With sun in mind..

Day dreaming about convertible vintage cars, dusty desert roads, shocking pink banana seats, while driving towards the sun…moments later I find myself waking up to the music of Susan James.

I would leave these words speak for themselves or rather let the music speak for itself but for those of you who have yet to take the ride please join me on this next trip right here. 

Californian Susan James is a singer-songwriter playing folk/rock/psychedelia or as she defines it herself, the ‘California Hybrid’ style!

She is out with a brand new album “Sea Glass” this summer, release date said to be 2. June and you can find an exclusive pre-listen to one the songs from the album in this feature.

Give it up for a beautiful person and a unique musician!!

Photo by Piper Ferguson

Photo by Piper Ferguson

Who is Susan when she does not play music?

She is a dreamer, a mother, a chauffeur to her daughter, a caregiver to her animals, a writer, a talker, a not-so-good housekeeper, a pretty good cook, a hiker, a swimmer, a bit of a recluse..

Describe the period of some 10+ years of not releasing music, what happened and were you really able to hide away the musician?

Not really. Actually it was only about 7 years! I became pregnant with my daughter, and decided that I did not want to be away from her in the first five or six years of her life. I do not make the kind of money to hire a nanny or au pair, and really wouldn’t want to. I wanted to be the person who heard her first words, saw her first steps, gave her boundaries and encouragement. I didn’t want someone else doing it. I could have taken her on tours I suppose, but I didn’t believe that was very fun for a little baby or child. They would have a more fulfilling time walking in nature, playing with other children, animals, and developing relationships with those around them. I think being in hotel rooms and at sound checks would be so boring for a little one.

It was not an easy decision, because I knew (and I was right) that people would forget about me, move on. There is a tidal wave of music that continues behind you, and if you step out for even just a moment you can disappear. But I also knew that my life, and in turn, my writing would be much richer if I lived an authentic life.

At first, with an infant, there seemed to be no time for music! But ideas would come over time, and words. So I would write them in various places and hide them away like a squirrel hides nuts for the winter, knowing that one day I would get back to it.

Some days, even months, were very hard. Because I missed it so much and knew that things would be different when I returned. It made me sad, and sometimes very depressed.

But I had this little beautiful face of my daughter looking up at me as if I were her whole world, and that made it all worthwhile.

I really wouldn’t change a thing. It was the best thing, the best decision I’ve ever made. I had a chance to really reflect on what I had done creatively and what worked and what didn’t. What could I do better? I believe my new album coming out this year, titled “Sea Glass” is proof that my creativity was enhanced and deepened by that little hiatus.

And what did we do? In short, we moved from London, to France (for almost a year while my husband engineered/co-produced two Stereolab albums), moved back to California.

 Susan James in 1998 vs Susan James in 2015 as a person and as a musician?

1998 – Ambitious, arrogant, daring, lost, hopeful, blindly optimistic, often foolish

2015 – Wise, humble, daring, driven, passionate, blindly optimistic, often foolish

Did you become more country?

No. I know you ask because of my last album(s), the fact that they have certain ‘country’ elements. They were a way of honoring a part of my history, my upbringing. Here in California, there is an old country music element that I grew up having to listen to because of my parents – My father was from Texas, and that was all his side of the family listened to. We had relatives in the central part of California, where it is much more conservative and there are country elements – Where Buck Owens developed the “Bakersfield sound” and so on. So I grew up listening to that as well. I hated country music as a child! But when I became a little older, I realized that some of these old country artists and songs were fantastic.

I follow where my songs take me and arrange them with what they call out for. I don’t try to impose a sound on a song that wouldn’t suit it. Those songs were calling out for that type of arrangement.

So you will see with this new album “Sea Glass”, they were definitely not calling for that. They have nothing to do with country, no country sound whatsoever. Because these songs called out for something entirely different.

