James William Roy has been making music since before I was born. He picked up the bass in 1982 and the guitar shortly afterward. He began recording his own music at home on an 8-track long before it was considered ‘retro’ to do so. Over the years he’s been in more bands than one could comfortably keep track of; Tin Honey Gold, Idiot Purge, and St. Bastard, to name a few. If you’re looking for a few hours of entertainment, a full listing is available at thejamesrocket.com. Currently Roy plays bass in A Bunch of Girls, which he describes lovingly as “the last rock band in NYC.” And in between gigs, he somehow finds the time to hold down a full time job, maintain a healthy marriage, and to write and produce some pretty fresh music.
Roy isn’t the hippest of rockers, if you couldn’t tell by his press photo. He confesses that he’ll never be featured on latfh.com “because I’m older and wiser and married and work and have some self-respect… but mainly because I’m older.” With his busy life, Roy likes to keep his music short and snappy. No pretension, no deadweight, and no holds barred.
“I do my songwriting and recording I generally only have a few hours at a shot to get something down in rudimentary form, and anything thereafter I have to add as I can. If the lyric, especially, isn’t finished quickly, a song can linger on unfinished for years; I’ll get sick of it, and get stuck unless I can move on to the next one. So it’s better for me to have a short lyric and a short tune that I can tie up quickly in an afternoon, then mix over the next week or so in little shots, and stick a fork in it and call it done.”
Roy’s lyrics are intelligent and a bit off kilter. They’re often edgy but he also has a sensitive side, and isn’t afraid to appeal to it. A-side “Shiny Dark Bar” concludes
You look like shit but you feel like a star
Get out of your head in the shiny dark bar
I accept you for who you are
So lay down your guard in the shiny dark bar
I’ll kiss your face if you lead me that far
Let’s keep it right here in the shiny dark bar
Give up your keys and forget your car
And lay down your head on the shiny dark bar
Roy’s voice has just the right amount of attitude. It’s whiny when it should be whiny, smooth when it should be smooth. Vocals are supported by crunchy guitars and drum machine. The lush harmonies that come in at the extended chorus offer a nice repose from the heavier verse.
On B-side “The New Red Scare”, Roy demonstrates a penchant for sarcasm and rebellion reminiscent of early punk, which perhaps isn’t so surprising since he was a teenager at the time bands like The Ramones and The Clash were starting to blow up.
Hide your pistols and hide your grandma, Census bureau’s
Here comes another load of shit, stinks to heaven and it fills the streets
It commands our attention and it keeps our asses in the seats
Or so they seem to think but
That the commies are coming
That they’ll take all our money
And if you believe that, I got a bridge to sell ya…
“The New Red Scare” is a whopping one minute and twenty-two seconds long. Perhaps that’s taking the whole short and snappy thing a little too far. But it leaves this listener wanting more, and when two listens clock in at less than three minutes, repeat listens are easy to justify. Simply while writing the last two paragraphs, I made it through 5 consecutive listens. I’m about to go for six. Already I fear that I’ll be up all night singing along.
According to Roy, both tracks are merely demos. His greatest hit is probably Paper Valentines which, incidentally, is soon to become a play along chart on Rock Band. But he chose “Shiny Dark Bar” and “The New Red Scare” over some of his more polished material because they are what he’s working on at the moment. And perhaps that’s why Roy’s music seems so real. After almost thirty years, he’s still living in the moment, always creating something new.