Interview: Mikey Jukebox
I had a chance to converse with legendary Rochester native and musician Mikey James about growing up playing music, his work as a producer and his excellent new album!
You started playing drums with your dad in bars when you were really young, do you have a best memory of those days?
My best memory is getting up at one point to play “Walking on Sunshine”, by Katrina & the Waves, I believe probably eight years old. The drummer in my dad’s band was notorious for bad timing. My dad said, “Hey, let my son come up and play this one”, him knowing I was going to most likely “out-feel” this 30 year old guy. And I got up and played it well, and in time. Needless to say, the guy wasn’t happy, everyone was taking the piss out of him. I remember that guy scowling at me….
I love that in “Hello Daydreamer” you say, “Sound and Vision Here we are” as a reference to David Bowie, and you’ve said that ‘Station to Station’ era Bowie was very inspiring to you. What is it about that era that inspires you?
As a kid, my Uncle would feed me all the Bowie stuff, and for some reason “Stay” was my favorite song. Looking back now it’s not hard to see why, the groove is immense. And as a kid I was always infatuated with a drum pocket that felt great. The album is a perfect medley of all Bowie forms. The Kraut/Euro-rock, some glam, art-rock, some plastic soul… The whole thing is quite unsettling, a haunted collection of songs, unreal. Although, “Low” is my all time favorite.
You play all the instruments on each track, what is most satisfying about this approach to making music to you?
After years and years of debate and quarrels with players, friends, bands etc., it’s a total relief to walk into a studio and just play the idea you knew you wanted anyhow, instead of foot-stepping around on what someone else is playing or helping to add. I’ve always been in bands where one guy has the material, and has the others build stuff up around them. However, doing it alone is painstaking too, and I become far more obsessed with that “thing” I hear in my head and chasing it down. It took a lot of time, but I will say that after three years non stop in the studio, alone, I can really get stuff done quickly now.
Throughout your album the choruses are really catchy, what appeals to you about making songs irresistible to sing along?
I try and only put stuff on records, that to me, could be a single. I had that mentality when I did The Mercies record too. (I can send it over if you haven’t heard it). Going with this Mikey Jukebox idea, I knew I had a certain message I was going for. I wanted a return to Rock (Marshalls blaring Strats), but wanted to post modernize it, London ’72 meets nu-rave perhaps with (programmed 707’s, vintage synths and Oblique Strategies). And because of that I picked the songs I did. (Also why I say rock ‘n’ roll a whole bunch too). It wasn’t so much, “here’s my best choruses, let’s do these”, as it was, “this theme fits the vibe, let’s build up this one”. Being the first record, I wanted to make sure there was an elementary feel to it all, and the language. Dreamer, Radio, American, Baby, Ghost etc. It’s out of time now, but I feel like in ten/twenty years it’ll be cool that some crazy guy made a record like that.
You’ve probably been asked this already, but why is “Songs for Chuck Berry” so short? It’s staccato delivery and classic sound make it an album highlight for me.
That song came to me in a dream. It was a cool thing. I dreamt I was backstage somewhere, and he was sitting there in the green room, in a white suit. Just him and I. He said, “I hear you’re the new boy, show me what you got”. So, I played the verse. When I got to the chorus, he took the guitar and started singing, “We love to rock ‘n’ roll”…..I woke up and remembered it all. So when I recorded it, I left it exactly like the dream. There is a proper intro, and bridge, and have thought that if I could find a good re-mixer, it would be cool to add them in…
We don’t stop till the kids R Dancin” feels like the perfect combination of raw rock and dance-able disco. I’ve read that you like the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, are there any other disco records or artists that you’re inspired by?
I’m a true disco geek. I have been since the 10th grade. I used to have disco parties in the halls at school. Freaked people out. I think KC was as big a disco influence on me as anything. I owned every record at one point. The early stuff is the real deal. Giorgio Moroder of course. I love Kiss, so Dynasty and Unmasked were essentials. And I can’t forget the Casablanca Records Story Boxset, Alec Costandinos. And the sub-genres, Space Disco, Italo Disco, French House…..
Funny enough, when I wrote that track I was really into CSS, and was the moment I knew I wanted to make a solo record.
You’re producing The Demo’s next record, have you produced other bands in the past? Do you plan on doing more production in the future?
You know up until a few years ago, I was still pining hard to get signed, and re-established. Producing was to me a failure to achieve my goal. But at 34, I’ve realized bands and indie rock is truly is a young kids’ game. I had my run, and it was an amazing time. I’m by no means giving it up ever, but it does get harder year by year to get no return.
The Demos have been in my backing band for a few years (now I’m playing drums for them). Jay Milton, their singer/guitarist, is a great friend of mine, and I really love his songs. It only made sense for me to step into producing. I’m open to doing stuff for other bands if someone approached me.
Do you have any plans for next year? Or new year’s resolutions?
These days, I believe I’m making records with an author’s or film producer’s point of view. “Mikey” could be a one-off, I like the idea of starting a new premise/script or “film” instead of having to force my next record into being a Mikey Jukebox record. Though, there are sequels of course, so I’m sure I’ll make another one. (Mikey Jukebox to me is a 14 year old artsy geto kid who digs Johnny Rotten, so he’s gotta move outta the house at some point right?). But, I guess I’m a production junkie these days, more inspired by that than artists. At the moment, I’ve started some potential Mikey tracks, but am focused on a new project/record called, “Admirers”. It’s stripped down with female led vocals. It’s in the early stage but I’m reaching for a Cocteau Twins type vibe. We’ll see how it all goes, hopefully it’ll be around by the end of the year. Thanks for having me interview, and all the very best to you in the New Year!