ARTIST NAME: Chris James and The Showdowns
SONG TITLE: Cold Black
ALBUM TITLE: Somewhere Out In California
RELEASE DATE: May 1st, 2019
GENRE: Americana, Alt-Country Rock
Revered singer-songwriter Chris James has a reputation for performing several hours a night, with original songs that sound like covers, and cover songs that sound as good as the originals.
His rich vocals and honest writing style tug at the heartstrings with soulful grit and emotion that gives even his most tender pieces a rock ‘n’ roll edge.
James strives to put forth well-crafted, memorable songs with an unbridled spirit brought to light and energized by his enduring band: The Showdowns.
Often citing 70’s Americana songwriters as an influence, the Northern California-based group has graced countless stages and has been played on several FM, XM stations, and internet radio worldwide.
Chris James and the Showdowns latest record: “Somewhere out in California,” is rootsy, rockin’, and authentic.
Honing their songwriting craft, the band delivers dance-driven rhythms, signature guitar licks, heartfelt vocals, and sing-along choruses throughout an unflinchingly solid Americana Rock album.
Recorded primarily at legendary Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California, the group was able to capture the classic sound they’ve come to be known for; often channeling the influences of such heroes like Tom Petty, The Eagles, The Band, and America, while putting forth their own contemporary alt-country-rock expression.
Chris James is no stranger to the recording studio, or to the stage.
Throughout his career, the singer-songwriter has amassed an impressive catalog of recorded material ranging at least eight albums and has played continuously on both coasts in hundreds of venues.
His band The Showdowns are comprised of loyal musical soldiers who are all esteemed pro musicians in their own right: Matt Berg (drums), AJ Leighton (bass), John Paterson (keys), and Whitt Vicena (lead guitar).
The musical synergy created between them is contagious and transcends the stage. Together they have fought from the trenches of the grittiest bars to club venues, to corporate events, and everything in between.
Chris James started out as a budding songwriter performing acoustic material at campfire outings, parties, and coffee houses in and around the Portland Maine area.
Gaining confidence as a performer, he realized that he would have to look to larger cities to become more widely recognized and ventured to San Francisco with not much more than a guitar in tow.
Shortly after arriving and weathering the culture shock of a country boy in the big city, he formed the rock band Small Change Romeos.
After just a few years, the band had built a fairly large Bay Area following and were known for their diverse sound and eclectic songwriting. They also were on the cusp of a record deal with Universal Records when the bottom fell out and the digital age set in.
As a father and part-time San Francisco bartender, James has had to wear many hats and endure setbacks as so many independent musicians have.
He continues to strive forth, however; spreading his music to ever-growing audiences while writing, recording, and performing with purpose and vigor in the pursuit of his passion.
Tell us about your future music projects.
I’m really focused on promoting this current album at the moment, but I have plenty of acoustic songs waiting in the wings to explore another recording project soon.
Will see what those songs sound like with the full band and go from there….
We’d like to do another “professional” video shoot for the song Cold Black at some point really soon too.
We have a lot of full-band tour dates throughout Northern California slated for this year and I have some dates scheduled for the east coast in August for a solo tour.
Share your press release and reviews with us.
“From the title of the track you might think that Chris James is singing about his location, but in actuality, it’s an autobiographical look at what happened when he took stock of his life and considered what opportunities might arise if he packed up and moved ‘somewhere out in California.’”
– Essential Pop
“James’ style of writing is hard to deny as it rings of times and life situations we can all relate to. It’s nice to see an artist and band like the Showdowns hold true to Americana roots while still giving you a rock and roll kick in the ass!”
– Starita (Producer – Trevor Hall, Tribe Called Quest)
After hearing Chris James at one of his tireless performances, you’re immediately – and intensely – drawn into his music, taken on a journey with his heartfelt songs.
His warm vocals and authentic writing style combined with a bold grit give Chris James and the Showdowns that classic-infused deep-rooted Americana rock sound.
Beginning as a local performer in Portland, Maine, James knew that he had to get his name heard in bigger cities. He left for San Francisco with nothing more than a guitar in hand to find work.
