Interview: Al James of Dolorean

AJ: I don’t think that Madoff was unfazed. I think he was much too selfish to be unfazed. The unfazed isn’t a place of power over others, it an acknowledgment of chaos and a control over yourself. The unfazed don’t seek money and power although it’s sometimes given to them. They are merely stewards of it. Footballer Zinedine Zidane, filmmaker Terrence Malick, actor Harry Dean Stanton, musician Fela Kuti, scholar Thomas Merton, winemaker Cedric Bouchard, writer James Salter and artist Alec Soth are all patron saints of the unfazed.

HT: In terms of putting out new music, it’s been nearly four years since you last put out a full length release. Was there a conscious break there to step back for a while, or was that more just the natural progression of things and time it took for the material to germinate?

AJ: There was a conscious break to reassess what I loved about music. The songs never stopped, I just didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do with them. Eventually the momentum kicked in for recording and releasing them. That’s another thing about being unfazed, your timeline is your own.

HT: The song Country Clutter really stands out as a gem on this album, which I was excited to see earned NPR Song of the Day honors. They pointed out that the song uses a very pleasant arrangement as a vehicle for what sounds like a stinging last word on a tough relationship. Not to dig into anything too personal, but is this safe to presume that this relationship had something to do with the overall sentiment and vision for the record?

AJ: Yeah, the NPR press was great. I thought the writer had a really fresh take on the song by relating it to the soul singer Cee Lo Green. This character in “Country Clutter” isn’t about anything relating to me. It was an opportunity to give a voice and power to a dear friend who needed to be able to say what the character says on the chorus of that tune. Which is basically, “quit trying to ruin my life with your shit.” I don’t write about my own relationships anymore. I got that bug out in its entirety with You Can’t Win.


HT: I was cracking up about all your Garth Brooks posts on the Dolorean blog. Are you really a huge Garth fan?

AJ: I’m a fan of country music from that era for sure. In light of where popular country music sits right now, artists like The Judds, Chris Ledoux, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Garth Brooks and Clint Black all sound pretty good.

HT: I also noticed that you fly fish. I imagine you’ve probably come up with some good ideas for lyrics out there on the river? What’s your favorite fly to tie?

AJ: I’m a decent fly tier though I don’t have a ton of time to tie these days. I certainly like to catch trout on my own flies when I can and I seem to have pretty good luck with simple nymph patterns like Beadheads, Pheasant Tails and Stoneflies. When I’m fishing there’s not too much writing going on. It’s usually just concentrated on catching those suckers and then sitting around the campfire at night singing old songs with friends are sharing awesome wines and food.

HT: In terms of touring, after the West Coast tour, it’s off to Europe for a month. Do you guys have a pretty good following overseas?

AJ: We’ve been lucky with some supportive fans overseas. For some reason people in Holland have been tracking with us since the beginning. There is still a lot of room to grow in both the US and in Europe. We’re hoping to make up some ground with The Unfazed.

HT: How much collaboration would you say goes into the writing and arrangements of the instrumental aspect of your music?

AJ: I have very strong ideas about how things should sound, but ultimately I defer to the guys in the band for arrangements (mostly Jay Clarke and Benny Nugent). Our collaboration has been so fruitful over the years because we stick to our strengths – I’m the songwriter, they’re the musicians and arrangers. I’ve been blessed to work with these guys for over a decade.

HT: Finally, what are some of your favorite haunts in Portland in terms of restaurants, bars, outdoor spots, etc.?

AJ: Portland has an overabundance of incredible restaurants and bars. My favorites are Olympic Provisions, Biwa, Dove Vivi, The Secret Society, Tasty & Sons, Laurelhurst Market, Porque No? & Little Bird. Kathy Bergin at Three Doors Down has one of my favorite wine lists in Portland. Bar Avignon is another one with a beautiful wine list and great prices. I spend time at the Finnish sauna called Loyly when I need to regroup, refocus or detox. I love it there. My favorite spot in all of Portland is Forest Park for trail running and walking. It’s one of the largest urban forest reserves in the country with over 70 miles of trails within the city limits. This park is one of the reasons I still live in Portland.

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