Name: James Singleton
Occupation: Bassist, composer, producer
Recent release: James Singleton's Malabar LP is out via Sinking City on April 15th 20222.
Recommendations: Anselm Kiefer “Aschenblume” must be see in person at Ft. Worth museum of modern art; George Saunders “ Lincoln in the Bardo“
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was singing and dancing a lot before my earliest clear memories so I believe I was less “drawn to” to music than simply immersed in it as a way of life, a way of healing, and an exploration of ideas.
Mainly I was involved in folk forms and church music, “performing” in church at 8, attempting to compose at 15, producing not til my early 30’s.
Early on I saw music as a palliative, a source of joy, and a means of connection with others.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
I've always heard music as a reflection of many different emotions, and then a puzzling sensation of something beyond emotion.
I always look for a feeling of rightness and inevitability, humor, and catharsis.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I resist hierarchies, but I suppose I’m off and drawn first to melody, then rhythms, textures and harmonies.
As a professional bassist I’ve been challenged to learn many specific styles and how the base functions in the styles. These disciplines broaden my awareness and in some ways freed up my compositions, because I’ve always hoped that my music would be beyond genre or category.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I know that I came into the world with arguably extreme privilege to begin with. Perhaps that has made it easier for me to identify strongly with my own ideas, humor, perceptions and goals. I disdain tribalism of any sort and I believe that humans should identify with their own individual paths of challenges.
I’m not sure how this influences my work. I do identify with my compositions as the core of what I’m doing.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I’m always aiming for a mix of intuition and reflection in my playing and composing, I want and expect intuition and reflection simultaneously from myself and my colleagues.
I’m on a path of seeking love and cultivating it within and aiming to get it to spread to others.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Traditions are interesting and very important in my particular town of New Orleans. They are a large part of the mix in most artistic sensibilities. One must be careful that they don’t become cult-like and self congratulatory and get in the way of the real work.
Moving humans forward in the grand illusion of time is the goal.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
The perceptions and tastes of my closest non-musician friends and lovers has been a huge part of my guidance.
I improvise with my voice throughout the day and go to the bass and the trumpet in the piano every single day as different wellsprings of new ideas.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I generally start the day with voice because sometimes you get lucky first thing. Then I moved to meditation, hatha yoga and more meditation. Then it’s a mix of practicing the various instruments, cooking, eating , getting on the phone and booking playing outside in the sun or the rain.
All these things are heavily punctuated by parenting for about 13 years now.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Compositions emerge and are completed in a wide variety of ways. I guess one of my favorites is "Gator bait".
I wrote the melody singing in the car, wrote it down and waited 10 years to find the base lines that seem to dictate the rest of the composition. I produced it on a recording with astral project and performed it for a few years then I didn’t perform it for another 20 years return to it recently for a commission for the Instigation festival in Chicago.
So it’s back in the rotation and I’m even revising it now .
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Solitude and interacting with others are equally important and both are evolving. From my mid teens I wanted to create in real time.
Our first childlike efforts included setting out to improvise for an hour straight! Usually now I complete a composition in solitude and then bring it to other performers / composers and witness the evolution in real time.
Also I recorded and re-record it in a widely ranging context to see what can be learned about myself and the composition itself.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
My work is the most concise way I reflect my experience of reality. Without words the music affords shortcuts to one’s perception of reality. Worldwide music is largely seen as a palliative bomb for troubled souls.
I’m hoping as we move forward more and more people will see the value of music as ideas that challenge and bring forth adult questions to go along with the prevailing easy child-like answers. I understand the need for both things.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
The strongest art consistently causes questions to emerge about all aspects of our existence; it's always specific and too numerous to recall or list. Identifying with the pain in James Booker‘s “Black Night” helped show me that the finer nuances in the musical performance can freeze from pain.
Brahms’ “Academic festival overture“ takes juvenile drinking songs and goes to the very core of human meanings and hopes. What was he thinking? In some moments we feel we know, we know him, we weep, we love life.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
This is nothing new. Again I stress that intuition and reflection are pretty much invariably teaming up somehow in the strong sauce that we crave.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Some of the best espresso I have tasted - and I’m a big snob - was made by artists.
A huge problem in late stage capitalism is the evaporation of philosophy from so-called mundane tasks. All of us should seek strengths and even transcendence in our daily activities and to achieve this we have to aim a lot higher when it comes to looking out for each other.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Hearing is just one of our senses. Over great periods of time we have learned to create sounds that exploit it in ways that stagger the mind.