird new age records, which is good for me. I ended up making that mix as it was like 20 degrees and snowy in Spokane. It just seemed like a cosmic time. I will definitely do another mix for the winter next year.

Your remix of Baron Zen seems to be gathering steam amongst DJs the world-over, what was the idea behind the remix?
The idea was to have a lot of loud drums and noise, since that is the Baron Zen style. I think I added a melody too, which is not the Baron Zen style.

Tell us about 'Rhythm Tracks vol. 1'.
Basically, back in the day, labels like Jive, Easy Street and JDC put out these "rhythm trax" records where it is mainly just drums with a little melody thrown in for good measure. Rhythm Trax are not really songs, but they are more than just drum beats. I though it would be fun to put one out myself. Mine has a new age song on it though, with no drums at all. We took some liberties...

Anything else we should know?
Hmmm... I'm working with a band for shows throughout the summer. Hopefully it will be creepy.


Marc Kets, May 2008

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