That’s a long answer to your question! Again, the answer is ‘no’.   😉

Exclusive pre-listen of the song ‘Ay Manzanita’ from the new album “Sea Glass” out 2. June by clicking here and enjoy this beautiful quotation from Susan herself that talks about the heartfelt story behind the song:

I created it around a true and relatively unknown story about a mother and daughter in the Mexican Revolution,
The mother was a sharpshooter and nurse (!) and lead armies to fight the government armies.
She was fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, the workers and peasants who were kept in utter poverty by the corrupt government.
She brought her daughter alongside to fight with her. After many battles which they won, at one point they were captured by the government army.
They were marched out to the middle of the Sonoran desert, and left there alone with no food, no water.
Somehow Marguerita and her daughter made it to Arizona but her daughter died there.
Marguerita went back to Mexico and continued to fight, leading several armies. At one point, again, she was captured, they put her in a cage and tortured her, until she died.
This song is her speaking to her daughter, who she has given the nickname ‘Manzanita’….

What is Ethnomusicology and what did that education mean to you?

It is the study of music from around the world and how it is used within a particular culture or ethnic group. Also within the study is how and why it becomes a unique sound within a particular culture or ethnic group. How it highlights or gives emphasis to a particular culture.

It opened my eyes to what music really means within different cultures. I discovered instruments and sounds, and thoughts and applications of music I would have never known otherwise. I’m so glad I studied it. I feel like a much richer musician and human for the knowledge.

If I say Joni Mitchell what do you say?

Creative genius.

In what ways are Californians different from the rest of the pack?

Well, it depends on what pack you are comparing them to!

Please describe the perfect landscape seen thru the eyes of Susan James?

That is very difficult to answer, because it varies.

Two albums you are listening to right now?

Junip “Fields” and Gal Costa “Gal Costa”

City or country girl?

Both!!!

What does senses mean to you?

The various ways we use to perceive, understand and make ourselves aware. There are physical senses – hearing, sight, touch, smell, taste and then there is also the ‘sixth’ sense and beyond. Which has much more to do with intuition and psychic ability and awareness.

How do you stimulate your own senses?

Well, it depends on which one! That could be an entire essay in and of it self. I do believe being in nature stimulates all senses at once.

How do you stimulate someone else’s senses?

Possibly the same as above, bring them into nature- on a hike or camping. Unless they live in nature already. But certainly by going to a place they have never been before. Perhaps if they live in the country, take them to the city.

If you take away everything familiar to someone, they must rely on their senses to find understanding. In other words, taking someone out of their comfort zone will in turn heighten their senses.

What is life without inspiration?

Oh, not worth living I suppose. Inspiration is what gets one out of bed in the morning…isn’t it? or is that hope? Or optimism?

Colorful or single-colored?

Colorful, please.

What impact does the sun have on you?

Oh it has a huge impact. I didn’t realize how much it did until I moved to England! I was only able to stay there for four years – four long English winters. There were months and months that would go by with absolutely no sun at all. Not even a break in the clouds for a single moment. I would literally find myself getting depressed. I had no idea why. But I would become horribly depressed. And then someone said to me one day, oh you probably have ‘seasonal affective disorder’.

I had no idea what that was. I looked it up, and yes, it is a real thing. And I was definitely feeling it at that time. It was affecting my ability to just get through the day. So I would have to travel somewhere with sun, mostly back to LA.

But after four winters of that, I said, it’s time to go back.

If I had grown up in England, or in New York or Chicago, where you really get a winter, it wouldn’t affect me that much. But perhaps here is your answer to your question about what sets Californians apart! If you were born and raised here, the lack of sun for long periods of time can send you spiraling downward! Long cloudy winters are our kryptonite!

Are you a sunny person?

Many would say so. But I do have a dark side.

Fave place for recreation?

The beach, seconded by the mountains, surrounded by pine trees.

Do you believe in a sixth sense?

Absolutely. Yes.

Are you religious?

No. But I am spiritual.

Are you easy to love?

Well, I think I am difficult to hate.

Do you love easily?

More easyli than most. But I also have pretty high standards. So can get disappointed easily.

Are you romantic?

Yes. But sadly finding out that true romance doesn’t really exist in reality. So probably romantic = unrealistic.

Perfect meal served by Susan?

