JAMES CHRISTIAN: IN CONVERSATION ABOUT HOUSE OF LORDS
Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke
House Of Lords burst on to the Rock scene back in 1989 with their self-titled debut album which set up the momentum for 'Sahara' and 'Demons Down' before the band went on a lengthy hiatus.
Thankfully with a second bite at the proverbial, they came back in 2004 and haven't looked back since! Lead vocalist James Christian took a moment out of his very busy schedule to chat with me about their latest studio offering 'Precious Metal' amongst other things relating to the band.
I started the ball rolling by mentioning how one of the band had mentioned there were about 18 to 20 tracks written for this new session, and how they managed to reduce the quantity to the 12 that are on 'Precious Metal'.
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"I listen to everything quite often, and even before there's a vocal on it. I just listen to the track. See if the track would move either way I would like it to. I'm not always right, but I have my own opinions and my own feelings, so that's the only thing I can base it on. Once it gets to the point I'm looking at the track and I can envision what the melodies would be like on top of it, then I start whittling it down.
"We actually recorded about 14 or 15 tracks completed and three of them didn't get on there. We don't always get it right as we're writing it and recording it. You have a vision in your head what it's going to sound like and then it's done, and then you go hmmm. It's got to get passed me and the listening test.
"I've got to be able to sit there and go - I enjoyed that. If I don't enjoy it, then I think we've got to do better. After a few months, it happens to everyone, but you tend to lose judgement as to what is just right or what's not right, so you have to step back a bit so that's why I like to have a bit of time before actually mixing the record; so you can come back to it with better ears."
On the subject of these excess songs, I asked whether they were now lost or whether they'd be revisited.
"Some of them are finished, it happens when you're writing. We had a song once called 'Blue Blood' which was supposed to be on the 'Cartesian Dreams' record, but it never made it on that record but the title got changed and the melody got changed 'cos I really like the music on it and it ended up being called 'Born To Be My Baby'.
"So it's possible you revisit a track, and see if that works for you. Basically unless you're really dried out and you can't come up with anything creative, I leave it where it is. If I ever get to the point where someday I don't have anything creative to offer I might look back at them and think - well that wasn't so bad. But right now everything is going very well; the songwriting is very creative and it's just coming one after the other."
Acknowledging the band line-up of James with Jimi Bell on guitar, B.J. Zampa on drums and Chris McCarvill taking on bass duties, and witnessing their excellent chemistry and creativity together, I asked what each member brought to the table.
"They bring a lot of enthusiasm and that to me is so refreshing. When I joined House of Lords back in the 80s there was a lot of enthusiasm on the first record, everybody wanted to get it right. We put out a great record, and then the second and third albums they were both really strong records but there was so much internal conflict going on with the members, things got changed around on every record so it was hard to settle in to the group.
"The music was great still, but it was the inner tension sometimes that didn't make things work. So after a hiatus of many years and coming back to it with the new guys, they just want to do music. They're happy to be out there and they were fans of House of Lords prior to it, which is a great thing. They knew I didn't want to change the direction of House of Lords, just keep it fresh and relevant rather than stale and keep going back to the past. Maybe move forward with a more modern sound but still keeping the melodic spirit in the music."
Noting how James had made reference prior to the release of 'Precious Metal' about it turning out better than he had expected, I brought out my shovel and started to dig deeper by asking what he meant by that.
"The thing I was concerned about was that the songs were coming out quickly. The songwriting was done maybe in a couple of days, and one song could have been written in two days. Normally the process is longer and a little more dissected. By that meaning you're fine tuning every nook and cranny of the song where you want to get everything just the way it is. On this one I kind of let the reigns loose and said – you know what Jimi, you are a great guitar player and do what you believe. I did that with B.J. and I did that with Chris so when it was done, it sounded really good.
"It's not somebody micro-managing every moment, it's the band doing what they do best; and that is playing. In that way, that's why I think 'Precious Metal' is different from the other albums. Sometimes producers are supposed to do micro-management, it's what keeps the sound intact and it's what keeps the album flowing. So there are moments when you need that, but on this record we didn't do that. So when I said that it came out better than I anticipated, I didn't realise until the very end that wow, there's so many different flavours in this record that I think people are going to love it or they're just going to say that's not the House of Lords I remember. So, you've really got to take your chances."
When quizzed about the album title 'Precious Metal', James had this to say: "Actually the title came after the whole record was done. I mean it was just one of those things where we were wondering what can we call this record you know. It needs a great title, it needs a unique title and 'Precious Metal' kept popping out and I believe it was Robin (Beck, married to James Christian) that mentioned it.
"Well you're not really a Metal band but you are in that realm, and the precious part of it kind of makes people understand we're precious metal not Heavy Metal, but 'Precious Metal'. She had a bit more of a womanly approach to that."
From discussing where the title originated, James then found his flow of conversation entering the album cover.
"I already had some ideas for a cover; we wanted to use a girl but we didn't want to go via the traditional babe. The kind who was dressed in tights and breasts hanging out, we wanted a stronger figure. So that woman, again Robin's idea, my daughter took the photograph and they made up her face exactly like that, it's not a drawing it's actually a photograph."
The conversation moved on to how our paths had nearly crossed previously and some references about his wife Robin Beck and a band who will be on an imminent tour with House Of Lords called Estrella, who we both acknowledge are a hard working band and have lots of potential. James refers to them as a great bunch of guys.
This year signals the 25th anniversary of the band, so what did that mean to James?
"Releasing the album is more than enough to celebrate this anniversary. Just getting it all together; doing tours now are so much more difficult to put together. You have to make sure you have the right amount of dates to support the tour. There are so many different things; before you had a record company paying for the tour it was a lot different, so now your management and your agent have to work all of this stuff out, so it becomes a little bit of a crazy thing.
"I think we're going to be taking a couple of days off somewhere during the tour and have a little bit of a celebration, all of us along with Robin, because we're all be together. 25 years is a big number for me, it's not the number for the rest of the guys, but for me it's 25 years. To them it's more like seven."
Look out for them on the road, and once they finish this tour you know these guys won't be resting on their laurels. If you can't make the tour, then remember they have their latest studio album out there in the shape of the strong release called 'Precious Metal'...