Giovanni James of rock trio James and the Transmission sits down with us at Simply Coffee in Burbank, CA to discuss their three-part Technicolor EP series, how their band dynamic allows them to grow, and being inspired by heavy hitting yet relatable topics.
James and the Transmission is comprised of:
Giovanni James – lead vocals and guitar
Nico Miles – drums and vocals
Antonio “Tony” Argenis – bass
So you guys had recently released the second installment of your Technicolor EP series. Would you like to give us a little bit of insight as to what inspired the lyrics, the instrumentation, and any other elements that you included on the EP?
Giovanni James: Sure! But I’d kind of have to go back and talk about why we’re doing the EP series first. So we were playing together in Riverside years ago, and then me and Nico moved out here to L.A. with Tony still being out in Riverside. We were playing in other bands and doing other things until we were like, ‘Well, maybe we should start playing together again.’ When we got back together, we start writing a lot, but I kind of wanted to leave some room to see where those songs would lead us. We didn’t want to put a pressure on it like, ‘Let’s make a whole album.’ It just really sucks if you work so hard on the record and no one knows about it. So that’s kind of what lead us to come up with the idea for the EP series. Actually, some of the songs were older already from that first batch, and then two of the songs were written a little further along. I would say that lyrically, the first EP has more to do with being from a small town and dealing with all of that, while the newer EP is more about adjusting to being in a bigger city, relationships, life, just a bunch of different things. It’s a little bit all over the place at times, but energetically, and especially musically, it’s meant to be a reflective of living in Los Angeles.
Yeah. And it sounds like you had a thematic storyline going from the first EP to the second one where you’re following someone’s journey, which is what we want in music.
Giovanni: Yes! Absolutely!
And how was the recording process between the two EPs similar or different from each other?
Giovanni: We did them both ourselves, so they both have that do-it-yourself kind of thing going for it. The first one that we did was recorded in a house, essentially recorded in a living room, while the second one we recorded at the studio that we rehearse at. They have different rooms that you can rent out to record in, so we did that, and I think it really added a lot to the way it sounded. It feels more like a band is playing in the same room at the same time.
And which song was your favorite to write and record?
Giovanni: My favorite song on the record to both write and record is “Private Underground” because it was kind of a weird process to get to where the song ended up. Tony came up with the baseline and showed it to me, and I was over here thinking about Daft Punk. *both laugh* I was thinking specifically about the song “Robot Rock,” and I was like, ‘What if “Robot Rock” was actually played by a rock band as opposed to aliens that play techno?’ I mean, it doesn’t necessarily sound like Daft Punk, but that’s what lead me to that riff. For the lyrics, I was heavily inspired by the Women’s March. I had attended it, and it was just really powerful being around so many people who agree with the same thing so I wanted to write a song reflecting that.
That is so awesome that you were inspired by something as important as the Women’s March. I mean, music is such a huge connector and if you’re able to write about these huge topics then maybe someone can find a connection to it regardless of if they’re across the pond or in the next town over. You just never know who your music is going to hit.
Giovanni: Yeah, it’s funny how that goes actually. Even with our tune “Good Land,” people in France and Brazil are really digging it right now. *laughs* It’s really cool though.
You’re reaching a new fan base that you didn’t intend on! *laughs* So if you had an infinite amount of money right now at this very moment in time, which song would you choose to do a music video for and what kind of concept would you do?
Giovanni: That’s a great question. *laughs* We have this idea to do a much video for “Projectors,” where we would use one of those old classroom projectors that were around when we were kids.
Do they even have those around still? *laughs*
Giovanni: *laughs* We found one! We’re probably going to actually do that video soon. But basically, we found out that you can print photos on those laminated sheets, so we wanted to do a picture story to go along with the lyrics. The imagery would be projected, and it would look pretty cool without costing too much money. *both laugh*
It’s super vintage. You’re totally going to hit all the millennials that are like, ‘I remember those!’
Giovanni: All the 90s kids!
Yes! *laughs* And you were already going into this, but what initially inspired you to start doing an EP series as opposed to a whole collective work? Do you think it’s more of a modern mentality thing where everyone is all about the EPs and single releases?