I LOVE breakfast! And waffles. So I might serve: Pecan Waffles
INGREDIENTS:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs, separated
2 cups almond milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 2/3 cups finely chopped pecans
Maple syrup
DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat waffle iron. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and baking soda. In a separate bowl, beat together egg yolks and almond milk. Add almond milk mixture, butter and oil to flour; stir gently to combine. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks have formed; fold into batter.
2. Brush preheated waffle iron with butter or margarine. Pour mix onto hot waffle iron and sprinkle generously with chopped pecans. Cook until golden brown. Keep warm in oven while remaining waffles cook. Serve with warm maple syrup on side.

 

Perfect meal served to Susan?

I love mexican food and would absolutely love some homemade chiles rellenos, with black beans
and spanish rice. But I can’t/don’t eat dairy anymore so it would have to be with vegan cheese. And I haven’t found a good replacement for certain cheeses yet.

 

Do you ride a bicycle?

Yes. I have a mountain bike.

 

With sun in mind, if you had to write a small poem on California, how would that go?

With sun in mind

That’s how I’d go

I’m heading there now

north of Mexico

 

Where waves shimmer like sequined gowns

of an old movie star

And pelicans glide like prehistoric

to the sound of pedal steel guitar

 

With sun in mind

That’s how I’d go

Across the desert being kissed

by her heat, long and slow

 

And in alleys downtown

From her rays the homeless hide

Certain that Marilyn Monroe’s death

was not a suicide

 

With sun in mind

That’s how I’ll go

to the top of that peak,

I’ll wear shorts in the snow

 

and the pines will reach up to her

like children to a mother

and lost souls will go searching

and find one another

 

, xo ~Susan James

Susan with husband and child (private photo)

Susan with husband and daughter (private photo)

**

Find out more about Susan here: http://susanjamesmusic.com

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Ben Zai Ten – Seven Gods of Good Fortune

For those of you who do not know who Audrey Kimura is or even worse knows nothing about her Japanese all girl record label…well, you either suck, have bad taste in music or just got an unlucky break in life.

Here’s your chance to remediate coz we are giving you the opportunity to meet the fine Lady Kimura behind one of the most astonishing record labels in the world: the BENTEN label !

The BENTEN label and Sister Records were highly active in the 90’s and released all girl rock’n’roll, punk and garage acts such as Lolita No. 18, Mummy The Peepshow, Flamenco A Go Go, Hang on the Box (from China!) and the delirious Petty Booka who really wanted to be Hawaiians all their life.

Audrey Kimura (Photo by Richard Dolphus)

Audrey Kimura (Photo by Richard Dolphus)

When you founded the Benten label in 1994 was the original idea to release and promote female artists only?

Yes.

BENTEN label cover from the Benten Punk Bentoh compilation

BENTEN label cover from the Benten Punk Bentoh compilation

Was there a special reason behind the decision of working with female artists only?

Because I was a fan of all girl bands, mostly out side Japan though.

A lot of your bands and Japanese bands in general sets their appearance standards high, is there a particular pride in that?

Oh yes? Do you think so? I think Japanese like wearing the same outfit. If the world standard band uniform is blue jeans and t-shirts, the Japanese bands tries to think of wearing something else that would be good for their music. Actually I love bands wearing the same outfit, like The Ramones and The Aquabats!

CC_Hub_AB Retouches_Group_Standing

You write yourself that the idea behind the label was to release silly and serious music, please elaborate?

Accurately I like girls singing silly songs in a serious way, doing silly things in a serious manner and enjoying themselves.

I actually have a lot of fun listening to your bands also because of the language barrier which generates some quite unique song titles and lyrics in general but you never reach a point where you start thinking that this is ridiculous coz first of all the music is really good and you end up smiling and rocking out to these incredibly talented girls who somehow seems cute and innocent in a sincere kind of way. I think imperfection is more attractive than perfection what do you think?

Right. “Imperfection is more attractive than perfection” what a nice expression!  I really like this. So happy to hear you have fun and our music made you smile. That is the whole concept of the BENTEN Label.

Lyrics from the "I bub you bub" song by Mummy the Peepshow

Lyrics from the “I bub you bub” song by Mummy the Peepshow

Lyrics from the "Dirty snowy red coat" song by Mummy the Peepshow

Lyrics from the “Dirty snowy red coat” song by Mummy the Peepshow

When did you start listening to music and was it punk at first sight?

