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For this, his first album as James & the Giants, James Jackson Toth and long-time collaborator Jarvis Taveniere paired newly written songs with ones drawn from decades ago, and brought together musicians from across the various eras of Toth’s time recording as Wooden Wand. But when Toth’s wife and occasional collaborator Leah Toth pointed out that multiple songs focused on seams, borders, and the passage of time, the singer-songwriter’s shifted perspective unlocked the theme; songs that deal with owning up to things, coming to terms with things, reckoning with the past. The resulting album, James & the Giants (out June 30th, via Kill Rock Stars Nashville), his first release with the label since 2006), picks at the seams of memory and finds new footing in reframing the past.
Q&A Exclusive to The Big Takeover:
How did the album come about?
James & The Giants was recorded in Brooklyn and LA over the span of four years. The songs were chosen from a big batch of demos, some of which were over two decades old. Jarvis Taveniere, who produced, engineered, and played on the record, is an old and trusted friend, so I was happy to defer to him on a lot of decisions. It’s his record as much as it is mine.
Do you consider this a concept album?
The album is only accidentally conceptual: many of the songs we chose to record seemed to coincidentally share common themes, which is especially strange given the large span of time in which they were written. There’s a lot here about friendship and a lot here about specific places, specifically the way the place you grow up can inform—for better or worse—your adult life. This retrospective approach extended, in another bit of serendipity, to the personnel: though I didn’t realize it at the time, there are four people who play on the record who had previously been members of three non-overlapping versions of my band. It gave the whole record an “alumni party” sort of vibe, which I think is palpable in the performances.
So collaboration was an important factor in the making of the album?
I think one thing you learn after you’ve made a lot of records is that while it’s always good to trust your instincts, it’s also good to question those instincts and motives for doing something, and to allow your collaborators to do the same. The older I get, the more willing I am to listen to the people I’m working with, and I’ve found that this typically yields the best and most enduring work. It took a while for me to be comfortable and confident enough to surrender the reins, but when you’re working with people you trust, it’s always a good idea to listen to what they have to say. It takes a village!
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