“Wherever rock is going…it needs a facelift.”
Early Bird grabbed coffee with New York-based rock singer Micky James, who left the band life and a major label to pursue a solo career as an independent artist. We sat down with him to discuss his new pop-inspired single “Give It To Me Straight”, his stylistic influences, and the state of modern rock and roll. Read the full interview below.
Photos: @themickyjames on Instagram
This article has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
EB: Micky – you’re 24 – tell me a little bit about how you got into music, especially coming from the new york area.
MJ: “I started playing in bands when I was about eleven. I grew up in the New Jersey scene, the where hardcore, post-hardcore, emo stuff was booming – this was 2005-2006ish. Hardcore music and aggressive music was my inspiration to be in a live band. Going to shows and being around that whole musical community, those hardcore bands, like American Nightmare, had a big influence on me.”
“My transformative moment to deciding to follow music was with The Beatles. My first time ever watching a performer was on Ed Sullivan when I was 8. My dad had all the VHS tapes. He’s a guitar player, too. He played Van Morrison, The Beatles, stuff like that. Me watching him do that, I would say, “I could probably learn how to do it”. That kind of got me playing guitar. But when I saw the Beatles, I could barely process who they were, because it was so perfect that I thought was like a cartoon or something. It wasn’t real.”
“Once I started to become a better musician and understand music a little later on in my life, during my teenage years, that’s when the Beatles played a bigger part in everything I was doing. I’m thinking like, 16 to now. Funny, I was eight years old and I listened to the Beatles, and now I like hardcore bands. I guess I have appreciation for all music across the entire spectrum.”
EB: Were there Any memorable moments throughout your musical career so far that you think have also influenced you heavily?
MJ: “In my last band, we toured in the U.S., I don’t know how many times. Before that, I’d never toured before. I had new experiences that I’d never done before. It was my first eye opener to the music industry. I think that was a big inspiration in a way, especially for where I am now.”
“At 21, you’re naive and think you know it all. Then you step into this big industry and start touring, and you start to kinda figure it all out. Being on a label, I think that helped me a lot. You learn a shit ton. We (the band) learned a lot about the music industry, and it just kinda put certain things in perspective. It makes you feel more humble about doing this.”
what’s the difference your last project and now in terms of what you’re working on?
MJ: “I think with this new project it’s much more of a clear, cohesive vision, as opposed to being in a band, where it’s kind of like a democracy and there are a lot of different influences…where others are trying to sculpt the idea and the brand. It’s definitely more liberating being on my own, because I can steer my own ship and go down a very clear path. I think that’s the difference. I’m so much more comfortable now, and way more confident. Even though I don’t have the big, massive support of a label behind me right now, I feel more confident in this than what I was doing in the past.
“I kind of think that’s reflective of where music is right now. Most artists are steering their own projects and I think a lot of labels are tuning in to self-made artists. Especially pop artists. For rock bands too, I feel like that’s definitely a self-made machine. You can’t really have a label team come in and remake that. You go out and fucking get it.”
EB: Let’s talk about your look and style a little bit.
“Gothic chic”, he quips.
EB: …The leather, all black, the hair (no, that’s not a wig), Being close to New York, do you think that music & the theater scene had any impact on your image?
MJ: “It definitely did. The whole punk and glam scene here, like the New York Dolls and Ramones, for sure. The past, all my favorite bands, I look at them and they look cool, with the leather jackets and style.”
EB: You’ve got a voice that seems to fit a different era of rock and roll. How have you been able to find your niche in today’s music industry and the rock scene?
MJ: “You know, I think that’s the hard part. That’s maybe my biggest challenge as an artist. My voice and my approach on rock music, I guess. But I just do what I do, whatever I’m influenced by, I try to take them and put them together and that’s what you get. I have those elements of nostalgia in my sound, like the 60’s and 70’s thing.”
“Reinventing something musically is kind of dead to me, though. Wherever rock is going, the second coming of rock, it needs a facelift. You can keep reinventing the wheel – I see a lot of bands right now, especially rock bands, being such a period piece. They’re amazing at it, whatever they’re doing, whatever they’re communicating – they’re really great at it. But it needs to feel new to me, especially with all the bands I’m influenced by.”
“I grew up listening to bands like the Strokes, and Arctic Monkeys. Those guys, they really turned the wheel in rock. They gave their own spin on it. That’s kind of what I hope to do.”
EB: Do you have any modern influences on your sound?
MJ: “I’m a big fan of the Vaccines. They’re great. They’re a rock band but they have a lot of pop sensibility. They’re a big influence on me, especially in regard to incorporating pop into rock. They do it so tastefully. I love the Wombats, and Catfish and the Bottlemen, too.”
“The way Catfish see themselves, as a live band and kind of wanting to take it to the highest level – that’s where I want to be. And they’re not ashamed of that, and I think that’s an amazing thing. A lot of rock bands don’t think to aim for the stars or want to be the biggest fucking band in the world. That ambition is, in a way, missing today. Kind of that cocky attitude, in a healthy way of course.”
EB: How has it been so far having your first solo single out? It’s on a few Spotify playlists. what has that reaction been like so far?
MJ: “It’s really exciting. The song’s been out for a few weeks and it’s already been on Alt Nation. It’s just amazing and I’m very happy that they played it and think it’s rad.”
..MICKY’S LATEST SINGLE “GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT” IS FEATURED ON SPOTIFY’S “NEW NOISE” PLAYLIST.
EB: You’ve made it clear that you have pop ambitions and that it’s the direction you want to move with things. paint me your vision for the future of this project – where do you want to see this go?
MJ: “I feel pretty confident that this could go pretty far, especially with the other songs that I’m really eager to put out. They are definitely more in the pop vein, and more pop sensible. They’re still rock – I have a rock voice – it still has that gritty, fuzzy charm about it.”
EB: What’s the best advice anyone in the industry has given you, or that you’ve given yourself that you take to heart?
MJ: “To me it’s very simple, and I’d give this advice to any artist: Write better songs. Write better lyrics. Like Morrisey, he’s been a big influence on me as a writer. I’m influenced by a lot of abstract writing. He would say things so tastefully and he had wit. I think a well-written song will separate you from the rest, no doubt. Keep perfecting your craft and it will get there.”