banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

A Dirty Dozen with JAMES DIGIROLAMO – May 2021


According to a recent press release: “Nashville-based singer-songwriter James DiGirolamo has extensive experience as a session musician and touring sideman. As a keyboard player, he’s worked with Mindy Smith, Holly Williams, Peter Bradley Adams, Alice Peacock, Robby Hecht, Fognode, The Bittersweets, Judson Spence, and many others. DiGirolamo’s latest solo work draws on a wide array of influences including Paul Simon, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson, Thomas Dolby, Steven Sondheim, XTC, Steely Dan, Ben Folds, Ron Sexsmith, and to no small degree many friends and peers from his time in Nashville, such as Sarah Siskind. In his words, “These are not always overt, or even apparent, but they’re in there- that’s part of the beauty of the DNA of songwriting.” The title Paper Boats is a playful combination of the names of the first and last tracks. As DiGirolamo puts it, “in my mind, each of the songs is a tiny boat I constructed, which I now hope to launch across a glassy pond, or -more like it- a turbulent sea.” We get James to discuss new music, influences, and more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

I haven’t hidden anything per se, but I have tried to build in lots of interesting twists and turns/ scenic detours to make you want to keep pedaling on. There are lots of different styles, moods, some of my favorite lyrics, and just a pinch of scrappiness and experimentation. I played the great predominance of the instruments myself, but recruited some excellent musicians to lend a hand where I’d otherwise have been out of my depth.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

My dad was always playing Paul Simon records – and James Taylor, John Prine, Harry Chapin, The Beatles, Elton John. There was something so vital about the great singer-songwriter stuff of that era. I didn’t understand much more than that, since I was just a kid, but I sure started to gravitate towards pianos everywhere we went around that time.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

Well, out of all of those, the best of Paul Simon’s stuff just jumped out at me for its lyrical perfection, and wide-ranging stylistic territory. Then, while I’m already a nut about the best of the S&G era stuff, and There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and Still Crazy After All These Years, he puts out Graceland? I was blown away (along with everyone else). The depth of that album is unfathomable. So is his next album, The Rhythm of the Saints – full of mystery and astonishing in its daring, too.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

This is of course hard to pare down to five, but: Paul Simon, The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman. I always like to say that these will not always be immediately apparent, because there is a whole host of other influences in there, and because it’s all filtered through my individual lens, with all its distortions. Some days Stevie Wonder is more influential on me than Burt Bacharach, y’know? All depends on the day, mood, hour, caffeination, etc. Thomas Dolby shows up in weird ways intermingled with Sondheim one minute, Elliot Smith peeks back through the curtain another.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

It would be fun to work with Jeff Lynne on a track. He’s an amazing guitar player, a beautiful singer, a consummate producer, a genius songwriter, and from what I can tell a lovely human being.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

Widely ranging in style but tending towards the softer, melodic side. Clever and inventive without overdoing it. Well, for a while I was obsessed with Elvis Costello, who is of course legendary for good reason. But I don’t like to be reminded of this obsession, because I think it stunted me in a way. Anyway, I’ve since pecked my way out of that egg (which is a good egg!), and sprouted wings, which flap like mad.

7. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

Hmm. I guess that’d have been a while back. I think you could say legitimately that I was “for real” starstruck by Billy Bob Thornton. I was playing keyboard on tour with Holly Williams, she was opening for Billy on a string of dates. I was a fan of his since I first saw One False Move. What a great writer, I thought- forget acting. But then he’s a singular actor, as well. Take his cameo in Jarmush’s Dead Man, as an example. It kills me every time. He was very gracious, kind, and fun to be around, and it was over far too quickly.

8. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

Well, I like getting to express myself musically- it is so satisfying to write what you feel is a great song, to find an interesting chord change or mood, or lyric – but the older I get, the more I realize there’s more to life. I would love to be a novelist with a writing cabin in the woods! I’d love to be an architect, making simple, graceful, orderly, utilitarian homes and buildings. But I’m also turning into a bird nut, so maybe an ornithologist? Quick anecdote: when I was a child I wanted to be a paleontologist… or a mailman. Those were right on par with one another in my imagination. I guess I’ve always had wide ranging interests!

9. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

Q: What are a handful of your favorite songs – of any style – not written by one of your top five biggest influences, even if these open you up to merciless ridicule by Philistines? A: “Send in the Clowns,”/S. Sondheim “Over the Rainbow”/H. Arlen/Y. Harburg, “Once in a Lifetime”/Talking Heads, “Mandy”/B. Manilow, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”/B. Bacharach, “This Woman’s Work”/Kate Bush, “Always a Woman”/B. Joel, “The Wind”/Cat Stevens, “A Reign of Blows”/XTC (holy shit!), “Duke”/Genesis, “Someone to Watch Over Me”/Gershwin, “Isn’t She Lovely”/Stevie Wonder, “More Than Rain”/T. Waits, “Deacon Blues”/Steely Dan, “Working Day and Night”/M. Jackson. To answer the second part, the dreaded question “who are your top five influences” simply must be asked, so there’s no way out of that one!

10. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

Well, there’s no single moment. When I showed up in Nashville, I didn’t know how anything worked, including my own head. I would have liked to be better prepared, and to have known more about my motivation as a creative person, and what it was really gonna take to “do music.” I will say that I’ve come through it all to find out that I like the guy I’ve fought to become, so I guess I wouldn’t actually change very much.

11. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

This is murderously hard to limit to one. If I had a time machine I’d go back and have you ask me which 10 albums, but alas. So, here’s my best answer. Spike/ Elvis Costello. It floored me, and still does. It is so vivid, colorful, and strange. It contains some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard. “She looks like she learned to dance/ from a series of still pictures/ she’s madly excited now/ she throws her hands up, like a tulip/ she looks like an illustration of a cocktail party/ where cartoon bubbles burst in the air/ champagne rolls off her tongue like a second language…” The musicianship is by turns refined, eclectic, subtle, onomatopoeic, and straight-up dangerous (think Marc Ribot’s guitar solo on “Chewing Gum”). It’s astounding. It feels very wrong not so mention Graceland, Sgt. Pepper’s, Blue, etc., by the way.

12. Due to the current world situation with COVID-19 / quarantine / shelter in place, what have you discovered you miss the most from your life before the pandemic struck?

Traveling, touring, coffeeshops, restaurants, breathing without thinking.




Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad