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"I wrote 'Tapes' right about the time we finished (the debut album) 'Doldrums,'" explains 19-year-old singer-songwriter Andrew St. James of the first song taken from his upcoming sophomore release, "The Shakes". "This is perhaps why the song has that same gritty, home spun sound."
St. James continues, "At its surface, the song is about falling in love and letting it happen before the self-protection sets in, snuffing it all out."
Having had some time to sit with the tune in the year since it was composed, St. James says he's been able to sort it out a little more than that.
"I see now that 'Tapes' is perhaps an expression that with less comes more, the direct belief that in truth we have nothing to live up to except the inevitable peace of death." Referring to the recurring theme of "the chapel" within the song ("For the chapel I see in you"), St. James explains that the chapel is a real place that represents this idea.
"It's a small, stained glass chapel that stands on the edge of the coastal forest, with a clear view of the Pacific Ocean. Anyone who steps inside of it is consumed by silence. The highway can not be heard through its walls. It has always been a place of peace, a place of solitude and simplicity."
St. James continues, saying, "In a world where everything is sold, and nothing held sacred, this place seems removed from it all. It represents the beauty in simplicity and the relief found in being forgotten for a while. Perhaps it is only our responsibility to diverge from the the systematic organized norm and truly experience what we can with the modest time we are given," he concludes. "Just a thought."
About Andrew St. James:
Only a year since the release of his debut album Doldrums, recorded when he was only 17-years-old, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Andrew St. James is back with "The Shakes", to be released on October 21st, 2014 via Island Jar/Fortune.
“He possesses remarkable lyricism and self-awareness,” said Interview Magazine upon the release of Doldrums. “Nothing short of stellar,” was Nylon’s assessment of his songs. “This kid is headed for big things,” said USA Today.
With "The Shakes", St. James continues to make confident steps in that very direction, but accolades from the press will always remain an external perspective on this mindful wild man with nothing to do but spread his own gospel.
St. James spent the last year living in Boston, often escaping down to New York or Nashville where he has continued to hone his craft, writing and recording hundreds of demos in a collection of bathrooms, basements and hotel rooms.
Where Doldrums was an album encompassed by small dreams and large statements about society as a whole, "The Shakes" is an album of insight and experience about characters in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco where every day, working people are being pushed out of their own town by a spreading blanket of corporations.
“On the flip side, there are much better restaurants,” St. James jokes. Songs this sincere do not come without a sense of humor.
When asked to delve deeper into the meaning behind the songs on "The Shakes", St. James defers to Jim Greer, a San Francisco studio vet, musician, and songwriter who produced both Doldrums and "The Shakes" with St. James.
“I was met with a suspicious glance and provided as little information as possible,” Greer explains of his efforts to get to the heart of the matter. “Occasionally I would ask for clarification on a lyric, which was always provided with a raised eyebrow and a knowing look, as if it should be self-explanatory.”
This mild apathy isn’t surprising considering that from a very young age, St. James already seemed a deep thinker, tired of the society into which he was born, and not that interested in the travails of his peers.
A perspective that some might call world-weary, while others would see as simply truthful, St. James brought his thoughts about gun violence in Oakland, real estate bubbles, questionable consumer lifestyles, and that most mysterious of topics for a teenager – women – to life on Doldrums.
“He delivered so effectively on these topics to people nearly ten years older than he was when he wrote these songs,” says Greer. “I remember being at one of his California shows and seeing a room full of twenty-somethings singing along.”
Greer got his first glimpse of "The Shakes" in the fall of 2013.
“I listened to some new demos he recorded in his parent’s bathroom in San Francisco and they were clearly a giant leap forward.”
One of these songs was “Tapes,” the album’s first single.
“It was apparent that Andrew was feeling the grip of life’s romance,” Greer remembers thinking of the tune at the time. “Less disillusionment and more wide-eyed at what life can have in store if you don’t deconstruct everything before it’s had a chance to build itself into your spirit.”
St. James’ political and socially conscious leanings stay strong on "The Shakes" too. “Reasons, don’t let ‘em hold you. Paper guns, don’t let ‘em hold you up,” he sings on album opener “Rosebud,” continuing to juxtapose the paradoxes of modern living with the San Francisco campfire lifestyle that originated in the ‘60’s. As a modern young man, St. James may have given up on this ideal, but his music won’t let it go.
Other songs on "The Shakes" such as “5 Years,” “Hollow Soul,” “Cold War,” and “Despite All Good Intentions” let us know that years of his hometown history are ingrained in St. James’ writing.
“You can almost feel the fog on the lovely saxophone solo from Ralph Carney on ‘5 Years,’” says Greer. “Or when ‘Hollow Soul’ builds in the bridge to a dizzying height, with Andrew’s vocal and improvisational guitar carrying it further.”
The shakes is what happens when a person withdraws from their drug of choice. On "The Shakes", Andrew St. James isn’t withdrawing from drugs, he’s withdrawing from towing the line. Unedited and raw, this is what these songs are referencing, despite the artist’s reticence to speak in detail about them.
“I’m just a ploy to give you joy,” he sings on “Falling Up.” And still, songs this sincere do not come without a sense of humor.
"The Shakes" by Andrew St. James arrives on October 21st, 2014 via Island Jar/Fortune. The album’s first single “Tapes” is streaming now.
Your mothers daughter isn’t breathin’
Standing scared in the mourning after dawn,
You think I’m the help but ive had trouble breathing too
The void in my head is still calling
Come fill my weary heart lonesome child
Come with your mistress and your holy doctor too
And for you I don’t need to fall
And for you I don’t need second chances at all
I’ll drop my hands full of glory
For the chapel I see in you, It's true
The graveyard saints are dead and missing
The nocturne wheel it spins amoung the stones
Stay with your slave for in your mirror you are always alone
My arms could reach through your fire
I don’t got much but I got a lot to own
I know you're broken and your heart has lost a home
See for you, I don’t need to fall
And for you, I don’t need to be wealthy at all
Share what I've got this evening
For the chapel I see In you, I do
And for your holy pavement
I don’t need to sigh anymore,
For through the leauges of desire
Many drown before the shore
So call me patient and unmoving
For I aint moving 'til I smell the evening vine
With no possesions and no people left to find
To stand through the gates of sorrow
Just to see the meaning of the line
But with your courage I've lost all will to find
And for you, I don’t need to fall
And for you, I would dawn the basement shawl
We’ll learn to breath in the morning
For the chapel I see in you, you’re long overdue