Published Jan 01, 2006Despite its parallel reputation for having birthed the future of music in the form of techno, Detroit is also widely recognised as North Americas foremost spawning ground of rock and roll curators. Long before the White Stripes cast the citys unwitting legion of garage bands into the global spotlight, the likes of Outrageous Cherry, the Hentchmen and the Dirtbombs played music that conjured a swinging 60s heyday its creators hadnt been alive to know firsthand. Denise James is similarly backward-glancing, but rather than drawing from the gutbucket Motor City rock of her peers, her interest is in the rarefied, alternately tough and tender pop of Phil Spector-styled girl groups, Bobbie Gentry and Françoise Hardy. To mimic the sophisticated production of such impeccable influences would be challenge enough; that James has also written songs that complement their legacy is occasion to uncork bottles and sit in rapt, slack-jawed attention. Jamess voice sustains a calm detachment throughout this, her second album (an elusive debut was released by Poptones in 2002), but the sumptuous, romantic melancholy of at least half these songs (especially the neatly titled "Absolutely Sad) means to leave bruises in the sweetest possible way.
Theres a lot of despondency in this album. What draws you to those kinds of songs? Denise James: It took me by surprise when people started commenting on how sad the music made them feel. Id performed a show, maybe five or six years ago, with some new material, and someone in the audience came up to me and said, "I feel so sad now, I want to drive my car off a cliff.
Was that meant as a compliment? I think it evoked something inside them. I think a lot of artists find their creativity in [sadness] and are prone to really feeling it and thats where a lot of expression comes from their frustration in dealing with a percentage of the world that doesnt understand it. But I dont sit down to necessarily write music that makes people sad.
Any insight as to why Detroit musicians seem to have such a heightened appreciation and understanding of 60s music? Boy, I wish I could say, but I think youre right. I guess I could have done anything else even country music but it was just a natural propensity for me to write this way. (Rainbow Quartz)