San Francisco based artist Andrew St. James’ The Big Ole Veronica Apology Record – released on June 16th, 2017 via Island Jar Records -might very well be one of the best albums of 2017 you haven’t heard yet. But if in fact, you have heard it, chances are you’ll agree with its fascinating take on baroque, lo-fi sound and pop sensibilities. Comparisons to Dr. Dog, Destroyer, Jeremy Enigk and early Shins are unavoidable, but what is most striking about St. James’ eleven song effort is its compelling take on melody.
After the release of his sophomore LP The Shakes in the fall of 2014, St. James’ management discouraged his from self-releasing a third record right away. At the time, holding off on another release to pitch potential label partners seemed like a reasonable idea. In the meantime, he recorded demo after demo after demo. In-between the release of The Shakes & the completion of The Apology Record. St. James’ unreleased catalog grew by about 150 useable tracks. Soon there came a point where he couldn’t wait any longer and decided to release the third record independently.
“I always felt that certain tracks had a place on the album–” Sorry Bout Tomorrow!,” “Magnolia,” “The Lawyer” – these were all home demos that found their way onto the release and were favorites of the post Shakes catalog,” recalls St. James to Glide. “Some of the tracks that have become standouts took a little longer to find. For instance, I wrote & recorded the original demo for “In The Morning” in early 2014 during my brief stint in school. I had fully forgotten about the track before fishing through my files & re discovering it. “
After a few days going through demos St James came up with the final track list & shot over to Berkeley to hammer out the songs with Jim Greer, his producer/mentor.friend. St. James played the vast majority of the instruments on the record with Jim jumping in on some drum programming and synth work here and there while knocking out the album in three days.
And so it is for Andrew St. James. The Big Ole Veronica Apology Record comes at us with a melodic melodrama that deserves a listen or five. Glide recently talked with St. James who gave us some insightfulness on the record itself, artistic integrity and why we should check out Tim Presley.
The Big Ole Veronica Apology Record has been out for a few weeks now- how has the reaction and introduction to your music been?
The reaction has been very positive so far! I’ve been really excited to share these tracks with the world & it’s nice to finally get them out there. Even Veronica (1/2) likes the record, probably the hardest sell of all.
What records from your listening past paid a significant part in inspiring this group of songs?
It’s a jumble of a lot of different ones. I grew up on Dylan / The Dead so that always seems to come off a bit. I think if I were to chalk it up to three records it’d be Born In The USA (Bruce Springsteen), The Queen Is Dead (Smiths) and Grievous Angel (Gram Garsons) all of which I was listening to pretty obsessively at 18 and 19 whenever I wrote these tracks . Maybe mix those with a little Foster The People or something and it comes a little closer, but it’s hard to say really.
Can you talk about the songs themselves and how you ended up with the eleven songs? Did you have any outside help with a producer or other musicians?
I write a lot. After the release of The Shakes in the fall of 2014 my management discouraged me from self-releasing a third record. At the time, holding off another release to pitch potential label partners seemed like a reasonable idea. In the meantime, I recorded demo after demo after demo. In-between the release of The Shakes & the completion of The Apology Record my unreleased catalog grew by about 150 useable tracks. Long story short, there came a point where I couldn’t wait any longer and we decided to release the third record independently. I always felt that certain tracks had a place on the album–” Sorry Bout Tomorrow!,” “Magnolia,” “The Lawyer.” These were all home demos that found their way onto the release and were favorites of the post Shakes catalog. Some of the tracks that have become standouts took a little longer to find. For instance, I wrote & recorded the original demo for “In The Morning” in early 2014 during my brief stint in school. I had fully forgotten about the track before fishing through my files & re discovering it. After a few days going through demos I came up with the final track list & shot over to Berkeley to hammer out the songs with Jim Greer, my producer/mentor.friend. I played the vast majority of the instruments on the record, Jim jumping in on some drum programming & synth work here and there. I think we knocked out the album in three days.
The Big Ole Veronica Apology Record offers a most purely unique take on harmony. Do melodies come easy to you and how would you best describe how you write your songs?