Rolling Stones, Tony Bennett, The Carpenters etc.

Did you ever play yourself?

I am afraid not. I never ever thought about it. That keeps me in neutral position when I listen to the music.

It didn’t take long from the time you started the label till the first artists managed to go on tours abroad, was the interest imminent for having your bands playing abroad?

Yes, I took most of the bands from my label to USA and Lolita 18 as well as Mummy the Peepshow did European tours. Some of them went to Korea and China as well. I was trying to distribute our music to the world. Introducing Japanese music to the world is my leading mission. All the bands really wanted do tours abroad even if they had to pay the travel costs. It was not imminent but an essential factor for the bands to do. I think they knew that their music would be more appreciated by people abroad. None of the BENTEN Label bands are big in Japan and they are not doing Japanese mainstream music.

I organized a concert with Mummy and the Peepshow in Aalborg, Denmark when they toured Europe. That was a unique experience with a lot of fun and love. What made this band so special and loveable in general and what made them such a good live band?

Simply because Maki Mummy makes good universal songs and also their attitude of enjoying playing and entertaining the audience.

How active is the label today?

Now I only organize the SXSW Japan Nite tour for Japanese bands basically.

You are celebrating 20 years of the so-called ‘Japan Nite’ at the legendary SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. Congratulations! How did you end up doing ‘Japan Nite’ the first time?

I had been working for NY New Music Seminar (1980~1995) Rep in Tokyo and we had Japanese band showcase there from 1992~94, the line up included Pizzicato Five, Boredoms and Shonen Knife. Then I went to Austin in 1995 for the recording of one of my labels all girl bands Lolita No.18 at the studio called Sweat Box and hang around there. Then Hiroshi Asada of Tom’s Cabin who I have been working for in Tokyo, became SXSW Asia Rep. Tom’s Cabin is one of the oldest and legendary music promoters in Japan and has been bringing overseas artist from 1975, including Tom Waits band, the first Elvis Costello tour in 1978 as well as The B-52’s, The Ramones, Johnny Thunders, Toy Dolls and lots of American Roots singer/song writers, Dan Penn, Jimmy Webb, Jackson Browne etc. Anyway Hiroshi produced the first Japan Nite at SXSW in 1996 with Lolita No.18 from my BENTEN Label and Hoppy Kamiyama’s Pugs as the only two bands (Hoppy also released 2 CD’s from BENTEN as ONTJ).

Audrey with the Jungles: Ikumi, 325, Jasmine and Fusa (Photo by Yosshin)

Audrey with the hat and the Jungles band: Ikumi, 325, Jasmine and Fusa (Photo by Yosshin)

How much time do you spend abroad nowadays?

About 1 month in March

Best Japanese bands in the past 20/25 years according to you?

The Flamenco A Go Go

What can European bands learn from Japanese bands and what can Japanese bands learn from European bands?

Heritage.

Lets talk about Audrey the private person!

Fave breakfast meal?

Kale vegetable juice, yogurt, a muffin and a cup of strong coffee.

kale

Do you watch tv series in the morning?

Oh, yes. The NHK morning drama from 8 am.

Have you ever gotten really drunk?

No I don’t drink. I wish I could drink wine and sake.

Do you practice any sports?

No sports at all but I do stretch and yoga.

Collecting something else than records?

Hats!

What are you passionate about?

Hats!

Do you like to cook?

I do. I am good at cooking noodles, ramen, udon, soba, yakisoba etc.

Do you own a bicycle?

No.

Are you a calm or tempered woman?

Both

What is your best and worst feature?

Best and worst: I am tiny

Fave flower?

Gerbera

the-gerbera-collection

Fave animal?

Dogs!

Are you from a big family?

I have two brothers

Do you like solitude?

Oh, yes.  Staying at home all day!

Most beautiful place you have ever visited?

Lake Mashu in Akan Park Hokkaido.

Photo by Hiroshi Termy Hosokawa

Photo by Hiroshi Termy Hosokawa

 

Go check out the label: http://www.sister.co.jp/english/index.html

..and for those strong in the Japanese language: