A Split Lip Exclusive Interview: Kenny James of A Beautiful Curse
With J. Scott Bugher
Hey Kenny. Thanks for hanging out with Split Lip for a while. What’s been going on?
Hello! Thank you for having me, I really appreciate it. What’s been going on? Ha!! That’s a big question. For the past couple of years I’ve found myself back in Colorado (this time in Colorado Springs), still doing the freelance/hired-gun musician thing as much as possible (mostly as a drummer). Being an hour away from where most of the action is happening (Denver) has made it tough but things are still moving along, mostly doing studio gigs. I’d love to do more live/touring stuff but if it’s supposed to happen, it will in time. On top of that, I’m going for a Masters in Music for Visual Arts as well (learning how to score movies, tv shows, learning how to compose better, etc.). It’s been really busy ‘round here but no complaints. Oh, and in the meantime, I’m writing and recording A Beautiful Curse music as well. Guess it beats being bored, huh? Hahaha.
Mind giving us some background on A Beautiful Curse?
A Beautiful Curse, for now, is a one-man project that’s based off of my need to get songs I’ve written out to the world. It originally started as a project called “My Drama” (ugh. Awful name) that was really only interested in creating songs to be licensed for TV shows and commercials, maybe a movie soundtrack, etc. But as the writing continued, the thought of it being an actual band reared its ugly head.
Working on the debut release, As It Should Be, I had the pleasure of working with guitar/audio engineer wizard Brian Skeel who contributed to re-naming the project: A Beautiful Curse (he came up with the Curse bit). I asked him to join the band and to help with the writing, which he did. He made strong contributions to songs like “On The Other Side," “Forever” and a few more as well. Once we finished mixing the release in 2008, he decided to do his own project, which left A Beautiful Curse as a one-man-band again.
We’ve heard you’ve been busy producing three EPs, which will later be put together as a whole body of work. Want to tell us more about that?
Sure. Actually, the EPs are a product of guilt really. A Beautiful Curse’s debut came out in 2009, so we’re talking 4 years ago, which in my eyes is far too long in between releases, hence the guilt. I’ve stated that other releases were coming out here and there but they never came to fruition for various reasons. So, now that there’s more stability, I wanted to finally actually release SOMETHING. Rather than have people wait another year or so to release a full-length thing, I decided to do little bits at a time in the form of these EPs, and hopefully have the culmination of the EPs (plus a handful of other songs) be released at some point next year in a full-length release. People will forget about you if you’re silent for too long unless you’re a band that’s well established already (like Portishead or Massive Attack or…). So, if every few months a new ABC product of some sort is released, then people will get a friendly reminder of our existence now and then.
Don’t be quick to judge, but from what we’ve seen and heard, the forthcoming EPs and full-length album are “conceptual” considering there not much of a uniform sound to the body of work as a whole and even the titles of each piece—The EP Chapter 3: Salvation and the full-length A Scar is Born—sound so, we don’t know, open-ended? Is A Scar is Born going to be arranged in different chapters, like the stages of coping with a “scar” whether metaphorically or literally? And if we’re way off by calling this project “conceptual,” please let us know!
It’s funny that you mention quick judgment because that’s a small part of what this collection of songs has to deal with. A Scar is Born is the title for the full-length release coming out in 2014 and it is a concept release only in my head really. The collection of songs were all written/conceived while I was in Afghanistan from 2010 – 2011 and they range from the initial emotion of being told that I was going there in 2010, all the way through the night in 2011 being on the plane on the way back to the States. And yes, the title is a metaphor—a personal metaphor actually.
Going through the song ideas once I got back home, it seemed there were three mental states throughout that whole “adventure." The first was the “Tension” (having to go, concerned what it was going to be like, unhappy at my life’s turn of events, and the quick judgment/ignorance I had on the people there), the “Pain” (belief that I was suffering throughout the ordeal: partly spiritually, partly mentally, partly physically), and then the “Salvation” (seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and realizing that I’ve made it through and was coming home). A Scar is Born might be listed as three chapters but listening to the whole thing, someone who hasn’t read the track listing may not even notice except for the temper of the collection of songs within each chapter.
I’m trying to stay away from calling “…Scar…” a concept album though and to be honest, there’s no real reason why. I’d rather not give the listeners that preconceived notion. It would be better to just to vibe on the songs as individual statements rather than songs that need the other songs to lean on. But definitely personally, they’re created within a concept.
