I spoke to James from James White & The Wild Fire who reached the top of the Amazon charts with their debut EP, had their first gig at Saffron Hall and are soon to be releasing more music.
You guys formed the band in 2020, how did it come about as it couldn’t have been easy?
James: We started piecing the band together in 2019 under the alias James White & (Insert Name Here). This line-up didn’t have Ed in it so we had a few shows together under this name pre-first lockdown. It was only when lockdown was lifted in Summer 2020 that Ed got on board, we had a reshuffle and the band as we know it came to be! It has been an awful lot of waiting around after a short start and a large stall caused by the pandemic. It has really just kinda banged and boomed since May time when we were unleashed into the big wide world! The last few months have definitely been intense. Rewarding, mind-blowing, but intense!
Tell me who does what in the band?
James: Well you have the Queen of Bass, Brooke Bond on double bass. She hails from Des Moines, Iowa, and we’ve made it clear to America that they can’t have her back now! We have Lee Dorrington playing cajon, we have Ed Goldsmith on the 5-string banjo and finally you have me as the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist.
Who’s been in a band before, and is this one better(!)?
James: Brooke is still currently in about 9,823 bands because you can’t be that talented and not be sought after! She plays in a variety of cover bands. Lee is in another band called Moonshine Coyote which are really cool – they play on instruments made out of old cigar boxes. Both have been in various bands before, Brooke even played in a band touring the world on a cruise ship which is how she met her husband! Ed was in a band “the Cyriacs” for several years before he went to university (I believe that band survived lockdown and are still going), and has also dabbled in various other musical escapades. There aren’t a whole lot of banjo players out there, so quite often Ed is asked to provide a banjo track for someone or something. I myself played comedy acoustic for nine years before going into a more “serious” direction as a solo artist. I then took some of those songs, re-wrote them with the band and two of them made it on to our debut EP. I may well be biased, but because of the people I am surrounded with they have truly elevated my songwriting and musicianship. This is without a doubt the best musical project I have ever been a part of – and we are only just getting started!
Do you all have similar musical tastes/influences?
James: We all come from very different walks of life with very different histories. The fact we all play together, when you think about where we have all come from, is quite mad. Ed loves his Bluegrass and that has really transferred into my songwriting which you’ll see a bit more of with EP number 2. Brooke is so versatile and plays everything from Jazz to Classical to Rock and Blues – and obviously Country. I’ve not seen anything she can’t do to be honest and the same goes with Lee. I myself listened to Classic Rock, 80s Rock, Hair Metal and Indie when I was younger and now I am fully baptised in the world of Country, Bluegrass and Americana – although as Tyler Childers once said “Americana ain’t no part of nothing” – so right now that is what I am digging! But my early idols were Angus Young of Ac/Dc, Slash from Guns N’ Roses, Eddie van Halen from van Halen and on the flip side Noel Gallagher.
Where did the name come from….although I can guess the first part…..?
James: You know, I wasn’t keen on having my own name as part of the name of the band! I am aware I am quite a loud and out-there person but this band isn’t about me, as I said it is the other musicians who have elevated the songs that I wrote to the level that they are. We toyed with different names for ages as we wanted to move away from the (Insert Name Here) tag, but this was the one that stuck. I got outvoted! I guess the Wild Fire part just seemed kinda rough, ready and “Americana” – sorry Tyler…
Everyone is musically talented so do you guys play other instruments?
James: You mean everyone ELSE is musically talented! Brooke plays the ukulele, I wouldn’t put it passed her to be able to play anything with strings on it. Ed plays the mandolin and the guitar… a bit. Lee plays the drums as his primary instrument. I started learning the harmonica, piano and the violin during lockdown but I wouldn’t ever say I can play them to a level which is respectable yet. I did play the flute when I was younger as well as the right of passage, the recorder! I’m sure I can still throw out some kind of rendition of Hot Cross Buns on both!
What are the ‘rules’ of being in James White & The Wild Fire?
