Catching up with Edmonton-based artist Motorbike James after the release of his debut album VIISIONS.
“Who the fuck is Motorbike James!?!”. That's the first text I got after sharing his first single me Roll with some friends. I just laughed because honestly, that’s exactly what I’d been thinking myself.
It’s borderline insane, and ignorant at best, to assume I could feel as though I knew an artist after just hearing their name and taking a few listens through one of their songs... so, why did I get that feeling with Motorbike James?
I’ve cautiously decided it comes down to a hint of where I’m from mixed with a whole bunch of totally unqualified projection. And this is where Motorbike James the artist lives in my head. He sounds like nothing I've heard, yet somehow totally familiar as an idea of what a 90s kid from Western Canada could sound like. But what does that really mean outside of my own neurotic need to place him somewhere?
Well, when you're from a place that few have transcended musically, I can only imagine it must be daunting to create. Then again, maybe it gives you the unique opportunity to create free from the expectations that come with a few postal codes to the west, or a few a little further east. Whatever it is, it’s clear that Motorbike James pulls inspiration from everywhere, all while somehow being an optimistic embodiment of where he's from.To illustrate my point, if you know anything about Western Canada, then you know you can’t just go around calling yourself Motorbike James if you don’t actually ride a bike... you wouldn’t survive the grilling. At first it just sounds like an ironic name meant to grab your attention, which it does (remember that text I got?), but if that's all it was then it just wouldn't work. When I asked him where the name came from he summed it up simply, "Motorbike is like Mike but with a few extra letters. So Mike James became Motorbike James.”
It sounds uncomplicated, but I think he's downplaying the level of sophistication and thought that he puts into every piece of his craft. His debut album VIISIONS, released earlier this year on indie label Slow Weather, illustrates this perfectly. Everything from the music to the visuals to the wardrobe is meticulously crafted to fully immerse you in his world.
But Motorbike James told me this wasn't always the case, that VIISIONS started as a bunch of rough demos that he said had no real cohesive direction. Then, as he started piecing it together one by one, he fell into a real spacey and existential vibe that he wanted to pursue. All of this inspired him to sit down and clear up the direction by creating a cohesive narrative around a fictional character, and letting his imagination run in that space. As he crafted the character, he was reminded of a book that he would religiously check out from the library as a kid that featured gorgeous retro futurism illustrations; the book was SpaceCraft 2000-2100.
Now that I’ve rambled on long enough, let’s hear what Motorbike James had to say when we sat down and picked his brain on everything from his debut album to a bouncer he thinks about every now and then.
H&L: Now that it’s released and you’ve had a little separation from its release, what do you remember the most about the actual creation of VIISIONS?
Motorbike James: VIISIONS came together in a pretty unorthodox way, with a culmination of ideas transcending a pretty substantial amount of time. So for the longest time there was no focus. I’m also typically on another planet when working on music… I'll work on an idea for hours and hours, and then come back to it the next day and it’s like I'm hearing it for the first time. So the memories that do come up are random moments from the creative process, typically breakthrough moments.
H&L: Leaning on that, If you take a look at the credits for VIISIONS, it’s apparent that you opted to keep the team small. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Motorbike James: I’m the type of artist that needs all the creative control. I write through producing and recording, and it’s a process that I'm the most productive doing alone. That’s not to say that I don’t work well with others, but I definitely need to control my own art. So the roster stays pretty slim. The team I do have however are amazing.
H&L: Has there been any particularly memorable responses to the project for you?
Motorbike James: The response has been great all across the board. It’s opened the door to some exciting opportunities and relationships. Cool companies like yourself with H&L and the homies at Etnies have been so supportive. Some juicy playlist adds early on have really helped move things forward. I’ve had a few tunes doing well on XM radio which has netted me some righteous royalties which has been amazing. I’ve got artists and producers reaching out to collab, and countless dm’s offering up support or just sharing some love and experiences with the music. It’s really been so encouraging to see the reaction.
