Jamesleon1

James Leon has it going on.  He’s so uncool, he’s cool – he’s even penned a song about it called "Never Been Cool".  I personally think James Leon is VERY cool and despite how many times I’ve seen him perform, I never got to sit down and yap his ear off about his music until now.  In this interview with EQ, James talks about pop divas, the meaning behind some of his fantastic electropop songs and what what is was like to be the first performer on-stage at Electroqueer’s club night…

Hey James – how are you today?
I’m well thanks Raj, I’ve got quite a lot to do and organise right now but am in good spirits!

So tell us a little bit about yourself. It would be great to explain to the readers your background and why you are looking for pop stardom…
Well basically I have had a bit of winding road journey to get to where I am now. I loved music from a very young age and was making up little pop songs and writing lyrics from when I was about 8 years old. Even then I remember having the feeling that I would end up as a performer. I was finding it hard to find my sound though, I kept getting told me stuff was very 80s’ and at this point that was made to seem a derogatory thing and I made the mistake of not trusting my own instinct for a little while so kind of lost my focus a bit. I took a bit of a break then suddenly I was getting asked to perform at lots of events in East and West London, and people then started telling me my songs and performance were cool. I then I met my current producer, Julian Simmons – who I write with, and started working on the songs that you now find on my MySpace profile and also the EQ charts recently! More recently as you know, I’ve performed at quite a few events and venues in central London such as Madame Jojo’s, Tesco Disco, Trash Palace, and of course [email protected] Through MySpace and also blogs such as your good self I’ve managed to start building up something of a following in the last year or so, and I now have people from all over the world from places such as Thailand and the US – where they particularly seem to appreciate my tunes. So I guess you could say its been something of a struggle to get where I am now, but it seems to be finally coming together and I think its all about timing.

So tell us about your track "Never Been Cool". It’s sorta an anthem for the nerdy geeky kids isn’t it? I myself, have ‘never been cool’…probably why I love the song so much!
Basically "Never Been Cool" came from the feeling I always seem to have that I’m always somehow on the wrong side of the fence. Whatever I’m doing I seem to be doing the opposite of what every one else is doing, both in my life in general and music. For instance, when everyone else wanted to go to parties and stuff I was at home doing my homework, then when everyone else wanted to get graduate jobs I wanted to party and find myself, and with music I do feel sometimes that I don’t always slot in very easily in the music scene: the uber cool electro crowd probably think I am too pop and commercial. I certainly don’t fit in with the rock crowd, then now you have a kind of ultra trashy pop scene that probably find me a little too edgy. So there you are again, never quite cool with right crowd! But I think ultimately on a wider stage people appreciate individuals, and I am just trying to be myself and express things in the way that feels right to me.

And how did the totally awesome track “Club With No Name” come about?
Well first of all thank you so much for the compliment, I’m very pleased you enjoy it. Whenever I first record a track I am always hyper critical of it, so as my most recent song I am chuffed that people seem to like it. Basically it was inspired by a visit I made to a club night in East London (I won’t name it) which I was going to play at one point though this never transpired in the end. There were some really crazily dressed up people there, exactly as I describe in the first half of the middle eight of the track – so that bit wrote itself and I just found it quite amusing and yet kind of fascinating at the same time with that whole scene. Half of me kind of finds it a ridiculous parody of itself and not at all ‘cool’ but another bit of me thinks its quite fun and exciting the way people dress up, experiment and have their own little world. So I am taking the micky a bit, but as with a lot of my songs I’m kind of celebrating it as well. Just after I went to this night, I read something that referred to ‘clubs with no name’ in East London, and that really seemed to fit – hence the idea for the song!

So when you do expect your first collection of tracks to be unleashed upon the world and interweb?
Some of my tracks are available to buy right now at the website, http://www.boostindependentmusic.com. I have for a long time been working towards the idea of record deal but I think like a lot of artists, I am starting to wake up to the idea that maybe this is not the way to go now. Record companies are just not investing in new talent and it seems and more and more acts are releasing stuff themselves, so right now I am basically investigating going down this road and hope to have something out proper before the end of the year. In terms of an album, well I have more than enough material so it’s a question now of focusing on getting all this together, but I am hoping early next year. I’m self-financing everything still so obviously that is quite tough!

