|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS NATASHA JAMES
TEQUiLA SUNRiSEBorn in San Francisco and raised in Southern California (and all over the world for that matter), NATASHA JAMES’ appreciation of music was discovered early thanks in equal parts to a transistor radio and the famed MCCABE’S GUITAR SHOP in Santa Monica. A young NATASHA took to the six strings and never looked back. In fairly short order, JAMES began performing her own material in clubs throughout New York City and established her band GOOD N’ DUSTY. As momentum for the band was building, JAMES became pregnant and music was put on hold while she raised her family in Sonoma California. In speaking with JAMES, it is hard for me to imagine such a dynamo fading into suburban obscurity. It was a meeting with the head of a record label that got her musical engines burning again and JAMES released her debut CD ‘BAD JUDGMENTS’ in 2007.
NATASHA JAMES TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HER LATEST CD TEQUiLA TiME
SUCCESS ON THE CHARTS
AND HAViNG THE RiGHT GROUP OF PEOPLE AROUND
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
Now, NATASHA JAMES has released her follow-up CD TEQUILA TIME and here is where things get really exciting. TEQUILA TIME’s success on both mainstream and adult contemporary charts has JAMES pleasantly surprised. “You always hope for it.” says JAMES “I didn’t expect it to chart on every mainstream chart and I didn’t expect it to go all the way up to number eight on the AAA Independent chart. I didn’t even know we were on the AAA charts. I only found out because someone sent me a copy of NEW MUSIC WEEKLY.”
Given NATASHA’s gritty songwriting, soulful delivery and solid backing by some top-notch musicians, perhaps there is no need to be surprised by the overwhelming acceptance of this twangy gem.
ROCKWIRED spoke with NATASHA JAMES over the phone. Here is how it went.
How are you today?
Doing great! I hear you are in Albuquerque.
We were actually in your town last year. We were on KOBTV with CHRISTINA WESTBROOK. I love Albuquerque!
I do to but when you were here, I was living in Los Angeles. I’ve been here since April.
How do you like it?
I love it. I’ve lived here before living in L.A. for about seven years.
Well L.A. is my hometown actually. I grew up along the beach there and then in Europe and in Mexico City, but I was born in San Francisco.
So already, that is a strange background for a country singer.
I’m no a country singer. We’re roots rock if we’re anything. It’s quite bizarre. We’re on the Adult Contemporary charts, the Mainstream charts and on the AAA charts. At the moment we are at number twelve on the AAA charts. We’re even on the college charts but not so much the Country charts so I think it’s hysterical that we’re being nominated for two LOS ANGELES MUSIC AWARDS for BEST COUNTRY BAND and COUNTRY ALBUM OF THE YEAR and COUNTRY SINGLE OF THE YEAR.
Personally, I think Country music is trying to take ownership of everything – even eighties rock – so it can get a little confusing.
Maybe country music just means rock with a budget. I really don’t know. I do love country and I love blues. I don’t know if we’d call a band like CREEDENCE CLEAR WATER REVIVAL country today. We probably would.
Maybe Swamp Rock if anyone still uses that term.
If any band does what we do, I would say that we are more like CREEDENCE. We get compared to acts like JOHN HIATT and LOS LOBOS, JOHN MELLENCAMP and NEIL YOUNG. I think my next album is going to be called ‘BLUES WITH A TWANG’.
Before I go any further, I’ve got to say that you’ve got a great CD!
Oh thank you!
Now that it’s out there for people to hear and it’s already garnering this tremendous response, how do you feel about the work behind you?
I love it. I loved making that CD and I loved writing the tunes. When were making it, we recorded the rough tracks in four days. In all, that is seventeen songs. A lot of the songs on this CD are mixed rough versions. RONNIE RIVERA had to go to LA to record the percussion overdubs with RAFAEL PADILLA (CHRIS ISAAK) because RAFAEL lives in LA and rather than have RAFAEL truck up all his percussion, RONNIE drove down to LA with the ProTools session files. He also recorded ED ROTH (Accordion, B3) while down there, too. While that was happening, IAN (guitarist) and I were touring the west Texas “Panhandle” and New Mexico doing a series of TV shows for ABC and NBC. We got offered these TV spots in a block and didn’t have enough time to set up the gigs. It seems to bet eh story of my life, I’ll get offered this or that and then bam – let’s find some gigs. I love the work. I love the people that I play with. They are all great musicians.
