words + photos by ava butera
How was it working with Dreamers, on “Rest of Best”? The song is great!
Micky James: It was awesome! I mean, we live on two different coasts so it wasn’t like we were both in the vocal booth singing together and shit like that. That would have been awesome but it was great, I love those guys. I’ve known them for like two years. My old band toured with them, so we always stayed connected. I’ve always loved Nick’s voice and I thought it was a really cool dynamic. Would you agree?
Micky: I think it sounded great!
When I first heard that you guys were working together, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Because your vibe is more rock and they’re kind of poppier. So I was like are they going to pull it off?
Micky: (laughs) Well, I knew Nick’s influences like The Strokes -- who are one of my favorite bands -- and I thought it would be a cool dynamic. He has like a lazy kind of cool, Julian-esque [Julian Casablancas of The Strokes] voice --
He gives off that Julian-esque vibe even with his stage presence.
Micky: Yeah, so I thought it would be perfect.
I feel like your personal style and presence really coordinate with your sound as an artist. Where and who do you seek style inspiration from, like fashion-wise?
Micky: Thank you! I think for musicians, the first person I think of is David Bowie because he combined both his aesthetic and his music and branded it so well. Who else do I take from? It’s so hard to pinpoint because sometimes I see something and I’m like “that would look good.” I design my stage outfit myself. So when I was designing it I was thinking of some 80’s kind of stuff. The leather jacket has rhinestones on the lapels and fringe. I also have flare on my pants -- I added extra fabric to come out.
That’s cool! Did you add that yourself?
Micky: Yeah! I ripped the pants and sewed the extra flare material at the bottom with my sewing kit and all that. I also take style inspiration from Mick Jagger.
I know you just said that The Strokes were one of your favorite bands, but I knew that when I was doing my research prior! What’s your favorite album by them and why? This really is a transition for me to talk about The Strokes, they’re my favorite band too!
Micky: Oh nice! I love that question!
This is kind of a long, talking question but I thought I’d incorporate it anyway.
Micky: This is like a nerdy, music conversation.
This is honestly my excuse to talk about The Strokes, I’m hoping to make up for the fact that I’m missing Albert’s [Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes] show tonight!
Micky: Oh my god, so cool. Favorite album? I guess it’s cliché, but probably Is This It. That album actually got me into singing. I started singing at 17. I mean, I always could kind of sing, I would always be the guitar player and harmony guy in my bands when I was young. When one of my bands was starting, I couldn’t find a good singer and I knew I could kind of sing, but I hadn’t found my voice yet. But when I listened to that record, I kind of found my voice. My brother’s a great singer -- he’s a baritone singer and I couldn’t ever get to the level that I wanted to get at, so I sang in that voice.
The Julian voice!
Micky: Right! Right! Because I already have a low voice. So yeah, it was totally transcending.
How old were you when that album came out?
Micky: Eight. 2001, right?
Yeah. I was one (laughs)
Micky: Oh wow, shit! I feel old!
I’m quite young!!
So going along with sort of the same subject, do you feel like you’ve been inspired by all those early 2000’s indie rock bands from New York, having grown up as those bands were gaining notoriety?
Micky: Oh yeah for sure!
Did you read that book? [Meet Me In the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman]
Micky: A little bit.
It’s really long, but it’s good regardless.
Micky: I like those kind of reads, though. Like it’s very conversational, it’s cool. So yeah, I read like half of it.
It took me awhile to get through for some reason.
Micky: Yeah I don’t know. Because then I read some press releases from different members of The Strokes and everyone had different opinions on things said in the book.
I know what you mean. It was kind of contradictory too. Like with the whole Ryan Adams & Strokes feud. They were saying one thing and Ryan was saying something completely opposite.
Micky: Exactly. I didn’t know who to believe. Like is it 100% factual? I don’t really know.
I also felt like both parties were fabricating some parts to make the situation seem better, but I don’t know!
Micky: But yeah back to the question, all those bands in that New York scene from that time, but also in the 60’s and 70’s.
Yeah that early 2000’s scene was the resurgence from the CBGB bands.
Micky: Yeah! All those bands are my favorite bands, The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They were all innovative and really unique. I love it, they’re the best.
Your song “Tie Me Up” is so catchy, I literally have listened to it multiple times a day since its release! What’s the story behind that song?
Micky: Oh thank you that’s awesome! Um, the funny thing is, there really isn’t a story. I think when I was writing it with my guitar player, Ryder, we went into it with something -- I know that, I just don’t remember. Then we just went down this rabbit hole of chasing a psychedelic, acid trip. Have you ever heard ‘I Am the Walrus?’ I’m sure you have.
That entire album is just one big acid trip.
Micky: Like, you can’t really make out what the song’s about, so you kind of have to interpret it in your own way? And I think that’s kind of what we did. We were like, ‘Let’s just do what they did in ‘I Am the Walrus’.
So is it like random thoughts then?
Micky: Kind of.
Like kind of a fictional, cohesive story, or a more like avant-garde piece? I’m not trying to stump you!
Micky: No, no it’s okay. I know like Kurt Cobain has written songs that don’t mean anything.
But he was infamous for doing that.
Micky: Yes. Oasis did that too. I think we just left it to the listener can make up their own story about it. I mean if you listen to the lyrics, it doesn’t mean anything.
I mean, now that I think about you’re right.
Micky: ‘I’m up with Lisa in the stars with her rubies’ -- that’s a Beatles reference. ‘The anthill animal people look up” -- I don’t know it’s just a fun song!
It sounds good sonically, so you don’t really need a deeper meaning to it.
Micky: What do you think the song’s about?
I don’t know!
What happened to The Karma Killers? You guys were one of my favorite up-and-coming bands and I saw you on Warped that year you played!
Micky: Oh wow!
What year was that? I can’t remember.
Micky: I think it was 2015.
Micky: We kind of just like had different interests.
Did you ever officially announce a break-up?
Micky: No. I’m not into that.
No? So you just ended it? (laughs)
Micky: I mean, look where I am now? I’m still continuing and I just didn’t want it to be like that. I didn’t think we hit enough of a peak to really make that big of an announcement.
I mean, you were still small enough.
Micky: Exactly. It wasn’t really necessary. They all had other things they wanted to do and I wanted to keep going.
Was that your first band?
Micky: Oh no, I’ve been in bands since I was like 10. It was just one of many.
Do you still play that music [from The Karma Killers]?
Micky: Unfortunately no.
Those songs were so good though!
Micky: I know! Thank you.
Did you write them all solo, or did they contribute in any way?
Micky: I think the bass player contributed to one or two songs.
So then do you have the writing credit? Like could you still still technically play them without getting in trouble from the label?
Micky: Oh yeah totally.
You should incorporate some into your set!
Micky: I might bring back “My Killer Queen”. I just feel like those songs, sonically, don’t work with what I’m doing.
I get what you mean.
Micky: I could maybe get the masters back from the label and re-record it and do new versions of them or something.
What label are you on right now?
Micky: I’m on an indie label called Dirty Canvas. It’s a cool new label. I was signed to them through Island Records.
Was it a difficult transition from working cohesively in a band to then working by yourself? What do you feel are the pros and cons of being a solo artist?
Micky: No, not at all. It was quite easy since I did a lot of the writing to begin with. So the role really hasn’t changed, since I was the lead singer. I’m still taking the same responsibilities.
Were you nervous to release “Give It To Me Straight” since it would be your first single as a solo artist, but also you were starting brand new again?
Micky: More like anxious and excited because I just wanted to put out new music. Before The Karma Killers split, I was working on an album for that so I was in the studio for two years. So the band stopped and then I started this and went into the studio for another year/year and a half. I just wanted to get music out and start rolling again. So I was definitely more anxious. But I was definitely surprised by all the love it got and all the press. Billboard premiered it. So as a first release, it was pretty awesome.
How does it feel to be an artist on the Advanced Placement tour? I know this toured started within the last few years, but it seems like band that goes on this tour garners a lot of notoriety!
Micky: Yeah! I saw my friends in Night Riots do it.
I think they did it the first year.
Micky: Yeah, you’re right. It was great. I’m very honored and thankful. This is my first tour as Micky James. And they [Alt Nation] have been spinning me like crazy. Like every single I’ve put out, they play.
I know! Every day I get in the car, I hear you on the radio.
Micky: I’m super lucky. And all these bands on the bill are great. Are you watching the whole show tonight?
Yeah I think I’m going to stay to see The Regrettes.
Micky: You’ll enjoy it! It’s so good. They’re so good!
I mean, if I end up leaving after your set and go to the Albert Hammond Jr. show, The Smashing Pumpkins are headlining, so it’s tempting!
Micky: Oh my god, no way! Just go to that! That’s such a good show.
If you had to create your own music festival, which people would you put on the lineup? Dead or alive!
Micky: Oh sick! That’s that hardest question. How much time do we have? We could be here for a long time. I don’t know -- I like a lot of bands now that are booking festivals. Dead or alive. I love The Doors. They’d be at my festival.
Where’s your festival going to be?
Micky: New York? I think I’ll just recreate Woodstock.
Did you know that they’re recreating Woodstock?
Micky: I kind of heard that. I’m not sure what it’s going to be like.
The original was in Rome, NY, right?
They’re doing it there next August.
Micky: Who’s going to be on it?
They haven’t announced it officially yet but I saw some rumors and it was like Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Foo Fighters. It’s not really Woodstock music. But, I’d still want to go.
Micky: I thought Woodstock would more about the time and culture and the whole political movement.
If they could get Bob Dylan that’d be great. I don’t think he’d accept the offer though.
Micky: Bob Dylan, The Stones, The Who -- bands like that. If you’re trying to recreate it, get bands like that and bring it back a little bit.
I think then it’d be worth the money.
Micky: Oh yeah. I’d pay a lot of money to see them.
What should we expect from you within the next year? An EP hopefully? A new album? Can you come back to Chicago to play a show!
Micky: An EP for sure! I love Chicago. I’m so psyched to play here tonight.
I’ve never really heard New Yorker say that they love Chicago.
Micky: Oh I love it! Because every time I’ve played here, it’s been awesome. It’s always a good crowd.
It’s because we have a good scene here. Better than New York
Micky: No, no I agree! Chicago, New York, and LA are always the best shows. I’ll probably release an EP within the first quarter of next year. I’ll also be working on some more touring.