Published on July 9th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Brendan James Lands in Charleston with a Simple Mission
Contemporary pop/rock songwriter and pianist Brendan James may be an authentic New Englander by birth and upbringing, but he fell in love with the culture, scenery, and dynamic of Lowcountry in recent years — so much that he and his wife finally settled in the Mt. Pleasant area.
James describes his feelings for Charleston as a long-running love affair that started when he was going to college in Chapel Hill. “I had a best friend who kept telling us great Charleston was, and he moved down to Charleston after college,” he says, speaking last week as he and his trio were traveling down the East Coast. “I came down to visit him several times and enjoyed the city. Another dear friend of mine that I went to high school with was Robert Lange, who has become one of the more prominent artists in Charleston. So my best friend from growing up and a best friend from college were there.”
“I met my wife through a group of friends in Charleston, too,” he adds. “We traveled from New York to Los Angeles together before we decided to settle in Charleston this year.”
A native of Derry, New Hampshire, James attended U.N.C. in Chapel Hill in the late ’90s before moving to Los Angeles to write songs and pursue his musical career. After relocating to New York in the late 2000s, he hooked up with the Decca label and released his debut solo album The Day is Brave, a collection of piano-based ballads and melodic pop ditties.
A self-titled, well-polished album followed on Decca in 2010, earning positive reviews and a few comparisons to the likes of the Fray, Coldplay, James Taylor, and David Gray. By the time James recorded the nine-song collection Hope in Transition for the Rock Ridge label in 2011, he’d documented his admiration for the Holy City with the slow-swingin’ tune “Charleston,” a breezy ode hat name-drops various city streets, landmarks, and nooks. It was one of nine carefully arranged originals on which James belts it out like a sensitive college boy with a streak of soul and a romantic tilt.
James looks back on the making of Hope in Transition (which hit the street in the summer of 2012) as the major turning point for him as a songwriter and bandleader. “I felt spun around by the experiences I had with major labels and and production issues involved,” he says. “After making that album, my aim was to return to authenticity. I really wanted to return to my basics as a lyricist and as a piano player. I didn’t want to have anything artificial in the production at all.”
The basic instrumentation and organic sound quality of Simplified — his fourth full-length album due on Aug. 6 on the indie Nobel Steed Music label — certainly goes back to basics. There are no digitally triggered special effects, elaborate overdubs, or overly processed enhancements to be heard. Compared to his previous efforts in high-end studios with notable studio producers, James felt more artistically and professionally independent while making Simplified in a small studio in Manhattan with new producer Matt Chiaravalle (Warren Zevon, Joe Bonamassa).
“I feel like the best art is made when the artists is clear-minded and has a real grasp on the direction they want to take their project,” he says. “You should certainly use the help and guidance and talents of people around you, but you should know the real direction and trajectory. That’s how I felt this time around.”
“Simplified is kind of in tandem with where I feel the world is headed right now,” James adds. “The message of the album is to simplify and find moments of calm amidst all of the rapidly advancing technology, you know? It’s more important than ever right now, and I wanted to exemplify that idea with this simplified album.”
Through most of the new album, James sings and plays with ease, supported by tasteful accompaniment from drummer Craig Meyer (from New Jersey) and electric guitarist and pedal steel player Eric Nelson (from California). On stage, the trio keeps things simple and solid as well.
“I like touring as a trio,” James says. “We try to be as dynamic as possible, aiming for the highest highs and the lowest lows at the our shows. Craig’s a great drummer, and Eric alternates between guitar and steel very well. It’s a great set-up.”
James and his trio are set to perform in his newly adopted hometown this week in support of Simplify. Acoustically and atmospherically, the Charleston Music Hall is perhaps the perfect local setting for the combo. “We try to transition depending on on which venue we’re in,” James says. “We try to play to that certain room. Sometimes, you can have fun in the rock clubs and get everyone dancing, but playing the theaters like the Charleston Music Hall are really my bread and butter where I can talk about the songs a little bit with an audience and let the music be heard.”
“I think as I became very honest with my fans in recent years, I started saying that I’m going to follow what my heart and body thinks they should make,” he adds. “They’ve been so happy for me and very welcoming of this new sound, which feels great.”
Brendan James and his band will perform at the Charleston Music Hall on Sat. July 13 with support from local songwriter Steven Fiore. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are available for $15 in advance and $18 on the day of the show. Visit charlestonmusichall.com and brendanjames.com for more.
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