The imposing musician may already be familiar to local music lovers, but by the name Stix duh Clown. Singer/guitarist/bassist/composer and so much more Michael James went by the stage name he took from working in a side show; the same one that brought other musicians to town like Meschiya Lake. But now the clown is ready to bow out of the spotlight, and the man behind the mask is taking the stage to perform the music that truly represents him in his bands My Graveyard Jaw and Michael James & His Lonesome.
WYAT: I know about your music, but almost nothing about your background. Where are you from?
Michael James: Originally, I'm from Big Sur, California, and I lived there until I was about fifteen, and I started doing a lot of traveling and hitchhiking. I made my way up to Oregon where I was involved in activism. I was trying to do something good, and it got really rough. I was an angry man; it just drove me crazy. So a couple of years later, after traveling through the United States, I went through this path change in my life. I joined up with this circus called the End of the World Circus and the Know Nothing Sideshow and traveled for four years. I played music, bass and sometimes drums, but for the majority, I was a hobo clown. When I came to New Orleans I got more focused into music, and met a lot of people. That was eight or nine years ago. Everyplace that I loved in the United States that I travel to go see friends and stuff, all of that was in one place down here which is what grabbed me.
WYAT: How did you get into music here?
James: When I was down here with the Circus, the bass player ended up leaving. And I could play music, so John Joyce now of the Smoking Time Jazz Club started showing me the bass lines to the songs and one of the other guys that was in the Circus, which is another amazing musician down here named Ratty Scurvics, he played guitar. When we were on tour, I started putting some songs together. Ratty and I messed around with music, and I said to him, "Do you want to start a band when we get back to New Orleans?" And we did, and it was called Strekin' Hobo. It was me and Ratty, Mary Go Round, and Doc Otis. And that's when I started meeting people and becoming better friends with Ratty, who is a huge inspiration. He's probably one of the most amazing musicians to me in the city. We did one more tour and we dipped out of the Circus, and moved here. That band broke up after a year.
WYAT: You started out performing here as Stix duh Clown, and you go by Michael James now. Was Stix a different persona, or just a name that you used?
James: Stix was definitely a mask I put on to hide from myself and try to be something different. Like I said, before that I was doing a lot of hardcore activism stuff: tree-sitting, protests. I became really angry. I feel that with activism and trying to do something right, anger doesn't help what you're trying to do or help yourself. When I was at the Circus, a mask came on and it was a totally different thing. So I left and that's when I came down here and saw something new. [I felt like] that was just who I was. When we started Strekin' Hobo, I would wear my clown makeup, but then I started getting out of that phase. It wasn't until some years ago, I was like, "Where am I? Where did Michael James go?" I went through trying to find myself. My music was really changing and developing; going in a different route than the hokey on-stage stuff. I needed to start looking within myself again and remembering everything before the Circus. I went through maybe a year of trying to get all that shit together in my head and that's when I started going by Michael James, my real name. I left for a few years to Northern Louisiana, and had a beautiful little girl. That was a big change in my life which was finding myself; I was a father, I was done with the Circus, and I was wanting to move somewhere else in my mind. Then we split up and I came back down here, and that's when everything started developing to where I am now. Some people still call me Stix, it's a nickname. I don't expect it to go away.
WYAT: What separates your style of music and writing from other musicians in New Orleans?
Michael James: Well, this is what my good friend Andy Overslaugh, who is now playing bass with me and has watched my music grow over the years, and had to say: "What separates MJ from other local music is the desire to explore the horizons beyond its beloved home city.The imagery in Michael James's music is filled with wide open planes, mountains, and trees. It's an escape from the city which is reflected in Michael James's estate. As soon as you walk through his and his girlfriend Alleyn Evans's house, you are instantly transported to a quiet mountain cabin filled with sounds of turkey calls from Mr. Belvedere who resides in his yard with many chickens and one rooster; all this only one block off St. Claude Avenue. As opposed to acting as a tour guide of the streets of New Orleans with his music, Michael James uses NOLA as a launching point to lead you on a caravan across the plains, and over the mountains of America's great landscapes. 'I get inspiration from New Orleans to express what I'm feeling and imagining in my own head as opposed to writing about what I see every day!' says Michael James."
WYAT: So tell me about the new My Graveyard Jaw album and your solo album.
James: I definitely want to do Michael James & His Lonesome which is really going to be more singer/songwriter instead of boot-stomping like My Graveyard Jaw. Next week, we're going into the studio, the Rookery Studios where Ratty Scurvics is going to be recording this album for our label Farmageddon Records.
WYAT: Tell me more about Farmageddon Records?
Michael James: It started in 2009 with three friends. Darren D and Johnny Lawless drove to Pittsburgh to meet with Jake Orvis to talk about recording a solo album, and Jake was very interested but worried about funds. A couple phone calls were made and they were headed to Richmond, Virginia, to record at Rebel Roots Studio. That was the birth of a new record label..... Farmageddon Records: home to the Goddamn Gallows, Graham Lindsey, and the newest members, My Graveyard Jaw! They picked us up in 2012 after my good friends played Coming Winds for Darren! Apparently Graham Lindsey and his wife Tina had been listening to our album; Darren had been wanting to find a new band to put on the label. So Graham called him up, told him about us, and said send in an album, and that was it! This record label is all about putting, REAL Original music out there, and supporting other bands as well. When I say REAL music, I mean the people that bust their ass day and night on the road; the ones that don't get any recognition because they are not "main stream."There are a lot of amazing bands out there, and this record label gives them support! I love everybody in the Farm Family!