Eventually, he joined forces with The Showdowns, a Bay Area-based group comprised of Matt Berg (drums), AJ Leighton (bass), John Paterson (keys), and Whitt Vicena (lead guitar). The unity amongst the band can be felt at every show through their synergized performances.
Songs from their debut album, Lucky Breaks, and music from James’ solo work have been played generously on SiriusXM Radio, radio stations throughout California, and placed in TV commercial promos.
Chris James and the Showdowns’ second album, ‘Somewhere out in California,’ is authentic, dance-driven, heartfelt, and is set to release May 1. They have a packed tour schedule for the rest of the year, including full band and solo performances…
Tell us if you will change the style of your music to get signed.
Absolutely not, in fact, I don’t think we could change our music – What we do and write is down-home and authentic.
We’ve been playing Americana style Rock for over fifteen years and being honest to ourselves and to our sound is what ultimately resonates with people.
I don’t think we’d be good enough at other styles to warrant changing either.
It’s not like Springsteen could one day decide to start playing Reggae and get people to dig it, you know?
Elaborate on this song.
The idea for ‘Cold Black’ comes out of being hurt emotionally by a woman who has decided to move on to either a new relationship or not one at all.
In the lyrics, I tried to embody a sensitive man (which I can be) involved with a headstrong, driven, and perhaps a cheating woman. She breaks his heart essentially.
“Too late to bring me back to life, my love line is flat”—a line from the chorus of the tune—is basically saying that this woman killed his emotional senses, that she was cold enough to “harden” his heart.
The music has a blues-rock sort of vibe, almost a nod to classic rock with some signature guitar riffs.
Tell us if you have a guideline or standard set for your music production.
I think we aim for capturing a great performance foremost. Of course, we try to use the best gear we have at our disposal for fidelity on top of that, both going in and coming out in the mix, but the performance has to be solid, authentic, or the whole thing falls apart.
Tell us your preparation for a live performance and how you make sure the quality of sound is high.
The Showdowns and I have been performing together for quite some time, not only in this band but others as well.
We’ve really played quite a few of our songs hundreds of times and feel confident and tight together musically.
One key for us is to make sure we can REALLY HEAR EACH OTHER.
The drums play off the acoustic guitar a lot for example, and it’s important our drummer can hear it well.
For the vocals, I need to hear it loud on the monitors so I’m not pushing too hard or fighting the band.
Balance is key to high-quality sound, as well as playing the room. Smaller rooms require lower volume and less intensity, feeling that and playing to the room is important.
Discuss how to live healthy.
Well, I’m certainly no life coach or nutritionist but I believe common sense goes a long way (don’t order the bacon double with fries and a coke every day) and so does listening to your body.
Lately, I’ve found I need six hours of sleep at least a night to feel like I’m up to par. Everything in moderation is a good mantra and exercise as much as possible without overdoing it, again listening to your body. Getting out into nature on a nice walk is invigorating; I try to do that a couple of times a week.
Tell us if you are in control of your performance or you are still learning.
I think the answer is both. Sometimes it depends on the song or material and the audience.
Certain songs are well-rehearsed and I’m pretty sure how 90% of audiences are going to react because they’ve been tested before.
The newer material is where the learning comes in; sometimes new songs that I love don’t go over as well as others that I would have expected to.
I’m surprised how some songs are embraced by the band or by the crowd while others aren’t as much.
It’s always somewhat of a learning experience really because every night, every stage, every audience is a little different.
Tell us that precious moment you chose music as a career.
I think that’s hard because I always felt that’s what I wanted to do.
Coming to San Francisco in my early 20’s and walking to Hyde St Studios for the first time had a huge impact on me.
I think being in that studio making a real album was a huge turning point from a home recording or playing dive bars and coffee shops, it made me think about what I was doing in a much more professional way.
Tell us the greatest feedback you have ever received on a song of yours.
“This song sounds like the story of my life, I relate to every word.”
When I’m able to make a deep, lasting, connection and relate to people with my songs, I get compliments like that and it’s extremely rewarding.
Tell us your side interest apart from music.
Love to taste and talk about wine. There’s something very unique about each bottle.
Sometimes I don’t always have the spare money to buy the really good stuff, unfortunately.