Giovanni: I think that definitely has a big part to do with it. We were actually kind of talking about this as a band. When we started playing together, we worked really really hard on an album under a different name. We spent all this money, spent all this time, and then nothing happened with it. It felt very discouraging and frustrating, so for this new project I thought, ‘Ok, let’s be smarter about this. We have all these songs, let’s release them in chunks before we put out a full-length.’ There’s going to be one more EP to close out the series. We were trying to do three in one year, but it was just too crazy to do. *laughs*
Giovanni: Really though! *laughs* We did the two so we weren’t too far off. But yeah, that’s initially why we decided to break these up and we thought it would be interesting if each color could reflect how the songs feel. We sort of realized like, ‘Well these songs are a little more aggressive’ or ‘These songs feel a little more anthemic and reflective’ and that’s what made us place them onto the different EPs.
You totally checked out the Pantone colors for inspiration.
Giovanni: We started thinking about it a little too much. *both laugh*
But at least you got a fun story out of it! And when did you decide that it was the ‘right time’ to release the Technicolor series? At least the first portion of the technicolor series.
Giovanni: Even before we did a show, we rehearsed for about a year just to make sure that we got the cobwebs off and that we’re sounding good. But it really just felt like it was time, you know? We wanted to make sure that it was as good as it could be because it really was an experiment for us. It was the first time doing this ourselves, so I really wanted to make sure that we stayed true to our original vision. We’re actually going to re-release the red EP soon because we’re coming up on the year anniversary of it.
Giovanni: *laughs* Well, we ended up working with Lurssen Mastering on the yellow EP, and he’s just a great mastering engineer. We were really happy with the way it came out so we were like, ‘Hmm. It would be kind of interesting to put a little polish on the old EP.’ He’s worked with Queens of the Stone Age and stuff, so it was just an honor being able to work with him. We might do that before we release the next EP.
It’s definitely a good little collector’s thing for the hardcore fans, like all those fans in Brazil and France!
Giovanni: Yeah you’re right! *laughs*
They want more from you guys! *laughs*
Giovanni: That’s the funny part right? When you’re trying to record something with way the streaming culture is right now, like, you’ll put something out and they’ll be like ‘I love this! When’s the next thing coming out?’ *both laugh* It’s like, ‘Well, it took me a year to even do this one’
It’s like, ‘Aren’t you happy with what I just gave you?’ *laughs*
Giovanni: It’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to have to sit with this one for a few months.’ *laughs*
And kind of going into music streaming and its correlation with social media, do you think that it’s made it easier or harder for artists to break out in the industry? Or do you think it kind of adds that pressure of what we were just talking about like, ‘When’s the next thing coming out?’
Giovanni: It definitely puts a pressure on the artist, but it also makes things move at a faster pace. I think it’s ultimately made things better for artists because we’re no longer in the dark of like, ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to get my music out there.’ We can pretty much figure everything out now, but the problem is that there’s no school that you can go to that teaches you how to work with a PR company, or with a music video director, or a studio, a venue, whatever. Those things are trial and error, so sometimes it feels like you’re growing in front of people with social media now, when before you were able to go through those growing pains before without a platform to put it all out on. Overall though, I think it’s been a positive thing.
It’s definitely more exposure for musicians nowadays, especially independents.
Giovanni: Yes absolutely! We’ve been playing since the Myspace days, so watching everything change has been a crazy experience. *laughs*
Just seeing all the different algorithms and how they work hurts my brain sometimes. *laughs*
Giovanni: Do you remember when Myspace tried to reboot and Justin Timberlake had something to do with it and stuff? We did this interview with them, like, waaay back when. They invited us to Hollywood to do this interview in this studio that they rented out, and there were comedians, and bands, and other people everywhere. But the interview never came out. It never got released. I don’t know what happened to it. *laughs*
It might have been for the best. *laughs* So kind of going into a more personal side, Nico is your brother and you’re in this band together, and Tony is your honorary brother, your music brother. How is the experience working with a relative on a creative project? Do you feel like there’s a difficulty nailing down the right combination for a band, especially in L.A. where people are also in other bands?
Giovanni: Working with Nico and Tony is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Not to be all cheesy, *laughs* but Nico is my best friend and so is Tony, and they’re both such incredible people. I think being in a band is a very vulnerable thing because you have to be willing to put yourself out there. You can be emotional about something, or work hard on something, without feeling like somebody’s judging you. It’s just easier to communicate what you’re trying to say, and especially so in band with siblings. There’s a lot of bands that have siblings and you can tell that there’s this unspoken synergy that you can kind of go back and forth with. I’ve definitely experienced that a lot during the songwriting process. Like, with “Projectors” we went into the studio with nothing, we were just jamming, and I kept hearing something. I was like, ‘Alright, everybody stop.’ and they allowed me to have the space to explain what I was thinking we could try, and we ended up writing that song in ten minutes. That doesn’t always happen, but I think it can really only happy naturally if you’re close. I think a lot of times out here it just feels disconnected.
