Four albums deep, James Houlahan is still reveling in the wonder and imagination of the record-making process. His new LP, The Wheel Still in Spin (out 9/21), drifts through varied states of being, musically and lyrically evoking the stillness against constant motion of that strange optical phenomenon the wagon-wheel effect, where a spoked wheel’s spin appears to cut opposite its actual rotation. It’s an apt analogy with Houlahan. In addition to the new album’s title, he alludes to the Tarot’s Wheel of Fortune on the record, and often makes explicit reference to wheels and circles as a means of processing his own journey. Influenced by icons such as Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell, Houlahan’s songcraft lends itself to a particular alchemy of Americana. It’s easy to understand how and why Houlahan has become such a staple of the LosAngeles music scene.
“Some of the songs are a little more personal than on my other albums,” Houlahan says. “This process was a lot simpler than any other record I’ve made. It was great to work in the studio without any time constraints. I wasn’t working by the hour. It was more relaxed, and it seemed like these songs wanted to be together—more personal and stripped-down.”
A native of Concord, Mass., Houlahan’s story is a typically American tale of dream-seeking. He started playing piano at 8 years old, switching to guitar in his teens. He sharpened his craft in the basement for years before he felt comfortable performing, and it wasn’t until his 20s that he began playing his music in front of crowds. While living in Boston in the mid aughts, he played lead guitar in a few rock bands, but eventually knew he couldn’t let his solo work go unheard. “I realized that if I didn’t sing my songs nobody else would,” Houlahan says. He released his first solo effort Misfit Hymns in 2012 before relocating to Los Angeles and releasing Multitudes in 2016.
“I’m staying inspired, motivated and in motion, though there’s a disorientation happening,” he says, discussing headspace these strange days. “I don’t know really know where I’m going in the big sense of things, but I have to just keep going.”
Glide is proud to premiere “Faded” off of The Wheel Still in Spin, written right around the time Houlahan first encountered Daniel Johnston’s drawing “Faded Dreams,” he makes cutting observations on getting older and realizing certain things are never going to come to pass. Houlahan provides an open aching voice that rekindles both Jason Molina and Will Oldham along with invigorating guitar chops. If substance was rated soley over style, Houlahan’s unique rustic open-heartedness would put him near the top of must see and hear indie-singer-song writers.
“This is more of a character song,” Houlahan says. “I’m not this despairing at all. I’ve done a lot of traveling, and the idea of travel was on my mind. It’s also about feeling disconnected from yourself. It’s a little psychedelic, too.”
“I owe a lot to Daniel Johnston,” adds Houlahan. “I happened to encounter his music at a bleak time in my life, and he really helped pull me through. He embodies a kind of perseverance that is truly inspirational. A tireless pursuer of beauty, a tenderhearted warrior for his art. My challenges in life pale in comparison to those that he encountered. So he’s always been a great inspiration to me. This song is dedicated to him.”