New Jersey Stage

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

James Maddock Finds His Music Community

By Gary Wien

On Saturday, February 25, James Maddock returns to Asbury Park for an early show at The Saint. The British born singer-songwriter was first recognized in the USA as lead singer of the band Wood who released Songs From Stamford Hill on Columbia Records in 1999. That album contained the hit track "Stay You" which was included in the first Dawson's Creek compilation. Maddock resurfaced a few years ago with the acclaimed Sunrise On Avenue C disc and released a followup, Wake Up And Dream last year.

Doors open at 6pm with admission $15. The night also features two great Jersey artists -- Frank Lombardi and Williamsboy. For more information, visit http://www.thesaintnj.com

Now living in New York City, NewJerseyStage.com had the opportunity to speak with Maddock about his career, music communities, and how the wall between artists and their fans has largely been torn down within the past decade.

You've played several shows in Asbury Park in the last few years and recently featured a picture of Madame Marie's on your Facebook page. Is there any sort of special connection to Asbury Park for you?
Well, obviously there's the town's kind of legendary status -- I mean, I've always loved the sound from that area whether it's Bruce or Southside Johnny. I even had a Southside Johnny tribute band when I was 17 or 18 in Leicester. So, from that sense there's a connection to the area and then there's the Light of Day show where I've played with guys like Joe D'Urso and Willie Nile (though I know he's not from there). I've done a bunch of gigs around town, so I kind of know the area a little bit.

After your had some success with your band Wood, you sort of took a little time off before putting out your first solo record (Sunrise On Avenue C) and then released the latest album fairly soon after. Were you writing those years you weren't really in the public eye?
Oh, yeah. I'm always writing. The Wood album came out in 1999. Afterwards I did a second, sort of aborted album on Columbia before leaving those guys around 2003-2004. I first moved to New York at that time. I was kind of regrouping, trying to figure out what I was gonna do next. I moved to the city and didn't know anybody, then I moved to Texas for a year. I was all over the place really, but all of the time I was writing. I'm a songwriter and I'm always trying to write good songs and do my best to continually write.

Do you think your songwriting has changed over the years?
Yeah, I mean I hope so. I don't think I really wrote a decent song until I was in my thirties. I've been writing all of the time since I was a kid, but when I listen to the stuff I don't really like what I did in that time. I kind of got it together in my thirties.

I don't know if I'm better, I think you just do what you do and you apply a sort of criteria to your songwriting that feels right at the time. It's an art, not a science. I like to think the songs are better now. My new single, "My Old Neighborhood," is one I actually love. I think it's one of the best things I've ever done and it's a recent song. It just kind of came out of nowhere.

What's it like being a musician in New York City as opposed to London?
The difference between New York and London for me is community. I never felt a sense of community musically in London. I was never part of any scene. I was never a guy that was going to be on the front page of the NME. I was never indie rock. I did what I did and I did ok. I moved to New York and I found this scene of people essentially built around Rockwood Music Hall, which is the venue I play at in the East Village. That place has really become the focus for a lot of singer-songwriter musicians in New York. We've been able to build a sense of community that is so important for musicians to have. That's the biggest difference for me. It's the sense of community that I have here. I can go down there and see musicians that I've played with and we all know each other. It's a real sense of belonging.

I've spoken with people who have been in New York for 20-30 years and they say this is a new era. They say it's much better than it's been for many years. It's a great sense of community.

Speaking about community, you're an artist that uses a lot of the current avenues available (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, PledgeMusic.com ) to help build a community with your fans. Do you notice these things bringing you closer to them?
Definitely. I mean, back in the 80s and 90s it was all about getting a record deal. You didn't think you could actually function without a record deal. Everything was centered around trying to get the A&R man to come down to your gig. Everything was focused on that goal. One of the things that the last 10 years has shown is that you don't have to do that anymore. You kind of do it yourself up to a point. So, that's a big change and Facebook has been a big part of that for me. It's a very active way for me to relate to the fans and get people interested me because I take an interest in them as well. They'll write to me and I'll write back to them. If they ask me a question, I'm very much engaged in it.

The fact that we've been able to raise money for the records is very important. Records tended to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and I've certainly spent that kind of money (not my own money) on records in the past, but you don't have to do that anymore. You can make a record for far, far less. If you've got $5,000 dollars, you can make a record for $5,000 dollars. If you've got $500 dollars you can make it for $500 dollars if you have to.

The Wake Up And Dream record was totally funded by my fans. It's very humbling that they do that and you feel very responsible for the money, you don't want to let anybody down. People work hard for their money and when they give you their money you have to be very careful how you use it. But it's a wonderful thing. I don't know how I could have possibly -- well, I simply could not have made the record without them. 

Another way you're helping to bridge the gap between artists and fans is by encouraging the audience to tape and share live recordings. Artists seem to be split on this issue, what led you to go the taping route?
Well, I don't see anything wrong with it. I remember going to gigs in the past where bootlegging was very frowned upon. If you sneaked a tape recorder into a gig and the security people caught you they'd take you outside, smash your gear, and maybe even rough you up. But nowadays anyone can record anything with a cell phone. What are you going to do - take people's cell phones from them when they go to a gig? Those days are gone...

If people are interested enough in me to bring cameras and want to film the gig, I like to see it because it helps me judge what I'm doing. I can see what we're doing on stage, see what it looks and sounds like and learn from it. I can think, "ok that works better than that; that's a really good version of that song; and what's that thing doing there?" Louis Armstrong used to tape every gig he ever did. He would listen to the recordings meticulously every night and try to listen to the things that worked and what didn't and learn from those performances. That's one of the reasons I like for it to be done -- I like to see what it sounds like from the fan's perspective.

I mean, what are you going to do? Start shouting at people from the stage because they've got a camera? C'mon, who do you think you are? You're not Tom bloody Cruise...

Well, I wouldn't imagine Tom Cruise doing this, but I noticed you've also done a bunch of house concerts. What are those experiences like for you? Those shows really let the audience get up and personal with you.
Yeah, they're a bit weird. The first time I did them it was spooky because everybody's right there. You're in someone's living room and there's people sitting right in front of you -- they couldn't be any closer. But I got used to it. It's a great way to meet people and for people to meet me. I can be very lucrative as well. You can make some decent money with house concerts. The people buy CDs and they'll talk to you. It's lovely to meet the people. Everybody is always really nice.

It should be a great night at the Saint and we're glad to have you back in town. We've sort of got an extended scene in Asbury. Many artists from New York City and Philly become part of our extended scene. With your previous shows and the Light of Day experience, I think you're part of that scene as well now.
I'd love to think so. The people at Light of Day and others have made me feel very welcome in Asbury Park. I felt very privileged to be a part of that. I do love that music and I'm a huge Springsteen fan so to be there and to be part of that was very special. And I love the Saint. I think it's a terrific venue. It reminds me a bit of CBGB's. I think it's a perfect place and I love Scott and Meg who run it. They've been so good to me. I really want to get out there as often as I can, build a presence there, and make a connection to the people of Asbury Park. Musically, I feel very close to it.