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So you had the gruelling task of being the first ever performer on the [email protected] stage, did you enjoy yourself? As a performer and party-goer, what was your take on the night?
Well obviously its not easy being the first on stage, however I think I didn’t do too badly as on this occasion as it started at a good time – 10ish, when the crowd had warmed up. I felt such a buzz when I went on stage, although obviously I was a little nervous. It was so packed and everyone seemed really into it which was properly exciting. I did thoroughly enjoy it, and would totally love to do it again, anytime! I thought the night was excellent, I thought you and Adam had done such a good job of organising and promoting it, much more so than some other nights I’ve been involved with. The venue was superb, I was really surprised by how sleek and stylish it was, which really created a good atmosphere. You’d obviously succeeded in building a good buzz and anticipation about the night and I think that rubbed off on everyone. I think it was the kind of night that has been needed for a long time, a night of live music in Soho that is a little cool but fun and totally unpretentious with a crowd that were really up for it.

Glad to hear you enjoyed it James! So, now you obviously do take a lot of influence from the 80’s. Why is this area of music so popular today?
Well yeah I can’t deny the 80’s influence, when I started out doing my first demos and to an extent I definitely did try and take some of the 80’s sound like Pet Shop Boys and Human League but ‘futurise’ it if I can invent a phrase, but I have always intended to create something new, I am not interested in being a pastiche of the past – I try to take different influences and combine them with my own take on things to do something fresh. My influences come from all over the shop! I am definitely a bit of an 80’s child though and I do love that era – I think what was great about it is that pop had a very different meaning to what it came to be seen as in the late 90’s early naughtiest, which was basically Steps or S Club 7 (who I did love but its not the same). I think people like the glamour and fun of that era, something that was perhaps lacking in the 90’s in particular. However, I think it’s almost come full circle and finally people that are a little more ‘out there’ and colourful are becoming popular again which is refreshing after all the identical boybands and stuff that dominated a few years ago.

What artists most influence you today? Who gets your motor running when you are listening to your IPOD?
Well I think first of all influences are hard to identify because so often it’s unconscious, it’s what you absorb. There are a lot of acts that I enjoy listening to that I wouldn’t necessarily say influence me, but I guess maybe they do without me realising. I’ve always been a massive pop fan. I still like Madonna though maybe she’s not at her peak right now. Girls Aloud are fantastic. Xenomonia I do really admire as songwriters. I think Annie is cool and different. I think Frankmusic are a great new voice, they’ve been getting a bit of hype which usually puts me off but his voice is lovely and some of the songs are really strong – I think they could be huge. Like anyone, what I listen to really depends how I feel on a particular day. I’m loving the new Cyndi Lauper album – the single "Into The Nightlife" in particular is fantastic and sounds really current. Cyndi is one of my all time faves and I believe her birthday is on the same day as mine! I do listen to a lot of old stuff still like Duran Duran, Blondie, etc. and American acts like Pat Benatar and Don Henley, but there’s loads of stuff I love in the charts right now like the recent Sam Sparrow song "Black and Gold", Dizzie and Calvin’s – "Dance Wiv Me", and "I Decided" by Solange who is so much better than Beyonce. Also the new Sophie Ellis-Bexter tracks on MySpace are electro-pop perfection! I’m still a total pop kid!

So what did you think of these TV Reality Shows like X Factor, American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent? Would you ever appear on any of these shows or are you happy to go about it your own way?
Well I wouldn’t really say I’m a fan, but then like most people I still get sucked into them sometimes – I actually prefer it when it gets more competitive and serious later on. Personally I don’t think I would go on one – its something I’ve been asked a lot of times, and although of course I want to be successful and I defintielty don’t have a problem with the idea of music being commercial, I just don’t feel for someone like me they are the right sort of thing. I think Will Young has obviously done very well out of it and Girls Aloud who I love and think just get better and better, but the majority of those who enter don’t really do very well out of it and you have to be be willing to be moulded and told what to do which definitely wouldn’t suit me. As someone who writes his own material and paid my dues doing live shows in all kinds of places and events, and has strong ideas about how I want to present my music it would just would feel like a total washout of everything I’ve done up until now.

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OK, I must ask you – how did you create the Banksy inspired image our your MySpace page? Are you friends with him? Spill the beans! Enquiring minds need to know.
Hehehe – well I’d love to claim that I am indeed friends with Banksy, but sadly no I don’t know him any more than you or anyone else does for that matter! Basically my friend Ferris who took some photos of me last year just created that without any input from me, I went over to see the photos – he went through a few then he showed me that image and I was like ‘wow’ that’s really cool, I love it, how did you do it? So there you go, I guess you could say it’s a ‘homage’ to Banksy a la James Leon!

Now I know you’re a fan of Kylie…but who isn’t, I mean really. Let’s hear your thoughts on some other female divas of the moment…

Adele…
Well she does have quite a nice voice, and I did quite like "Chasing Pavements" when I first heard it but to be honest I think she’s a bit dull and so over-hyped – winning a Brit award when you’ve only released one single! I’m not sure I really see her as someone who will be around for a long time.

Duffy…
To be truthful the 60’s sound isn’t really my thing, however I do think "Mercy" is a great track and the follow-up "Warwick Avenue" is quite sweet but she doesn’t rock my world. She looks good and is distinctive but again I’m not convinced about whether she’ll be around for a long time..

Amy Winehouse…
Well what can you say about Amy, I mean as I’m always put off by hype which put me off for a while but she is such a one-off, I love the fact that she is properly rock ‘n’ roll though maybe a little too much so, I do like the hits like "Rehab" and "Back to Black" etc, but still she isn’t someone I’d go out of my way to listen to.

Grace Jones…
Well Grace is in another league, she’s is totally bonkers – I love her crazy style and the fact that she is such a performer, she’s like something from another planet. I think she played in London the night of [email protected], I know a couple of people who went and said it was amazing. I’ve actually recently knicked her "Island Life" cd from a friend, I love the really slick stuff like "Slave To The Rhythm".

Antigone…
I have to confess that before the EQ event I wasn’t too familiar with Antigone, though I had seen her mentioned on your site. I do think she’s quite a cool performer. I liked her presence on stage, she looked good and I think "More Man Than Man" is a pretty damn catchy.

Robyn…
I find myself wanting to like Robyn, and I kind of enjoy her songs, but somehow I end up feeling she doesn’t quite work. Her sound is fresh and quirky but I think she tries a little too hard to be quirky and I don’t find any warmth in her voice or delivery. Its cliché to stereotype Scandinavian’s as cold – but usually I really like their music, but the jury is still out for me on Robyn…

Annie…
I think Annie is quite cool, she is more intriguing than Robyn and her music has more wit and sass about it. Really like "I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me" and loved "Chewing Gum". She should be bigger!

Imogen Heap…
Really lovely voice, don’t know her stuff as well as I should – but hear it everywhere and always find it moving, so atmospheric, must get an album. Quite liked what I heard of Frou Frou as well, had a single by them. Seems like she’s quietly building up a big fan base, when it did seem that she had been ignored before.

Dannii Minogue…
Oh you gotta feel sorry for Danni – always the bridesmaid to Kylie’s centre stage. I’ve always kinda liked her on the quiet, she has a trashy appeal, not amazingly talented given but done some fun singles, the "Girl" album was actually pretty good I thought – "Disremembrance" etc, "I Begin to Wonder" was a highlight for her, and I also really love "You Won’t Forget About Me”. I think she recognises she’s had her day as a pop star though.

Britney…
I LOVE Britney! I liked her early records, thought they were great pop, and when she did "Toxic" and "Everytime"I thought she really peaked- that was fantastic. I used to think she was just a puppet but I think despite, or maybe because of, the madness, she has a genuine drive and instinct for what she does, despite not being an amazing singer (like a lot of the best pop stars). I think considering the pressures she’s been under since such an early age it’s no wonder she lost it – anyone would! I don’t have the "Blackout" album still but I must get it, the singles are great – especially in a club, everyone including me goes mad if "Gimme More" or "Piece of Me" comes on – I love the self-awareness of that one! I hope she gets it together and really comes back proper..

Lady Gaga…
"Just Dance" is pretty fab, great voice, sound and very cool image, gonna be huge surely..s

OK – well, thanks James for chatting with us. What’s next in the world of James Leon?
Total pleasure Raj, thanks again for all your support – it is most appreciated. I should be back in the studio later this week to start recording my next track which I am quite excited about. I also have some other potential projects in the pipeline: I’ve written a song with an Italian producer and am waiting to get that finished. As I said earlier, looking into releasing something properly myself although still open to offers of record deals and definitely should be some more live stuff soon. So much work to do. but I’ve got a really good feeling about the next few months!

Make sure to check out James Leon’s fantastic music on his MySpace page too!