Al James the Unfazed

The difference between Portland artist Al James the Unfazed and Al James’ larger group, Dolorean ? “With me, it’s much more direct,” says James – so direct that he tells you how it is and transfers a heart-wrench that puts you back in the moment like Patsy Cline or Hank Williams. Al James is right on top of the ability to make music with the authenticity of the old-timey crooner while avoiding the perilous trawl down memory lane that is the right-now move for alt-folk artists. His music walks down a highway at midnight because his lyrics naturally waft into night air without raiding the drug-store jukebox. Just listen to “Are You Really Real?”, several times. This music is all his own. Unphased, and unfad. I dig.

You can hear Al James live and in person at the Birds on a Wire Folk Festival in Pullman, WA, 26 March.

Here are his answers to a couple o’ questions:

-What inspired you growing up?-
“The main theme in all of these [interests] is that whatever I did I wanted to be really, really good at it. Halfway doing something always frustrated me. I’ve always figured that you should do or make something that has the possibility of being given to someone else, and maybe has the ability to last after you’ve gone.” -Hey, that is one good answer. Hip hip Al James!-

-What motivates you to sing now?-
“Currently, I’m motivated by the desire to better what I’ve done in the past and to simply write and sing the best songs I’m capable of creating. At this point my journey is completely singular and solitary. I have almost no social ties with other musicians or the scenes in Portland or the Northwest. I’ve outlasted lots of my peers, but am completely out of touch with the newer acts in Portland and the NW. I’m unknown to them and visa-versa. It’s a solo trudge from here on out.” -Good. Individual artist. Very sweet.-

-Hmm, what do you generally read or watch?-
“My favorite books are “Solo Faces” by James Salter, “The Human Comedy” by William Saroyan “Rock Springs” by Richard Ford. I like to read Non Fiction, Music and Film Biographies, Crime Novels, Short Stories, Graphic Novels, well written and researched Blogs, and U.S. Weekly. I watch movies like “The Hired Hand”, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”, “California Split”, and “Sometimes a Great Notion” and lots of TV series on DVD… the ones everyone in the world loves – “Weeds”, “Sopranos”, “Mad Men”,”Sex And The City”, “The Wire”, “Freaks and Geeks”, “30Rock” etc…. oh and lots of Blazer Games when I can.” -EVERYTHING.-

-What is “dolorean?” is it the mountain chain in Italy? a link from an interview took me to an Italian tour-guide website, so I thought – mayhaps – there might – be a connection.-
“No that Italian site is just a cyber-squatter. I forgot to renew the website a couple years back and with the traffic they want a few thousand dollars to buy it back. So the new site is “”… A lot cheaper solution. The word “Dolorean” doesn’t mean anything in particular. Just a word that felt good, sounded nice, and looked balanced when spelled out.” -Now you know. No googling Dolorean.-

-Do you have a dog or a particularly beloved pet?-
“No dogs or pets. Not around enough to be a good pet owner. Growing up I had two dogs although neither were particularly beloved because my mom wouldn’t allow them in the house… Bummer.” -Too bad those were before the days of cyber pets.-

-What is your favorite place in the world? or you could tell me what you really, really love about Portland.- “Portland is certainly not my favorite place in the world. It’s home or feels that way, but it’s not my favorite. If we lived in our favorite places in the world they wouldn’t stay our favorite places. They’d lose their luster. My current favorite place is either on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound on the West Side facing the Olympic Mountains…. Or out East in Fossil, Oregon during the summer when the swimming is really good on the John Day River…” -FYI: I have no problem living in really, really cool places and being quite at home. If you have an extra room in Paris, Sydney, London, or any Pacific Islands, feel free to give me a call.-

-Can you explain your relationship to Dolorean?-
“If I understand the question right, I’ll explain the difference between myself and ‘Dolorean’ the band…Dolorean was always meant to represent more than just me. It’s always been loose. It’s always been the name of the group of musicians playing the songs I wrote. It’s been a pretty consistent group over the years with an occasional cast of excellent contributors that help out when needed. It’s wide open when other musicians are involved. Tempos change, arrangements are different, and it’s never the same twice…

“When it’s just me it’s much more direct. The focus isn’t on the arrangement or playing or even the guitar… It’s just about getting the words out to the listener in a meaningful, engaging way. Sometimes I’m on, other times it’s more of a struggle, but that gets us back to the first question… Can I get better and better as I go along… I hope so. That’s the goal…”

-Thank you, thank you, Alex James. You are unfazed, and your music is first rate. Are you really real? I like it, I really like it.-


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