An Interview with Blues/Roots/Americana artist Natasha James: Blues is more than just a style of music

“Life with intent, write what you know, say what you mean, and don’t look back.”

Natasha James: My Country Has The Blues

NATASHA JAMES is known for taking Roots music styles, turning them on their head, combining them, and coming out with tunes that are completely unique but totally familiar (Music Connection, Aug 2008) at the same time.

On her debut album, BAD JUDGEMENTS, she had the pleasure of working and recording with old friend and monster sax player, MARTIN FIERRO (Thelonius Monk, Jerry Garcia, Zero) and reknowned keyboardist AUSTIN DELONE, among other stellar talents. That CD launched the hit single, "The Restless Kind" , and got her music compared to Van Morrison (Americana Media Guide, Aug 2008) and her voice to Janis Joplin crossed with Joan Baez (Music Connection).

TEQUILA TIME, from this prolific troubadour from Northern California, finds her once again pushing the edges of the Roots Americana movement, and upping the rock ante. NATASHA JAMES once again has some stellar musicians in her line-up. Players include DAVE AGUILAR (Norton Buffalo), with whom she did a duet that night, IAN LAMSON (Elvin Bishop), STEVE EVANS (Coco Montoya, Elvin Bishop), HERMAN EBERITZSCH (Malo, Lee Oskar), and WOODY VERMEIRE (Commander Cody), all engineered by RONNIE RIVERA, who also plays the drums in this stellar line-up. This band gets people up on their feet from rock, country, bluegrass and blues persuasions, all knocked out by the originality of the tunes and the quality of James' voice; at times like Bonnie Raitt, at times like Janis Joplin and Emmy Lou Harris (Music Connection). Award-winning Roots/Americana/Blues artist Natasha James has just released her latest album, “My Country Has The Blues”

Interview by Michael Limnios

Natasha, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & from whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
I first started being interested in music at the age of 4. I started listening to the old 1930’s blues artists. Just listening to their finger picking approaches and rhythmic delivery which is unusual by today’s more even meter. It got under my skin, and you see it reflected in the 6/4 intro to my tune, HARDER. (on the Bad Judgements CD)

What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

The first songs I learned were Muleskinner Blues, then Daydream, then Midnight Special. I always liked fingerpicking, slide, harmonica, and a slight growl, or yodel, in the voice.
The first gig I went to: Odetta, at The Troubadour, in LA. Odetta has a fantastic operatic voice. I banged on the door of The Troubadour until they let me in. I was 8. I had snuck along in the backseat of the car with my mom and her boyfriend – I had no intention of missing Odetta.

Which memory from Europe makes you smile?
There are SO MANY that do! But I gotta say, some of my favourites were in Sardegna, in Porto Cervo, in 1969. There was a great nightclub at that time called Pedro’s. I was really young but fiercely independent. I returned to Sardegna years later…it has always been a place that holds some magnetic charm for me.

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
I think the energy comes from the heart, and is fed by the soul, and is delivered into form by the brain.

                                                               Photo Credits Raymond Van Tassel

What does the Roots music mean to you & what does music offered you?
Roots Music to me, means REAL music…music that has meaning and feeling and is always alive, never stale. If you look at the Roots Music Report, all the artists on there, in whatever category, are all really viable, authentic, true artists. The music they create means something, says something, and is timeless. That to me is roots music. True art; it will stand the test of time.
What does music offer me? Great big dollops of extreme happiness and despairing frustration! All in all, something I can’t live without being a part of.

What do you learn about yourself from music? How has the blues music changed your life?
Music forces you to dig deep inside yourself to deliver the raw feeling of what is inside you that is inside that song, so you can give it out to others. The blues, and old time country (which are not far apart), have been for me, the inspiration to create music of my own. That changed my life for sure!! Music was ALWAYS what I was going to do – write and sing, since I was a little girl.

How do you describe your philosophy about the music and life?
I don’t like to preach. My only philosophy as I have said before, is to “life with intent, write what you know, say what you mean, and don’t look back.”

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician and people?
It never stops. Every day you learn something new. It is good to always be open to improve yourself, your music, your perception of people and the world around you, and how you see yourself in it, contributing to it, making it a better place. Music is such a force, it is wonderful to bring up all the good happiness in people all together when you are playing and being a part of that with them. There are few pleasures and honors in life that compare.

