BYT Interview: Of Montreal and James Husband’s Jamey Huggins
February 2, 2010 by Phelps
The coveted opening slot for Of Montreal’s recently announced tour has gone to none other than their own drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jamey Huggins and his solo project, James Husband. Night in and night out, 12 years strong, Jamey has performed amongst the absurdity of an OM show, hopping from instrument to instrument while dodging masked villains and the occasional celebrity. His own work has him skewing towards traditional pop structure albeit with more instruments than a marching band and we caught up with him at the top of the 930 Club before OM’s show last Thursday. As easygoing a guy as you’ll find, James enlightened over afternoon tea us with tales of the conception of his album, near death Bonnaroo experiences and what must be one of the coolest neighborhoods in Athens.
BYT: So this tour was booked a couple of weeks in advance of the first date right? Were you guys scrambling to get it all together as far as each band, and the theatrics of it all?
JH: I guess we practiced about 6 days with both bands doing double rehearsals… it all came about very suddenly.
BYT: So, with your band, are there other people from Of Montreal playing as well?
JH: Yea, it’s 6 people traveling with me and 3 of us are in Of Montreal, and at various times during the show we have pretty much the whole band up there, a little help from the rest of the members. There really is no solid lineup, it’s just that I made a record and I’m lucky to have my friends that I collaborate with WANT to do it, you know? So, I had to reach out to a few other people to come along and kinda fill out the sound, like I have a cellist, and I have a singer that’s sort of being my double cause on the record I do usually 2 or 3 or 4 voices on the song. So, fortunately I got this guy who can sing very similar to me and he’s kind of being my double. But yea, for the most part it IS Of Montreal, and the two sets are very much like a family thing. The only real distinction between the two are obviously the material and there’ll be a lot more freaky costumery and stuff like that for the OM set. It’s fun for us to get to do kind of 2 sides of the coin, especially for me because on this tour, the whole tour, I’m exclusively playing drums in Of Montreal where as for the last 3 or 4 years I’ve been expanding my little arsenal of instruments to where I was up to like 6 or 7 different instruments I was running around to between 3 different stations and tonight I am just glued to the drum seat for the entire like 90 minutes or whatever. It’s physically exhausting, but it’s fun for me to get to play the songs in a different way cause all of the Georgie Fruit, over-the-top, drum programmed dance beats of the last few records are now being re-translated into just a straight up rock song. I’m still attempting to do some of those beats but most of them are inhuman so we’ve kind of distilled the songs and it’s all just guitar rock tonight. It’s gonna be a little bit different renditions of all that material.
BYT: You talked about the theatrics and the costumes which are a huge part of any OM but may not be typical of your set. Are both sets a blast for you?
JH: I mean, for the most part I’m oblivious to that because while it’s definitely going on around me I have so much to concentrate on that every once in a while, if they’re doing something really close to me I’ll kind of get distracted or if I hear the crowd react to something I’ll look up, “what was it?!” Like, the Susan Sarandon thing, I missed it! And I knew it was gonna happen, but I hadn’t met her before the show. Everyone else had been hangin out with her before the show and talking about what they were gonna do but since I was stressed out about getting my own shit together, I just wasn’t sure if it was happening or not. I was looking down, playing through a song, and I look up and see her walking past my drums to go offstage and I kinda looked at her, and it was just liked I missed the whole thing. Now I’ve only watched it on Youtube. But I have very little to do with all that, I just play the songs and they have a whole bunch of costumes and stuff, some of it I don’t even know what it is they’ve done, but, hopefully it’s entertaining.
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BYT: You guys started in Athens, are you still living there? Didn’t you live in Sweden for a while?
JH: Yea I just moved back to Athens this past summer so I’ve been there, about, I don’t know 7 months? Since like July or something? And I lived there for almost 8 or 9 years before that, and the whole Sweden time was just kind of over the course of about 3 years. Every time we were not on tour, instead of coming home I just went there because I had a girlfriend there, I had a studio there, I had an apartment there. I temporarily adopted it as, well you know, I thought I was gonna be this expatriate and had all these ideas that I was gonna BE Scandanavian but the truth is I’m too much of a Georgia boy and it didn’t last as long as I might’ve thought. I still love it there, I have a lot of Swedish connections, but now I’m firmly back in the US and living in Athens.
BYT: Is that where you’re from?
JH: No but I’m from Atlanta and it’s an hour away so I was born and raised in Georgia.
BYT: So this album was recorded some there, and some…
JH: About half and half…
BYT: Over the course of years, and geographically and time-wise, what made you decide that “OK, I have something cohesive enough for me to put out this record?”
