Jason James is a singer-songwriter who is carrying on a long tradition of Texas country musicians. You don’t have to hear much of his music to know that his sound is rooted in traditional country music. By phone, he discussed his new album Seems like Tears Ago, his approach to recording and selling his own comics door to door when he was young.
Americana Highways: Why do you think making this album was so easy?
Jason James: This one was particularly easy because it was a lot more fluid. The last record, I seemed to get kind of frustrated with it because it took so long to make. This one, we just went in and knocked it out. A lot of the songs had already worked live. There wasn’t a bunch of going through and reconfiguring the songs
AH: Did John Evans help in making the album easier?
JJ: John and I are kind of cut from the same cloth. He’s from Pasadena. Close by me. It was easy working with Keith Gattis too once I got to know Keith. We were pretty much strangers before I went in to record. You know maybe that had a little bit to do with it because rather than picking someone I didn’t know or having to travel back and forth from Nashville, I could keep an eye on things. I had a bunch of shows in Texas. It just kind of worked that way. John has kind of been like an older brother or a dad to me in a lot of ways. The same with Gattis too. It just worked that way. We didn’t have as big of a budget as I had on the first record. Traveling and staying in Nashville just didn’t work this time.
AH: Do you prefer to record quickly, with fewer takes?
JJ: It depends. I can become a perfectionist in the studio. John has to pull back the reins and tell me, “Your first take is your best take.” Or “There’s no sense in trying to drive this into the ground.” It adds a little more personality. If you play something 10 or 15 times in a row, it doesn’t have the same life as it does when you whip it up in two or three takes. The song is still fresh in your mind. John has a good way of keeping everything rolling without seeming like it’s getting out of control.
AH: That sense of urgency contributes to a song.
JJ: Definitely. There’s a hunger. Whenever I approach the microphone, for however long the song is, I really try to become the character. That can become exhausting, playing it that many times. It’s usually the best out of the first few takes.
AH: You mentioned that the previous album took a long time. What was the most important lesson you learned from that album?
JJ: Studio wise I was kind of like a fish to water. No one really believed it was my first time being in a studio. I had done some stuff with some rock bands, but nothing like this. I guess I learned ow the studio works and talking to the musicians, conveying how I wanted something to sound. On my first record, I was so green, I really didn’t know how to explain what I wanted something to sound like. Especially in using the Nashville number system. In Nashville all the session players taught me the ones, fours, and fives. I learned a lot from that. Now I can write up my sheet music for them. They showed me how to do it for new players. That way they don’t have to listen to the song. They can just see the sheet of paper and know how it’s supposed to sound. I learned a lot from New West, just meeting a lot of people in the business and getting some pointers here and there.
AH: What are some of the artists or albums that made you want to be a country singer?
JJ: You could put on anything by Merle Haggard, and that was something I was listening to. The one that really started it off for me – and I became kind of obsessed – was Hank Williams. I grew up listening to him and I remembered all of those songs. I had developed a relationship with my dad again. It had probably been 15 or 16 years. I hadn’t seen him that much. We were hanging out at his place, and he put on all that old stuff. That’s just what he listens to. He had some acoustic recordings of Hank Williams. He put on “Alone and Forsaken” and it went straight for the jugular. I went home that night and started writing country songs. I was just obsessed. After that I started getting into Lefty Frizzell, and George Jones, and Merle Haggard. The one that kind of brought me back home was Hank Williams.
AH; You sold comic strips as a kid. Were they comics you drew?
JJ: Yeah I did a lot of illustrations when I was a kid. I wanted to draw comics for the funny papers. My grandpa would always read them and he got a rise out of reading the old ones like Peanuts. I started getting into that and writing stories about stuff that was going on with me as a kid, being an outcast. I took them door to door and tried to sell them. I originally wanted to draw and write. I still get to be a writer, and that’s awesome. The doodling, I realized pretty quick in high school that I was good, but I was never going to be amazing at it. It especially took a back burner when I started getting into music.
AH: That would make for some interesting liner notes.
JJ: I still kind of doodle. I work with watercolors, painting, and that kind of stuff. I might put some of that up at some point. I just got so involved in music, the drawing took a back burner
AH: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
JJ: Oh Lord! I’m sure I’d be qualified for digging ditches. (laughs) I don’t know what I’d be doing. Probably working at the refineries or working at the railroad with my stepdad. Luckily my music has started taking off for me. I’m not starving. I’m just happy to be doing that. I can’t think of anything else I want to do.
Seems like Tears Ago will be available everywhere on October 4. Check his website for tour dates.