And as for the sound uniformity, I don’t think I could ever create a release with a “uniform sound” being a fan of so many different genres of music that influence the writing depending on my mood at the time. So, for example, “This Kiss” was a solemn piece and all that I could hear that fit the lyrics and the emotion was old country and blues music. That song was what I was feeling when the Afghanistan assignment was given to me. It’d be a crime if the song was turned into some dance number or something just so that it might fit with some of the other songs. I try to write with emotions on my sleeve and if that means a variety of genres, so be it. At least it’s true to the emotion at the time of the writing. I’ve heard, many number of times, that having varied genres on a release will turn fans off because it’s not so easy to categorize, and to be honest, I’m very cool with that. I hate categories and genres anyway. To me, a release is a snapshot of time: what the artist was feeling and thinking at the time, and that shouldn’t be altered just to fit in (with the artists’ other works or with whatever genre is popular at the time, or whatever). What a person hears/sees with ABC is the honest emotion during its creation. If you listen to early Ben Harper or early Tricky or even early Funkadelic (to name a few), they gave you all kinds of genres on one release. On the first listen, you’re never sure what the next song is going to be like and I love that. Their sound was NOT to be uniform but to write from the heart at the present time regardless of the genre. ABC’s uniformity is its honesty at a certain point in time even at the risk of not being conveniently pigeonholed. It just takes an open mind, tolerance, and the willingness to not categorize to get into it I guess. Hopefully ABC’s varied emotional release won’t change, much to the chagrin of a lot of people. Hahahaha.
You have quite a cast of characters playing on these songs. Why such a diverse crowd of musicians. We noticed a different lineup on each song on Chapter 3: Salvation.
I guess it’s a part of each song’s individuality. With each song I hear different sounds/different ways to play particular lines/different vibes, etc. Just about anyone can play “Mary Had A Little Lamb” but everyone who can play it plays it differently. When B.B. King plays a G#, you KNOW it’s B.B. King playing that G#. When The Edge plays the same note, it sounds differently than Mr. King and on and on. As far as ABC’s songs in particular, each song has a part or whatever that I hear a particular “voice." It’s not always about how many notes a musician can play and/or how fast, etc., but about HOW that musician plays those notes; what they naturally bring to the table. And each musician that came in to do stuff on this release has the voice that was needed for each song. It’s such a blessing to have these people on these recordings, for them to take time out from their schedules and their lives to even want to be a part of this. To find talented people who have particular voices is one thing. It’s on a higher level of appreciation to actually get to work with those people on your stuff. Sounds dumb or whatever but I feel so blessed getting to work with every one of these people and making the songs come to life. I can’t thank them enough to get my appreciation across properly.
So, an upcoming song, one not included in Chapter 3, will be appearing in an upcoming film called American Terror? Sounds exciting.
Yes, very exciting. The song “Ashes” is in the upcoming feature film “An American Terror” which is supposed to come out really soon from what I hear. “Ashes” isn’t going to be included in the “…Chapter 3: Salvation” release except as a video. For whatever reason, it didn’t feel good to include on the EP other than as a video with this great time-lapse footage, but the song will be part of the full length A Scar Is Born though and it’s an integral part to the whole story/collection.
As for its inclusion in the movie, I sent a few songs to the screenwriter, Haylar Garcia, saying something along the lines of “…just in case you may need a song or two for your movie, here are some of my new bits that hopefully may fit for you…” and sure enough, he picked “Ashes” even though it wasn’t completed yet. It’s funny because I don’t really see ABC music taking part in a horror movie but in this case, it works. It’s been said that ABC’s music could easily be a part of a movie soundtrack or score or whatever but horror…? Shows what I know, huh? Hahaha. Can’t wait for the movie to be released, actually I can’t wait to finally see the thing in the first place (hint hint, Haylar). ABC has had songs from the debut “As It Should Be” on TV shows around the world but this is the first to be included in a feature film. Another blessing.
Sounds like good things are in the works, and we appreciate you giving Split Lip the opportunity to preview the work. Anything you’d like to add about the album or A Beautiful Curse in general?
Well first, thank you again for giving A Beautiful Curse the time of day and I’m glad that you’re interested in the project. There’s a lot of excitement here for the release of “A Scar Is Born: Chapter 3: Salvation” coming in March (provided all goes as planned) and for the upcoming EPs being released as the year goes on. Since there’s so much work to do before the full length A Scar Is Born comes out in 2014, the full release is put on a temporary back burner but nonetheless, this is going to be a great year-plus coming up. Hopefully there’ll be a live band to bring this multi-media dream to reality for everyone. Time will tell but in the meantime, this life is too much fun.
Thanks, Kenny. We wish you well.
Thank YOU very much. All the best to you.