James Burrows Interview

Burrows(C)photo by Michael Cardiello

Your set to play a show at The Mansion in Kingston on the 21st what should people expect to hear?

They should expect a rock ‘n’ roll show. The band is made up of some of the best working musicians in Toronto and I’m constantly amazed by the energy they bring to our live shows.

Your first studio recording is due out in April titled Paradise Cinema, what personal journeys did you revive or create while writing this album?

The album is largely grounded in telling stories about this generation of young people. I think that we live in a strange time in which we are all expected to go out and get jobs that pay as well as our parents but far fewer of those jobs exist. I was going to school at York University and began to seriously wonder what the purpose of continuing my program was if the likelihood of finding a job at the end was so low. One day I was really struggling with this thought and I came across a study that claimed the defining characteristic of my generation is that we’re moving back in with our parents. So, I thought, fuck it, I’m becoming a musician. I might as well just do what I want to do if I’m going to end up back in my high school bedroom anyway. So, it’s an album about how we all struggle to find hope in the midst of remarkable contradictions. My stories have influenced many of the songs on the album but I’ve also been influenced by so many other stories and tried to create an album that expresses that anxiety and that will to continue.

How did your influences encourage or what effect did they have while writing the Paradise Cinema?

To me the best songs are always about survival and the celebration of survival. I think early rock ‘n’ roll artists were some of the best at this. So, Elvis meets Patti Smith was what was in my head during the recording process. Eventually I moved onto Chuck Berry meets the Stooges with a little bit of The Band thrown in. I’ve always been fascinated by early rock ‘n’ roll. I think it’s coming back now but for a long time it was written off as Las Vegas Elvis in sequins. What has fascinated me about that period in the mid to late 50’s was that it came out of a real meshing of working class country and rhythm and blues. One largely white and one largely black. I think it was a rare moment in pop music when those two communities came together for just an instant to create something that changed the culture. Pushing both race and class into the popular conscience, which is why I think it was as controversial as it was. In many ways I would say it was even more political than the folk movement which was soon to follow because it expressed in emotion, if not always in words, the underlying anxiety of that generation. In the process celebrating a new form of freedom that fought the paternalism of that decade. That’s why people rioted when rock ‘n’ roll came through town. The music was all about how to get the hell out of wherever you were or whatever situation you found your life was in. It was pure catharsis. I think we live in equally paternalistic times and the only way I could think of expressing my own anxiety was through rock ‘n’ roll. So, that’s the context I tried to write into on my album.

How did you decide to travel down to Brooklyn, New York to record the album?

A couple years ago my wife, Rachael Cardiello, recorded her album, Warm Electric Winter in Brooklyn at Galaxy Smith Studios. I really enjoyed watching how her producer, Dave Brandwein, worked and helped her arrange the songs into something larger in scope. Dave is also a guitarist in one of the best live acts going right now, Turkuaz. I highly recommend checking them out. So, I always knew I wanted to go back and work with him.

Is there anything on the album that was a struggle to write or record?

One of the tracks, Through the Night, was an interesting challenge. We recorded the primary, faster section in the fall of 2013 and then had a long break over the winter in which I reworked a lot of lyrics and wrote an entirely new beginning section. I had changed all of the lyrics over the break and when I went to sing the new parts Dave looked at me and said, “you can’t change the lyrics. These aren’t good. you need to change them back.” So, that’s what I did. He was very good at telling me if he thought I was doing something that wasn’t working or over thinking my lyrics. There was a real danger of me changing everything at the last minute all the time. He was good at stopping that.

Has any of your songs progressed from the recorded versions already while you play the songs live?

Ya, I think they have. As half of the songs were written as we recorded them, several of the songs have taken on a new immediacy and energy. Each time we play I feel we’re finding new moments.

You already have the first single titled Disco why did you choose this song?

I think Disco encapsulates best what I was aiming to do on the record. Create danceable songs with meaningful and personal stories. It’s also heavily influenced by the town I grew up in, Burlington, Ontario. So, it seemed like a good place to start. Burlington has gone through massive changes since I lived there as a teenager. It’s much wealthier than it was. It’s another one of those contradictions that we’re living through. As steel production declined in Hamilton, and jobs have become much more service oriented, Burlington experienced this boom as a bedroom community. Housing prices are extremely high in Burlington and gentrification in the last 15 years has been rapid but it’s unclear to me where all this money is coming from. I went and found our old house in downtown Burlington and it had been rebuilt and there were new, expensive Jeeps in the driveway. It was not a neighbourhood with that kind of wealth when I was there. It definitely is now. I couldn’t afford to live there. It’s a strange feeling to think that you can’t afford to go home. For many, however, this is a common feeling, especially with younger generations.

There is also a video for the song as well can you describe the story that goes along with the video?

So, what’s happening in Burlington, I also see happening in downtown Toronto. Just these massive property increases while many people seem to be struggling to find well paying, long term jobs. So, I wanted to use Toronto as a canvass to try and express those contradictions and that sense of a working class industrial town transitioning into something else entirely. Toronto’s condo boom seemed to be as apt a metaphor as was available. So, we took a lot of shots from the highway that goes through the centre of downtown. My roommate, Aliah Mcdonough, is a fantastic photographer and videographer, so we got in our ’92 Subaru and drove around capturing Toronto as she filmed from the back seat. I also used quite a few photos from the Toronto archives to juxtapose a sense of history.

Any expectations for the albums success?

Outside of at least one review in German, not really.

Links?

jamesburrowsmusic.com https://www.facebook.com/JamesBurrowsMusic and twitter: @jburrowsmusic

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