James Calleo is a gifted songwriter who covers universal topics of communication understanding and love. He is a world traveller and yogi. This past year James has been honing his sound performing in a wide variety of venues from Maxwell’s Tavern, Finnegan's Irish Pub, yoga studios and a gothic church in Hoboken that was built in 1872. He has also been hard at work on his album. The Latest Noise talked to James as he nears his album release and show in April. This interview was published on 3/9/17. www.hisnamewasjames.com
Kuz: Hey James, let’s start with your album release show coming up on April 22 with a performance at the Church of the Holy Innocents on Willow Ave in Hoboken. Tell us a bit about the album and what you are looking to do for your album release show.
James: The album is a collection of mellow tunes written over 4 years. It was not written as an album but I revamped the songs to make them fit. The album release is going to be a party. I have a bunch of family support flying in from Missouri. $10 bucks. The beer, wine and conversation is free.
Kuz: You have recorded this album over a stretch of time, locations, and experiences. Walk us through the album process and how the songs evolved to become part of your album.
James: The process was long, far too long. I worked with the great engineer/producer named Ben Wisch. He was a pleasure to work with. We cut drums and bass in one day and then got 75% done within four days. He gave me the rough mixes and I listened. And listened. And listened. My first single, “Game is Love,” was 100% completed with Ben and a great vibe and sound came out of it. I held onto the other songs and became really over analytical. I held on to the mixes for about 2 months. There is a point you just have to trust your instinct and tell your cognition to quiet down. So I finished it up. The songs mean a lot to me lyrically and emotionally.
Kuz: One of the locations was Silver Horse Sound, who we recently interviewed for a Spotlight Series interview. It’s a great spot to record, tell us a bit about your studio recording experience and contrast that to recording outside or in your apartment.
James: I had a good time there and I knew exactly what I wanted to do and the songs were just acoustic guitar and vocals. I laid that out for Jonny and he had a good idea of how we should go about it and we locked them down within 2 hours. The tracks was one take. It happened to be the day of trumps official victory so it was a really weird vibe in Hoboken that day and basically the only escape from it was to record some music. the other song I just couldn’t get down the way I wanted it, so I had a joint, turned the reverb up in the head phones and ended up playing a unconstrained, strummed out version of the tune and that’s what made it onto the album.
Kuz: The Church of the Holy Innocents is a unique venue that bodes well for your sound and vibe. Can you give us some background on the church and how you came to have your album release show there?
James: Over the summer, during the album process I decided to take a yoga teacher training course. Some people assumed I was kind of just bailing on my album and dream of becoming a musician. Never had that intention. It actually worked out in my favor and I just started meeting floods of cool people. Yogis are made up of all different professions and personalities. I ended up meeting this awesome lady named Erin who co-runs the Rummage and Ruffage Farmers Market at the space and I ended up playing music for another yoga instructor at the church. The same day I was invited to come play a block party and saw the same crowd and the relationship was sealed. I think I played three times at the farmers market and just met all these awesome people . So when it came time to pick a venue it seemed pretty pretty easy in my mind to go with this big Gothic church with natural acoustics and good atmosphere. It’s completely a DIY space, so I can control the vibe more so then booking at a bar or a club.
Kuz: You have been performing your music in Yoga classes for the past year, I can imagine that’s a lot different then playing to a bar full of drunks yelling for “Freebird”. Tell us about that experience and how singing into a room differs from a PA system.
James: Singing into a room with natural acoustics is amazing. Hands-down, it’s my favorite gig that I do and I’m so lucky that happens twice a week. The way that the sound can fill up every nook and cranny of the room is something that can’t be replicated through a microphone and speakers. When sound travels from the voice to the microphone, then out through speakers, all breath and most vibration is lost. The frequency is diluted. Breath doesn’t come out of a speaker. But when you sing into a room you know your breath, your vibration, is bouncing around the room and surrounding the listener. The experience is organic and far more interactive. It’s all about creating a vibe. 75% of the class is improvised loops and lyrics and the rest is either original material or an improvised cover of a song.
Kuz: When performing in such drastically different environments how does a musician please the crowd while staying true to the music they want to share with the world? Are there compromises that one has to make? Any tips on how to overcome possible pitfalls?
James: There are compromises. As a singer songwriter, most the loot you make comes from cover gigs, which can feel like selling your soul sometimes. But it pays for rent and equipment and musicians. Going from a yoga studio to a bar is awesome though in itself. Having polar opposite performances to start and end a week keeps it fun and exciting. When it comes down to it, you have to put a smile on your own face so my tip is when you do play your own tunes in an unfitting setting give it your all and don’t look for pleasure in reaction. You might not get applauded but the people that count will get it. They’ll feel it. No matter the music people can vibe with someone they believe.
Kuz: You have lived and have traveled a good amount in your life. How do you see traveling and immersing in other cultures relates to creating music?
James: Openness. We all travel for different reasons. I like staying open to possibilities. Opening doors to see new things and staying fresh. Just knowing that there is a big world out there other than your own is humbling. Creation has no boundaries so why give yourself one.
Kuz: Tell us about the band you formed in India, “Louie and The Funky Dolphins” and some main take-a-aways of performing at that time.
James: I met this awesome recording artist, Adam Hourigan and we hung and traveled together for a couple weeks. In Goa we met this Italian percussionist Louie who insisted, if we started a band, his name must precede because people know him. We played about 7 gigs in the two weeks. All with an ocean breeze. We’d get paid, fed and drunk. One time we played overlooking the ocean to an audience of one hundred give or take. We met some great friends through these gigs and had our ego struggles as well. I learned a lot having to sing harmony and be the number two. Hourigan’s vocals are superb. Check him out.
Kuz: A lot a what we discuss includes a sense of understanding of the environment in which you are performing. How can a musician transform an environment to help ?
James: Live music can’t be replicated. The energy a musician CAN bring into a room is more than any recorded song can give. When the musician is real you feel it, no matter the skill level. Live music is in Hoboken, just in many different forms. At a bar or shop I’d rather hang out listening to someone in the moment than the same old songs. Short answer. You help an environment by showing up.
Kuz: Any parting thoughts to share with us?
James: Everything is temporary. Don’t be so hard on yourself.