James: WA State, Port Orchard.
V: How long have you been playing music?
James: I started playing guitar when I was 12 years old, so almost 24 years now.
V: How did you get into it?
James: I started playing guitar because of Metallica.
V: But you play Country…
James: I play Country, Jazz, Rockabilly, Metal, Punk… I just love music. I started playing guitar because of the ‘Master of Puppets’ album. I was… I still am a huge metal head, but yeah. That’s why I started playing guitar.
V: So, you obviously listened to Metallica growing up. Who were some of the others? Did you listen to a little of everything?
James: When I was first starting to play, I was pretty rigid. Was really into Metal, almost exclusively. But, I grew up in a house that had a lot of music in it. My mom was a hippie, basically, when she was younger and did a lot of cool 60’s stuff. She was into Jazz and stuff, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and stuff like that. My dad was pretty much into old country and old rock and roll. So I grew up with kind of a mix from psychedelic stuff, hippie music, to Johnny Cash and Elvis and stuff like that. And it’s ironic because I love all that stuff today, and I loved it when I was little. When I first started playing guitar I was rebelling. I wanted everything to be super loud and fast. My parents hated it and that made me love it more.
V: How do you classify the music you play? Is it straight country or more old time?
James: Um, I don’t know. I’ve thought about that because I kind of mix it up. I play some definite country stuff, some originals that are country and I do some Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash. I think it’s kind of a mix of country and folk and blues. All those elements are in there. There’s also some pop elements, too. I like really strong melodies and that probably comes from The Beatles influence, Ramones, The Misfits, stuff like that. I like to think it’s all an influence in one way, shape, or another. Even if I write a song that sounds really country, I might have been listening to death metal that was inspiring that.
V: When you play shows, like last night was a perfect example (referring to a show with The Henchmen and The Peacocks). What are the types of people you see in the crowd? Last night it was just a mish-mosh of everybody. Does it vary from time to time? Does it change depending on who else is on the bill for the night?
James: It can vary a lot. It depends on the type of gig I’m doing, too. A lot of times I’ll play psychobilly shows or rockabilly shows or more country shows. And that mixes up the crowd right there. Other times I do a thing where I’m the hired entertainment for a bar to where it might just be an average crowd that doesn’t listen to what I’m doing. I try to mix it up depending on the crowd that I’m playing to. It can be quite varied, and I enjoy it when it is varied because I try to vary my influences in what I’m doing. I’d like to think that even when I’m playing by myself with an acoustic guitar, that someone who likes old country music will hopefully dig it. If they like pop, they will find something they dig. If they like punk, they’ll hear the Misfits cover and dig that. I definitely am doing what I’m doing and try not to get too far out. I think the songs work well together. I’ve been lucky that way in that I can link up to different crowds, and can usually do ok.
V: Have you been doing the solo thing ever since you got into music or were you in a band when you were young? What possessed the solo career?
James: My first band was in 1987 when I was 13 or 14 and it was a total thrash speed metal kind of thing. I’ve played in tons of metal and punk bands over the years. Somewhere between 25 and 30 bands over the years, mostly playing guitar, but I’ve played drums in a few bands too.
V: All these bands you’ve played in, were they a varied mix of stuff?
James: Some of them. A lot of them were pretty stylized. Like when I played drums in a hardcore punk band, everything was hardcore punk. And the solo thing, I’ve always loved Elvis, old rock and roll, old country. I grew up on it. I used to play it by myself because I liked it. When I first started doing the solo thing was probably, I’m guessing, maybe 12 or 13 years ago. It was just kind of a fluke. Someone happened to have an acoustic guitar, and at the end of the show, someone was like “Hey James. Play some Elvis songs!” I just kind of did it to appease my friends, at first. I was there and it just kind of happened. And the more I would do that, the more I fell in love with doing it. As I got older and wasn’t quite so rigid. I wasn’t just that kid I was talking about earlier with the speed metal punk, everything “fuck you!” I started revisiting the stuff I had grown up on. I love it all. I just love music. I joke with people telling them that I love everything from Doris Day to Deicide, and it’s true. I don’t care what the genre is. If it’s got some feeling, some heart and soul, or the musicianship is good, or a combination, I dig it. Whether it’s Metallica or N.W.A. I hope I didn’t go too far…
V: (laughing) It’s ok!
