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Catching Up With James Christian of House of Lords

Catching Up With James Christian of House of Lords
Interviewed by: Roger Scales

House of Lords released their 8th studio album in 2011 Big Money.  The reviews thus far, including ours, have been very positive you must be pleased?

I’m totally pleased and I thank you for your kind words.  It’s always nice when you do something and everyone else “gets it”.  There are those moments when you create something and you say to yourself why didn’t anyone get it?  So you really have to be very true to what you do and then just hope for the best.  Everyone is going to have a different opinion about something and in the creative process it’s hit or miss..rarely in between.

With most of the bands lineup intact for a few years now was the approach the same in terms of writing for Big Money as it was for the 2009 release Cartesian Dreams?  

Pretty much the same.  Actually the process for Big Money was a lot quicker for a lot of reasons.  When we wrote for Cartesian Dreams we had lots of tracks to work with that we didn’t finish but just developed.  We started doing Big Money there was a lot of fresh material just waiting in the wings to be worked on.  So we had a little bit of a head start there and process wise we always start with a strong melody when we write any HOL song and from there it builds.  That always been the HOL strategy and I suspect moving forward it always will be. 

What really stands out on Big Money is the variety in the types of tracks.  Was this your intent or did it just end up that way based on the songs that were brought to the table? 

It definitely was intentional in a lot of ways.  For Big Money I wanted to have a lot of flavors and textures and I didn’t want any type of cookie cutter tracks written during the creative process.  It’s getting a little crazy (in my opinion) in the melodic community where a lot of the records are all starting to sound the same.  This has to do with a little more time being spent writing the songs and less on the slick production value to mask anything else that maybe going on.  Big Money has a much more RAW sound to it than in the past and it is that way for a reason.  I wanted it to sound like a bunch of guys of playing rather than this overly polished type sound.  Some fans embrace it and some don’t.   They are so used to hearing everything so polished in our sound that they forget that these are human beings playing in a room and it’s best to just let that happen naturally.  Think about the early Led Zeppelin records for instance those were so loose and so fresh and had very little overproduction value and you listen to them today and they still have life left in them.

Where was the location for the first video for “Someday When” and is that Robin Beck appearing in then video as well?

Yes that is Robin in the video.  Funny you mention that because that female character was a last minute idea the director had.  Who better than Robin who knows the material, sang on the material and was around frequently during the making of ‘Big Money” to play the role.  The location was a place called The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in Norwalk, Connecticut.  It was built in like 1864 and many of the Dark Shadows tv episodes from the late 60’s and early 1970’s and the House of Dark Shadows motion picture were filmed.  It’s a pretty spooky place and was perfect for the vibe needed for this track.

House of Lords has been with Frontiers for a few years now.  Seems as if Serafino has been a huge James Christian supporter and has respected your vision of the band as it has moved forward even without its original line up?

I would agree with that statement 100%.  Serafino and I have gained trust with each other over each subsequent record.  We may disagree on certain songs and he has a certain vision of what HOL should be at the end of the day he trusts my judgment.  There were a few songs on Big Money that he got nervous on upon first hearing them.  “Searchin” for instance he didn’t think (initially) fit the HOL mold.   He has a specific market he needs to target to from a business perspective and I understand that.  From a creative standpoint I told him there has got to be ways to incorporate what a band is capable of doing and still please the fans and sell the records.  Basically when Big Money was released I did receive a big smiley email from him and he was totally pleased with the end result.

Is the juxtaposition as producer of House of Lords more or less difficult than say producing the last Robin Beck record or Fiona’s new album because you’re also the vocalist and chief songwriter?   

Its way more difficult as producer for any HOL project than working with another artist.  Because I’m on the outside looking in for other artists my perspective is different than it is judging my own vocals for instance.  Remaining objective on your own performance can be challenging.  But after working with a producer like Andy Johns (for example) I got a better handle on it and what sounds good on my voice and what doesn’t.  I always shy away from what doesn’t and stick to what I know best which is melodic rock and songs that have melody and songs that I can sink my teeth into.  If you put me on a grunge song or a traditional metal track I suck.  Anyplace where a melody doesn’t move at all I’m lost.  It’s really just not my thing. 

Did you have any formal vocal training growing up and did your family support you in your pursuit of a musical career? 

My family did support me but there was a little push and pull sort of mentality that was going on for awhile.  My brothers were also musicians but they never followed through on their lessons and because I was the youngest they were somewhat disillusioned to the idea of musical endeavors when it came to me.  However after a while they embraced it and they were completely behind what I did.  As for vocal training I never had any formal lessons or a mentor that taught me any one discipline.  When I did look into it I didn’t feel it applied to rock n roll vocals and ultimately it didn’t work for me.  I was an avid listener.  Robert Plant was probably my biggest influence.  I would listen to him almost every day trying to replicate that style.  Steve Perry was someone who just blew me away with that power.  From playing clubs and singing those songs every night I developed that classic rock style but at the end of the day I didn’t have a style of my own.  So after I left the club circuit I had to develop my own style and finally reached that goal when I joined House of Lords.  Not magically of course but I knew where my place was I knew what I wanted to sound like. 

You played some shows in New England in November and you also have a date at the Wolf’s Den at Mohegan Sun Casino in CT on December 19.  You had a planned tour of Europe as well but that had to be rescheduled to early 2012.  What exactly where the circumstances behind this?

