Midriffs is the brainchild of Thomas James. The band came about in 2014 with the release of Subtle Luxuries; an incredibly promising debut LP that makes conscious meeting points between psych rock, and pop tendencies. Now joined by Nick Makarovskiy, Kevin McCallum and his sister Sarah, the band has gone on several U.S. tours and are coming into the new year strong with a self-titled LP II to be released in late 2017.
INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS JAMES (GUITARIST/VOCALIST)
(Interview conducted and written by Connor Sullivan)
Q: Can you recount the recording of Subtle Luxuries and the band’s inception at MassArt?
A: I was in bands all the time in high school, but didn’t take songwriting as seriously as formulating an album; I would just record songs as I went and capture that moment. Subtle Luxuries was both the first record I’ve ever sung on and the first record I deliberately wrote songs for. I recorded these songs I had with a few friends – engineering and mixing it myself. The crazy thing is we weren’t even expecting to tour with it or anything. We just wanted to do it. But I remember the summer we were set to record it, we just ended up deciding to tour before the songs we had been recorded. We got a lot of support from the local scene here in Boston. Everyone just picked us up and let us play with them.
Q: What were the early shows you were playing like?
A: I used to live in a house venue down in Mission Hill. So we just added ourselves as openers on the shows we were already booking. Black Beach and GYMSHORTS played a couple times. Other than that, it was just basements for a long time. Jason from Illegally Blind had us open a few shows; he was really supportive in the beginning.
Q: Can you recount the history of your recording studio The Nest, as well as a certain incident that occurred with a landlord there?
A: We had this third-floor apartment that had five people living there. It was during one of the hottest summers I’ve ever experienced, and we didn’t have A/C. It was called The Nest because it was an unfinished attic that we went up to record in. It was like 100º in there, and you could hear the music being recorded in there from like a hundred feet away. So one day, right after we recorded, the landlord came and pulled the plug on us, saying, “This is not okay and we’re gonna evict you.” We were just trying to record music since it’s so hard to find a place to record. Luckily, the recordings were all good to go when he pulled the plug.
Q: And how did you transition from that to other recording studios?
A: From as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in recording myself. I got a Fostex four-track recorder when I was in high school, which I thought was the coolest thing. I didn’t really know how to use Garageband and I didn’t have a computer, so I just recorded a lot of stuff on that. It’s always been really crucial for me to have it accessible in my room or right there wherever I am. Commuting to studios across the city takes a lot out of me, and I get to the point where I’m almost uninspired by the time I reach one. To be able to wake up and get going right away is really important for me in getting the most honest and genuine recordings. The record I’m working on right now was recorded with my friend Ian at Love Magnet, which is where Fort Apache Studios used to be. That’s the studio that recorded early Weezer, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Radiohead stuff. Ian set up shop in an industrial building in Roxbury, and it just so happened to be where Fort Apache used to be. It’s hard to get a room here drums sound good to me since I’m so particular about the way my drums sound. But at Love Magnet, Ian helped me get a really good drum sound and has been my guide along the way. I’m doing the guitars, synths, bass stuff in my room right now, though.
Q: Who do you regard as lyrical influences?
A: I’ve always had a weird relationship with lyrics. They’re always the last thing I do. Music comes first, lyrics come second, all the time for me. As far as favorite lyricists – Robert Hunter the lyricist from the Grateful Dead. He’s amazing, and in some of his lyrics, you have no idea what he’s writing about, but it still somehow makes sense. It’s oddly both uplifting and sad. Read the lyrics to “Dark Star” and try to make sense of them.
Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: Life by Keith Richards. I think The Stones are one of my favorite bands ever. Keith and Mick are an incredible songwriting duo. But Keith was very much the heart of the band; Mick was more of the flash.
Q: Any record shops around here that you’re partial to?
A: Cheapo Records, the local Cambridge record shop. They don’t have the rock ‘n’ roll section you’d expect, but they have a really good world music section. I’ve copped a lot of good Feta Cuti there.
Q: Can you describe your relationship with AS220 and Providence?
A: It’s been really good. My sister Sarah moved to Providence when I was still in high school, and I visited her a lot there. I remember coming to AS220 and them being really strict about no covers, which I really respect. The people there are really nice, and try to get everyone involved.
Q: Can you speak to your interesting relationship with the band GYMSHORTS?
A: Well, Sarah from GYMSHORTS is my sister. She started GYMSHORTS when I was in college. We both grew up tinkering around with guitars, but she didn’t really take it too seriously until she began going to school in the city. We are a family band, in many different ways. We share three members across the bands. Occasionally, we’ll have the drummer of GYMSHORTS, Chris, sit in with Midriffs, or vice versa, we’ll have our drummer, Nick, sit in them. We’re just a friend group that helps one another do cool stuff.
Q: What’s on the horizon for Midriffs?
A: I can’t say yet where this next album is going, but if you want to listen you’ll have to find it! I’m really proud of it.
Q: What inspired the name Midriffs anyway?
A: My friend Kevin found it on the Word of the Day one time. I didn’t even know what the word was referring to, the body’s belly button and tummy area. But we needed a band name, and it worked.