Yeah. And a lot of times you get these bands who are a mishmash of members and you can really tell when it’s not a natural fit.
Giovanni: Oh yeah, you can definitely tell.
Yeah, especially when they play live.
Giovanni: Yeah. It just feels weird. Sometimes you can go to a show and be like, ‘They found the right person. That was the missing piece.’ But then sometimes you’re like, ‘Well, the bass player is really good, but I don’t know what’s going on with the rest of this band.’ *laughs* Sometimes the drummer is the best person in the band!
Everyone is the best person in the band! *laughs*
Giovanni: That’s what you want at least! *laughs*
That’s definitely the ultimate goal. *laughs* Do you feel like there is some sort of unpublicized competition between all of the musicians in L.A., especially within the rock scene?
Giovanni: No, but I do think that a lot of bands that play in L.A. are very complacent. There’s a lot of indie boy rock bands who just stand up there and don’t dance or show emotion because they think they’re too cool. They don’t want to talk, or connect, or network, or really do anything, and then they break up in two years. It’s like a hobby that they did while they were going to college or something. However, there are a ton of local bands that I do like, but I don’t necessarily feel a competition towards them. Maybe it’s more of a healthy competition, but I wouldn’t say I feel any animosity towards them at all. I feel more animosity toward the apathetic bands, because there’s a lot of them.
And you had mentioned that you guys started the band in Riverside and now you guys are up here in L.A. What are some differences that you’ve seen in regards to how local artists are supported between the two areas?
Giovanni: I think the main difference is that out here in L.A., everything is so spread out. You could be playing one night in Venice and you could play one night in Highland Park, and you would be getting two very different groups of people. It’s pretty cool actually, because you can get all this exposure from different audiences. Like, you could have a gig in Long Beach and then in Hollywood, and it’s so crazy how different they can be. I think it allows you to grow as an artist and really build your craft, the problem is that you have to get your foot in the door, which can take a while. In the Inland Empire, there’s just not a lot of places to play. I mean, there’s a little more now, but especially when we were coming up there was just not that many to choose from. There was this bar that everybody would play and then there was this coffeeshop that everybody would play.
And now we’re here at a coffeeshop. We’ve come full circle. *both laugh*
Giovanni: Yeah! *laughs* I mean, I just think it was really hard to grow when we were out there. I just felt stuck, you know? I felt like we couldn’t do anything out there, so it was just inevitable that I wanted us to go to a place where there’s room to grow. I think it’s one of the reasons why L.A.’s music scene works so well.
There’s so many people doing it.
Giovanni: Exactly! I don’t think there’s any coincidence that there’s a rich musical history here. And even currently, you have someone like Kendrick [Lamar] who was able to find someone like Kamasi Washington here in L.A. Even the jazz scene is crazy. There’s just different things going on in different parts of the city all the time and I think being in a major city is what really allows that.
Absolutely. I mean, you hear it all the time where people say that you can quite literally see a different artist every night of the week.
Giovanni: You really can! But yeah, I also got tired of constantly driving out here. It was to the point where the door guy at The Roxy thought that we actually lived out here. *both laugh* We were coming out here a lot, and it just felt stupid driving out here so much so we moved.
I think you guys made the right decision.
Giovanni: I think so too. *laughs*
So speaking of the local music scene, you guys do a great job at promoting the venues that you perform at. What are a few of your favorite local venues you’ve played so far?
Giovanni: The three venues for sure that have given us the most love are DBA in Pomona, they’ve been very kind to us, The Redwood in Downtown Los Angeles, we played there a lot last year and they were just very supportive of us, and then The Hi-Hat. They were just incredible, and they were hands down one of the best experiences I’ve ever had playing as a musician. The staff was great, the sound was great, the energy was fantastic, it’s just a great venue.
It really is!
