INTERVIEW: Jim Shelley of Book Of Kills, etc.

Jim Shelley on Earth Day

Jim Shelley on Earth Day


AUTOreverse #14, Summer 2011
JIM SHELLEY
BOOK OF KILLS
interview by Ian C Stewart

SO……DID YOU MISS AUTOreverse?
I surely did. Did you miss me? Wait! Don’t answer that!

TRICKY QUESTION FIRST: TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT THIS ALBUM THAT NO ONE ELSE KNOWS.
As far as Bona Fide, the E.P. I recently recorded with my band, Fear + Whiskey goes, all but one of the basic tracks were first takes. We did the songs very quickly. That was a good thing for the most part. Actually I suppose that’s not something no one else knows.

WHERE/HOW/WHEN DID YOU RECORD IT?
We recorded about 75% of it in our bass player’s father’s practice room, which also happens to be where we practice. It’s a fantastic place to record. Very warm sound and it’s just plain beautiful. We’re very lucky to have a place like that to jam in. The rest of the stuff, such as acoustic guitars, I recorded at home in my tiny basement. We recorded most of the songs (there were just six) the morning of May 20 and finished everything up during a couple afternoons in early June. The “how” was pretty simple really: Four microphones on the drum kit using the Glyn Johns method, a microphone in front of the bass and one on the guitar. We added the vocals afterwards.

IS THIS WORK INDICATIVE OF YOUR OTHER RELEASES?
Oh, I don’t know. Some folks have told me it has a punk-ish, Book Of Kills edge to it, but I guess that’s not so surprising considering I was Book Of Kills as a solo artist or as the leader of a band called Book Of Kills for much of the last twenty years. There’s definitely a folk/country feel to most of the tracks and I attribute that in large part to Amy’s influence. (Amy being the bass player.) Amy’s dad said something to the effect that the band is a mix of Patsy Cline and Husker Du. That’s probably a decent description.

Is there anything you’re feeling particularly MOUTHY about at the moment?
Live music is best, eh? So support your local bands’ shows. Where I live, people don’t do that so much. I’m not sure what it is they do do, but it’s definitely not supporting their local bands.

Jim Shelley, June 2011

Jim Shelley, June 2011


Let’s talk about your musical influences. Who are your biggest influences and why? Who were your early musical influences?

I can recall listening to pop music on an old Bakelite radio my parents had by their bed when I was very young…girl groups, popular country, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Frank Sinatra, and so forth. But The Beatles were far and away my greatest influence. Yawn, right? But, as so many older musicians can say, The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show transformed me from a shy, incompetent, non-musical, unassertive geek into a slightly less shy, slightly less incompetent, slightly musical and definitely more assertive geek. I was ten when John, Paul, George and Ringo hit big in the U.S., but I really fell for them hard. I loved just about all the British Invasion bands. A little later on, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Love, and the Byrds grew to be quite an influence. As I got older, Patti Smith and the early punks became very important to me. I was also, from an early age, a gigantic fan of American garage punk from the mid to late ’60s. Loved that stuff. Still do.

Where do you see your music heading?
I never know where my music’s heading. It just sort of happens, depending upon who I’m in a band with at the moment.

What music software do you use?
For the past six or seven years, I’ve been mainly using either an iMac or a MacBook Pro and the Cubase LE programs that come with the Firepod interfaces I employ. I’ve always been kind of cheap about buying software and equipment. I use what’s most readily available or what I can most easily afford. I did put out a solo album in 2007 called Different which was recorded entirely on an eight track Portastudio. That was fun.

Is there any other music software you plan on getting?
Probably not unless someone gives it to me or it comes free with a new interface I end up buying somewhere down the road. I do need to buy some new microphones, though.

JIM SHELLEY – SIMPLE WORLD

What’s in your home studio setup?
I don’t really have a studio. If I’m recording at home by myself, I just set up the computer and the interface somewhere in the house where it’s not too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. I haven’t recorded much in the way of solo stuff for the last two or three years. I prefer recording with a band, and usually we just use our practice space.

Do you write songs on keyboards or guitar?
99% of the time I use guitar.

Can you describe your songwriting methods?
I almost always get a phrase in mind first. I’m very word-oriented. Then usually once I’ve gotten a few lines written, a melody just sort of appears in my head and I work out the chords and the rest of the lyrics, as well as the overall structure of the song, from there. Somehow songs just seem to appear in my head. I can’t explain it very well.

