James Lire grew up in the small town on Melville, Saskatchewan. At the age of sixteen he picked up his first guitar and almost immediately started his first band. At the age of eighteen he had written, recorded, and released his first album, which was available in HMV across Canada. He then embarked on a tour of Western Canada. At the age of nineteen he realized that there wasn’t enough potential for a musician in a small town of 4,500, so he travelled up to Toronto to follow his dreams. When he got there he quickly found bands which shared his goals and aspirations and started involving himself in the Toronto music scene, finding gigs at venues such as the Hard Rock and The Velvet Underground. Meeting a handful of inspirational musicians along the way, James Lire decided to start up a Toronto project of his own, James Lire & The Crazies.
Sleeping City is James Lire & The Crazies debut EP. Sleeping City is now available for digital download (pay what you want) as well as in a physical format. The collection of songs features a number of the talented artists that James has played with in his journey between the small town of Melville, Saskatchewan and the big city of Toronto, Ontario. The EP features James Lire on guitar, vocals, banjo, harmonica and lap steel alongside Jr. Juno award winning pianist Jacob Read, Bashar Tayyoun (ex Headloss/Creeping Charlie) on Drums and Guitar, Stacey Shopowitz (Thundermonks) on Upright Bass, Stephen Rogalski (ex Plectrum) on Guitar, Dylan Banow (ex Plectrum) on Bass, Jesse Alarcon on Drums and Sarah Mooney on Vocals.
James recently described the making of the album and the steps he has taken in his career so, in an exclusive interview with Rick Jamm.
1. How long have you been doing what you’re doing and how did you get started in the first place?
JAMES LIRE: This project started as just a song. When I had first moved from Saskatchewan to Toronto I lost my first band, who I had been writing with since I had first picked up guitar. At first I had a tough time finding a band so I decided to record some of the songs I had written and release them online, just to see if it went anywhere. I released a homemade version of the song “I’m Just Fine” under the name James Lire and the Crazies to see if it would get any response. Soon after I found a few bands in Toronto that I fell in love with, joined, and just left the project where it was. Around the start of 2013, I received a phone call from a distribution company who had found James Lire and The Crazies online and wanted to work together to release an album. This really pushed me to take the somewhat abandoned project farther and I started working with some of the great musicians I’d met in both Saskatchewan and in Ontario to record the project’s first EP, Sleeping City.
2. Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
JAMES LIRE: When I was a kid I remember my dad playing music on the stereo all the time. I don’t remember what most of it was, but I remember the excitement and the heightened emotions that came from being a kid and hearing all these different sounds for the first time. The few bands I remember getting excited hearing were The Ramones, The Crash Test Dummies and Tom Waits. But I would say the first real “influence” I got was after I had first started playing guitar. I remember sitting in the truck while my dad was in the convenience store. He came out, got in the truck, and handed me a magazine. It was a guitar magazine (which I didn’t even know existed at the time) about a guy named Slash who I had never heard of. I started reading it and I couldn’t put it down, the whole idea playing in a band seemed so exciting. I went home and looked through my dad’s collection and sure enough, there it was; Appetite For Destruction. That album was probably my biggest early influence. I remember when I was almost done the magazine my father saying, “I didn’t buy that so you could read about those idiots, I wanted you to learn the songs!”
3. Which artists do you listen to today? And is there anybody special you’d like to collaborate with?
JAMES LIRE: I’ve been listening to a lot of local music lately, which is one of the great things about Toronto. There are so many great bands and I just have to get downtown to hear them. One great local folk artist whose album I’ve had on repeat lately is Rob Moir. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Blind Melon and Neil Young lately. As for collaborating, there’s no one specific, I always love playing with new people who ever it is, because their style will always leave an influence in one way or another.
4. Describe the first piece of musical equipment that you actually purchased with your own money?
JAMES LIRE: The first piece of musical equipment I ever bought was a cherry red Epiphone SG guitar. I still remember trying to work as much as possible during my summer break while I was school to save up for this thing and the amazing feeling when I went down to the local guitar shop, Fuzztone Music, to buy my very first electric guitar. It’s pretty banged up but I still have it.
5. Tell us something about the band line-up on your latest Ep. How did you meet and choose the players?
JAMES LIRE: I had a lot of fun recording the EP because I got to record it with a lot of great friends and amazing musicians. I got to record a few songs with my brother Jacob on piano, who I have really missed getting to play with since moving to Toronto. The album also features two of the other members from my old band in Saskatchewan, Dylan Banow and Stephen Rogalski. It was really great getting to work on stuff with these guys again. I recorded a few songs with my great friend Bashar Tayyoun who I use to play in a Toronto grunge band with. I got to record a song with Stacey Shopowitz of The Thundermonks who is one of the best upright bass players I’ve met and one with Jesse Alarcon who is certainly one of the most versatile musicians I have ever met. When I was getting near the end of the recording process I wanted to add some female vocals into the mix and I happened to meet a young singer by the name of Sarah Mooney. She really added a lot to the dynamics of the album. I had a great time recording this album because I got to work with a lot of great people and just have fun with it.