Giovanni: What’s funny is there’s actually a venue in Riverside that looks almost the same with the brick wall, and instead of a billiard’s place it was a tobacco lounge. It was weird the first time I went there because I felt like the room was set up backwards in relation to that place in Riverside. *laughs*
You were like, ‘Wait a second…’ *laughs*
Giovanni: Am I in The Twilight Zone? *laughs* But yeah, those three are definitely the places that have been just amazing for us as a band so far.
Iif you could choose three artists to go on your own personal world tour with who would they be and what would your tour be named?
Giovanni: The naming of the tour I’m not sure about, I don’t know if I would want that responsibility. *both laugh* I’m sure it would be something cool.
The ‘Something Cool Tour!’ *laughs*
Giovanni: Perfect! *laughs* Or the ‘Rock’s Not Dead Tour.’ But the three bands that I would love to play with are Idles, Metz, and SWMRS. I think those three bands are very passionate about the music that they make, and I think it would be an interesting combo because they don’t necessarily sound the same but they have more mutual fans than they realize.
That’s always a funny thing to discover.
Giovanni: Oh yeah. *laughs* I actually saw Idles and Metz tweeting at each other about how they always see each others shirts at their shows. I’m like, ‘Go on tour together and take us with you!’ *both laugh*
And which artists and bands would you say have influenced your guys’ style instrumentally or songwriting wise?
Giovanni: Aside from the bands that I mentioned, I would say from growing up that Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, Green Day, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the top of the list. In terms of how to be in a band and the type of musicians we want to be on stage, I would include Nirvana as a big one in terms of the live aspect because we want to bring that kind of intensity. I can say so many more because we never stop listening to music, we’re always talking about music, and we listen to every kind of music.
What do you hope your audience away from your music?
Giovanni: With growing up in a small town, I always felt different. Part of it was because I’m biracial and some of it was because I was different, but music was always something that made me feel normal. I want whoever is listening to our music to feel like they’re not the only one who’s experiencing what they’re going through. Hopefully, it does that for them, but we also hope that it’s a fun experience and makes them feel good.
We definitely need that kind of music in our lives. We need the fun and the emotional! *laughs*
Giovanni: Yeah totally! I think it’s important to smile. *laughs* I actually think that’s what’s interesting about even Idles’ last record Joy As An Active Resistance because it talks about toxic masculinity, immigration issues, just a lot of stuff that’s been going on currently and are in a lot of people’s minds. I had never heard a band do it the way they did it, and it just really resonated with us. The power of music is just crazy! You just never know what you’re going to hear.
Yeah definitely. It’s just so awesome that, especially now, modern musicians are striving to break down that wall and being honest about their thoughts on things that make other people feel uncomfortable.
Giovanni: Right. I also think we are supposed to be the mirror to what these people are feeling. People are feeling it, but an artist’s responsibility is to make sense of all these emotions that everyone is trying to understand.
Using your platform for good!
Giovanni: The best you can at least.
So apart from the special edition of Rojo and the third installment of the Technicolor series, what other big exciting things should we be expecting from you guys?
Giovanni: This year we’re probably going to be doing a West Coast tour, the next Technicolor EP as well, which would be later in the year, and just a lot of shows. Last year we played the most shows we’ve ever played, so I want to expand that and try to get into a couple of festivals.
About Simply Coffee:
After a long day of hitting up the thrift, vintage, and antique stores in Burbank, Simply Coffee is a wonderful place for you to sit and relax all while enjoying a lovely caffeinated beverage. Now don’t let its compact interior fool you, once you step into its patio area you will no doubt find a suitable seating option for you with their umbrella covered bistro tables and a large bench area for bigger groups. Its impressive and welcoming succulent wall combined with a tasteful playlist comprised of reggae and indie tracks gives off a soothing atmosphere that makes you want to spend all day there with a cup of something delicious to sip on.
When I took a look at Simply Coffee’s menu, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Half the menu was listed for ‘coffee snobs,’ which includes your standard espressos, drip coffees, and cold brews, with the other half listed for ‘sweet lovers’ (I think you can take a guess at what’s included in that section. I went for a hazelnut white chocolate latte, and I’ve got to say, I was amazed by its creaminess and mild sweetness. I think the hazelnut softened the blow of the white chocolate, as sometimes white chocolate can taste like you’re on your way past the definition of sugar rush. If you’re looking for something simple, a freshly brewed Stumptown Roast or one of their loose leaf teas (all displayed in large jars) might be to your liking. Oooh, and don’t forget to add on a scrumptious salad, croissant, sandwich, or quiche to round out your order!