What made you decide to start making music of your own?
The Beatles looked like they were having such a great time. I wanted to be like them. Not long after I saw them on Ed Sullivan I started pestering my mom and dad to get me an acoustic guitar. They bought me a Silvertone acoustic guitar from Sears for Christmas. It was almost unplayable. I didn’t have a clue how to use it either, so I just picked out simple melodies on single strings. It took several years before I went out and bought a chord book and started teaching myself. Then in the late ’70s or very early ’80s when Tascam released their first Portastudio, I bought one and a couple of decent guitars and started making music in earnest.

Are you active in your local music scene?

Well, I’m in a local band. I’m not so much involved in a scene any more. I mean, I’m so much older than most of the active musicians in the area…at least the ones writing and performing original music, that it’s hard to be very involved beyond watching them play. And I don’t do that nearly as much as I used to, unfortunately. So when I say it’s important to support local bands, I guess I really mean I think it’s important that people support me and my band. I’m a real pro at hypocrisy. On rare occasions, I’ll record another band just for a lark. I’ve recorded a great local duo called Buck Gooter three or four times.

Who would you like to collaborate with on new music?
I’d like to write more regularly with Jeff and Amy, my band mates. I’d like to work again with Casey and Jane Firkin, with whom I was in an excellent version of Book Of Kills back in the early 2000s, some day before I get too old to hold up a guitar but I don’t know how likely that is.

What other bands are you excited by?

I think the last band that really excited me was Nirvana. Is that pathetic or what? I know there are some monstrously good young bands working right now…I’m just not as passionate about searching them out as I was at one time.

What’s next for you, musically speaking?

Making more music with Fear + Whiskey, I hope. Also, I’m practicing on and off with George and Mike from the last incarnation of Book Of Kills with the intention of playing one final BOK gig in November before they both move out of the area…maybe forever. It has been difficult for me to work in practices for both bands, however.

What did I forget to ask you?

You’ve asked me more than I could ever hope you would.

WHERE CAN PEEPS FIND YOUR MUSIC ONLINE TO PURCHASE OR WHATEVER?
They can go to bookofkills.com/jimshelley.us and take it from there.

WHAT SERVICES DO YOU USE FOR PEOPLE TO DOWNLOAD YER STUFF, AND DO YOU LIKE IT? SHOULD I USE IT?
Three of my albums are on CDBaby. I think they’re a great company. I used to have some stuff up on Bandcamp but not anymore. I have a few more albums available on bookofkills.com. I eventually intend to put them all up on my site. Also, six albums I was involved with are available free on the internet archive…archive.org, I think? At one time, I had over 400 of my songs available on bookofkills.com for free download. But it got too expensive to pay for the bandwidth. Now I just do a free “Song of the Week” thing. I would, by the way, think CDBaby would be a fine choice as an online store to sell your music. Bandcamp.com I just didn’t care for.

WHERE DO YOU FIND THE ENERGY TO KEEP CREATING AFTER ALL THIS TIME?

There’s very little that still excites me more than writing, recording and performing music. Although I suffer from almost debilitating stage fright, I seem to be compelled to play live with other people. I don’t know where the energy comes from. For years, I used anger and frustration as the catalyst, but I’m not so angry or frustrated anymore. You get older; you mellow out. I just couldn’t do the screaming thing anymore. And I’ve always been one who loves to dabble in a lot of different genres so the rush of experimentation keeps me interested. Credit The Beatles for that.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?

Fear + Whiskey has a couple shows coming up. I’m always trying to wrangle another gig, though I’m not very good at it. I’d love it if someone arranged shows for me, but I haven’t had that luxury in many years since a friend of mine temporarily became my “manager”. I would imagine Amy, Jeff and I will think about recording again in the near future. I like doing E.P.s. Albums are too long. And people don’t have time to listen to albums anyway. I’m always formulating new songs in my head.

Do you prefer the Wicked Lester song “Too Many Mondays” with Gene singing or Paul?
I think I like the much rarer version with Ringo singing lead the best.

Where might one find a full discography?

Gosh…I’ve released over forty albums. I would just encourage folks to go to bookofkills.com where they can check out a discography and a whole lot more! But thanks very much for asking. What you’re doing right now is pretty dang cool.

thank you, Jim!

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