Talk about the production of this album.
The album was produced by RONNIE RIVERA who is our drummer. He has worked on a ton of great projects. He’s just got a very, very great ear. If you listen to THE WALLFLOWERS, TRACEY CHAPMAN, PANCHO SANCHEZ, BONNIE RAITT’s ‘ROAD TESTED’ and THE STONES, you’ll hear the work of RONNIE RIVERA. He is a phenomenal engineer. STEVE EVANS is on bass. He is touring with CHRIS CAIN and also with ELVIN BISHOP. On keyboards is HERMAN EBERITZSCH who has been with me for years. You might know of him from SY KLOPPS BLUES BAND or maybe from MALO. He’s got there songs on this CD that he and I arranged together. ED ROTH – out of LA – did some marvelous work with the accordion and with the B3. That’s ED – as a matter of fact – on the song GET OUT OF MY WAY which has been nominated. You might know ED from COOLIO, RONNIE MONTROSE, THE BROTHERS JOHNSON and all of that. On guitars is IAN LAMSON. He is my regular touring guitar player. He was on tour with ELVIN BISHOP as well for a number of years. He is a great slide player. DAVE AGUILAR is also on guitar and for years has played with NORTON BUFFALO. On the fiddle, we have WOODY VERMEIRE. You might remember him from COMMANDER CODY and THE FREE MEXICAN AIRFORCE. I’ve been working with WOODY for over twenty years in different lineups. Last but not lease is BOBBY BLACK - a quintessential Nashville session cat for many years - on pedal steel. Bobby is a master of the pedal steel and knows JUST where to place things. That about rounds up the players. A guy named GAVIN LURSSEN did all of the mastering. It was such a great experience working with him and GAVIN added so much to the mastering of the record. GAVIN does all of the mastering for T-BONE BURNETT. GAVIN is just a master at mastering. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out. Everyone has been saying that it’s a great record but you’re only as good as the people that play and work with you on a project.
Talk about how music began for you as an individual.
Oh, let me tell you. It started before I even knew that I was an individual. When I was about four years old, I lived in Pasadena and discovered that KRLA played great music in the middle of the night. I’d got to sleep and wake up at midnight and I’d have my transistor radio on in my bedroom and listen to music in the middle of the night. I liked DAVID ROSE, CHAD AND JEREMY and THE COASTERS. There was just some great music back then. Later on there were things like JIMI HENDRIX, THE YOUNG RASCALS and THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL. Music was always what I was geared to do. It was all that I ever wanted to do. I went to school down by McCABE’S GUITAR SHOP and there was this guy who used to work there named DAVE ZAITLIN that would make all of the guitars and here I was this little seven, eight-year-old kid who would be hanging out there for hours waiting for my mom to come from Malibu to pick me up. She’d forget a lot because she was a writer and she’d be sitting their drinking with friends and she wouldn’t come byuntil very late. I didn’t mind because I was in guitar heaven at MCCABE’S. That was what I always wanted to do back then. Any picture that you will find of me in school back then, I was always holding a guitar.
Was there a particular musician that you looked up to because there weren’t a lot of female guitarists then.
There still aren’t. A musician I looked up to? Probably BROWNIE MCGEE and SONNY TERRY. When I think of piano, I think of NINA SIMONE. I loved NINA SIMONE. It was her, BILLIE HOLIDAY, ODETTA and JOAN BAEZ. I also like TAJ MAHAL and JOHN SEBASTIEN. I was always influenced by old folk music and old blues music. At what point did the listener become the songwriter? I started writing songs when I was thirteen. I sold my first song when I was around nineteen or twenty.
