Foundations: Jim James

As the vocalist touches down in London for his Roundhouse show...

Jim James is simply one of the most inspired vocalists of his generation.

Leading My Morning Jacket to international acclaim, his reverb-soaked dalliances swing between reverb-drenched Americana and raunchy Prince style funk, somehow marrying both into a potent, unique style.

Releasing his 'Uniform Distortion' and 'Uniform Clarity' projects last year, Jim James touches down in London this week for a very special headline show.

Playing the historic Roundhouse venue as part of their In The Round series, the vocalist welcomes fans for an extremely intimate, freeform performance.

Taking place tonight (January 29th) it's a bold move, with Jim James free to pick any element from his lengthy, always absorbing catalogue.

Ahead of this Clash caught up with Jim James to discuss his Foundations – the albums that truly forges his musical imagination…

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Marvin Gaye – 'What's Goin' On'

What is possible in the making an album? In how many ways can one hit the heart and soul of humanity, inspiring people not only to dance but consider the world in which they live and inspire change? Make the world a better place. Literally and metaphysically change the consciousness every time one puts the needle in the groove or hears the song randomly at the supermarket.

I remember it this was as a kid hearing those opening lines and just feeling the deepest "wow". I was lucky to stumble upon the multi-tracks for the title track and when you solo Marvin's vocal and just listen to him there in the booth singing and waiting to sing in between phrases you hear the sound of pure joy and creativity at work.

Everyone knows how difficult it is to create a true masterpiece in art. But one thing I learned in listening to these multi-tracks was a real sense of TOGETHERNESS. Everyone playing together. Different instruments bleeding into one another.

Solo the drums and they don’t sound all that great. BUT solo them and add in the bass or the guitar or the vocal or the vibes and notice the drum bleed from those other mics bleed into the drums themselves and it gets more surreal – something is ALIVE.

A sense of unity starts to occur. A sense that none of us can do it alone… but together… together we can really do something special. Create something for the ages.

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Eels – 'Electroshock Blues'

Up until I heard this record most albums had a “sound” wherein all the songs had a certain togetherness or similarity, but this album utilizes all sorts of differing soundscapes – drum machines and drums, real strings and fake strings, screaming and quiet singing, full songs and short little sketches or vignettes that form a very dreamlike and fragmented world, one that works together almost like a little desert ghost town at night gathered around a single campfire.

It is a difficult album – full of pain and loss – but illustrated with such bravery and clarity… it helped me to deal with my own losses in life in the form of song.

If you know the story of the album you know several tragic deaths occurred in the real life of Mark Oliver Everett but here it is almost as if a child is explaining them to you in therapy or in drawings and it becomes a surrealist cartoon… it framed loss for me in a new way.

I feel what Everett does here is bring his dead back to life… he becomes a vessel for them to communicate and share some message with us from beyond the grave, which opened up an entire new realm of possibility for communicating with and remembering my beloved ones who have gone before me into whatever is next.

Here the door was opened to still stay in touch with them in a new and wholly innovative way they speak to us through song and make this complex life a little bit easier.

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Blind Melon – 'Blind Melon'

I wish Blind Melon never made a video for 'No Rain'. I firmly believe if that song had never "hit" like it did with its silly video perhaps Shannon would still be alive and the band would still be touring and recording to this day – recognised for the innovators and wildly talented performers that that are instead of wrongly labeled as some one hit wonder.

Shannon's was a rare voice of the heavens brought down to Earth here in human form similar to Janis – wild and free and full of life fire, but dangerous/quick to explode and burn out if not carefully tended.

I feel like people, especially critics, can be so cruel and this band is a case of what can happen when cruelty from the outside world destroys the heart of a band too young to know better not to listen. Because of 'No Rain' the band was labeled as something it was not, and the proof is in the rest of their wondrous music which I hope gets its due in time.

I discovered this album and to me it was something new and fresh, something different from all the rest of the “grunge” popular at the time; here was something that felt timeless and still does… it could have been recorded back in the 60s or yesterday or 1000 years from now and it will always work.

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OutKast – 'Aquemini'

Some of the most sophisticated mind-melting music ever made. I mean what the fuck is this?

I’ll never forget thinking that when I was a young kid first hearing this and I still feel it today. This album is timeless; the sounds are fucked up and forever twisted classic.

I mean this shit is EVERYTHING – all forms of music are on display here all wrapped up in the fucked up juxtaposition of swagger/fragility that makes OutKast so unique. This was the album that made me realize that there are no limits in music there should be no stone left unturned no question left unasked even if you never find the answer you still gotta have the guts to ask the question and these guys asked every question there was to ask in the funkiest dirtiest/squeaky-est/cleanest way possible.

How is it possible to make an album that is just as much at home out in space as it is down on the street? The juxtaposition of real organic live band performance alongside some of the meanest beats ever programmed set to some of the most hilarious/thought provoking lyrics ever laid down – and it worked in a massively commercially successful way!

I mean how is it even possible…?

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Janet Jackson – 'Rhythm Nation 1814'

My mom bought me this cassette shortly after the album came out. I was 11 years old. I can still smell the cassette.

This was one of the first times that I remember enjoying commercially mass produced HIT music. I mean, sure, I had enjoyed hit music in the past, but it was always more of an organic nature like Stevie Wonder or Simon & Garfunkel.

Here was the first time that I saw that THE MACHINE called the music industry could actually be harnessed and used for something good by artists like Janet with producers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. This music turned me on to the fact that massive fame and influence could actually be used to talk about important social issues.

A song like the title track introduced me to the concept of sampling another song like 'Thank You' by Sly & The Family Stone – thus turning me on to another artist who would forever shape the course of my destiny.

I see this album as the first I put into my category of “rescue music” meaning that more times than not, I do not enjoy the emptiness both in sound and soul of most popular HIT music, but occasionally there comes along music such as this album… with all of its hits, which rescued me every time I was bombarded with it (and you were hit with this album ALL THE TIME!). 

It was proof that there was hope for music in a commercial sense and that people could use their success as a platform for joy and equality.

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Catch Jim James at London's Roundhouse tonight (January 29th).

Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

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