James: The first rule of James White & The Wild Fire is: You must always talk about James White & The Wild Fire… until Instagram locks your account for spamming, anyway…
Honestly, there are no rules. One thing for sure is we are all in this together. We just wanna make music and have fun! Life is too short to put a leash on things like this – at least in my opinion!
What’s your song writing process? Who does what, or is it a collaborative process?
James: I write the lyrics, melody or whatever, Ed complains that it isn’t in G or is in some awful timing like 5/8, then I get bullied about not writing one in 4/4 and G. In all seriousness, I write something, take it to them if it survives my process of whether I like it or not (usually 9 out of 10 don’t pass), then the band get a horrendous voice message of whatever hot mess I have put together and we take it from there in rehearsal. And like a series of top mechanics, they turn it into something respectable.
Do your creative mind-sets differ and how do you handle it between you?
James: Lee and Brooke are so laid back that they just go with the flow which does really help. Ed is the one who will tear my work to shreds. I have a cry, realise he is right, and then we push on in a better direction. It is a good mix – you need someone to tell you when something isn’t good enough and Ed does that. It is what takes the music to the next level. Brooke and Lee’s talent alone draws in incredible ideas that elevate the songs – like the breakdown you saw in our last song at Saffron Hall – that was all Brooke and Lee. Geniuses, the lot of them. We never argue when it comes to making music. Except for Ed… Ed argues.
You describe your style as part-country, part-bluegrass and part-indie – sounds like we need to come up with a new genre name – any suggestions? CountryGrass……..?
James: Blimey! IndieCountryRockBluegrass just doesn’t sound that appealing does it?! I am stumped! Any suggestions are welcome! I’m pretty sure countrygrass is a thing already… I’m not sure we quite fit that bill somehow.
How did it feel to release your debut EP ‘Making Tracks’?
James: Well, we recorded it in September 2020 and it wasn’t released for nine months after that due to shows getting cancelled because of lockdowns getting reinstated or extended. It felt like buying a ticket to go somewhere you are really excited for, and watching every train you need getting closer to departure before you get the delayed, followed by the inevitable cancelled announcement. It basically gave me PTSD from my time commuting. Eventually, we were confident that it was going to be released as this was dependent on doing our hometown show as a launch show it became more and more exciting. Then when it did so well it became kinda terrifying, then exciting, and then terrifying, and over and over again. But I couldn’t be more proud of it and I couldn’t be more grateful for the reception it got.
And leading on from that, ‘Making Tracks’ reached Number One on both the Folk & Country Album charts on Amazon – what was that like, when you found out?
James: Well on the first day of pre-order it was in the 70s position for Country. I was like “that is so cool!” The next day I woke up and I couldn’t see it so I thought “Oh, we must have fallen out of the chart, but that’s cool..” So I had a browse to see what was number one and saw we were number two in the Country chart. I just stared at it, refreshed the page about ten times thinking this was some sort of prank or that my coffee had been laced with something. But nope – number two! So I shared it with the band and we were all gobsmacked. Then Ed came back being like “Mate you do realise it is number one in the Folk chart?!” Which obviously I didn’t, so I was floored once again! About thirty minutes later we were top in both and it stayed that way for some time. Needless to say come 5pm I was straight down the pub! It still hasn’t sunk in. It still feels like someone has pranked me. Ed likes to point out that at one point we got pushed to the number 2 spot on the folk charts when we were overtaken by an album of breathing exercises.
Being formed last year you must still be full of excitement and energy, what are your general plans for the year ahead? What do you want to achieve as a band?
James: We have a few headline shows to announce shortly on top of the one at the Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds. I’m excited to bring the band to my home county of Suffolk. After that a few more shows but I have been writing a lot recently, so a run of singles or an EP most probably early 2022 is the plan, we are weighting up whether to release a live album from Saffron Hall as we have everything in place. We shall see!
James is quite a charismatic frontman – are the rest of you cool with that, or will we hear a few more voices coming forwards?
James: I’ll leave that to Ed to comment on!