6. Live gigging or studio work, which do you prefer and why?
JAMES LIRE: I’m not sure how to answer this one, they’re both great for their own reasons. With studio work you get the pleasure of actually making something, not just playing the music but having it made into a tangible object at the end. With live you get the instant reaction to what you’re doing which can be just as rewarding.
7. Which one of your original songs do you feel is the absolute “crowd pleaser” and do you remember when and why you composed it?
JAMES LIRE: That’s hard to answer. It’s a pretty diverse album; the style ranges from song to song. It’s how I wanted it; it has a lot of different musicians on it with very different influences that affect each song. Every time I ask people which song they like best I get a different answer, I think I’ve heard each song as the answer at least once. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing…
8. On which one of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from a technical point of view?
JAMES LIRE: I don’t know which one I would say was the best performance, but the most technically challenging song on the album was definitely Gunslinger. It mixes a lot of different styles from a lot of very different musicians.
9. Which ingredient do you think is most essential in making JAMES LIRE & THE CRAZIES music sound the way it does?
JAMES LIRE: I don’t think there is one ingredient that makes the music sound the way it does and that’s what I love about the project. It mixes so many different ingredients, different influences from different musicians with different points of view. It all ties together in the end but I don’t feel it comes from any one ingredient.
10. If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you day after day to stay in this tough business. Is it joy, anger, desire, passion or pride and why?
JAMES LIRE: Passion for music.
11. Which aspects of being an independent artist and the music making processes excites you most and which aspects discourage you most?
JAMES LIRE: I think the most exciting and discouraging thing about being an independent artist is just that; doing it all yourself. You get to see all the sides of the industry when you’re doing it all yourself and it’s a great way to learn. A bigger sense of accomplishment comes when you have a final product and it’s something you did yourself. At the same time it can get a little overwhelming; things in this industry can take a lot of patience, which can be discouraging sometimes.
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12. Tell us something about your songwriting process and what usually comes first, the lyrics or the music?
JAMES LIRE: It comes both ways. Sometimes I’ll come up with the music and then write lyrics to go with it; sometimes I’ll come up with the lyrics then add guitar to it. Every song is different.
13. How involved are you in any of the recording, producing, mastering and marketing processes of your music. Do you outsource any of these processes?
JAMES LIRE: For this album I was pretty involved. I recorded “I’m Just Fine” at a cool little Toronto studio called Audley St. Recording Studio’s, but I produced and recorded the rest of the album myself. I mixed a few songs and I had my great friend Dylan Banow, mix both the Tourist and Gallow’s Pole and I couldn’t have asked for anything better, he did such an amazing job. As for distribution when I had started the project I was signed to a distribution deal, but it ended up falling through because we had different views on the end product. They ended up wanting to release it on download cards instead of c.d’s and although that may be the future, I didn’t want that. I ended up finding a distributor from the states to make the physical copies and doing the promotion myself.
14. The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?
JAMES LIRE: I think the best piece of advice I followed music wise, was moving to the city. There are just so many more possibilities. There’s a lot of advice that I’m glad I never took as I’ve met a lot of people in this industry who care more about the money than the music, but I can’t think of any piece of advice that I regret not following, I’m happy with where I am.
15. At this point, as an independent artist, which is the one factor you desire most, and feel will undeniably benefit your career?
JAMES LIRE: I think the most important factor for almost any independent artist is exposure. It doesn’t matter what you’re music sounds like if people don’t hear it.
16. Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites, as fundamental to your career, and indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre “copy-and-paste” artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
JAMES LIRE: I hate when I hear people saying that the Internet killed the industry. People say that now everybody thinks that they’re a musician because they can record a song and release it online and it’s true but hey, if someone wants to make music and share it with the world why stop them? The Internet has put the power in the hands of who ever want it, as opposed to just the big record labels that have money to put music out there. It’s allowed a lot of musicians who would never be signed to a major label to make a career out of music and I think that’s great.
17. Do you make use of the new technology offered by the computer and software, or do you work exclusively in real studios, with traditional instruments and music productions techniques?
JAMES LIRE: I definitely take advantage of the technology that’s out there. I recorded most of the album in my home studio, which wouldn’t be possible without the use of new technology. I would love to record to tape but it’s not a luxury most independent artists get.
18. Is “SLEEPING CITY” the exact Ep you wanted to produce at this time in your career, or did it all come about rather casually?
JAMES LIRE: It all came together rather casually, which is the beauty of being able to record yourself. It wasn’t rushed or forced it all came together naturally so although it was casual it came out as what I wanted it to be.
19. What do you think is the biggest barrier you have to face and overcome as an indie songwriter/performer, in your quest to achieve your goals and any commercial success?
JAMES LIRE: I’ll have to say exposure again. I think that getting the music out there is the biggest barrier that has to be crossed to find out if music is going to successful or not.
20. What is the ONE thing you are NOT willing or prepared to do, in your quest to achieve a successful musical career?
JAMES LIRE: Pretend to be something I’m not.
21. Tell us about any new projects or ideas you will be working on in the near future?
JAMES LIRE: I’m actually planning a Canadian tour right now to promote the album. I’m really excited to hit the road again and can’t wait to see how it turns out!
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OFFICIAL LINKS & WEBSITES:
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