Vic James - Interview

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

"I hate interviews. My private life is making music, my public life is playing music. The rest is just memories."

Meet Vic James, independent singer & songwriter... a stunning one-man act, controlling every single aspect about his music.

And he writes about life. Real Life. The one behind our daily masks. It's quite easy to fall through the blank spaces between his words. There are no commas nor full stops. But there is strength and wisdom. He gets you through the day...

He is the kind of artist that becomes your best friend. You don't have to meet him, but you can sob with him or just sit there looking at the stars while he sings your tears & fears.

Yes, he hates interviews, but he appreciates interesting conversation over a glass of wine. So, that’s what we do from time to time…

Crow Xp: Hi, Vic. Good to chat with you again. Tell us a bit about your latest album… You first released “Sitting at the bar” (beautiful song, by the way) and then “Howling at the moon” in July 2018… quite different styles there. (By the way, our readers can listen to all albums on the website.)

Vic: Thanks for the kind words. To be honest I don’t really think of my songs as part of an album. I write a lot and I am always working on many songs at the same time and eventually I decide which ones fit together and flow in a way that pleases me. Then I put out an album.

In these digital times it seems necessary to be constantly releasing something in order to keep your public/fans engaged. 15 minutes of fame has now become 15 seconds! “Sitting at the bar” for example will be the last song on the new album. It’s a little tradition of mine to end each album with a slightly ‘alcoholic’ ballad!

I have not yet decided the name of the new album but I have a short list of possible titles.

I record in my bedroom studio with a limited amount of equipment and the songs take a while to arrive at their finished version because I have to do a lot of programming of some of the sounds and instruments that I can’t actually play very well or I don’t have access to. It is a real case of having to wear many hats. Songwriter, musician, singer, sound engineer, producer, artwork design, mastering, marketing department etc. All this and the live shows keeps me busy.

Crow Xp: This is your 6th album, if I’m not mistaken… In the previous one, Smoke Signals, there’s this amazing verse… “Gonna sing me some songs about what went wrong / And the few about what went right…”

Vic: You liked that line, that’s cool. It’s from “Automatic Heart” It’s really about what I do. It’s a little sarcastic poke at myself. Trying to keep a little optimism and humor in what is really a melancholy song. “Smoke Signals” was actually a whole bunch of songs that I recorded over a period of time that were basically demos for myself to think about arrangements and all the dressing that can sometimes radically change the way a song is perceived by the listener.

I had put out “Damage Control” which was very well received but it almost killed me to make it. I actually had a heart attack just before the release and had been out of hospital for only 10 days when I had to do the live presentation show which was tough but I got through it.

It was a lot of work and it took me nearly 3 years to complete mostly due to having a slow computer and the complex arrangements of some of the songs. I got a little obsessive because I really wanted to put out something special. I learn so much from the making of each album, creatively and technically, so I try to use that experience on the following one but without trying to repeat myself. “Smoke Signals” was just me doing something that no one was expecting. An album of rough demos recorded with one microphone and an acoustic guitar. Nothing else. A sort of intimate collection of songs that I can actually play live without a band. It was one for the fans. Sort of like being in the room with me but alone. A private concert you could say.

It was such a contrast to “Damage Control” but it was well received also. I made a few hard copies for close friends and now it is only available as a digital download. The CD version has 3 bonus tracks. Actually all my albums are now only available in digital format because I can’t afford to make them and I don’t want to have 100’s of albums of myself sitting around my house waiting to be sold! I find myself giving most of them away in the end anyway! ha-ha.

Crow Xp: What are your main musical influences? I’d risk saying Old School…

Vic: I hate this question. Because I have so many influences but I really do try not to let them influence me too much if you know what I mean. I don’t want to sound like them, I want to sound like me but for sure if I tell you my influences you would probably start to hear them in some songs! I try not to listen to other artists' work when I am writing or creating. There is the chance that one can accidentally steal something without realizing that one has done so until sometime later!

I have been a David Bowie fan all my life but I don’t think that I sound anything like him. Tom Petty has always been an influence along with Mike Scott and The Waterboys, The Hothouse Flowers, Counting Crows, Dave Matthews Band and many more.

