By Troy N. Diggs
Oasis Staff Writer
Out blues/funk/alternative artist Mike James may not have the star power of, say, the Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, or Britney Spears but unlike many of the commercially made pop artists flooding the airwaves today, James' music comes from the soul.
"Im hoping that people can appreciate a youngster that actually has some substance, as opposed to a youngster whos just a hooker," he jokes. "Theres a lot of stuff out there thats just there to sell records to 11-year old girls." James' background is, ironically enough, based in what he describes as the "Manhattan modeling scene"; the well-groomed, pre-fab, ready-made pop icons. "They wanted really different things for me. They wanted for me to be very rustic and outdoorsy, and very boy next door and thats not me. Im just going to do my thing, and I dont want to do pop commercials or go on TV pushing Jell-O. I went home, gained a lot of weight, took some time for myself, and started writing music, and playing out of coffeeshops and colleges. I was doing a whole different thing."
James' "whole different thing" has gotten him some positive results. His music is freely available to listeners through http://www.mp3.com/mikejames/ , and James says he feels like its a benefit, because his sound is being heard. "Its tough when youre a small label and its tough when you dont have a lot of money to push out with it gets really expensive. Thats one thing Ive learned by doing this."
The "small label" is James' company, RedSiren Records. He says he started up RedSiren because he wanted to have complete freedom over what he did. "Right before I recorded the tracks (on the "Right Aligned" EP), I was working on a dance project. It sounded OK, but it wasnt what I was into, and I had no control over it it wasnt what I wanted to be doing at the time. I wanted to do something real, especially for a first release project. I wanted to do something that was me."
James says that one of the reasons hes starting out on his own musically is because gay youth, sometimes, dont have good artists to have as role models. "I went to the record store (when I first came out) and wanted to get something I could relate to. There wasnt really anything that said this is what Im going through. There were really no youth role models that were really positive. I mean, theres like Johann Paulik and you dont want your role model to be a porn star when youre 15 or 16."
As inspiration for his music, James likes to draw from the likes of Tori Amos, George Michael, and even 80s pop phenom Tiffany. "It was the first music that I picked out on my own. Her songs were really stupid and fluffy, but when youre 10 years old, who cares? You know, I think weve got similar backgrounds as far as the whole dysfunctional childhood and getting out of the house as soon as possible and trying to make some money thing." While the inspiration comes from a varied blend of artists, James adds that many times, "you get people that say You sound just like so-and-so, and I try not to sound just like anybody; I try to sound just like me. I just run into the brick wall where you get compared. I wanna be my own sound. I wanna do my own thing."
James' first hint of radio airplay, "Take Me Whole", is, essentially, about talking to a brick wall. "Its something that you see, especially in the gay community a lot of one-way affection. Youre either being the admirer or the admired. Its not always a two-way street, and its frustrating. Its kind of the same way with Snowman (also available on the Right Aligned EP). Youve got some people who arent looking for anything serious, and youve got the other side thats really looking for something deeper, and theres a big gap in communication there. I think most people can (relate), and I think its pretty common. At the age of 16, I thought it was just me but 5 years later, I think its part of the human experience."
The future for this young artist looks rather promising. Hes currently working on a degree in mass communication, and a full-length album is on the way. James is also working on new original stuff, and an album called "Crayons". "Its of songs that I really liked growing up that I didnt write its just a cover CD for fun."
James believes in doing things "his way", and the result is an EP that relates to the young gay male experience. Above all, James says "I just try to be a good person and hopefully, Im setting a good example."
Let Troy know if you liked his article on Mike James...