This is the third and final installment of a three part conversation with James Lee Stanley. In the first installment (read it here), James talked about the process of songwriting. In the second (read it here), he discussed his approach to playing someone else’s music in a new and interesting way, as well as the importance of studying and learning from the greats.
One of the things that sets James apart from a lot of solo and/or acoustic performers is the combination of preparation and natural ease that he brings to his performances. To understand how he crafts a successful show, I probed a bit into his process – much as I did with songwriting and interpreting other artists’ music – as well as to draw out some of the emotional and aesthetic dynamics that arise between the performer and the audience.
I’ve tried to get out of James’ way, and to let him teach us a little something about three elements of musicianship – writing, interpreting, and performing – which all too often get overshadowed by technique. Technical ability is crucially important (it goes without saying), but it is the how, not the what (and certainly not the why), and it can distract from the core objectives of music: emotion, invention, and communication. So without further ado, a man who brings all of these elements to life.
James playing “Going Back to Memphis.” “I want to enrich [the audience] and, if I have any enlightenment to give them, I want to give it to them and I want them to feel good about themselves and good about the world and good about the possibility of a better world,” he says.
The AV: When we spoke before your show, you mentioned that you get to the venue a few hours beforehand and sit and play and focus in.
JLS: Yeah, I like to do that.
The AV: Do you drill?
JLS: No. I sing songs that I’m working on. Like, I haven’t done [Backstage at the Resurrection] yet – so I have been singing those songs because I’m trying to own them for live performances. I mean, I love my record of them but that’s a different palette than on the stage with one guitar. So I play those songs. And then as it closes in on it I pick the song I’m going to open with and sometimes I’ll play it for 20 minutes, just over and over again.
Note: I do not condone Chris Brown’s existence, and this post must not be taken to mean that I do. But he does exist (unfortunately for Rihanna… and everyone else), and these guys took this catchy tune of his and went acoustic with it. So, you know, what the hell.
I didn’t know you could bring so much passion to the Darkwing Duck theme song. Which gets me to thinking: the only thing standing between plenty of TV theme music and its rightful status as high art is an acoustic guitar and a little bit of soul. (Write that down.) So, I call on you, reader of The AV, to direct me to more acoustic versions of TV themes. You will be rewarded with a post on the site and a flashback to your childhood.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people have been coming to The AV in the hopes of finding acoustic song lessons. I admit, I’ve been neglecting to post many of late. But the people have spoken, and I’m not one to argue. So, I’m pleased to present a lesson for The Beatles’ Something. Three cheers for the brilliant author, George Harrison!
This is the second installment of a three part conversation with James Lee Stanley. In the first installment (read it here), James talked about the process of songwriting. Here, he discusses a different and equally important element of musicianship – playing someone else’s music in a new and interesting way – which he’s focused on in his albums All Wood and Stones (2007), and All Wood and Doors (forthcoming, 2011), acoustic interpretations of Rolling Stones and Doors songs, respectively.
James and John Batdorf playing their version of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction from their 2007 album, All Wood and Stones.
The AV: In addition to your own material, you’ve spent a lot of time working with other people’s stuff.
JLS: Right. As you know, I did that All Wood and Stones record – I really like taking other people’s music and re-presenting it to people in a way that they’ve never heard it before. I mean, nobody ever heard those Stones songs like that. And I’m doing that Doors album right now, and nobody ever heard the Doors like that. I have this album “New Traces of the Old Road” and I do two Dylan songs, and everybody thought I wrote those songs. I do “Thom Thumb’s Blues” and I do “You Go Your Way and I Go Mine.” And neither one sounds remotely like a Dylan song. But they’re his songs.
The AV: Hear, hear. When people cover songs, what I’ve seen a lot of is people trying to get it down as exactly as possible, to hit every note.
JLS: I’m so confused by that. I like to reinvent them.