JIM SHELLEY - BOOK OF KILLS Interviewed by Ian C Stewart
(July 5, 2003)
Is there anything you're feeling particularly mouthy about at the moment?
Yeah I always feel mouthy about something or other. I suppose as far as music goes, I'm kinda down on our local music scene, which I'm learning more and more as I travel about and talk to other musicians is pretty much a reflection of the national scene, and not just in the smaller cities and towns. And that's that it seems harder and harder to find places for an original material rock band to play. And it's even harder to get people to come out to shows once you do get a booking. Of course, if you're a cover band or a tribute band, no problem. I live near a small city called Harrisonburg with three colleges in the area, including one with 18,000 students and it's very hard to get folks to go to shows. And not just Book of Kills shows--actually we get a pretty good crowd locally, I suppose--it's just original music in general. If you're not big-time, people just don't wanna know. Also, I don't like how the cereal companies have been putting less cereal in their boxes and charging more for them.
Who are your biggest musical influences and why? Who were your early musical influences?
I have so many. It started (yawn) with the Beatles when I was a little kid. I loved the original British Invasion bands. Other influences would include the 60s punks and to a slightly lesser degree the 70s punks. I'd have to say the Pixies were a pretty big influence but mainly 'cause I have a very serious crush on Kim Deal. I actually thought the better rock music of the 80s was awfully good music that easily stands up to any other era.
Where do you see your music heading?
Well...music in general is headed to the bank. My music...I just don't know that I progress so much as continually try out different styles and sounds. I'm not imaginative enough to reinvent the wheel. I simply try to become a better songwriter. In that regard, Robert Pollard has been an influence, even though we're around the same age, because of the strange chords he often likes to jam together. He has some pretty weird sounding progressions where the first time you hear them you go, What the hell? Then you begin to understand he hasn't locked himself into the way chords are 'supposed' to work off one another.
What music software do you use?
I use SoundForge 6.0 and T-Racks 2.0 mainly. I don't have a whole lot of software. I did use the Acid program last summer when I was recording an album called All About You. It was fun but at the same time a bit tedious to sample stuff and then chop it up and process it and so on.
Is there any other music software you plan on getting?
I don't have any plans right now. I just bought a Blue Max and a Blue Tube (a relatively cheap outboard compressor/pre-amp combo), a Rode NT1-A (which I love!), a Boss DR-770, and a Pod 2.0. It's mainly stuff that I'll use when I record 'solo' material.
What's your home PC setup?
I have a Sony PCV-RX860 Digital Studio PC. But I wish I'd bought a new Mac instead. I started out Mac and then got frustrated back when they were putting out shitty products without Steve Jobs around. Now their computers just kick ass, but I had so much PC-oriented stuff, I was hesitant about going back.
Do you write songs on keyboards or guitar?
I'm a VERY limited keyboard player, so I write most of my songs on my guitar. Actually they come to me in my head first and then I try to find chords for them on the guitar.
Can you describe your songwriting methods?
Songs usually come to me in my head first and then I try to find chords for them on the guitar. I can often hear an entire band playing in my head when a new song comes to me. Even the sound of the vocals. It's pretty much a daily event. The really stupid thing is that I should carry around a little pocket recorder so I could take audio notes when the inspiration strikes but I don't. So I usually lose about 75% of the ideas I have, like when I'm riding around in a car. You wouldn't believe how many songs have come to me when I am driving. I heard there's actually a reason songs come to you when you're driving. Something about the right side of the brain sort of opens up because you're left side is kind of in a weird trance state or something. I know other musicians who say they come up with a lot of ideas when they're driving too.
What made you decide to start making music of your own?
Well I guess the glamour of the whole rock scene when I was a kid. I suppose I'm pretty shy in a lot of ways and it seemed like it would be really cool to be a rock and roll musician and more or less force youself not to be so shy. People find it hard to believe when I tell them I'm shy. They laugh.
Are you active in your local music scene?
Not nearly as active as I should be. I talk the scene up a lot. Try to get bands together for the occasional show. I'm so busy with family and job, in addition to my band, that I don't have as much time to do stuff like that as I wish I had.
Are there any music people you'd like to collaborate with?
Robert Pollard probably. I just like his work ethic and of course the music he produces. He's brilliant. Kim Deal. For other reasons.
How has the internet affected you as an artist?
It has provided me and the band with a good, cheap way for people to keep up with us. Where we're playing, when we're releasing a cd. But other than that it has had very little effect. I used to sell and trade many more cassettes in the 'glory days' of homemade music when everyone kept track of what was going on in real paper 'zines than I do now with cd-r's and the internet supposedly being a godsend to home musicians.
Are there any other bands you're excited by?
It pains me to say this, but I think I'm getting to the point in my life where I'm looking backwards and listening to older stuff more than new stuff. And I've realized how little I music I actually heard coming out of the 60s, 70s and 80s. So I've tried to go back and pick up on bands I missed or didn't listen to as closely as I should have. As far as groups who're putting albums out right now, I like GBV, of course; Radiohead is always interesting if a bit passionless at times; White Stripes are fun but a little samey-sounding; I liked the Strokes a lot, but I was envious of the fact that they sort of had an easy road into the business, at least compared to most bands, but they do have lots of talent. Oh...I love the Flaming Lips!
What's next for you, musically speaking?
I'm working on recording an ep of 7-8 songs with Book of Kills, then we're thinking about doing an acoustic ep. I'm also writing and recording a new album on my own. I'm trying to do 20 songs by the end of the summer. It's sort of a parody and sort of not. Too hard to explain. It's nothing earth-shatteringly new. I'm also still trying to learn how to sing. But I know I have a pretty limited voice. I'd kill to have Pollard's voice. Trying to learn new chords but most of them sound weird.
What did I forget to ask you?
Favorite color? I could never actually figure out what my favorite color was. I just like 'em all.