In an era where too many indie-pop groups sound like they’re merely pursuing a peer-approved lifestyle, one listen to Mikey James’ estimable and growing catalog bears the heart of an artist who writes, sings, and makes music because he has to. Edgy melodic music is in his blood; there’s a beat, a tune, and a sound in his head at all times that must be liberated, or, like the also prolific Robert Pollard, he will all but explode in creative expression looking for release. In short, James lives the music, and his energy, drive, and desire are products of that lifelong quest for a hook that won’t quit.
Mikey James started out playing drums in clubs when he was only six. After learning guitar at the age of 16 with the help of his “pops” and Steve Schiltz (Longwave), he started writing and performing all the instruments on demos around the age of twenty. He’s since learned guitar, bass, drums, keys/synth, and percussion and spending years on his four track recorder, eventually coming into own as a producer of his own music as well as other bands, most recently The Demos.
After playing drums for New York City’s post-punk band Longwave (for whom he wrote a few songs), and fronting The Blood, DJ Dick James/Footage, and, most recently, The Mercies, James has taken on the pseudonym Mikey Jukebox and hand-crafted his self-titled solo work Mikey Jukebox.
In October 2007, James began recording and mixing with Bill Racine (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, Phantom Planet, Mates Of State, etc). However, he scrapped the project and started from scratch with John Hampton of Ardent Studios in Memphis mixing this time, and then scrapped it and started over again (for the last time) at GFI in James’ hometown with Sam Polizzi. Such fastidiousness is typical of James, who has been known to accumulate 90 different tracks for one song and then start madly stripping everything down, and who will often tweak and re-tweak until the cows come home. Such is the blessing/curse of one who writes, records, and produces all of his own music.
The musical references of Mikey Jukebox are too numerous to list, but suffice it to say that James is so skilled at synthesizing the disparate that the listener will be taken on a virtual tour of production values ranging from 1955 to today. And James is clear: he wants the kids to hit the dance floor. Dynasty-era Kiss, for example, rubs crotch with David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. Devo flirts with Tommy Bolin. Michael Jackson circa Off The Wall feels the body heat of a bleary-eyed Martin Gore — all to a soundtrack of handclaps on, “Song for Chuck Berry”, straight out of an Elvis Costello rev-up. Much of the songwriting was also influenced by a “50’s Memphis/Rock ‘N’ Roll” phase (Haley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Sun Elvis, Orbison, Jerry Lee) combined with a passion for Klaxons, CSS and a love for French House music and early Source Records.
The song that is the biggest example of Mikey Jukebox’s perfectionism and smorgasbord of influences is “!Hello Dreamer!” There are four recorded versions of this song that James considers “some 70s teen idol song.” Of the song, James remarked, “I consider myself by all means a glam rocker at heart (T.Rex, Bowie, Roxy, Sweet, Kiss, Dolls, Transformer, Mott), and the song really lent itself to it in ways. In the end I was trying for an epic “Station to Station” (Bowie) thing production wise. A lot of the lyrics on the record have to do with being trapped with this idea of a needing to be a star and being trapped in surroundings that are unfit to compel yourself. This song sets the record up.”
After a set up like that, it’s hard to ignore Mikey Jukebox.
“As catchy as anything in the dance-punk movement, James crams a lot into the mix, but the main element is fun.”
“Mikey Jukebox brings un-ironic optimism to catchy rock tunes that are sometimes hammy, but always irresistible.”
AZLTRON TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2010!
“this album is full of good natured, energised and well-executed left-field pop music.”
from the Americana UK review
“Indie music is going to rely heavily on Mikey Jukebox for setting new standards in the future.”
WSBU blog review.
“Mikey Jukebox rips his way through more pop sounds than the last ten years of Brit pop.”
aiding & abetting review
“Bowie, LCD Soundsystem, Brandon Flowers, there’s a pretty slick mix of alt-pop in here, and if that’s what you dig, you’ll dig.”
Sonic Dissonance review
“His music belongs alongside Free Energy as part of a not-really-indie (in a good way) rock ‘n’ roll revival movement, and with James Murphy responsible for Free Energy, you can be sure it’s cool.”
In Your Speakers review
“He’s got the right name, the right album cover, and the right pop jam for doing this Friday night right!”
The Burning Ear
“Mikey Jukebox is what happens when an indie rocker meets ’80s-era pop.”
Performer Magazine review
“We get the impression that this fellow is creating music to satisfy his own personal urges.”
“If anything can turn a bad day around, this record is it. “
“Suffice to say it’s feel good rock n’ roll.”