James: I talk a lot, so you gotta keep me on track. Anyway, the solo thing. I first started doing the solo thing just a little bit here and there. I just started doing it more and more and I’ve enjoyed it more as time has gone by. At first I was incredibly nervous to do it by myself. It’s tougher when it’s just you up there. A band can be a support group. You have each other, even if it’s a shitty night. You can play for each other and survive. When you’re by yourself, it can be terrifying. If people aren’t digging it, it can be a long night. But the more I’ve done it, I’ve fallen in love with it. Especially in recent years. I’ve just started touring with in the last year doing my solo thing and I’m amazed at how accessible it can be. If you’re playing at a venue, even if you’re playing by yourself, if you’re playing something that has a country feel, or old rock and roll feel, or blues feel, and you mix it up like that, chances are there is going to be someone in the crowd who will appreciate it. And even if they don’t like the style of it… my big thing is that if you put your heart and soul into it, you can’t go wrong. If you’re honest with it and true about it, it’s real. Even if people don’t like it or people want to hear punk rock, they’re more likely to appreciate it. I know I vibe on that when I’m watching a band. I don’t care how good they are. Usually you can tell who is sincere about it and who isn’t. You can tell the bands that are just going through the motions or if they are really feeling it because they love it. I do it because I love it. It’s my life. My passion. I totally put my heart and soul, everything, blood sweat and tears, into it when I do it. And I think people can usually vibe on that.
V: I noticed last night, some of your lyrics are pretty intense. Does that come from personal experiences?
James: Most of it. Whether it’s from a direct personal life experience, which a lot of it is. It’s very autobiographical, since it’s my life.
V: Does that scare you to put it all out there? You’re telling thousands of people your life story. Doesn’t that scare you a little?
James: I think, initially, it did. It took me awhile to get to this point. I think I’m more personal, and real, and a better songwriter now than I was when I was younger, because I let it all hang out that way. Now, I don’t know how else to do it. There’s no other way. It has to be real. I can’t just sit down… I can do that and have done it in the past, just to sit down and write a song about cars or about a girl who is imaginary. It comes off contrived. I have to have my heart behind it. It has to hit me, or come from me on some personal level or else I don’t enjoy performing it.
(Interjection from, and after being mooned by, Darren of Section 08 Productions)
James: So, I guess I’m playing tonight.
V: Awesome! Get to see you again! So, I know you currently play with The Revolvers from Seattle and I know you just joined up with Wayne Hancock, which is awesome. How did that come about?
James: My buddy, Dean Giles, who plays upright bass in The Revolvers, he really got it going. He got to know Wayne’s wife, Gina, through doing booking, and found out that Wayne needed a guitar player and Dean recommended me and told me “hey man you should do this”. My initial reaction was like “Yeah, right”, you know, he’s gonna’ get some bad ass guy from Texas or something. Somebody that’s well known and really good would jump at this because it’s a really cool opportunity. So, I didn’t really think I had a chance. I don’t know if Gina got a hold of me, or if I emailed her, but they had heard my stuff online and really liked what they heard and wanted to hear a little bit more. Because my music on the Myspace, it’s stripped down, three chords. It’s not really flashy guitar, which is basically what I do when I do my solo thing. They wanted to hear me do some flashy picking and play what a lead guitar player would play. So, my brother filmed me, just playing guitar, 10 or 15 minutes, just goofing around, and made a little three or four minute long Youtube clip of me playing some guitar. I did some jazzier stuff, some old school hillbilly jazzy kind of stuff, and did a little Django Reinhardt stuff, a little gypsy jazz, just to kind of show what I could do that might work for what Wayne’s doing and be tasteful. And Joe Buck, also, recommended me. When Joe (Buck) called me about it, that’s when I knew it was serious, because I know they know each other, and have toured together. And after I put the clip up, Gina emailed me saying that I had the job, which my head is still spinning. It’s a big deal and it happened so quickly. It was a week of talking, then all of a sudden, boom! A week later I flew down to Austin, TX. A week ago, today actually, I just got back to WA from the tour.
