We had a minute to sit down with Nicholas St. James after his Classroom Series last Thursday, and he was gracious enough to answer a few of our questions. If you want to keep updated with his shows, music, etc. you can visit his Facebook page for information. Keep checking in to see the Classroom Series, which will be posted soon.
I noticed your blue, green, and red stripe in your logo. Does that mean anything?
It [does]. It’s in five places right now within four feet of my reach. It’s a reminder for something. Going back to my formative years. I have a logo and this is in it, but it’s more of a personal thing. This is going to sound so [conceited] but it has nothing to do with Nicholas St. James the brand. It’s a complete personal thing and I just put it on all my [stuff].
What artists would you say you are similar to, or get inspiration from?
If anybody ever takes issue with you asking that question, that helps people know what somebody sounds like. Tom Waits is a huge, huge, huge one for me. The Kills would probably be a more recent example. I don’t really sound like them of course but I love the simplicity and the blusey thing. I’d hate to say The Black Keys and The White Stripes because again, I love the two bands but that’s not really what I do, but the blues influence I love. Bob Dylan of course. Delta blues stuff like Woody Guthrie, Skip James, Sunhouse, R.L. Burnside, things like that. Old things are really a simpler kind of music. Pink Floyd, I love them and the theatrical nature of their show is something I would love to try and pull off. But yeah, like I said, Delta Blues stuff, early rock and roll. Cab Calloway and Tom Waits and Bob Dylan would be the simple answer. I seem to get that comparison a lot, which is awesome, ’cause they both rule. Bob Dylan is a national treasure. When he dies they need to freeze his body so they can bring him back once we figure out the technology. I’m telling you the truth.
What is this album like in comparison to what you’ve done before, and what should people expect before hearing it?
It’s not happy. What we did for the live show is, I came out and did a solo song from my EP, and then we did the record. But before every song on the record, there’s ten songs, there was a little story. So instead of me doing banter between the songs it was completely orchestrated where there was a guy, a narrator, who came out and read a little part of the story, then I played a song, then a little part of the story, then I’d play a song. And the story had a little bit to do with what the songs were about. And somebody had told me “The story between the songs is really sad. Like all of it.” And I was like, “Oh yeah? Did you listen to the record at all?” So I would say don’t expect any uplifting numbers. A lot of my songs, hopefully it’s all ambiguous enough where people can put themselves into the story. They’re definitely storytelling, folk songs. But they’re all observation songs, just like “Oh, this is [messed] up.” So there’s that. It’s a live record, so don’t expect it to be polished. I love the way it sounds sonically. It works. It sounds much larger as well than it is. It doesn’t sound like three people, it sounds huge. We recorded it to sound that way as well. And it sounds like me. Again, if you’ve never seen me before, if you’ve seen me a million times, if you’ve only seen me Youtube, whatever, it sounds like me. That’s my favorite part about it.
Do you prefer to have a big crowd when you perform, or do you prefer a smaller, more inimate setting?
There’s a difference. Playing something like Auntie Mae’s or playing something like the Wareham. This is different because everyone here [at the Classroom Series] is working. I’m playing for a camera, which is a souless, inanimate object. Obviously I agreed to do this and I’m looking foward to seeing the video, but as far as performance goes that’s awful. So then it’s like you said, big crowd or little crowd? Well if it’s a little crowd in a big theater that’s devastating. But if it’s a big crowd in a small space that’s hard. So it depends. You always want to play in front of the most people. If I was one of those people that had horrendous stage fright and got nervous before I played I wouldn’t do it, but I get a rush. When I get up there it’s like I have this box, and I can do whatever I want to do in this box for forty-five minutes, an hour, however long, and you can’t come up here. Now if I do something stupid I won’t be asked back, so I have to keep some sort of pop sensibility in the sense that- you know I’m not pop. But I can’t just go up there and do avant garde body painting on myself. No one’s going to come, I’m not going to be asked back, so you have to be aware of that. Big crowd, small crowd, as long as people are paying attention, you obviously want to play to the larger crowds. But, by playing to a smaller crowd it’s better to grab people in. I’ve played big stages before where I am a hundred yards away from the person in the back. How am I going to reach that person, you know? So it’s easier to do a smaller venue, especially at somewhere like [Auntie] Mae’s, where the closest person is going to be closer than you and I are right now. They’ll be right there, and that’s cool. Always good to play in front of more people, it means you’re doing something right. But you obviously prefer to play a manageable-sized room, a full, manageable-sized room.
Last question. What is your view on Power Kittens?
My view on Power Kittens is that I think they should
exist! KU has Baby Jay, why can’t K-State have Power Kittens? Let me tell you this idea. KU usually just has a costume for one, but in the pictures you see the big Jayhawk, and then four or five little Jayhawks behind it. K-State has the Powercat. I think there should be Power Kittens. Here’s how you do this. At the football game, it’d be great if it was vs. KU. So there’s this big football game and it’s halftime, and [Willie’s] out there doing his thing, and then all of a sudden this box comes out. But this box is huge because there are four to six grown men in kitten costumes in this box, and it’s being carried by ten to twelve other grown men. But from afar it looks like a big box of kittens, which is adorable, and then you bring the box of kittens to the Powercat, then you have the Powercat, and Power Kittens.