With his first solo album, ‘Strange By Design’, folk/rock singer songwriter James Brant lets us have a little look inside his life.
Growing up in Johnstown, Western Pennsylvania, an old steel town that saw extreme change with the death of the steel industry in the 1980s, James was deeply aware of what this would mean to him, and to those who lived around him.
James’ family were passionate about music: they made it, they supported it. James started playing his father’s piano, then moved onto guitar lessons, learning enough in a year to be able to find his own style. His family moved to Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1991, and young James found music was the key for him to unlock the door to new friendships.
James attended the University of New Hampshire, briefly studying music, but as a self-taught musician he found it too structured:
“I remember sitting in my first music theory class and wondering – ‘what did I get myself into?’. My understanding of music theory was, and still is, very limited. At the college level I was expected to already have this foundation which I didn’t. I dropped that major within the first few weeks and started to try and figure out what to do with myself.”
He left to study Computer Science and Psychology at West Chester University. This proved more useful to him: James discovered an interest in sound technology and has since developed his skills in digital media and recording, and now has a home studio, ‘Sweaty Dog Studios’.
James has expanded his instrumental repertoire to include piano, bass, mandolin and drums – as well as guitar. He’s been a member of three Philadelphia area bands: Casual Freedom (1999-2001); Transient (2003-2006) and; his current band, Couple Days, with whom he’s been playing since 2011.
‘Strange By Design’, released in June last year is his first solo album – solo in every way. James not just recorded and engineered the album at Sweaty Dog Studios, he also wrote and sang all the songs, as well as playing all the instruments.
“A solo album is something that I have wanted to do for literally over 10 years. All of the pieces never seemed to fit together at the right time so the project was always pushed aside. Throughout the years I kept my creative side satisfied by being involved in other music related projects. The most recent time the idea popped back into my head it felt like the right time.”
‘Strange By Design’ is a very complex album musically, yet James’ light airy vocals are friendly and relaxing. We love the banjo in 9th song, ‘Time + Space’, and would probably say this is our favourite of all the 14 tracks on the album. ‘Strange By Design’ feels like James is inviting us to listen to something he’s recorded for him alone to hear: but instead of feeling like intruders, we are welcomed warmly. There’s something about James’ voice and playing that reminds us of Phil Keaggy: he’s a passionate musician and yet there’s an over-riding friendliness about his playing. The peaceful sincerity of James’ writing and playing are at once pleasing and calming. The rocky final track, ‘Fell Into Your Past’, is the one departure from the general folky style of the album, but it’s not at all out of place, and ably illustrates Brant’s skill as a musician.