V: How was the tour?
James: It was awesome! It was a lot of fun, but it was also terrifying. I went into it really green. I know some of Wayne’s songs, but not a lot of the material. And was only able to get a hold of one album before I flew down. So, I was going into it not knowing nine out of ten songs we played. So that was nerve wracking. It’s fun, but, you know. Doing that with my buddies, it’s one thing to wing stuff. But playing with Wayne Hancock in front of a decent sized crowd, and everybody knows the songs, and wants to hear the songs, and I don’t know the songs… it was terrifying at times and I definitely had the dear in the headlights look a lot, but it was a ton of fun. Wayne’s a great guy. Huck Johnson, upright bass player, is an awesome guy. Bob Hoffnar, the new steal player, they’re all great guys, talented guys, so it’s an honor to play with them.
V: That’s awesome! So, how did The Revolvers thing start? If you were digging the solo thing… which came first, the chicken or the egg?
James: I was doing my solo thing before The Revolvers started, and The Revolvers started, actually I guess, as a result of me doing the solo thing and different bands that I’ve played in. I played in a band called ‘The Hatchet Wounds’ at the time. I was an all girls psychobilly band, surf rock, really cool band. I was the drummer. We used to say I was the ugly girl on the drums. We used to play with Hard Money Saints, a lot. I got to know Dean, who was playing in a band called ‘Ludwig’s Van’ and we’d play shows together and we all really got along well. And I had done my solo thing before the shows and they had seen my do my solo thing, too, and we talked like “man, maybe we should do this as a band”. And it materialized that way. Think The Revolvers started about three years ago and Dean’s the one who really got that going. Once again, buddy Dean. He’s the go-getter. At first it was just James Hunnicutt… I can’t remember what we called it, if it was just James Hunnicutt, but we had a band. And I was like “well, it should be called something”, but I didn’t know what to call it, because I had never been in a band that was like ‘Me and the some things’. Dean came up with the revolvers name, because, basically, it was a revolving line up. There were a number of guys from different bands that would sit in with us. Some nights it would be a three piece, some nights a five piece. A lot of different people have played. If you look at The Revolvers page on Myspace, it lists the people that have sat in with us. Joe Buck actually sat in with us. He played drums with us once when the other guy couldn’t make it, which it was just kick ass. And he was just like he is, too. We’d get done playing an Eddie Cochran song and he’d be like “fuck yeah, mother fuckers!”. So, it was a lot of fun! And I like the name ‘The Revolvers’, too, because it’s a revolving line up, so it worked that way, plus revolvers, like pistols, which fits the country/rockabilly thing we’re doing. Dean came up with the name and I was like “yeah, that’s cool!”. So, that’s how that worked.
V: When did music become your job? At what point were you able to say “I’m done working 8-5. This is my life”.
James: I think I knew that a long time ago, but when I actually took the plunge and left my job… I had a really good job, working in a government ship yard in WA state, and I was making decent money, benefits, and just a real secure job. It was about two years ago.
V: So, you’re fairly new to this.
