One of the most intriguing things about that is the reaction when children of John, Paul, George and Ringo perform. The world has long heard from the offspring of Lennon (half-brothers Julian and Sean), Harrison (whose son Dhani records as Thenewno2) and Starr (Zak Starkey, who has drummed for the Who since 1996).
Now comes the steady rise of James McCartney. The only son of Paul and Linda, he had previously been featured on solo albums from his parents (his dad’s 2001 disc Driving Rain, his late mom’s 1998 effort Wide Prairie). But his ambitious two-disc set The Complete EP Collection (from Engine Company Records) marks a proper introduction for the 34-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in London.
Pulling together previously digital-only efforts Available Light (2010) and Close At Hand (2011), plus five new songs, the combined EP package is an exciting, wide-ranging effort the spans rousing power-pop, experimental material in the tradition of Radiohead, even authentic ’50s rockabilly, yet it all somehow works as a cohesive set. While his music rarely mirrors that of the Beatles — a smart move toward establishing a separate identity — James nonetheless has the same adventuresome spirit still recognized as key to his forebears’ magical imprint.
We caught up with McCartney last week, shortly before his first-ever appearance in Orange County, May 29 at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, followed by a May 31 gig at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood.
Soundcheck: I love your songs — you mix melodic pop-rock, indie, expressive ballads, experimental rock. Could you talk a bit about the diverse approach you take to songwriting, and how that connects with the lyrics or emotions of a specific song?
James McCartney: It’s whatever comes naturally at first, but it’s usually music first, then lyrics. I try different approaches, though, because sometimes you can find something for a song in a way you wouldn’t have thought. Even by singing nonsense words over a melody until things begin to take shape. But in the end it’s about having as much emotion as possible for me, musically and lyrically. Heartfelt and true, cathartic. Natural.
Even a driving romantic song like “Angel” begins very upbeat, then takes a great turn with a confessional undertone (“I have faced some hard times in my life”). How did that one come together? How much do your producers (including his father) help you get what you’re after?
Well, basically, I was writing about meeting my true love, and trying to prove my love to her. I wrote that song sitting at the top of my stairs in my flat in North London. I wanted to try to write a really good pop song that also had some depth to it, too. On the recording front, (producer) David Kahne and my dad were both really helpful in being able to bounce ideas off of, and helping me to realize the vision I had for each song.
Your version of Neil Young’s “Old Man” is particularly interesting, especially its haunting ending. How did you decide to revisit that song?
I was in Tucson, Ariz., actually. There was this night I stayed up all night and learned the song, just playing it over and over again. Tuscon is a special place for me because of my mum, and I was thinking of her that night. (Linda passed away in Tucson, where the McCartneys had a ranch, in April 1998.) It’s a great song, and this particular version just sort of came out of me. So we recorded it for the first EP, Available Light.
Your range runs from the ’50s (the bonus track “Your True Love”) to modern day (see “Glisten” and “Denial”). What were some of your biggest influences growing up?
Well, let’s see … I have so many influences, really. And it’s true, they do vary … from Kurt Cobain to Woodie Guthrie. Radiohead, PJ Harvey, the Cure, Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams — great singers and guitar players, all in different ways.
I know your U.S. tour just started, but are you enjoying it? And how was it performing on American television programs like Late Show with David Letterman and The Rachael Ray Show. I loved your expressive guitar playing on “Wings of a Lightest Weight” on the latter.
Oh, thanks … I’m enjoying it so much. I love America. I want to continue doing it — it’s so great to be able to connect with the fans in each city we go to. It’s a great experience, and I have a great group of guys in the band. Yeah, I loved doing television … both Letterman and the Rachael Ray show. Great fun.
James McCartney plays May 29 at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, 33157 Camino Capistrano. Tickets are $15. Also see him May 31 at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, 9009 W. Sunset Blvd., $12.