New York-based musician James K‘s work spans a number of disciplines, the connected threads of which spin a delicate universe of their own. With sparkly pop songs and equally spellbinding self-directed videos she is steadily growing an autonomous and spooky fairy empire. After collaborations with Uno NYC’s Gobby and scoring Eckhaus Latta’s SS-16 fashion show, James K just released her first album PET as a co-release on her own imprint, She Rocks!, as well as Berlin’s Dial Records, and in a cassette tape form on Vancouver’s 1080p. She shares her camera roll and speaks to 032c’s Bianca Heuser:
Are these two from the shoot you did for the Seth videos? Can you tell us a bit about the project, and these videos?
James K: Yes, these are photos I took while in the desert. I was shooting a bunch of video, and I ended up turning the footage into a four part music/tour video movie with interludes for the first SETH album, Chick on the Moon. SETH is a project I started with Gobby. We’ve released two albums so far. I used to make a lot of my videos using the camcorder. I used to shoot these videos- I’d bring it around and create scenes off the top of my head with whatever I’d find. I shot this one in LA, and various deserts. There is a very subtle undertone theme to the four-part video which is ‘dreams lost’, or, rather, ‘glitter dried to dust.’
Who’s this little guy? Is it important to have a sort of companion when traveling?
James K: This is Chi or Zhe, my tour buddy. When I tour in Europe, I’m doing it alone. It’s nice to have something soft and adorable to bring around with me. I also find it entertaining to document through the lens of my buddy.
What’s your spirit animal?
James K: Someone once told me my spirit animal was a fairy. I agree. I don’t feel it’s an actual animal, but more a creature or ghost.
What’s your relationship to nature? How has growing up in NY shaped it? I feel like your music sounds very organic but if you’d want to put in relationship with nature, it’s definitely not that of our planet.
James K: I grew up in NY, but I always had a relationship with the city as well as nature. I’d go to the woods and mountains often. I think my music shows an intersection between the organic and the electronic, or, yes, perhaps something supernatural, which makes sense considering my connection to each spectrum. There is a tension I find in my upbringing, existing in a natural and urban landscape. I feel that, at the core, my music is very organic, but there is an undermining which occurs in the production process, which enforces this tension. Something about the music feels unfinished and even not honest if only the ‘organic’ exists. In terms of being ‘of this planet,’ a lot of making art and music for me is about dreaming – creating something that never existed which has its roots in reality. There are many things I find in nature that don’t seem of this world, aka supernatural nature: It’s about perspective.
Your aesthetics are their whole own universe. From writing and recording to styling and directing, you do pretty much everything yourself. Is this “DIY approach” necessary to keep control over things? How connected are your music and visual output?
James K: I aiming to create a mythology for my music by intersecting it with my visual work. For a while, I was making video and visual work and thinking of it separately. At a certain point, I wanted to focus more on music and include all the other elements into a single project, with the music at the foundation. DIY is how I’ve always operated to a certain extent. I’ve always had the initiative to learn the things I want to do. The approach is possibly related to a tenacity I experience when I get an idea, and they are specific, so it is important that I keep the creative control in my hands. It might be that I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to my work. That being said, there are also many instances where I’m working with others to accomplish the best possible outcome of an idea. I do feel it is very important to know where your abilities exhaust and when other’s specific skills could help get the initial idea to its finished state. I love this because I also learn more working with others.
What happened here? What role does pain play in your creative process?
James K: My friend had some sort of massage therapy which resulted in a lot of broken blood cells. Pain is something I have a strange relationship with since I was very young actually. I am a very sensitive person, and pain is something that I have used as a way to control feelings of being out of control. When I’m making music especially, I’m delving deep into myself and often times I find a lot of uncovered emotional pain. Looking at yourself honestly, processing by forming expression out of it will be painful; so this process is one of self-inflicted pain. As an artist, my objective is to have control over the pain by self inflicting it and then accepting this experience and trying to understand it.
Are these your friends? What makes dressing up and role play so fun?
James K: Yes, we dressed up for Halloween as a kind of demented Manson family, but southern. A lot of my work revolves around creating personas, discussing an idea that our own personalties are fragmented-made up of multiple personas. For me, role playing is important in delving into certain personalities within myself. It helps to create an established idea of this persona via visual and written (or acted) elements to create a separation between yourself and a certain fragmented element of yourself. By creating this separation, I can access these parts of myself which I might be scared to go into otherwise. Role playing can serve as a blanket to hide your ‘true’ self beneath, which is freeing – creating an ignorance of the self, and therefore fun, but I find that there is a truth to it, and this is how it is also serious for me.
Where and who is this?
James K: This is someone dressed as the Loch Ness Monster, or maybe just some general swamp creature. He was at a ParaCon (paranormal convention) I went to in Harrisville, Rhode Island last summer. There were some interesting weirdos there; a woman summoned alien spacecrafts from the sky.
What inspires and influences your work?
James K: I am a hypersensitive person and this has a deep influence on everything for me; this quality in myself is something that has made me feel strange since I was very young. To understand it, I have an interest in finding other things which embody some similar characteristics, or describe/resonate with similar feelings within myself. I mentioned pain having an affect, humor, the absurd, anything weird, supernatural. I am a big fan of most things with a coupling of the fantastic and depraved; whether it be in films, fiction, nature, objects, or other persons. A lot of my inspiration also comes from an intersection between objects and persona; an emotional quality in objects, which could describe or fill some piece of my own emotional character. It’s sort of about filling voids, but also about telling stories in little pieces of things I find around me.
You mostly tattoo yourself, right? What gets you in the mood?
James K: I have a lot of tattoos I’ve given myself, I’ve also tattooed many of my friends. My tattoos are basically all doodles, which i have because i find them very comforting. I think most often the reason why I’m giving or getting a tattoo on myself is because I feel some void that needs to be filled. I am in search for comfort.
Has this video come out yet? Can you tell us who these kids are again? Also, you’re wearing your own merch, right? Can you say something about the design? I think a picture further up is of a printing press with a poster … ?
James K: Yes these are kids from the music video I did for “Sokit To Me Baby.” They are actually Nata’s, the woman I shot the video with, cousins. I made these tee shirts for them by ironing-on images of their faces from their yearbook photos. The treatment I wrote for the video I based off of a collection of screen shots I gathered and then created a storyboard from. This scene was actually going to first just be one guy in a parking lot spinning nun-chucks. The image I used from the treatment was from this character on South Park, the 6th graded leader. I also made the shirt I’m wearing in this photo, it’s basically a bunch of images I made from collaging on photoshop and then ironed-onto my shirt, though it’s not merch I’m selling. I studied printmaking at school and I still do a lot of silkscreening. The poster insert from my album is a double-sided silkscreen print I made, and I still make a variety of tee shirts, which I silkscreen and sell as merch. I think the DIY method you mentioned before is definitely relating back to my printmaking background, which is also a big part of the scene in Providence, where I still do all of my silk-screening.