James: Yeah. As far as doing the full time musician thing and trying making a living at it, it’s definitely a newer thing. I think it was the beginning of July 2007 when I left my job, and I had worked there about eight or nine years and had put a decent amount into retirement. So, it was kind of a scary thing…
V: It must have been one of the scariest moments…
James: My parents weren’t happy. They were like “What are you doing?! You’ve got this job and you’re going to leave it?!”. But it kind of got to the point where I had hurt myself a couple times on the job and messed up my knee. Ended up having to have knee surgery twice. I was in the injured workers program there and was kind of thinking about and realized that I didn’t want to be back out doing what I had done to get hurt. I’m just going to hurt myself again. I don’t like my job. Never liked any job I’ve had. Music is my life and it’s been my life ever since I started playing. I was a balanced kid. I got good grades, was into art, sports, everything. Once I started playing guitar all that went away. Music just completely took over. So, it’s been my calling and my passion ever since I started doing it. And I thought about it and was like you know… you love this, it’s who you are. You’re living two lives right now, because at the time I was playing between 100 and 150 shows a year and working a full time job, pulling overtime. There were days where I wouldn’t sleep. I would play shows and be on 12 hour shifts and not sleep at all. Without the benefit of any substances, I was living like a zombie. And it was like I was living two lives at once. And so I thought about all that and realized that I was living two lives at once, burning the candle at both ends to a ridiculous level. Something’s gotta give and it sure as hell isn’t going to be the music. What are you waiting for? You’re still relatively young, I was 33 when I left, and you’re as good as you’re probably ever going to be, you’re at the top of your game as a musician/singer, you’re playing a lot, what are you waiting for? So, it was a no-brainer. I had to do this. And the last two years have been the best years of my life.
James: Oh yeah! I’ve gone on, don’t know how many tours, maybe six, seven, eight tours. I’ve seen a good chunk of the country. I’ve made some amazing friends. Like being in Bozeman, I’ve got some really great friends here. And if you don’t do that, you don’t get to meet those people. Touring is like, the ultimate. I get to do what I love in a different town every night. It’s the coolest thing in the world.
V: So, what would you say to the younger generation if they wanted to pursue music? Any advice?
James: Just to be true to yourself. Follow your heart. Do what you love & do it because you love it. Don’t do it because you think it’s going to be popular or because someone else tells you to do it this way… Music is really selfish at its core. Like, I mean, I love the effect, like the sharing and the response I get from people and when people enjoy my music. But at the end of the day, I play the songs I play because I love them. I’m not trying to appease an audience. Or that’s not my goal, to reach the audience. That’s the coolest side effect of it. When I’m lucky, that comes. If I can touch people, that’s the ultimate reward for what I do. But ultimately, I do what I do because I love it. Because it comes from my heart and I write these songs because they’re real. They are who I am. And to me, that’s the greatest thing you can do as an artist or musician. You have to be true to yourself. Find what you love and do what you love and put all of yourself into that. Put your heart and soul into it. Don’t hold back. Don’t try and be what you think the next big thing is going to be. I believe that artists who do that are miserable. It’s like a soulless business if you’re into that. It’s like a dog and pony show. If you’re doing something that your heart isn’t totally into, how really satisfying or rewarding can that be? I’m rewarded every night because I get to do what I love and I love what I do. Whether there’s hundreds of people there, or two people there, if I make good money or if I’m broke. At the end of the day, I do it because I love it and it’s cool. I guess that’s a long-winded answer, but it would be to do it because you love it and do what you love. Don’t try and be this or try and be that. Stay true to yourself and go with it. And don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t do it. That feeds my fire if someone tells me that this won’t work or you can’t do that. Fuck you! I can. I am doing it, and I will continue to do it! Be true and persevere. Don’t let setbacks set you back. Don’t have false pretenses about touring because touring is rough when you start. A lot of bands, the first tour will break them.
James: I’ve seen it a lot! I have friends that have done it. You play around your home town and you become a home town hero and you play a lot and maybe you were successful. People know who you are, you’re making good money. You’re popular. You’ve got a good fan base. You’re doing really well. And then you go out on the road and you’re thinking it’s going to be that way and it’s not. It’s going to be rough. You’re going to play places where nobody knows you. They might not even care. It will be very disheartening if you have that false sense of what it’s going to be like.
V: So, don’t do it for the fame?
James: Definitely not! Don’t do it for the fame or recognition or the money or the sex and the drugs. Even if that is there, it’s not going to make you a happy person. You’re going to be miserable or die of an overdose or of a disease or whatever.