James Younger on Growing Up British, Loving American Music and Digging Canadian Baseball
The grass is always greener on the other side of the pond, and for every Anglophile American rock band aping the Beatles or the Clash, there’s a dude in Blighty digging the Boss and Bob Dylan. At first blush, James Younger seems like one of these latter blokes, and on ‘Feelin’ American,’ the debut album he premiered on Diffuser.fm last month, the native of Manchester, England, gets his Tom Petty mojo working, firing off a set of smart and sugary power-pop stunners.
Younger wrote the album after leaving home at 21 and taking a road trip across America, and while that further paints him as a wannabe yankee, the truth is more complicated. In a recent email interview with Diffuser.fm, Younger revealed his obsessions with the Smiths, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, all of whom can be heard in his songs.
Scroll down to get Younger’s take on all three, as well as his thoughts on baseball, Jack Kerouac and the Byrds. He also explains why he might owe his life to some kindly Alabama cops.
As hardcore anglophiles, we’re always interested when British musicians fall hard for American music. What draws you to our yankee sounds? When did you first discover guys like Tom Petty?
I remember listening to a show on BBC Radio 2 when I was about 17. It was a kinda bio piece on Tom Petty. What Americans don’t always realize is that Tom Petty had a career of his own in England. He came over with the early New Wave acts like Patti Smith, Television. Anyway, I just dug it. [The 1979 album] ‘Damn the Torpedos’ is a lesson in songwriting. Since the [2007 Peter] Bogdanovic documentary [‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’], people have become more familiar with the Petty mantra, “Don’t bore us; get to the chorus.” I like that. It resonates with me. I must admit, my favorite of his is ‘Long After Dark.’ It’s unfairly maligned in my opinion. It’s as though he got too good at being Tom Petty. The songs are so efficient and clinical, plus it has this metallic sheen on it, mainly because of the percussion sounds. You know he recorded all those old albums live? Blah, blah, blah. I could go on forever … watch the documentary if you haven’t seen it.
Would you say you’re more influenced by American artists than you are by some of your hometown legends, such as the Smiths? You can certainly hear both on ‘Feelin’ American.’
I’m not sure. I go through phases. I was obsessed with the Smiths. On the day I left high school — there was this tradition at my school to write all over each others clothes in Sharpies — everyone just wrote Morrissey all over mine. Besides, my dad is a massive fan, so I grew up with it. Right now, the records I am buzzing off most are ZZ Top‘s ‘Tres Hombres,’ Squeeze’s ‘ArgyBargy’ and ‘Sound Affects’ by the Jam. I’s not quite a mixed bag. There are always guitars and sweet vocals. I’m not sure if I’m inherently influenced by one more than the other.
You’ve said the album was inspired by a road trip across the U.S. What’s the craziest thing you saw on your journey? Is there a state you’d never go back to?
Everywhere was cool, pretty much, although me and my buddy did get kinda lost near Mobile, Alabama. We tried to stay in this hotel, and as we were kinda hitch-hiking, this guy dropped us off outside of it. We were walking up to the lobby, and a cop car showed up and beckoned us over. We thought we had done something wrong, maybe looked wrong, but they basically said, “Guys, you do not want to stay in that hotel. You’ll get jumped or robbed.” So they ordered us in their cruiser and took us to a motel that was safe.
Where’s the best place you ate?
I don’t know, Mexican food, maybe. I was in Ashland, Oregon. Have you ever been there? They have a nine-month-long Shakespeare festival or something like that. The whole town is dressed up like an English Village. It’s odd. Anyway, I remember that all these hippies were coming off this huge hike from Mexico to Canada and were stopping in Ashland. We had this wonderful random night where we camped with these walking guys — little bit ‘Into the Wild’ — and they made us some great Mexican food.
Did you have a mixtape in the car? What were you rocking as you crossed the country?
You know what’s funny? I remember having a cassette with me, which on one side was [The Byrds‘] ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers,’ and on the other was [David Crosby’s] ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name,’ I must have listened to those two albums a million times.
Did you bring along a dogeared copy of ‘On the Road?’ Overrated, right?
Not exactly, but that romanticism was what partly inspired me to move out to North America. I mean not necessarily Kerouac, although I like the scroll version of that book — check it out; I think the actual scroll is in Massachusetts. I was certainly a steady consumer of those ideas, of fleeing west as you see in Steinbeck or Kesey, but also ‘Big Sur’-era Henry Miller, and that pursuit of freedom is all over the music of Laurel Canyon, etc.
Now you’re based in Vancouver. Do you prefer Canada to the U.S.? What’s better, hockey or baseball?
I went to a baseball game last night! Vancouver have a farm team, like a triple-A team, maybe lower league that. They beat Eugene 4-2. Either way, it is great. I go and see the Mariners every now and then. I went to Wrigley Field when I was last in Chicago, too. I like hockey, but in Vancouver, it is so commercialized, and normal folks like you and I are entirely priced out of the tickets. Baseball still has it’s integrity. The players all do steroids though, right? Somehow it still maintains it’s integrity.
We also hear a lot of Thin Lizzy, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello in your music. Did you hear a lot of that stuff growing up?
I think anytime folks hear a duel guitar line, they think Thin Lizzy. There is a song by Nick Lowe called ‘And So It Goes.’ It was his first Stiff Records single, and it sounds like a Thin Lizzy Song, randomly. I am a massive Nick Lowe fan, particularly his first two albums, which are untouchable. I love Elvis Costello. It’s embarrassing how much. I saw him on the street recently; he lives near Vancouver. I couldn’t believe it. He looked inspired, and I just kind of gawped for a minute or so, then noticed this older lady was in her car gawping, too. We looked at each other, two strangers both gawping and mouthing, “That was Elvis Costello!!!” I grew up with none of them, really, though. It was through my own digging and friends that I got acquainted with the latter two. As for Thin Lizzy, well, everyone like them right?!
What lyric on the new record are you most proud of?
I don’t know, I like the way the lyrics scan in ‘Sleeping Alone,’ but I don’t pick favorites. There will always be more.
What’s next for you? Any more road trips in your future?
Actually I am going to be in Europe this summer, and then I am going on tour with the Zolas and Hollerado for two months in the fall. That counts as a roadtrip I think!