It was something (at the time) I didn’t want to bring up because I felt I could work my way through it but I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had a very radical surgery a robotic surgery which removed the prostate and all of this takes quite awhile to recover from.  I didn’t give myself enough to heal and by the time we were going to start rehearsals a few weeks before we were scheduled to leave for the tour I knew I was no condition to travel let alone perform at the level to which I have become accustomed.  So I had to make the decision to come out and alert the public of the situation and the reason we had to reschedule the European leg of the tour. A lot of artists will cancel a tour and no reason is given and that’s when speculation will start the band didn’t sell enough tickets, nobody wanted to see them, the bands not getting along, etc.  The guys in HOL were very supportive of my decision and their feeling was you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to and have your privacy protected.  Yet I felt it was important to get the news out to the fans and let them know the truth.  Having said that we did do the two dates in November in CT and RI to sort of test the waters and see where I was from a performance standpoint.  The first night (I won’t lie) was very grueling.  Very difficult.  The 2nd night of a back to back was 30-40% easier.  I’m assuming moving forward it’s going to get easier for me.  For me from the vocals standpoint I use a lot of my stomach muscles and that’s where the majority of my surgery was completed.  When you push sometimes on the organs when straining to perform it’s like a bad toothache because the nerves are so sensitive based on my procedure. It did throw me off a couple of times and the guys could sense it.  I’m still learning a bit on what I can and cannot do as I continue to heal.

Who came up with the name of the band House of Lords and who’s idea was it for you guys to dress in Old English royalty?

Gene Simmons.  There were a few names for the band that were being considered but Gene insisted that we use HOL and it was his brainchild and vision.  It was the first thing that came out of his mouth and everybody just sort of went wow…so it stuck.  The dress was the result of a few Hollywood designers who heard the name of the band, listened to the band and everyone said it sounded like “Regal Rock” and you should look the part. 

True confession time James.  When you’re toured with Nelson in support of Sahara in 1991 I had joined the HOL fan club and was mailed a laminate that I could use as entrance to a post show meet/greet at whatever city you played.  Well, when you hit Boston and I found where the band was meeting I walked in a little late and upon entering the area I realized right away I was the only MALE non band member in the room and felt very uncomfortable.  Doug Aldrich was the lone HOL member who even noticed I walked in at all and was very gracious.  Do you think the appeal of HOL then in the late 80’s and early 90’s is different than what it is in 2011?

That’s a funny story and very believable based our initial appeal.  We still have a female following but back then it was pretty weird because women just loved us from the get go.  I couldn’t believe it myself.  I always thought that rock n roll was something that both men and women loved.  For some reason gals were very attracted to the songs and they were probably 75-80% of our buying audience.  Times have changed and the sound is heavier now and it’s much more mature and the members are much older and I think the fans appreciate the music for what it is and strip away the glam image from the first record.  MTV totally glorified that image back then and we ate it up!  Do I regret anything from those days?  Of course not.  Today we get to reap the benefits because those of us who choose to continue can continue in this business and that’s a fortunate thing for any musician to make a living do what they love. 

Do you have a particular show or memory from the first two HOL tours that sticks out in terms of the bands that you played or toured with?

Yes one of my favorite shows was when we played the Amphitheater in Los Angeles with a bill headlined by Warrant and Tesla with House of Lords and the Bulletboys in support.  It was amazing because I was playing in my hometown (at the time) and the crowd that night was off the charts in terms of the support.  I knew LA crowds had seen it all already..I mean everyone.  For some reason they really embraced HOL big time.  The big station then KNAC in LA had a contest right around the time of that gig where they had the biggest 5 glam bands of the time and their biggest hits and HOL won for “Can’t Find My Way Home” and that was amazing.  Another gig that stands out was a show in Germany we did opening for Ozzy Osbourne and there was 25,000 people in the crowd and tons of love for HOL.

Any interesting stories connected with your national TV appearance on “Into the Night with Rick Dees” in 1990?  It seemed as if Gene Simmons although shown on camera and was joked with by Rick was not all thrilled about having the spotlight taken from his major new act and discovery? 

That was typical Gene Simmons.  As famous as he was he would take a backseat and become a record company executive when it came to press for his new act.  That never changed as long as he was involved with the decisions regarding the band.  I did about a month of promotions with him for that first record and we traveled together and was trying to make a name for myself and the band and he was very supportive and I learned a lot about this business while being around him.  Getting back to that night on Rick Dees I will never forget how I felt.  I felt like I wanted to puke.  This was national tv and it was not pre-taped.  It was all live and whatever came out of me came out.  It freaked me out because I had only been in the band a short time and suddenly we were doing this.  I would have liked a few shots on getting it right but it wasn’t meant to be.  I was really happy (ultimately) at the outcome although I have not seen that footage in years.

What other projects do you have planned for 2012 and beyond?

As soon as I get home from the European tour in early 2012 I want to get Robin’s (Beck) new record recorded and ready to go.  She is doing a tour of Europe in January called Rock Meets Classic with Ian Gillan, Steve Lukather, Chris Thompson, Jimi Jamison and a full orchestra.  Then the next House of Lords record which I hope to include a live DVD with it.  I think it’s time because I think there is enough material to make it relevant.  When you have a group with this type of history with a newer lineup you have to balance the older material with the new stuff.  I want the dvd to focus on the 2nd phase of HOL and that material.  Lots of unfinished business but I will make sure my website is updated every step of the way.  Hope to see many of you in CT on Dec 19.

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