By Troy N. Diggs
Oasis Staff Writer
Out blues/funk/alternative artist Mike James may not have the star power of, say, the Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, or Britney Spears… but unlike many of the commercially made pop artists flooding the airwaves today, James' music comes from the soul.
"I’m hoping that people can appreciate a youngster that actually has some substance, as opposed to a youngster who’s just a hooker," he jokes. "There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s just there to sell records to 11-year old girls." James' background is, ironically enough, based in what he describes as the "Manhattan modeling scene"; the well-groomed, pre-fab, ready-made pop icons. "They wanted really different things for me. They wanted for me to be very rustic and outdoorsy, and very boy next door… and that’s not me. I’m just going to do my thing, and I don’t want to do pop commercials or go on TV pushing Jell-O. I went home, gained a lot of weight, took some time for myself, and started writing music, and playing out of coffeeshops and colleges. I was doing a whole different thing."
James' "whole different thing" has gotten him some positive results. His music is freely available to listeners through http://www.mp3.com/mikejames/ , and James says he feels like it’s a benefit, because his sound is being heard. "It’s tough when you’re a small label… and it’s tough when you don’t have a lot of money to push out with… it gets really expensive. That’s one thing I’ve learned by doing this."
The "small label" is James' company, RedSiren Records. He says he started up RedSiren because he wanted to have complete freedom over what he did. "Right before I recorded the tracks (on the "Right Aligned" EP), I was working on a dance project. It sounded OK, but it wasn’t what I was into, and I had no control over it… it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing at the time. I wanted to do something real, especially for a first release project. I wanted to do something that was me."
James says that one of the reasons he’s starting out on his own musically is because gay youth, sometimes, don’t have good artists to have as role models. "I went to the record store (when I first came out) and wanted to get something I could relate to. There wasn’t really anything that said ‘this is what I’m going through.’ There were really no youth role models that were really positive. I mean, there’s like Johann Paulik… and you don’t want your role model to be a porn star when you’re 15 or 16."
As inspiration for his music, James likes to draw from the likes of Tori Amos, George Michael, and even 80’s pop phenom Tiffany. "It was the first music that I picked out on my own. Her songs were really stupid and fluffy, but when you’re 10 years old, who cares? You know, I think we’ve got similar backgrounds as far as the whole ‘dysfunctional childhood and getting out of the house as soon as possible and trying to make some money’ thing." While the inspiration comes from a varied blend of artists, James adds that many times, "you get people that say ‘You sound just like so-and-so’, and I try not to sound just like anybody; I try to sound just like me. I just run into the brick wall where you get compared. I wanna be my own sound. I wanna do my own thing."
James' first hint of radio airplay, "Take Me Whole", is, essentially, about talking to a brick wall. "It’s something that you see, especially in the gay community… a lot of one-way affection. You’re either being the admirer or the admired. It’s not always a two-way street, and it’s frustrating. It’s kind of the same way with ‘Snowman’ (also available on the Right Aligned EP). You’ve got some people who aren’t looking for anything serious, and you’ve got the other side that’s really looking for something deeper, and there’s a big gap in communication there. I think most people can (relate), and I think it’s pretty common. At the age of 16, I thought it was just me… but 5 years later, I think it’s part of the human experience."
The future for this young artist looks rather promising. He’s currently working on a degree in mass communication, and a full-length album is on the way. James is also working on new original stuff, and an album called "Crayons". "It’s of songs that I really liked growing up that I didn’t write… it’s just a cover CD for fun."
James believes in doing things "his way", and the result is an EP that relates to the young gay male experience. Above all, James says "I just try to be a good person and hopefully, I’m setting a good example."