James Pants has come a long way since the release of his boogie-flavoured debut album, Welcome, in 2008.
Its riveting, seemingly endlessly rewarding follow-up, Seven Seals, was released right at the tail-end of last year, and finds the Denver-residing producer – real name James Singleton – exploring a fuller sound and a darker, more intractible aesthetic. Conceived when he was reading the Book of Revelations and “in the mood to start a cult”, it’s an album shot through with apocalyptic dread, but also uncommon humour, and a surfeit of flamboyant musical ideas, with nods to the fuzz-drenched rock of Sonic Youth, the harsh electronic textures of 80s DIY synth-pop and the reverb-soaked drums of the Spector era. Whether or not you’re familiar with Pants’ previous work, it’s essential and intoxicating listening.
As well as his original recordings, Pants continues to showcase his top-notch DJ skills around the world, and release genre-hopping mixtapes Pants will perform a headline show at London’s ICA this Saturday, 13 February, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy‘s extensive programme of events. FACT borrowed him for a coffee and a chat in Soho last week, and this is what we talked about…
What was your entry-point into music, and obsessing over music?
“My parents weren’t musical per se - my mom sings, my dad plays guitar, but really just for fun – but I was always into music, and their record collection, which was Whitney Houston and stuff [laughs]. I started playing viola when I was pretty young and switched to drums after that and then was doing garage band rock ‘n roll type stuff with friends…I played drums in a school jazz band and all that, but I got bored of playing just old swing songs, and I really fell in love with hip-hop around that time…”
This was around your mid-teens?
“Yeah, a little before – I was buying all the tapes, I had a huge cassette singles collection, but at probably 15 or so I really got into hip-hop – probably because I was into the drums and the beats were fun to play – so I slowly switched to records and turntables and trying to scratch really badly, you know…I was a scratch DJ for a while, and at high school and college that was all I cared about, but that got old quick because it’s like, you know, guitar soloing [laughs]…Then I moved on to more the production side of things, but it was just really terrible…I hooked up with some high school guys in Texas, a rap group, kind of like a black nationalist rap group and I was the white DJ [laughs]. I made their beats; they were pretty bad.
“I was the white DJ for a black nationalist rap group. They were pretty bad.”
“I gradually started learning about sampling, and realising where A Tribe Called Quest got their sound – jazz records – and started buying that kind of stuff for production, liking that music more. I guess through that I just kept going stranger and stranger…”
Your mixtapes in particular show you’re into a lot of disparate things – boogie, psychedelia, old soul, and so on. Is it fair to say that hip-hop was the window through which you first accessed all that stuff?
“Yeah, I got into it through hip-hop, but granted I had quite a rock background. When I was younger, I was a huge Zeppelin fan, Pink Floyd…Now I’ve kind of switched back around to the rock side of things, but still with a hip-hop ear for drums.
“I feel like it’s more true to who I am – I’m really not a singer, I’m not a soulful dude who used to pick up girls all the time [laughs] – so for me to make more music that sounds smooth, as fun as it is, and as much as I love listening to it, it’s really not my forte…A little noise is more up my alley.”