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & what do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a songwriter?
Inspiration comes from what I see and feel happening around me. I am interested in people and what makes them tick, what motivates them to be kind, to be mean, to be fair, to be aware. I am interested in the state of the world, the state of our mutual humanity, the ways in which we choose to be or allow ourselves not to be. What makes me a songwriter is that I write about it. What makes a GOOD songwriter is to serve the song first.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Hmm. The worst, is when I feel I am not giving to the song all that I can and am finding it hard at that particular moment to reach inside and deliver from that raw state. Nobody else might know, but I do. Of course, it is always devastating if you feel you have not done the finest job. And the best, is when you do!! The best moments are always: making a great record, having a great gig, getting to that magical place onstage where everything is in the flow and the whole band is glowing and grooving…and the audience is part of that and you feel like time is suspended in this altered state. That is an incredible high like no other.
Career though, is the question, which is not really the music. Career, hmm. The low point: when your record doesn’t sell, when your management turns out to be more interested in themselves than you…all those nightmares. But you just keep going, because that is what we do. We create art.
Now is a pretty good point! My Country Has The Blues just went to #1 on the New Music Weekly Country Charts, the new single, Room 203, is climbing those same charts; the past two CD’s are staying strong on the Roots Music Report charts, the video of My Country Has The Blues was just picked up by Microsoft for its’ Windows Media page, and My Country Has The Blues was just nominated for “Country Single of the Year,” by the Los Angeles Music Awards. In addition, I have signed with new management and label and am getting ready for a tour before the beginning of this summer to raise money for Homeless Veterans.

Would you like to tell something about making this new album?
It is still in the making. We started recording it over one year ago at this great studio in Northern California called The Site. It was a very cache studio. The Stones recorded there – a whole bunch of people. George Massenberg had his Neve 8078 board there, and my engineer is a Neve guy, so that was a big plus. Aesthetically, the place is beautiful: great room looking out at tall trees, several ISO booths, good line of sight from the generous control room to the great room, and even into one of the ISO booths. The Neve board has since been sold, so the place is no longer what it was. I am happy I got to record there while it was still happening.
I was really ill during the recording, and that gave me a greater sense of urgency to get these songs out and to write very positive messages. All the vocals we used for the record on the 6 tracks we did up at The Site are scratch vocals. I like to work live when recording, and make use of the ISO booths. That way we can capture the energy of a live performance. My guitar and vocal I lay down at the same time, and hope for very little bleed. It’s best just to do it right the first time! We had pretty much the same team on this record as we did on Tequila Time, with a couple of differences. This time we used flute instead of fiddle, and we used a different guitar player, James Harman, on some of the tracks. James is the young man who did the Berlin gigs with me.  Still, we might end up using the violin on some of the rest of the tracks. I don’t know yet – the album is still in the making. So much can happen. We did release an Advance Edition EP since we have a couple of the songs already out there. It’s available on CD Baby, if you want to find it: MY COUNTRY HAS THE BLUES.
We had the cover art done by a local artist, to look like Orange Crate Art, which was the artwork on the fruit and vegetable wooden shipping crates we used to have here in this country since The Depression. They had the most amazing and colourful art on them, and we wanted to reflect that era and that consciousness for this record.

Are there any memories from studio with MARTIN FIERRO, which you’d like to share with us?
Martin was great to work with in and out of the studio, and was a deep and true friend besides. The first CD of mine we did together was recorded at The Plant, in Sausalito, CA. and one day he turned around and said to me: “You remind me of Doug Sahm” and I replied, “Well can you pick someone who is not dead and not male?” We laughed. We were always laughing together, watching westerns, thinking up song ideas. Martin played from somewhere deep inside and he always had something to say, there was never a meaningless note. That is rare. He played with intent, with emotion, so it always had meaning. He was never a snobby musician and he always had time to play with many different people, never putting one person less or more just because one was more or less famous. That is unusual. He had a true respect for music that way which he never betrayed.

What is the “think” you miss most from LA blues jazz clubs & San Francisco’s 'folksy' clubs?
I don’t miss anything. I did it, I moved on, I did other things. That goes for everything in my past. I lived inside my own shoes, so I was present, therefore I do not miss anything that I did. I certainly do not want to relive any part of my life but I sure do want to keep having great new experiences. I want to be able to stay healthy so I can keep on going strong for a long time. Health and time we do not get back. The rest we can create as we go.

Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your gigs with REGGAE band in London?
Amusing? No. The whole reggae scene was not at all what I thought it would be. I had naively thought it was all peace and love, you know? And it was a whole lot more heavier scene than that!

Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?
Catherine The Great; Joan of Arc; Indira Gandhi, Gandhi, Gorbachev.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
BLUES is more than just a style of music. It was formed from a way of life and as such it is part of our American cultural history, as is bluegrass, and old time country. Since music is so universal, that history that began here in the US, is now part of the global consciousness about music. One wish for the blues? That it’ll just keep on keeping on.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Be prepared for a long road. I would only do it if you just can’t NOT do it. It is not an easy road, nor is it predictable or fair, nor are there any roadmaps that apply. It is not a life choice; it is a lifestyle, and a mandate from birth. I have run away from music many times in my life, only to have it running right back at me!!

What is your “secret” music DREAM? What turns you on? Happiness is……
To be able to play anything that is in my mind. That would be phenomenal. Some people can do that.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
Maybe now. There’s always something around the bend that will turn out to be WAY different than anything you thought it might be. The future always holds a lot more interest than the past. The past is deep and a great well to draw upon, but the future is an enticement to be embarked upon.

How you would spend a day with Janis Joplin and Joan Baez?
Talking, drinking tea, and singing. Creating music.

Natasha James - Official Website

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