I am in the sixth decade of my life and I have listened to a hell of a lot of music along the way. When I was young my parents played all kinds of music at home. We traveled a lot so there was music from all over the world in their collection. Calypso, Elvis, Sinatra, classical, Glenn Miller and the big bands and some traditional Irish folk music like the Clancy Brothers for instance.

I got into Bowie and T-Rex in the early 70’s. A little Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix but when I arrived in England in ’74 at aged 14 I got my first look at Queen and Sparks and other cool stuff like Be-Bop Deluxe and The Doctors Of Madness. I was into metal for a while and I still like a good rock song. I loved Van Halen with David Lee Roth. I met Iron Maiden and Def Leppard and quite a few bands who later became well known bands when I was doing the bars and venues in England with my first bands at the end of the 70’s and the early 80’s.

I like a little Goth as well. The Mission, Sisters of Mercy, The Cult.

I listened to my older brother’s collection a lot because he had Dylan, Barclay James Harvest, Yes, Pink Floyd, Uriah Heap, Fleetwood Mac and all that cool 70’s stuff. We were 5 brothers and each one had his own collection so we pretty much covered all the bases. One bedroom had soul and Motown, another Talking Heads and Bauhaus. Another room was heavy metal. You see what I am getting at.

Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman Lloyd Cole. Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I am also a big fan of Paul Simon’s song writing and lyrics and Leonard Cohen’s words are always welcome. Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Steve Earle and David Byrne, the list goes on and on.

These days I really like Ryan Adams or Noah Gunderson for instance. Band of Horses, Iron and Wine and I am always listening for something that catches my attention.

The list could go one forever. I should have refused to answer this question. Ha-ha!

Crow Xp: You currently live in Portugal… any particular reason for this choice? What’s your experience been like so far?

Vic: Ha-ha. That old question again. I sort of got castaway here in Portugal. I didn’t have any intention of staying here so long but life decided for me. I came for a holiday and to do a couple of shows in’94 but I ended up playing every night and no holiday. I then got a call in ’97 asking me to come back so I did. It wasn’t what I was expecting even though I had been in Spain for quite a few years before I arrived here.

It’s a sort of love/hate relationship. I love the wine (ha-ha) but I hate the fact that real original artists have very few opportunities to show their talents. The live scene is basically cover bands singers/ duos and pimba, kizomba and all that DJ stuff.

It is hard to make money here as an original singer/songwriter/musician without selling out. I do some covers but in my own style because I have to eat sometimes but I try to play what I call good songs not whatever is popular at any given moment.

I refuse to take the easy route because I would hate to have to play music that I don’t like just to get paid. My way is harder but it feels more pure to me and I have to enjoy what I do or I might as well get a ‘real’ job and just play for fun. Anyway, it’s too late to go back now.

There’s a lot of good things I could say about Portugal and also a lot of bad things but I don’t want to get involved in that because there are good and bad things everywhere.

I love to travel but my health and finances have slowed me down so I am really just trying to survive and keep my integrity.

These days you can live almost anywhere, make music and share it with the world. If you are looking for fame and fortune on an international level then Portugal is probably not the number one choice but anything can happen and fame and fortune has never been my objective. A little money is useful but I can live without the fame side of things.

Crow Xp: What’s your take on the music scene in general? Musicians, audience… I remember you once telling me people don’t want to buy good music anymore…

Vic: I actually said that people don’t buy records/CD's anymore. For sure some people still buy CD's and even vinyl but it’s mostly streaming and of course piracy. Spotify and all those streaming companies pay the artist extremely badly. I have my own page on Bandcamp. They take a percentage of the sales, 15% if I remember rightly. “Damage Control” is also available on Spotify, Amazon, etc.

I don’t make much from sales really but it’s always a nice surprise when someone pays for a download like yourself, thank you by the way.

There is almost too much music in the world today. There is some good stuff out there if you search for it but there is hell of a lot crap!

Crow Xp: I think that shows in your lyrics as well… a general feeling of humankind taking the wrong turn…

Vic: You mean the unkind humankind!