JH: I didn’t though, that’s the thing. It was never intended to be an album of specific tracks and there’s this misconception when I hear people say ‘Oh, it took 10 years,’ it’s not that it TOOK 10 years, like it was slaved over, it’s just more that after a lot of time had passed, a certain sequence of events fell into place where it made sense to actually do something with it. I’d been spending all this time recording and not having any kind of home for it. I’d put out the random single here or there or online or something, and eventually it was Kevin (Barnes) who insisted that I take it more seriously. He was like, or I think I was playing him a new song, and he’s like “What the fuck happened to that last one that was so great?” and I was like “I don’t know” so he’s like “Why aren’t you putting this shit out?” So he went to Polyvinyl on my behalf and asked them if I took it seriously would they put it out and they, you know, he’s obviously very influential with the label. I don’t like to think that he called in a favor but in a way that’s exactly what he did, just to get the ball rolling, and then they were very excited about the songs and everything. So, yea it was just the right time plus I’d been so incredibly busy that I couldn’t really tour or focus on much more than Of Montreal for a couple of years cause we were doing like 250 shows a year and… I don’t know, it was just finally enough’s enough, it’s about time, and so here we are.
BYT: Speaking of those shows, I don’t know if it stuck out to you guys, but, I was at your Bonnaroo (2009) show….
JH: The smashfest?
BYT: Hah, yea, that was uh… well do you like festivals, or is it just get in, play, leave?
JH: No, I love festivals but Bonnaroo was probably one of the worst days of my life. I personally had sort of a nervous breakdown, ended up having to call an ambulance, I was passing out, I think I was just dehydrated, overstressed… But I BARELY made it through the show and within 15 minutes after the show I was laying down, getting Kevin’s wife to call 911 because I thought I was gonna die. I really think I had a mild anxiety attack brought on by massive dehydration, I just wasn’t aware of it. Kevin was in the same boat, the two of us were next to each other, shaking in the ambulance getting IV fluids cause both of us…
BYT: Well it is miserably hot there each summer…
JH: Well as far as the actual performance, I don’t know why but there was this tendency towards violence the last couple of months. I mean we do something different every couple tours but for some reason this whole idea of smashing shit… I don’t know what got into us. We started anticipating how many extra guitars we might need, just in case, and then it started spreading to the drums, the keyboards, and after you smash 2 or 3 expensive keyboards then it’s like god damn it why are we doing this? So hopefully that phase is over. I guess it has to be because tonight we only brough 4 guitars (laughing.) But, you know, that was just a one-off thing. Generally we love festivals although it’s frustrating because you don’t get to have sound checks and it’s hard to just throw it all on after the last band, you know? Festival situations require bands to have a flexible, quick setup and that’s annoying but for the most part it’s a free for all because people, when they’re outside, and wasted in the middle of the day, they tend to be a more active crowd and we like to go out in the crowd and stuff. It’s got ups and downs but we do a lot of em so I guess we better enjoy it.
BYT: It was amazing, for sure… so, are you playing some of the covers from your EP in your set?
JH: Yea, well I wanted to do 3 of em, but now it’s only 1 that’s actually on the record and now we’re doing another one that’s a Swedish song. That one to me is kind of the highlight of the set, and we do it in kind of a different way than the rest of the set. It’s got a little bit more of a dance feel, we have Kevin joining us, and it’s kind of diversion from the record.
BYT: So it’s on your record but the way you do it out here…
JH: No no no, it’s no on anything it’s just…
BYT: Ah, who sings it?
JH: It’s this artist named Lykke Li, so I’m singing it half-Swedish, half-English.
BYT: Oh, yea, of course. Do you know the band The Field?
BYT: The Field, they’re Swedish, I’m friends with them, they’re kind of electronic…
JH: OH YEA, of course, Andreas, he is on my record. He played the trumpets. Sorry, I forget about that because he’s involved in so many different things. He’s a very good friend of mine. He also plays with our mutual friend Jenny Wilson and she’s on my album too. The two of them came as a package deal, and I’ve played with them, they’ve played with me.
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BYT: So, being back in Athens, are you all still living there?
JH: Yea, all of us. Including our video techs, tour manager, sound engineer.
BYT: Is it the kind of thing where you’re growing out of your group house phase, or…
JH: We definitely, yea, everyone’s got their own home. We did the whole ‘live together as a band’ thing and that didn’t go very well. But we’re all pretty close to each other, like Brian and I live on the same street, he’s about 5 houses down. Davey lives right around the corner in between the two of us, and Dottie’s less than a mile from my house. We’re all just in a similar neighborhood.
BYT: I hadn’t heard your album until about a week ago but since then I’ve listened a lot, and…
JH: I think it’s kind of a slow burn. I’ve had a lot of people say that they listened to it once, and didn’t really have an opinion or something, and then put it on in their car or went to sleep listening to it and after a couple of days they heard it differently. That to me is interesting. I guess it’s not gonna have an immediate reaction in the way that perhaps an Of Montreal record does, where everything is really immediate. It’s definitely meant to be subtle and hopefully that comes across, but, it’s exciting for me just to have anybody listen to it because I’ve been secretly going around passing out CDR’s of a lot of this shit for years, just to friends.
