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On the Road with Micky James

May 13, 2019

By Erica Commisso; photos by Zakk Connor

Imagine walking out of a small bar, into the streets of New York City. Now imagine, on your way out, Mick Jagger holds the door for you, chatting politely from under his newsboy hat. As I’m sitting outside of Coney Island Baby, I have to remind myself that I haven’t been in a time ma- chine, and that I haven’t travelled back to the glory days of rock and roll.

Micky James is slated to play tonight, and he’s just finished his sound check. People at the bar a few yards away tap along as he tests his equipment, and they compliment him as he leaves. Taking down his social media, they make it known he’s made new fans of them.

James left his former band, The Karma Killers, amicably—with a story that no one expects from a rock band. They all agreed to go separate ways, he says, but wish each other nothing but the best in their future endeavours. In fact, the drummer who accompanies him now was in his previous band. “I like being in a band, but I just think it’s easier to see my vision fully now,” he says. “I’m not being selfish or narcissistic, I just really had to do this.” James laughs at a com- parison to Oasis’ notorious band fights. He’s gone solo strictly because he wanted to chase his own creative vision. “It’s sad, because Oasis is one of my favorite bands. There’s this element of danger and attitude and swag about that band that’s so missing from all of the bands nowa- days. It was their way or that was it.”

Listing off musical acts that inspire him, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Strokes, he looks thoughtful as he tells stories of legendary musicians helping him to realize his passion for music. “Those bands kind of shape who I am,” he says. “The Beatles were my first introduction to music. My dad was a guitar player and, when I was a little kid, he would play Beatles songs and Van Morrison stuff. We had a box set of Beatles tapes on Ed Sullivan, and that was the first time I ever saw a band perform, and it was crazy. I didn’t think it was real. They seemed like cartoon characters. If you look at them and their suits and how they move, it’s captivating. And the girls go wild, I was like that’s what I want to do.”

Growing up near Princeton, New Jersey, James was no stranger to the magnitude of New York City. He was born in the early 90s, and raised while CBGB was still the musical home to punk rock greats. Television, Blondie and Patti Smith were just a train ride away. But, while those may be the more obvious influences, another legendary star was closer than they were.

James’ grandmother grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, just over the Hudson River from Greenwich Village. The east side of Hoboken is home to Maxwell’s, the now-closed live music venue that featured concerts from Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and New Jersey natives My Chemical Romance. The basement green room is like a datebook of legends, with signatures and dates that would make any true music fan swoon. But, on the other side of town, another legend was born—Frank Sinatra.

On the west side of the square mile town, a blue star bearing the name Francis Albert Sinatra sits proudly on Monroe Street, in front of a single, barely erect wall. Sinatra was born here, and residents proudly remember his days of running around the square mile town. His picture is plastered everywhere—parks, streets and buildings are named after him, and more than restaurant pays homage to him. Sinatra was born and raised here in the same time as James’ grandmother, and she knew Sinatra very well. James’ grandmother even watched over her friend’s mother as Dolly Sinatra got older. The close family tie wasn’t lost on Micky James, and he is still heavily inspired by Sinatra’s musicality. So much so, in fact, that Frank Sinatra is one of James’ ideal duet partners. “Us just singing and looking at each other, and with that crooner voice, it would be awesome.”

“I started writing songs when I was seventeen, trying to find my voice,” he says. His family is full of musicians, and he draws inspiration from his creative family. He had no formal training save few guitar lessons, but learned organically. It makes his unique sound all the more im- pressive. Interestingly, he uses words to describe his music as one would describe a personali- ty—exciting, charismatic and fun.

When James takes the stage, I feel like I’m in a time warp again. He’s changed into an even more rock and roll outfit, completed with wide leg red pants. His unique voice sounds almost identical to the record, and he begins his roughly 40 minute set with energy. He’s dancing around the stage, and what he told me earlier is clear. He’s spent hours studying live concert DVDs, and his performance presence is a very clear homage to David Bowie and even to Mick Jagger. It’s an easy comparison, given the similarity of their names and their frames, but it’s the most immediately obvious one. Like Jagger would, James is lively, charismatic, and absolutely commanding the small stage in the corner of the bar. The space is crammed with fans, friends and family, and James is revelling in the energy of it all. He’s the middle set, between two other bands, but he’s got headliner energy.

His sound is both similar and different than it was with the The Karma Killers. “My Killer Queen” is harder and more raw—very unlike Queen’s famous song with a similar name—than James’ first solo single. His first song, “Give it to me Straight,” is upbeat and easier to dance to, though hard to box into one genre. It has the crowd moving along and swaying to the tempo, and once again brings the audience, collectively, back in time. His set is, described simply, one big nostalgia trip, perfectly suited for an outdoor festival from an earlier time. But, to James, there’s nothing like playing in New York City.

“I know it’s cliche, but there’s nothing like playing in New York. Doing a really great show in New York City, it’s the best. I love it. I just think you have to bring it. You have to own it and sell it to play here, and I like that. I like to work for it.”

Post-set, Micky James joins the crowd to take in the final musical act of the night. He’s a part of the crowd now, and the time warp is over—the old soul has now joined the rest of us in 2018, in a small venue in New York City.

Follow Micky on Instagram @themickyjamesmusic

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