Yes, I do feel as if we are losing touch with reality and not in a good way. It’s almost like every man for himself and women and children do not come first anymore. A sort of general moral decline. It’s not a nice world at this moment. Violence and fear and money is king. We haven’t really evolved very much have we? It was what it was, it is what it is and it will be what it will be I suppose. Not much that I can do about that except write a few songs about it and try to be good person.

Adam Duritz (Counting Crows) said it well. “I’m sick and tired of life but hey we are all sick and tired of something” or Mike Scott...” don’t talk to me about life and death, I’ve had enough of both”.

Crow Xp: You literally control all aspects of your music from songwriting to sales… tell us a bit more about that.

Vic: Well to be honest I was forced into this situation because I never got any help from anyone i.e. managers or marketing people or record companies etc. So I ended up doing it myself. I am not a control freak but I do not want to be portrayed as someone or something that I am not so I never liked the proposals that I occasionally received telling me to change my hair or whatever. For me it’s all about the songs. It is not about me or what I look like.

Songwriting is something that I do every day whether it be lyrics or musical ideas and I have a hell of a lot of unfinished ideas and songs. I write words constantly always trying to find the perfect phrase to express how I feel about something. I don’t like to preach but I can teach.

The recording process is where I really have to work hard because I write and create all the parts which involves many hours sitting at the computer trying find the sounds that I am looking for to create the atmosphere of the song or piece of music that’s in my head.

The disadvantage of doing all these aspects myself is that I don’t have much time for anything else. I live alone and I have no children or partner so I am free to work whenever I feel the urge. Anytime of the day or night. I do this for pleasure, it is who I am even if it pays badly. At least I can’t blame anyone except myself if it doesn’t work!

As for the sales side of things (I could say “what sales?”) it pretty much takes care of itself once I had set up the various stages of the process.

I just signed a one song deal with a Swiss independent record label and a well known dj is doing a deep house version of “Never Ending Now” from the “Smoke Signals” album. Now I have to deal with all the paperwork and bureaucracy that is involved and the legal side, the royalties’ side and all that stuff. It is a nightmare but I have to do it if I want to get paid. It is the first time that I have ever let someone mess with one of my songs and I am curious to hear what he finally comes up with.

Crow Xp: What about live shows?

Vic: Live shows is how I stay alive. I wish I could make money when I am sleeping and sometimes I do but I have to play live as much as I can just to keep my head above water. The older I get the harder it gets but it is who I am and what I am known for doing so I just try to do my best and please all the necessary people and hope for a good audience. I also try to get paid which sometimes is not easy! Ha-ha

I don’t really have much lined up at the moment. A few private parties and shows in Vila Nova Da Barquinha.

The contact could be via Facebook or e-mail or an old fashioned phone call.

Facebook – Vic James

Telephone – 00 351 919421523

Crow Xp: Any words of advice to newcomers to showbiz?

Vic: Ha-ha! Be like me and avoid it like the plague! I don’t call what I do showbiz but I know what you mean. It is not as easy as people think. It is a lot of hard work for little money and very few become successful so if you are doing it for the wrong reasons then it will eat you up and spit you out. If you think that you have the talent and the desire to do something cool then go for it, hell we only live once as far as I know. But never forgot why you got into the biz because it’s a cruel world and sometimes it hurts. Keep your integrity and your publishing if you can!

Crow Xp: Showbiz being what it is… any story or anecdote you would like to share with our readers?

Vic: I was walking to a shop in Ibiza one day at around sunset because I needed a battery for one of my guitar pedals and a guy with lots of blonde curly hair called out to me in Spanish from the terrace of a restaurant. I walked over and realize that it was Robert Plant and he wanted to talk to me! He thought that I had Native Indian blood and he was curious about my origins. He invited me for dinner with his family and we talked about all sorts of things except music for a couple of hours. I didn’t tell him that I was a musician until the end of the dinner because I wanted a normal conversation with him but I had to tell him in the end because I was late for work (i.e. a gig) and he asked what I did for a living. A really cool guy and a wonderful memory for me and he was the first person I ever asked for an autograph because I knew that the band would not believe the reason why I was late.

Crow Xp: Thanks for this nice non-interview chat, Vic.

Vic: No problem. Thank you. It was the best non-interview I have ever done.

I will of course deny that it ever happened! Just joking…lol