By ROB DUGUAY
Call it folk, Americana, rock & roll or whatever else, but Colby James & The Ramblers are putting their own spin on it. For over 15 years, James has built a reputation for himself as an accomplished songwriter around the northeast and when he’s with the band it gets upped to a dynamic level. They play the kind of music that you can’t put into a box but there’s a real energy that flows from it. People will be able to feel this energy live when James & The Ramblers take the stage at The Met within the Hope Artiste Village on 1005 Main Street in Pawtucket on December 3. Local rockabilly trio Big Boom Daddies will be opening up the festivities.
James and I had a talk ahead of the show about the band’s self-titled EP that came out last year, promoting a record during the pandemic, getting excited about the smallest of gigs and more music that’s on the way.
Rob Duguay: Back in September of last year, you and The Ramblers released your self-titled EP. Where was the record made and how would you describe the experience of making it?
Colby James: It was made at Newcastle Sound in Barrington and we’ve done a few things in the past with Randy Hunicke who is the owner and engineer there. He’s great, he’s always ready to provide insight on top of producing. Most guys will just have you record and they’ll take your money but he’s very much a professional in his craft. We recorded five songs with him and he was great to work with. As far as the style of music, it can be tough to nail down a description but I guess it’s a little bit of folk rock. I guess you could put a little bit of Americana on it because we have a violin in the band but I wouldn’t point it towards one specific genre.
RD: From listening to it, there’s definitely a rootsy vibe going on. There’s a genuine quality to it where what you’re hearing is what you’re getting.
CJ: We didn’t do much overdubbing except for the vocals, everything was recorded as a band and we didn’t want a ton of that stuff. I’ve done that before and for some reason I don’t like it when music sounds too, too clean. Our EP did get mastered in Seattle but I like the idea of being able to pull it off live on a record.
RD: Absolutely, you also want to maintain the genuineness of your music so you don’t want to mess with it too much in production and post-production while warping your sound.
CJ: Yeah, exactly.
RD: The record was released during a strange time because of the COVID-19 pandemic and there really wasn’t any live music happening so how weird did it feel putting it out a little over a year ago in the midst of everything that was going on? Did the pandemic affect the recording sessions at all?
CJ: Luckily everything was recorded bandwise before all that and I did my vocals separately.
RD: When it came to doing the promoting and marketing for the EP without having shows, did you do a lot of brainstorming? You only can do so much on social media.
CJ: I guess the big thing was that we were thinking of doing it more on a local level. All of the fans that come to our shows are friends and family and our initial goal was never five songs, it was going to be a full album. We kind of try to be overprepared so we went into it while having 15 songs written and we were going to pick the best 11 out of those 15. We ended up having those five being the only ones that we recorded with the band so we were supposed to go back in and do another session with me laying down vocals. Our drummer Jay Pacheco, who is our social media guru, he was the one that was really about putting out the five songs we did as an EP.
It seems to be a thing that everyone is doing now where they’re releasing a song at a time, which I think is genius. John Mayer put out one song at a time on the Sob Rock record and in doing so, he made people listen to every song as opposed to just putting out a few singles. That for us was something we chatted about and it made us decide to just release the EP as it is.
RD: It makes complete sense. Along with releasing a record during that time, you and the band did some socially distanced shows and some live streaming. Looking back on 2020, what took the most adapting for you as a musician that year? What did you learn the most?
CJ: This is going to sound terrible to say but for me, even though my wife would shoot me if she heard me say this because she had to do the distance learning with our three children but I have to say it was eye-opening. I was playing out so much and it was almost as if I was taking that for granted so for me it made the smallest show the most exciting thing to be a part of. If someone was willing to have an outdoor party and have me play, I was psyched to do it and thank God that we even have outlets like Facebook that can have you go live and stuff like that. Every time we went live we always tried to have some sort of benefit for it so we raised money for a lot of organizations and people in our community. I think we were one of the first ones in February that raised all the money for a bar we play at for all the staff. There were five people who worked through the winter who couldn’t work and this was before people were getting their stimulus checks so it was nice to give people some money through the power of music.
RD: That’s awesome. I can relate in the sense that last year made me count my silver linings a bit and it was also inspiring to see people helping each other out like you did with those livestreams. Going from that time to how, how has it been for you and the band ever since live music came back at the start of the summer?
CJ: I think everybody seems eager to be at a live show and it’s weird how you do one year of nothing and then you come back. Everybody is kind of looking at each other about what’s ok and what’s not ok. You’re constantly trying to adapt to the situation that you’re in but ultimately we haven’t played too many full band shows indoors. We were coming off during some festivals and stuff, we did the Rhythm & Roots Festival in Charlestown where you had to show your vaccination card to be a part of it and that was the first time I had ever seen anything like that. That was a huge event they put on and John Hiatt was the headliner, it was one of those things where it was simply awesome just to be playing again.
It was awkward at first and we’re still not through that awkwardness of being on stage together just as a band, nevermind the audience in the room. We take it all very seriously as far as social distance and all that stuff goes so we’re all focused on taking care of each other, taking care of our families and doing it the right way.
RD: That’s a good way to go about it, you have to be smart about the current situation. What are you and The Ramblers’ plans for next year? Can we expect another record with those tracks you originally wrote for the EP?
CJ: Definitely making another album. We’re doing this really cool thing out in Brooklyn at Leesta Vall Sound Recordings where your fans request certain songs and we’re going to record them direct to vinyl.
CJ: Yeah, so you can’t really screw up. If you do, you have to start over again, there’s no stopping and breaking so you have to be pretty sharp. With that said, let’s say you have 20 people and 20 people make the same requests. You have to still record that song 20 times and you can’t duplicate it. You can’t just burn it onto another record so it’ll be interesting to do but that’s a very cool thing we’re looking forward to doing.
There’s other musicians that are doing it who I really look up to and we have some other things in the works with live events. We’ve applied to a bunch of festivals within the northeast so we’re waiting to hear back about those.