BYT: Did you bring any of your other albums or CDRs here?
JH: No, I wanted to, it was something I’d planned on doing but when it got down to the double-rehearsals and preparing for this thing, I would have had to have 2 days to really get it all together, burn enough CDRs, make some kind of artwork. I still intend to do that.
BYT: Do you have one of those big CD spindles to do it all?
JH: No, I was just doin em… well I had a friend of mine who had one of those who I paid to let me do that for one thing, but for the most part I was doing them one-by-one on a single disc drive. But now that I have Polyvinyl it just makes more sense to go ahead and put out another thing. I’m hoping to cut this EP thing as soon as possible, and they’re on board for that so the more real shit I can put out is probably better. I guess people sometimes like the idea of a homemade, exclusive thing, but, to be honest even making it properly manufactured through the label it’s still gonna be a limited release anyway. I’ve got a whole other record ready to go, basically everything that didn’t go on this one, but not B sides. I intentionally saved some of the best oens for the next thing, cause I only chose, what is it 12 songs? 5 on the EP? And I had about 33 recorded so I’m excited to go back and look at those I chose to leave off and see how I can put em together to make the next one. The good thing is it’ll be pretty similar since it’s from the same time and I wanna get that out of my system so I can start recording new shit.
BYT: With the songs you do have on this album, you have a lot of different ideas, layered vocals, and instruments in a 2 minute song. It works, there are a lot of great pop songs, but is this something you strive for?
JH: I’m just a sloppy recorder and arranger I guess, and I have a tendency to just keep layering overdubs. That was part of the mixing process that was difficult for me, letting go of a lot of stuff and taking away. The guy who I worked with to do the final mixes, his whole approach was deductive editing which was a concept I was not familiar with (laughing.) It’s like, “Do you really need THREE guitars doing that?” And I’m like, “Maybe not,” so, let’s find the best one and kill the other two. So we started doing that more and more, and he’s going “You have three tracks of tambourine, why’d you do that?” and I’m like “I don’t know, maybe one was sloppy but I thought it might sound good doubled,” so we went through… the cleaning up of the mixes, to me, made them a little bit more, or slightly easier to listen to. If you hear some of the unmastered first mixes that I did myself, they have even more instrumentation. I think that’s just the way I work, I just keep putting stuff on there until I think it sounds good and now I’m learning how to take some away and that sometimes less is more. It’s fun for me because now doing it live we only have a possibility of 5 instruments. I’m hearing the songs with just the one keyboard, the one guitar line or whatever, and they seem a lot more open. I almost wish I could re-record them with the live band just for fun. They’re much more concise.
BYT: Do you guys do any recording while you’re on tour?
JH: We haven’t, because we haven’t had any, you know we’ve been…
BYT: Well I just mean from the sound board or whatever so you can listen to your shows.
JH: I wish! You know, we have in the past set up elaborate multi-track things to tape Of Montreal shows but to be honest we’re just lazy about it. There’s almost always so much other stuff goin on that our sound guy, if he has to do that, that’s another hour of work a night for him to setup, and he’s already doin a 7 hour setup. We’ve had a couple people who’ve taped some of these shows, and I’m hopefully gonna get copies of those.
BYT: What’s your taping policy exactly?
JH: We’re pretty open, because of course we want the archive, we just wanna hear it, you know? As long as no one’s selling it, that’s pretty much the only thing. We’re not very good about self-documenting so as long as someone else is willing to do it that’s fine with us. It’s just being cool about it. Don’t release it on your own indie label or whatever, (laughing,) and if it really sucks audio wise or performance wise, we’d like to know so that we can choose what gets out. I think they’re about to start making noise down there (sound check.)
BYT: Cool, well before we get out of here, as far as DC you guys have played a lot, do you ever get to go around and do shit or are you just in the club?
JH: We haven’t, in the past, really had much time but I think we’re actually gonna come back here on Saturday or Sunday. Not to play but because there’s apparently some huge snowstorm coming to Richmond and the club is asking us to cancel it or postpone because they think it’s gonna be so bad people aren’t gonna come. If it’s canceled, the plan is to go to DC and go to the Smithsonian or something.
BYT: Yea well if you’re back there’s tons of cool places right here on U St., lots of good soul food, Ethiopian restaurants, and…
JH: Yea, we have a date at an Ethiopian restaurants in about 3 hours.
BYT: Niiice, well James thanks man, I really appreciate all your time, and good luck with the show tonight.
CHECK OUT THE LIVE SHOW REVIEW FROM IT HERE