INTRODUCING: NEWTON JAMES
Growing up in swampy Louisiana, with a mum from French Guiana and a dad from St Lucia, Newton started DJing at house parties at the unimaginable age of 5. With his dad being a DJ in St.Croix, 1950s-70s Reggae, Soca, and Country western was all he knew… but after stumbling across the 1987 film La Bamba (and watching it “about 8 times”) as well as being forced into Oklahoma for shelter after Hurricane Katrina struck, Newton discovered a whole new world… the extraordinary world of all things GUITAR! And now (all these years later) the multi-instrumentalist, producer, and guitar prodigy has released his debut LP ‘Brown Eyed Country Soul’ which features a lashing of polished vocals, fussy guitar solos, and smudged effects, primarily introducing an intricate mixture of Clark Jr. style psychedelic blues, soul, and RnB to the Blues Rock kingdom.
I recently chatted to Newton about his new LP, and got an insight into his inspirations, aspirations and tantalizing thoughts;
Q: Since the release of both your EP Another Rising Son, and your debut LP Brown-Eyed Country Soul, you’ve received great feedback from audiences… what has been the proudest moment?
A: My proudest moment was when my dad, who is turning 71 this year listened to Faith from my LP and said “That’s a heavy record.”
Q: I hear a lot of Gary Clark Jr when I listen to your record, has any one artist influenced your sound?
A: I like what Clark Jr is doing, as he is opening areas for the new wave of blues guitarists that are trying to make their own noise. On Blak and Blu, he had a nice mix of electronic and non electronic sounds and that inspired me to make “Brown-Eyed Country Soul”. So for the album, yes indeed, he influenced me big time! As far as a musician in general, i’ve grown up listening to primarily music from the 50s-70s as well as certain rock form the 90s as well as hip hop from that era too. Within the last year and half, I’ve recently begun to appreciate more 80s music like The Sound and Joy Division.
Q: My favourite track from the album is Firefly. Could you talk me through the writing process (what was going through your mind/what inspired the lyrics)?
A: Wow, to be honest Firefly is my most proud track on the album and I get really flattered when people mention that one as their favourite. Usually when I write a song, the music comes first and then a little after the lyrics, but for Firefly they both sort of came together at once. The first thing that inspired me, were the sounds of both the Cobain/grunge era and Led Zeppelin. The second was a TV show called “Firefly”. A space-western! What inspired me to write the lyrics, is just the concept of seeking something outside the norm. I try my best on whatever record I write, to stray away from typical lyrics like chasing love etc, because I feel there’s a lot of that stuff out there already. What I try to write about is determination and perseverance and that stuff is hard!
Q: Do you have any plans for the next year (any tours, more releases, music videos, etc?) if so, would Sydney be on your list of places to go?
A: I’ve got a tour coming up in the Spring around the US. I would love to get a gig somewhere in Sydney! That would actually be the second time I travelled overseas to play. The first being Belgium back in winter of 2011. Aside from that, I’m planning to shoot a video to Firefly or Deja Vu very soon before I leave for tour in the Spring.
Q: What does the Blues Rock genre mean to you?
A:To be honest, I’m just trying to keep certain sounds of the blues alive. As a guitar player, I’m primarily try to model myself after the guitarists from the 60s. However, on the album, you will hear sounds of the blues that dates back way further than that…like late 19th early 20th century blues. Particularly in the track “Freedom on the Train” I did it as a reminder of where we came from as a human race with hard times as well as an making a statement of “Stop trying to hurt the next person or throw them under the bus….regardless of background.”
Q: Being what I would classify as a guitar prodigy, which Blues/Rock guitar ‘gods’ have influenced you and how?
A: It started off with Ritchie Valens’ rock n roll. Rock n Roll’s inception is from a combination of Rhythm&Blues and Country Western music. Ritchie Valens, was a great guitarist actually. I’ve got a live performance of him performing at a high school and the guitar licks he would play in between songs in his setlist were amazing, especially for that era. Then, you get to the sixties, and you discover Hendrix, Clapton, and Page which for a while were my “Trio entity”, but David Gilmore, Santana, and countless others have opened my eyes to the potential that could possibly be explored on the guitar.
Q: And lastly, what do you believe are the 5 essential tracks that everyone should hear of yours?
A: Sure, they’re all from the album! Deja Vu, Behind Closed Doors, Obsessed Equilibrium, Firefly, and Different (Original Version) that version a bonus track on the album….Right now those seem to be my favorite.
After the interview, Newton also gave me a little insight into the astonishing meaning behind the album;
“The name of the album comes from my take on “blue eyed soul” in which back in the day they had white singers singing soul music. However I’m a black guy doing this blues rockish thing with soul and folk elements in it. Those genres are primarily Anglo Saxon based however it’s from the standpoint of a black guy doing it, hence why it’s Brown-Eyed Country Soul…“
Newton James is a godsend to the world of modern Blues, and an absolutely awesome guy! support him on his journey by checking out his music, following him on twitter and maybe even purchasing his album!
Peace, Love, and keep singin’ the Blues