Genre Spanning Sax Master Makes “Contact”

Monday, November 14, 2011 12:08

An Interview With Boney James

by: Casey Pukl

I’m always honored to interview the incredible artists that play here at Anthology. Boney James is no exception. With over three million copies of his twelve albums sold, four certified Gold albums, three Grammy nominations, a Soul Train Award, and an NAACP award nomination, James has plenty to be proud of.

His latest release, Contact, has been nominated for a Soul Train Award, and has also received much critical acclaim. The album covers new ground for James, who is constantly striving to innovate and span across genres. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to talk to Boney James about his latest record, his evolution as an artist, and what we can look forward to seeing when he comes to Anthology at the end of the month!

CP: I want to start out by congratulating you on our Soul Train Award nomination for Contact!

BJ: Oh, thank you! Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I’m really excited about it!

CP: Tell me a little bit about this record and how it came about.

BJ: Sure. This record is a real departure from the last one. The last one was more of a late night record with a lot of covers on it, you know, it had that slower vibe. I really tried to give this record a new energy. There’s a lot of up-tempo stuff on it, a lot of vocal tunes, it’s really got a different vibe. I always try to reach across genres, that’s where the name Contact comes from in a lot of ways. It started out being like the roar of a plane and that electrical contact, but it later became about people connecting.

CP: Speaking of people connecting, you featured a lot of great R&B singers on this record. How did that come about?

BJ: I started writing the songs for the record, and you know, sometimes the horn just doesn’t sound right. Sometimes the melody was made for a voice and not the horn. So I started writing lyrics, and then trying to match a voice to it.

CP: Did you have any particular artists in mind as you were writing, or did that come later?

BJ: That really came once the song was done. I tried to match the voice in my head to one in my bank of vocalists. I listen to so many different kinds of music and so many different artists, so I really keep an index of voices in my head that I can pull from later.

CP: Is there anyone in particular that has really inspired you lately?

BJ: You know, for the last few months I’ve started working on another record, and when I start that process, I kind of shut down on looking for new music for a little bit. It helps me feel like I’m truly being original. But no one really comes to mind in the last few months that I’ve listened to and thought, “that’s the shit!” (laughs).

CP: I know you take great pride in really spanning genres and not being defined and nailed into any one specific category. Are there any genres that you really can’t see yourself getting into?

BJ: Country is kind of my third rail. I think that and spoken word are the two that just aren’t my thing. I find that I just don’t really relate to them. Other than that, I’m pretty open.

CP: You mentioned that you’re working on your new record already. Any hints as to what we can look forward to?

BJ: It’s so preliminary right now, that I really can’t give you an idea. Making a record is such a huge process, and it really starts with that stage where all I do is barf out ideas and see what works. It’s a really wild process. I’m like twenty years into my career, and I still am just fascinated with the process that goes with making records. I can only compare it to rolling a gigantic boulder. You know, it starts really slow, and then it rapidly picks up speed. It’s really fascinating still. But I’m at the slow beginning stage right now.

CP: Well, I for one am looking forward to what collaborations you come up with next. You always work with such a broad range of artists, it must constantly open you up to new fans.

BJ: I really don’t look at it that way first- that’s always the added bonus. The music is what comes first. Who fits the song? What best serves the record? It’s always cool to access a new fan base you might not have— that is a great bonus. I never want to make art in a vacuum. I always want to keep it interesting and relevant.

CP: I know in May of last year, you were injured in a car accident where you fractured your jaw and lost two teeth. How did that impact the latest record and your playing?

BJ: I was about half way through recording the record when it happened, and it was really scary. A lot of people said to me after I got back on stage that I had this extra intensity to my shows. I guess it did give me a little bump. It was as close to a near death experience as I’ve come, and I mean, it was a lot closer than I ever wanted to come. I came out of it with a real sense of gratitude for everything in my life.

CP: I can only imagine, and as a sax player, what were you thinking when it first happened? I mean, once you’re alive, then comes your career.

BJ: Yeah, it was really scary. Especially losing the front two teeth. The first thing I said when I got to the hospital was, “I need these teeth!” (laughs). I’ve known guys who have had issues with that, and the two front teeth are so vital to my ambature, that it was really scary. It’s hard to get your sound back. Luckily that whole thing is starting to turn into a fading memory now.

CP: I feel like every time I pick up one of your records, you’ve taken on an additional role. For your latest record, correct me if I’m wrong, but you composed, arranged, produced, engineered, programmed, played keyboards, key bass, and all saxes. Is this just part of the evolution of your creativity?

BJ: Yeah, I guess you could say that. It’s part of my evolution as an artist really. When I first started making records, you had to go to a studio, and then you had to use the two inch tape, and all of that. Once I was able to build the studio in my house, it really started changing the way I was recording. It really happened over time, but I love having the control. It’s really challenging and rewarding to try and turn all of the sounds I’m looking for into a reality. That really keeps me going. I’m constantly learning new techniques and new technical skills. I love the challenge.

CP: Tell me a little bit about what our audience can expect to see at your live show.

BJ: I think people who have never seen me live before are always a little surprised by my live show. My records are usually a little sexy, laid back, mellow, hypnotic, all of those. When I play live though, I love to have that higher energy type of show. I’ve spent my life studying how to entertain a crowd. I’ve learned so much from The Isley Brothers, Bobby Caldwell, Morris Day. I learned a lot from them, so my live shows tend to be a little bit more energetic. I like to have the crowd participate. It’s also my first time playing Anthology, so I’m really excited to check out the room. I’ve heard some really great things.

As always, be sure to preview James’ latest release, Contact, on Spotify at the link below. Be sure to get your tickets for his shows at the end of the month!

Boney James- “Contact”

WHAT: Boney James
WHEN: Wednesday & Thursday, November 30- December 1, 2011, 7:30 & 9:30pm
TICKETS: $19-$98 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile