Black James and her MOUNTAIN BOY: Dance Folk For The Future

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Black James with her new tape. released at Plush last Friday. - MABEL SUEN
  • Mabel Suen
  • Black James with her new tape. released at Plush last Friday.

In this weekly column, RFT Music gets to know local creatives, musicians and their missions. Get a slice of the local scene, complete with a snippet of sound and info about upcoming releases and shows. Stick around to see what St. Louis artists have to say whenever they Fill in the Blank.

"It was a very, very gradual process from banjo to booty," says Jennifer McDaniel, who might better be known as her alter-ego Black James. For roughly five years and counting, McDaniel has built a varied sound that started with dark American folk and morphed into fierce dance music. Not that those genres go hand-in-hand, but McDaniel has managed to carve out songs that pander to no one but still feel accessible as a whole.

Released just last week, Black James' new album MOUNTAIN BOY features a focused sound - a close up of outsider dance music with all the cuts and bruises of a lo-fi tape. The record presents a culmination of past and present, and does well to complement the live show.

McDaniel holds her crowd captive with liberal use of samples, and she even employs cassette tapes for a thick retro feel. Her howling voice comes filtered through heavy effects, but vocal melody still cuts through to command each song. The pieces of her set are adjoined by morphing tones that work well to segue between movements.

Black James started in 2009, with McDaniel weaving dark folk with little more than her fingers and voice. The shift to full on dance songs was a gradual one, but her love for warping sounds has remained a constant. Some showgoers in St. Louis might remember Black James for playing banjo through an array of electric guitar pedals - a move that foreshadowed McDaniel's ability to bend sound to fit her needs.

"One day Eric Hall, the electronic experimental musician, brought over several different machines to my house for me to test - one including the Korg Microsampler. When I played it, I was like, 'This is it. This is the machine I've been waitin' on.' So that's what I make almost every song on and also play live with it," McDaniel says.

See also: Homespun: Black James

Black James dropped im A mirAcle in 2012, bringing out a whole album of folk songs in the form of low-brow electronic dance. Banjo-driven riffs are typically the root of Black James songs in general, McDaniel elaborates: "I usually start by taking one of my country songs and reworking it into something else. Most Black James songs have a country backbone, whether it is discernible or not."

MOUNTAIN BOY is by all means a sequel. There's a traceable progression from acoustic to electronic, like a woman replacing her organs, one-by-one, with new, robotic tools to do the job. This is what an android playing folk sounds like.

Follow through to read Black James' views on post-show food and sound experiments.

Black James at the Firebird in early 2013. - MABEL SUEN
  • Mabel Suen
  • Black James at the Firebird in early 2013.

Jennifer McDaniel is Black James

What I like most about St. Louis is... besides the architecture...culture clash. Sitting in the middle of it, turnin' into liquid and feelin' like I could fit in anywhere and be accepted. I was thinking about music I make and how I've kind of been evolving, and how everyone around me is OK with it. I don't feel stuck in a music clique, like I could go play music with punks, rappers, country bands, latin shows. It's very liberating in STL. FREEDUMB!!

I'm most inspired by... Water. USA. Kid Rock. 69.

I'm most productive when... I'm in my own little cubby hole. I hang my doo-dads around me on the walls. I want to feel like I'm inside a shrine. I space out. And forget about my physical life.

I've learned the most from... experimentation - trial and error, failure and success. There is no right way to do anything. You get an unexpected outcomes when you experiment. And that outcome becomes a piece of your personality and you begin to find your own voice. I don't really have a goal of what I want my music/art to be, I just keep massaging it until I feel satisfied. I used to be very regimented, but I'm trying to let it go and submit to my intuition.

Some of my favorite local bands are... Crisp Money Legend$, Escalade, Parisian. Not a band, but the Nightchaser: Southside Disco Night at Empire Hall - those DJs make me lose it.

The best post-show food in St. Louis is... I don't eat. Tall can Bud Light Lime. Vapor cig with green apple liquid. Bong rips.

Follow Black James via her Facebook page or on Bandcamp.

Do you know a project or band that should be considered for this series? Drop a line to fillintheblank@riverfronttimes.com.

Previously from our Fill in the Blank series: - Shitstorm - Shark Dad - The Uncredibles - The Ded Bugs - Stonechat - Les Gruff and the Billy Goat - Nato Caliph - Jah Orah & KD Assassin - Zagk Gibbons - Britches - The Maness Brothers - Con Trails - This City of Takers - Syna So Pro - Eric Hall - Pink Sock - Scrub - Pet Rock the Musical - The Glass Cavalry - The Blu Skies - Animal Teeth - Popular Mechanics - Brotherfather - Bad Dates - Beauty Pageant - Pillow Talk - The Tennis Lesson - The Funs - Brothers Lazaroff - Quaere Verum - MME - Sarah Bollinger - Little Big Bangs - Everything Went Black - Lions Eat Grass - Kevin Harris - Laika - Heavy Horse - Barely Free Partial Prisoners - The Defeated County - Lizzie Weber - Kenshiro's - B.E.L.L.A. - Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship - Humdrum - The Blind Eyes