Talking Kentucky, "post-doo-wop," and what it's like being the only Mormon at the bar. Plus, stream his new EP, 'Life Without Jazz!'
It's easy to become disillusioned. These days, it's all about cynicism, eye-rolling, and hating things just because. James Friley (BKA Idiot Glee) doesn't buy it. Taking his moniker from what Brian Eno once referred to as "the ecstatic emotional surge one gets from creative accomplishment," Friley isn't afraid of his earnest enthusiasm—a keystone member of the Lexington, Kentucky music scene, he co-owns Hop Hop Records, books all ages shows, and participates in the boundary-breaking audio-visual collective Resonant Hole.
Met with acclaim for his first LP, Paddywhack, the electro-crooner is primed to release his forthcoming EP, Life Without Jazz. I caught up with James about "post-doo-wop," Lexington, and what it's like being the only Mormon at the bar.
Life Without Jazz EP
I feel like a lot of people are pretty hard on "synth pop" as a genre just because a lot of the language used to talk about it is really contrived—"swirling synths," "reverb-soaked riffs," etc. What words or phrases used to describe your music are you sick of or are just plain wrong?
I don't mind any phrase, most of the time. Even when people have called Idiot Glee "chillwave," it just makes me snort a little. I've come to realize a lot of journalism is copy-pasted and sort of lazy. Hmmm..."post-doo-wop"—somehow, that stuck with me from day one. I think I put it up on my MySpace "genre" section back in 2009 when I got started as a little joke, and people ran with it. I don't mind people using it as long as they take a listen... In reality, there's not much doo-woppy about Idiot Glee anymore. Not to say I won't venture back into the 50s pop/doo-wop territory more heavily again. No rules! Whatever comes out comes out!
What sticks out as your favorite and least favorite piece of press you've gotten?
A couple reviews of my first album, Paddywhack, came from Tiny Mix Tapes and Subbacultcha! They "got it" more than most other reviewers, I guess.
One time a reviewer talked about how Idiot Glee "overdubbed his music with tape hiss." That also made me giggle. Does it sound like that? [Laughs] I'm working on my production skills.
I'm not going to get into a theological debate with you about Mormonism (I know VICE already went there), but it's a pretty major talking point about you. In what ways do you see your religion affecting your experience in the music industry?
I honestly don't think it's affected me in the industry. People talk with me lightly about it sometimes. I've had a couple rude Facebook messages from strangers, but overall, I think, because I don't make a deal out of it, it's become a non-issue.
What are some common misconceptions about Mormons? Do you ever feel obligated to be like, "Yeah, I'm a Mormon, but don't worry, guys—I'm like a cool Mormon"?
[Laughs] Maybe my actions say that. I don't think I'm very cool, though. Some people seem to think polygamy is still a thing. Polygamy was banned a long time ago, so polygamists are ex-communicated from the church now. Also, people often feel like they have to apologize for drinking or smoking weed around me. I don't care—drink! For real. I, and the church, don't think it's a sin to drink. It's a sin to over-indulge and ruin your life and your family's life due to addiction, abuse, etc... I hang out at bars probably three or more times a week, and I pretty much only hang out with people who drink and do drugs besides my family and a few friends, so maybe I'm more used to it then other Mormons.
What did you listen to growing up?
I'll chronicle childhood through high school really quickly: Beatles, Weezer, Nirvana, Presidents of the United States of America, Thursday, Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire. And all the while, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, and Dylan, because that's what my dad had me on the whole time, too.
What does your family think about your career?
My family is very supportive. I think my Mom stressed a lot when I was in college, because I didn't care about school, only music. Once I left [University of Kentucky], she eased up. I'm doing what I love! They get it.
You've mentioned that, in Lexington, "everyone's a star" because everyone knows everyone's work. Brooklyn is kind of like that too, except instead of "everyone's a star," it's "everyone is sick of everyone else." What's the local scene in Lexington like, and how do you think it fosters such a strong, positive sense of community?
There's just a lot of support from all ages. WRFL has been a harbor for creativity in the music scene for decades. Hair Police, Caboladies, Warmer Milks, et cetera all came from that scene. Followed by Idiot Glee, Street Gnar, Three Legged Race, Matt Duncan, et cetera. Even if everyone wasn't literally a DJ there, they're part of the scene. Al's Bar is such a homey environment, too, so constantly we're playing gigs there and hanging out eating their amazing food together. It keeps expanding, too, and more and more touring acts are coming through talking about how much they love it. It's still a small city with a small or medium-sized scene, but there's a lot of originality here, a bunch of weirdos, and it's cheap enough that you can have that space to open up and create what you want without working your ass off. People don't even leave that often, no one is affected by what's currently trending on Pitchfork or in Williamsburg. They just listen to techno or noise or house music or Roxy Music or Sparks or whatever and get excited and then create. They. We. Same.
You seem to be pretty big into rediscovering old iconic albums. One of my friends just listened to Fleetwood Mac for the first time in his entire life a few weeks ago. What's something people might be shocked to hear you've only just recently heard for the first time?
Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV records. Or perhaps a stranger one—Neil Young. Nothing specific, just didn't realize I loved him 'til recently. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere is great. Still discovering more Nilsson. I like Nick Lowe recently! I hope your friend obsesses over Tusk soon.
Tell me about the new EP, Life Without Jazz. What do you want people to be doing when they listen to it? What do you want people to be saying/noticing about it?
I feel like I've expanded on Paddywhack, broadened my stylistic range, got a little better at production. Influences were more 70s bands. Definitely still listening to Smile, though—more than Pet Sounds. Never stopping. It's cool if they notice, not important though.
What's coming down the pipe for you?
I soundtracked some yoga videos and I really dig it. New-Agey piano/guitar minimalist works. I just finished a guitar-based rock/folk record on a Tascam four-track—it's pretty loose—and am about done with a solo piano record. Those are more collections of songs new and old revisited but sounding good. Some piano improv. Also working on a soundtrack to Dog Star Man's Prelude that's pretty experimental with an upright bassist, Richard Young, that I'm loving. Besides all that, working on the second Idiot Glee LP. Some of those may be tapes, but hoping to get tons of music out this year!
See you at SXSW! Also, [I'll be] doing dates all over the South and Midwest in march, some with Chris Cohen of Ducktails.