LA based singer-songwriter James Houlahan is gearing up for the release of his new album ‘The Wheel Still in Spin‘, which will be his fourth album. ‘Memories of Outer Space‘ is the lead single from the album – it has a sound that is equal parts folk and dream pop, with the melody – fairly unusually -carried by glockenspiel and Fender Rhodes piano, contrasting with Houlahan’s dry vocal delivery over gently-strummed acoustic guitar.
James Houlahan also took some time out to answer a few questions for us on the album and his music in general.
James, what makes this record different than your previous efforts?
This is a simpler kind of sound. I tried to pare down to what was absolutely essential about each song. No frills. There are only three musicians and three vocalists total on the album. In comparison to my previous three albums, that’s a definite lurch towards simplicity. I wanted to make better use of silence and the space between notes.
I want to take the listener on a trip. I want my music to provide a certain kind of experience. We might be headed for some faraway, interesting places, so it’s best to pack light under those circumstances. I didn’t want to get bogged down in elaborate arrangements or ponderous textures. So we kept it as unadorned as possible, letting the melodies and lyrics bloom against a simple background.
How would you say that your songwriting evolved over the past few years?
I write songs in many different ways. Sometimes they show up in ten minutes, sometimes they take ten years. But the more I do this, the more I appreciate the mysterious aspects of songcraft. In my head, I get bits and pieces of songs. As if they existed somewhere else, and I’m only getting the pieces of the puzzle one at a time. It often takes patience and perseverance to fit the pieces together. It can a be a waiting game. Or, if I’m lucky, it’s a spontaneous burst of inspiration that takes no time at all. In the past few years, I’ve been learning to trust this strange process more. The more I think I know about songwriting, the deeper my appreciation grows for the mystery of it all.
On a more pessimistic note, it seems like we are living through some dark times. I know my own country is going through a kind of crisis right now. And people react to that differently. From my perspective, it’s an opportunity to question what I value most. And for me that boils down to the transformative aspects of music, traveling inward, trying to greet each personal demon with a laugh and a smile. If I can’t tame the monsters within, then I have no chance with monsters anywhere else. So I’m trying to live the best I can, doing the best work I can. It all runs together. And hopefully, that is going to be reflected in my songwriting.
Could you let us know a little about the people that worked with you on the album and how they contributed to the final sound?
I recorded this album with Fernando Perdomo at his Reseda Ranch Studios in Reseda, CA. Fernando is one of the most gifted musicians I have ever worked with, and he was a guiding force in making this record. He co-produced the album with me and contributed bass, keyboards, and other assorted instrumentation. In addition to his own singer-songwriter work, Fernando is busy establishing himself in the world of prog-rock. And at the same time, he manages to run his own studio, producing countless records, and playing in several local L.A. bands. He is a force to be reckoned with, and I was damn lucky to have his help in making this album.
Danny Frankel played drums and percussion on the album. I had Danny play on my last album (Multitudes) and this time around I wanted to feature his sound. He is truly an artist when it comes to percussion. Danny has played over the years with numerous greats including Lou Reed, k.d. lang, Nels Cline, and Fiona Apple. I remember John Peel somewhere saying that Captain Beefheart’s music was a “work of art” in the sense that artists working in other mediums would understand. In other words, it defies categorization and explores the unexplored with a creative sense of play and wonder. It goes beyond imagination into a serious soup of beauty, transformation, and liberation. Heavy stuff, maybe. But that reminds me of the kind of music Danny makes. It will transport you. Listening to him play is an extraterrestrial experience…he takes you out of this world! I am truly grateful to have him on this album.
I am also thrilled beyond measure to have Linda Perhacs on the album. She contributed vocals and lyrics to the song ‘Spirit/Music‘ which is itself based on a Gregory Corso poem. Linda is also a true artist, a literal visionary, and a beautiful spirit who emerged in 1970 with her masterpiece album ‘Parallelograms.’ Her music is ethereal and grounded at the same time, as paradoxical as that sounds. It is connected to this world and the next. She is a living legend, a true innovator. I’m very fortunate that she lent her voice to my album.