WARNER BROTHERS bought it. I co-wrote it with a guy named JEFF HUNTER who is TAB HUNTER’s son. I was living in London at the time and I was playing music upstairs at RONNIE SCOTT’s in a rock reggae band. Downstairs, it was all jazz. I was introduced to JEFF by a friend and he needed lyrics to this tune he had written. So I wrote them and got credit for it. I became a member of ASCAP, it was sold and I got some pink piece of paper sent to me in London. Because of that, I headed back to Los Angeles and started writing more tunes and recording with different artists. After that I moved to New York and had my own band called GOOD’N DUSTY. We started to d really, really well. We were playing at all of the New York City clubs like THE BITTER END and THE LONESTAR. I did that for four years while going back and forth between Los Angeles and New York and then I became pregnant with my first child and I thought that New York wasn’t going to do. I couldn’t stay there and walk up to your place after taking the F train home every night. I moved to Sonoma County and raised kids and left music on a serious level for a very long time. I still played music but in a very casual way with local cover bands and such, but I wasn’t pursuing my own writing. Then, in 2002, one of the guys that I worked with had a jazz label that was affiliated with CONCORD and he knew I wrote tunes and knew that I was playing around with it. He came up to me one day and said that he’d like to put me on his label. I wasn’t looking for a record deal at the time, so we talked and came to terms with some agreement and that started off this whole process.
With this album, what do you think is different from the previous release?
This album was meant to be really stripped down with guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, cello and bass. We don’t have any of the horns that we had on BAD JUDGMENT which gave that album a jazzy, rock flavor. You can take the same song and if I put fiddles on it, you would think that it was a country song. If I put a sax solo on it, people would call it a swamp rock song. You can take any great song and do it as a jazz tune or a pop tune. The instrumentation on this album is different. I chose to make this album less of a musical smorgasbord and keep it all in a country rock vein with some Blues and Tex-Mex flourishes. I had more time to think this album out.
How does songwriting work for you?
Sometimes I wake up from a dream and I have a song and sometimes, I’ll just be sitting there and one will pop into my head and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to a guitar and get it down right away. The song STUCK IN ATLANTA was a song that I wrote as I was coming home from Nevada and I had to phone it into my answering machine so I would remember it. Other times, there are nasty bits of lyrics and music that never find a home, but that is pretty rare for me. Usually it comes out right a way.
From this album, what moments stand out for you the most and why?
TEQUILA TIME was a song that really grew in the instrumentation. That song dictated so much where it needed to go. Songs tell you what to do with them. They grow on you. That song really evolved a lot. I really came to love STRAIGHT TO HELL and that is the one that I call my ROLLING STONES country tune. That song really, really kills when it’s done live. A lot is happening with this album right now. The video for TEQUILA TME is national now and it’s allover the place. I’m hoping that the majors will pick it up. It’s not a big high budget production or anything so I’m really keeping my fingers crossed.
Did you expect the immediate success/acceptance of the album?
You always hope for it. I didn’t expect it to chart on every mainstream chart and I didn’t expect it to go all the way up to number eight on the AAA Independent chart. I didn’t even know we were on the AAA charts. I only found out because someone sent me a copy of NEW MUSIC WEEKLY.
When will you guys start touring again?
In the spring time, when festival season starts. We really need to tie that into festivals. It used to be that you recorded to support a tour. Now you tour to support a record. It is a strange, strange phenomenon. Sales are kind of slow for a lot of people write now and what I’ve learned is that we sell a lot when we are on the road and touring. I would love to come out your way again.
I would love to see you.
You’ll have to. I’d love to come back to KOB TV and do another show. That is a great studio that they have.
What would you like someone to come away with after they’ve heard this CD?
A good feeling and wanting to hear more. Wanting to replay songs and just feeling happy and thoughtful. I want people to feel fun and thoughtful at the same time. I don’t think either of those things has to be exclusive. I want people to feel good and excited about the music. I want people to feel like the music meant something to them.