Melody & harmony come pretty naturally to me, as when I’m writing they seem to just come out. I never really know when the songs are going to come & it feels almost like I’m purging something when they do. It’s a stream of consciousness thing, the songs come along with moments of self-awareness I don’t find most other places in my life. Looking at my work in hindsight I realize it’s a vessel I use to compartmentalize or process all my shit! Cheap therapy. I come to harmony through baroque music and I sang in choirs when I was a kid & that sound really stuck with me. I remember hearing Fleet Foxes / Grizzly Bear when I was 12 or so & the baroque vocal thing mixed with the electric guitar blew my mind. I’ve had the bug ever since!
How would you describe an Andrew St. James performance if someone new was going to come out to see and hear you for the first time? What can we expect?
Holograms! Strange visions! Herds of livestock! Muffled bantering! Lazy protests! The band is generally different for every show, a choice that wasn’t originally intentional but something I’ve come to like. It makes every set different; every player brings something unique to the songs & it’s enjoyable seeing where that sort of energy brings them. I like the shows to feel like a party— I’m often rather raucous, even when I’m up there alone. There was an older gentleman who approached/ hugged me (strange) enthusiastically after a show on the most recent tour & proceeded to compare me to an angry Ryan Adams! I thought that was rather silly.
How have your life experiences transferred over to your music and songs?
The songs I write are sourced from my experiences. I’d say maybe even all of them are pretty much direct representations of moments I’ve lived and I think pretty much every song on this record comes from that place. I mean “Sorry Bout Tomorrow!” “Coronation Blues,” “Millennial Malaise,” “In The Morning” and “Magnolia” either come from a particular moment or person I’ve been close to or perhaps the lifestyle I lead.
What I think about things in a general sense, I’m not sure I can distinguish a difference between the songs and the moments that inspire them, they become one and the same in my mind.
Are there any artists out there that you feel are doing it right in terms of artistic integrity that you hope to mirror in some way?
Artistic integrity is a hard thing to judge. To be honest, It’s not something I think about when listening to new music. I feel like the more time one spends around/ inside the music industry the more jaded they become. I’ve only been around a couple years & one would probably consider me fairly jaded. If artistic integrity is considered creating music without thinking about reaction, I’d say it’s very rare if not fully absent. There are artists who become large enough that they don’t have to worry about reaction; chances are no matter what they put out their fans will continue to follow them. I think the folks who take advantage of that level of influence & decide to release art with purpose are ‘doing it right’. Considering the circumstances anyone with the intention of spreading their music pays some attention to their marketing. or someone does for them. There are different levels of that of course- For some people, it’s just the font on their record, others are marketed to be derivative of successful acts from the past. Derivative acts are not something I’m particularly interested in. People have attempted to coax me into that boat before and I just couldn’t go there; I’m far too stubborn. That being said, there seem to be a lot of artists and bands out there that put out really honest shit. It’s just often hard to judge where the marketing begins & the honesty ends.
Apparently, both your parents were big concert goers in the 90’s. Do they share any stories with you and is there really a Phish song named after you mom?
Well to start, I’m a child of an open adoption, so I have two pairs of folks. My parents, the ones who raised me, are both big music fans, my father having been to Woodstock & a good amount of fairly famous Fillmore East shows in the early ’70s My mother having attended The Last Waltz and worked in rock & roll radio in the early ‘80s. I grew up with a plethora of their stories for sure, at least the ones they’d tell me. Although my birth father was absent for most of my life, passing away before I could get to know him, my birth mother has been a constant. They met catering backstage for arena shows; working Phish tours, among others. In fact, I was conceived while they were working The Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge Tour! So it goes. Regarding the Phish track; that’s the word on the street!
Being a San Francisco based artist- what advantages and disadvantages does it offer?
To start, It’s not Los Angeles. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. I grew up in San Francisco, born & raised, so I’ve got all my people here. But Los Angeles is a home away from home for me, & there’s a much larger entertainment world down there. It’s nice to be a little removed from it, and makes my trips down there more purposeful. Luckily I’ve come to like the drive a lot!
What are you listening to these days for records and artists?
Tim Presley all the time. I was 14 or so when I saw Darker My Love for the first time. I’m a fan through and through. Heard his name a bunch recently & just had to listen through his discography again. Lovin’ it!