Ed: I’m quite happy leaving it up to James to woo the audience. I’m usually way too busy tuning in between songs anyway. That being said, if I need to knock him down a peg or two in front of a crowd, I can usually find the time… In all honesty though, James is a great frontman, and his personality really helps make every show special.
If you could choose any singer/musician to join the band for one gig, who would it be?
James: For me? Tyler Childers and Billy Strings. No brainer for me! But I am sure Ed will choose any other frontman who can write in a respectable timing and in a key he likes. I’d be booted out in five seconds.
Ed: I don’t think I’d replace James with another frontman, as such… maybe a metronome…?
What’s your biggest vice?
James: I’ve spent the last sixteen years giving up smoking on and off. So probably that! I do also love a beer, my PlayStation and having far too many pets!
What was your favourite concert when you were younger?
James: Jeez, the first band I saw live was Motorhead so that is always hard to beat. I’d also throw in Metallica live at Download Festival 2005, Ac/Dc at Wembley Stadium in 2009 I think, Rage Against the Machine all three times I have seen them, Aerosmith at Download 2010, more recently I saw Tyler Childers play at Rough Trade in London where I met him, what a guy!
What are your fondest musical memories?
James: I started playing music as listening to music was my sanctuary from my early teens when I was first diagnosed with depression at fourteen so it is really hard to pick something when I feel I owe my life to it. But I’d probably say the Tyler show at Rough Trade.
What’s your favourite sandwich filling?
James: I am a vegetarian – so cheese. Cheese is life.
What’s the least cool thing you’ve done recently?
James: I work in contract law and I’m basically married to my PlayStation 5 when I am not dealing with my pets so I spend my life being not cool. I did break my foot earlier this year chasing my escaped rabbits around my garden.
What’s your favourite word?
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
James: You know I’ve only ever done Karaoke once! But I’ll be THAT guy, Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver.
Any special skill outside of music that we don’t know about?
James: I can get accidentally drunk at the drop of a hat. I have absolutely no will power on that front if a mate asks me what I am up to.
Did you start any new hobbies during lockdown? Are you planning to continue with them?
James: I decorated my house and dear lord did it need it! I also took up being in a IndieCountryRockBluegrass band so I’d quite like to keep that going!
Who is the best cook in the band?
James: I’m gonna say Brooke because she posts some really nice looking meals in Instagram.
Who is the hot head of the band? And who keeps everyone calm?
James: I’d say Ed is the hot head, I’d say Lee is the one who keeps everyone calm.
Who is the funniest member of the band?
James: I’d say Ed to be honest. His dry sense of humour kills me.
What will you be doing exactly 20 minutes after you have completed this interview?
James: I’ll be running around chasing my eight week old kitten who I got two days ago most likely!
What crazy/bad jobs have you done just to get money?
James: I started work at 13 so there are so many! I did put dead people back together after post-excavation as an archaeologist and try to diagnose how they died!
What was your favourite British TV show from childhood (this will show your ages!)?
James: Thomas the Tank Engine HANDS DOWN. Commiserations to Fireman Sam and Postman Pat.
Name a band that is always in your Top Ten Favourite Bands list.
James: Guns N’ Roses. Their live album would be the one disk I’d take with me to a desert island if I could only take one.
What cartoon character do you most identify with?
James: If we are going by looks every unoriginal person ever would say Sideshow Bob, but come on people – do better! Personally I really don’t know. Probably something unflattering like Beavis or Butthead.
What album has got you through some hard times?
James: I wouldn’t even know where to start here, Tyler’s Purgatory, Ac/Dc’s If You Want Blood, Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, Metallica S&M (can you tell I am a sucker for a live album?!), but most probably The Mark Tom & Travis show by blink-182, I’d have to say that more than most.
Name one of your favourite uplifting songs that always cheers you up.
James: Girls Club by Marc Rebillet. No contest!
Who is your favourite superhero?
James: Luke Skywalker. I’ll never forgive Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi….
When is your next gig?
Friday 13 August at the Hunter Club, Bury St Edmunds!
Photo credit: Mart’s Art Photography
A shortened version of this interview first appeared on GrapevineLIVE.