H&L: It’s been a weird year for everyone, I don’t wanna get too caught up in that but I wanted to ask you what’s strange about this time in your life? Whether that be pandemic related, age related, life, etc.
Motorbike James: To be honest, 2020 and the pandemic situation wasn’t terrible for me. I had time to finish the album, buy a house and get my money in good shape, and I'm always having fun. I feel like when someone is on a good path, good things come their way. I’ve had plenty of points in my life when everything was an uphill battle. But that hasn’t been the case for a little while now, I’m feeling blessed.
H&L: Let’s talk a bit about your label Slow Weather. How did that relationship come together and why did you decide to hop on board with them?
Motorbike James: I’d known Chris Morien through his band Close Talker, a band that I'd long loved and deeply respected. When I was first sitting down with a bunch of demos that would eventually be the record, I was figuring out instrumentation and wanted someone with great feel to play some drums. I reached out to Chris with some demos and he ended up coming from Saskatoon to Edmonton and staying with us for the weekend to track drums. From there he became more invested in the songs and the album. He’s a great musician from all standpoints, good ears, good opinions on production etc, handy with the tools. I was always comfortable around him and was bouncing ideas off of him.
Around the same time, he was starting Slow Weather. When the album was nearing completion and the roll out was on the horizon, Chris reached out to me with the prospect of releasing the album on the label. I always knew Chris and the CT boys worked hella hard and knew how to make things happen, and my newfound experience working with Chris only solidified the support and enthusiasm. I was honoured to be asked and have been blessed working with SW.H&L: Alright the homies would be pissed if I didn’t ask you at least a few questions about biking. What are you currently rollin’?
Motorbike James: I’ve got the ‘17 husky 250, which is the white motocross bike I'm riding in some of the vids. Electric start, fuel injected with launch control, traction control, different maps, etc. It’s a race machine and I don’t send it a fraction of what it’s capable of, but for the trail riding and free riding/street wheelies I do, it’s an absolute dream. Next I got the little play bike, ‘16 yamaha ttr110. About a dozen of us all bought pitbikes last year and it’s been the best. I highly recommend a 110 to anyone, no matter your skill or experience. I was honestly pretty shit at wheelies before getting the ttr and now i’m scraping the harley. And speaking of the harley... my main bike is the blue 1997 sportster 1200. I bought that thing og in 2013 and have been riding it since. This past winter I gave it a full overhaul and now it’s a straight party machine. I love that bike to no end.
H&L: What’s the first bike that you ever had?
Motorbike James: My first bike was a Suzuki Marauder 250. It was this beauty little cruiser. I rode it around alongside my dad when I had my learners, and then upgraded to a honda shadow during highschool. Needless to say I felt cool af, really all thanks to my dad.
H&L: What’s the next bike?
Motorbike James: I was considering buying a street glide we had come through the shop but I couldn’t really justify it. Something I can justify though is building a chopper. Something to just cruise around weird guy style. Probably an older sportster chop, or even a softail chop. That’ll be next.
H&L: Alright let's end it on a fun one… you’ve mentioned to me before that you grew up biking, skateboarding, and all that jazz. What’s the worst accident/injury you’ve had?
Motorbike James: Nothing too crazy. Snowboarding i’ve broken wrists, broken elbow and some head bonks. Skateboarding has wrecked my ankles and chipped my teeth. I’ve had plenty of road rash and some broken ribs from motorbike shit. I broke my thumb a couple years back on the 250 and had to have surgery. My worst injury though was not related to any of that, I had a raging low life bouncer sucker me in the jaw back when I was 25 after I played a show. I had surgery to get 3 plates in my face and was wired shut for a couple months. I won’t get into details but it was all bad. Hopefully that bouncer is doing WELL.
Special thanks to Dale Bailey from SHOULDA' DANISHED PRODUCTIONS for providing the photography.