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Published: 2016/11/16
by Sami Promisloff

Jim James: Even Keeled

photo by Dean Budnick

It was a different world in mid-October when I had the chance to speak with Jim James about his new album Eternally Even, the various forces that brought it to life, and what the climate might look like by the time these new songs grace the public. Any person you’d spoken to that day – notable rock star or not – probably felt a vastness of hope for the future with a glimmer of fear in the midst. It’s alarming how this emotional ratio has so aggressively flipped for a healthy part of the population in the wake of this haunting, historical hand we’ve been dealt. However, it’s also for this reason that a work like Eternally Even is immediately elevated in its significance – energizing and healing a population foraging for a larger portion of hope to offset this severe toxicity of fright and panic.

Jim James’ perspective is certainly one that could use a brighter spotlight right now – impassioned with prevalence for goodness, beauty, fairness, and in the very least, decency. What follows is further fascinating insight into his creative process, inspiration-gathering, and where he seeks solace in the hope we can band together for a better world. And while that ideal might feel less achievable by the minute, it’s only with artistic bravery and intuition like James’ that can help start to steer the rest of us forward.

What do you think is the reason or force that keepings things from being “eternally even” in society?

Greed and fear. And lobbying. It always comes back to greed and fear. Like people who are really afraid to go talk to a therapist and see what their fucking issues are and deal with them. The greed from insurance companies and lobbyists and pharmaceutical companies… any reason why something like that still exists, like that we can’t take care of people with health care or any kind of racism or intolerance is all just fear. It’s all just old fear.

How have you grown as a musician yourself since you started putting more effort into producing for other artists?

I think it opens me up to the importance of having a producer for my stuff, because I feel like producing is such a metaphysical art form, cause often times you don’t literally do anything… you don’t play a guitar, you don’t sing… you’re there for the record – like this Jonny Fritz record I produced came out, and that record, technically, I really didn’t do anything at all. I was there the whole time directing the process and saying that I thought this sounded good, or this sounded bad, or lets do this, or lets do that, and I’ve realized with my record now, if you find a good producer that you vibe with, they can really help you take it from a B+ paper to an A+ paper – you get kind of blinded when you’re the artist, you’re playing everything. On Eternally Even, I’m doing everything, my head’s so deep in it, it’s like I can’t even see anymore. I feel like a producer helps you see, and I like doing that for other people too, because I feel like it’s so nice to have it not be about me. It’s not about my love, or my fears, or my thoughts. I love just being able to help other people focus on their energy.

How did you know co-producer Blake Mills was going to be the person to bring this album to the finish line?

I’d met him several times and I really love that Alabama Shakes record – I feel like that’s one of the most brilliant records of our generation… I had the record 80% done so I took it and played it for him, we had a good meeting, it felt like he had some good ideas right off the bat and I just felt like he could really help me. I really liked where it was but I had just been buried so deep in it, I feel like I could really use a fresh set of ears on it.

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