Genre: Rockabilly, Folk, Rhythm & Blues
The first time I saw James Brute was in a small church in Norwich when he supported Martha Wainwright. I was instantly captivated by this performance, one man, one guitar and a sheet load of stories told only by this voice of sincere clarity.
Its not often you hear something and just know that this is it, this is as good as you want it to get and at that very moment, that very performance was perfect. Raw and unleashed, bear and stripped down with nothing but a guitar and emotion to fill the stage and yet, fill the stage he did.
James Brute is the stage name of a James Steel, the front man of recently disbanded four piece, The Brute Chorus – (see: https://thelisteningpostblog.wordpress.com/featured-bands/brute-chorus/). Going it alone, the distinct rockabilly, folk-based, blues sound has followed him, an intent shadow casting its mark all over his new material.
With a distinct sound and the streets of Whitechapel embedded in his voice he sings of myths and the woes of a damaged heart, every detailed line telling a story, the rise and fall of his words heavy with passion and feeling.
There is something unique about this Brute, maybe its the ability he has to swallow the sound of the past and then spit back it out in a mouthful of modern day tuneful tales? Maybe its the way his songs transport us into his heart and mind making us feel what he feels?… Whatever it is it only fuels the fondness and appreciation that The Listening Post Blog has for this musical narrator
The Listening Post Blog, curious to find out a bit more about this musical character, had a few questions to ask and this is what was said:
1. Where are you from, where are your roots? What did you grow up listening to?
I moved around a lot as a kid. My family live in Somerset so maybe that’s ‘home’. My dad was a solider then a priest so we moved a lot with his job. I’ve made London my home and lived all over it. Been in Whitechapel for seven years now and this is definitely where my heart is.
My dad used to sing folk songs to me and my brothers. Matty Groves and The Massacre of Glencoe are two that I remember especially. Songs of infidelity and murder! Pretty light stuff to fill a child’s ears with! We’d team up and perform one called The Rogues of Lynn at the village fetes. All unaccompanied.
2. Was the choice to split from the other band members made so that you could pursue your solo career or had you just come to the end of the road with that? Why have you gone it alone?
I never wanted The Brute Chorus to end. We were brothers but our lives outside the band were changing and it was getting harder and harder to get us all together to write and rehearse. It was dwindling so we decided to end it and go out with a bang. The last show was insane. I miss it. I’m going it alone now because I don’t want to ever stop making music. At the moment I don’t want another band but I’m not saying never. We’ve stayed friends and still hang out.
3. Whats next on the horizon, a new album perhaps?
Perhaps! I’m just writing and recording when I have time. Seeing where it takes me! Nick from the Brutes works with me making the recordings. It’s kind of a continuation. I want to see how stripped down I can get. Reduce the themes and ideas I have as a songwriter to their bare essentials.
4. What inspires you?..What myths/books /subject matter gets you writing? Does the music precede the lyrics or does it vary?
My own love life has been the continual wellspring of inspiration all my life from neurotic teenager to battle-hardened manhood. I’m trying to write more honestly about myself and my experiences than before and to hide less behind characters and allegory. The songs are darker and sexier now but I couldn’t’ve written them when I was twenty-five.
Lyrics always come first for me. Even in the Brutes I would go in with a song with no chords written down or even decided. I’d assemble the lyrics to a tune in my head then sing it at the band and get them to figure out what the music had to be. Now I have to have more discipline and actually sit down with a guitar at some point in order to bring a song to fruition but I’m a reluctant guitar player now. Some of my set these days is sung without accompaniment like when I was a kid singing with my dad. It’s about as stripped down and uncompromising as you can get. Especially when singing about such personal stuff.
5. …so, picture this, Earth is being invaded by evil martians, we are all forced to flee to another planet.
What music would you have to take no matter what! What would you take with you to listen to?
I have a recording I made of my Dad singing all the songs I remember from being a kid. So that would come. Tom Waits or Dr John too. I’m a voracious listener and record collector. I’d say maybe just take my entire library on a hard disk but I’d still get bored quite quickly and need more. Besides, I’d have to leave my record collection and that’s more precious to me than even my guitar!
6. Finally…You have invented a time machine!!..What artist/band would you like to go and see or even
play alongside?..Maybe it wont be past, maybe it will be present? Who would you go and see?
I’d love to go see Dr John in 1968 at the time he recorded Gris Gris. Just to sit in the studio and watch him conjure up all that voodoo.