I also like to play golf although I’m not the best at it, it’s nice to get out in the open air and hit something that travels hundreds of yards.
I’m somewhat of a history buff too, really enjoy good documentaries.
Tell us the artist that influenced you.
There really have been many: The Beatles probably started things off for me though.
Tell us if you prefer singing as a solo artist to collaborating with others.
I’ve done a lot of both and have enjoyed both. I do prefer to perform as a solo artist with the backing of a band. This gives the shared musical experience and collaboration without compromising in terms of songs that I want to do or my interpretation of them.
Tell us the full details of this song.
This is a piece I wrote a few years back and is one of the songs we enjoy playing live the most.
It’s really upbeat with a catchy riff and danceable sort of groove with a bluesy piano part that compliments…
The electric guitar leads really soar on this one and I enjoy singing it. It’s a little lower which is suited to my register and I try to give a gravelly attitude with my voice to make it rock a little harder.
My favorite line is “What a beautiful day for a comet to fall, strait through my life just like a wrecking ball,” I sort of wrote the rest of the tune from that line.
We recorded a bit of the song at Different Fur Studios in San Francisco and the rest at my home studio in East Bay, CA.
Tell us the organization you will set up to fight a cause and state your reason for fighting the cause.
I’m a believer in good public education – Especially K-12. I think I was fortunate to grow up in a place that had a good system but a lot of places don’t. It’s a shame that so many schools have eliminated programs like art, music, and physical education due to budget constraints. Teachers should make more money also.
I think that not being educated early on leads to social problems later. It really seems that more emphasis on education funding would result in less money needed for homelessness, drug problems, welfare, etc. in the long run. It’s a lack of education in this country that keeps fast-food chains in business and gets a reality star elected president.
Describe your mood while performing.
Sometimes it’s very surreal, almost out of the body. Music can take you on a ride like that, allowing your consciousness to drift to another place. Usually, I’m euphoric. Sometimes though, and this might sound honestly humorous, but I can be annoyed if parts aren’t being played right or the crowd is talking or the sound isn’t good. I try not to show it of course, and always seem to snap out of it somehow anyway.
Tell us the mistakes to avoid in the music business.
Thinking that it’s going to happen overnight or without putting in tremendous hard work is a mistake – I don’t believe there’s a shortcut.
Sometimes talented people get lucky early I suppose but I feel those people eventually don’t have to sustain or fulfill careers either.
The majority of us who achieve even a notion of success are lifers and have struggled and made sacrifices to get where we want to be (something I’m still doing).
Tell us your opinion on smoking, ‘health is wealth’ but people still smoke.
Great question – I actually just recently (2 months ago) quit smoking after 25+ years. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done and I still feel that I’m missing something every day. It’s really a nasty habit though. I feel so much healthier and in control of being a non-smoker.
There is a social side to it that I miss sometimes but that doesn’t outweigh the health benefits I feel.
As a singer, I’ve noticed amazing improvements in my vocals, especially in the higher ranges.
State your artist’s name and elaborate on it.
Chris James and The Showdowns. I wanted to put forth my own stage name Chris James as a solo artist because I was the one writing the songs, booking the gigs, promoting, etc. I needed to attach another moniker to it though for various reasons: One was to distinguish from other Chris James’ with an internet presence that plays music professionally, and the other was to identify as a band entity, not just me the singer-songwriter.
I had been playing with the same group of guys for a while so we thought Me plus the band. We liked the Showdowns because it had a western, cowboy sort of ring to it that kind of denotes our vibe.
State the title of the song and the meaning.
Cold Black – It’s about a cold, seemingly heartless, cheating woman.
State the title of the album and the reason for choosing the title.
‘Somewhere Out In California’. The title track for the song itself is a narration of a restless heart, reminiscing on all the possible “what ifs” of life.
After making a decision we sometimes have afterthoughts, imagining how life would be if different decisions were made and if different things were said.
The lyric, “Did you ever feel like we missed the bus” is the metaphorical concern of making the wrong choices in the past and missing prime opportunities or possible new adventures.
It is essential to remind ourselves to take risks: if not, we will regret all the possibilities that could’ve been.