Interview by Allen Lane
You don't see bad reviews on James Scott Bullard's body of work,
and I must admit; he may be the most ambitious indie artist I’ve ever interviewed.
Within a 40 minute phone conversation he told me about new albums, new side projects; including: bands, horror film scripts, concept albums, artwork, and even books that he’s working on as you’re reading this.
But I get the feeling that Mr. Bullard is ambitious on a dangerous level, (and I don’t mean like postal dangerous)
I mean like; don’t turn your back on him if you’re in the spot he wants.
Or, to quote Bullard himself:
“Never go down the stage stairs in front of someone who wants to be the headliner.”
I’ve read all the same tedious stuff you have about Bullard:
The drugs, guns, women, and the rock and roll lifestyle that almost killed him.
The psychiatric hospital, a teetering morality, death, hellhounds, and finally rehab and newfound sobriety.
But isn’t that every songwriter’s bio?
The same demons after the same poor lost soul, who just happens to be a charismatic poet with a guitar?
My belief is that there are real people inside all those stories, and my goal was to meet the real James Scott Bullard, but I’m not sure he exists.
When first confronted with all the rumors and stories mentioned above, Bullard became quite defensive, and stated:
“I’ve got 2 new albums out right now that no one is going to fucking buy!
I need promotion for that, not another story about me carrying a gun into a bar…No one cares!
So if that’s what you want to write, then let’s end this now.”
Days after our interview I googled Bullard’s name and found he was quite right;
When he first hit the scene, he was the critics darling for his songwriting ability, but somewhere along the road things took a turn to the aforementioned blip on the lifestyle page; forgetting the songwriter altogether, and focusing on the train wreck that was the man.
Bullard has proven himself over and over as a songwriter, but let me be very clear when I say that these two new records are his finest work to date.
With the releases of: “The Star-Crossed Sessions” and “Sunsets & Cigarettes” I dare say that he has the market entirely cornered on songwriting, sobriety intact and all.
There are words on these records that paint portraits, and sounds that capture landscapes.
And it’s all seamless.
Although these portraits and landscapes are populated by the usual suspects, and by that I mean the same characters that populate most of Bullard’s work; the lost, broken-hearted anti-heroes.
But there’s still more chapters to each of their lonesome lives, or at least Bullard apparently sees it that way, and is somehow able to make it interesting all over again.
Exploring more blues and rock than on his last 2 records: 2003’s “Avenues of Sunshine” and 2007’s “Same Old Ghosts”; both considered alt-country records by and large, Bullard seems this time to have carved a comfortable niche’ in the middle.
The line drawn in the sand between rock, blues and country by most people, artist and consumer, has been erased by Bullard.
Not that that’s any surprise, having already been labeled “The New Gram Parsons” mainly due to his abilty to pen a borderline perfect country song even though he comes from a rock background and his impassioned duets with backing vocalist Regina Lanier, who, though present on the records is now absent from the fold.
But Bullard embraced the tag with pleasure…for a while, and then realized he didn’t want to live in a tall shadow like the one cast by Parsons.
So began the work on the double album.
“I didn’t deliberately write songs that didn’t sound like Gram Parsons; in fact, I think that there are about 3 or 4 songs on (The Star-Crossed Sessions) that sound exactly like something he may have done. Hell, I didn't even set out to do a double album.
I just tried to explore this time around; My roots are not just rock and country, but the roots of where it all came from…the blues.
So I electrified a little more, used a little more slide, added a “Woo” here and there, and it is what it is…As for “Sunsets” (& Cigarettes), it’s all stripped back down to the barest essentials; voice, guitar, minimal percussion, some steel, etc., but mostly it’s about the story in the song.
Whatever told the story best was what we used.
There were a lot of songs that didn’t make it onto the records; they just weren’t ready yet…Maybe one day.” Bullard sighs.
But when asked if that sigh was regretful, he adds: “I don’t regret a thing, even the crazy stuff you really want to ask me.”
So I took this open door opportunity and snuck one in:
Me: “Back when you were doing all those things, were you just doing it to be like your heroes?
i.e.; Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, Waylon Jennings, Nikki Sixx even?”
JSB: “I will own up to over-romanticizing that lifestyle in my head, yes, but as far as trying to copycat them?
No, I didn't deliberately become an addict, I didn't deliberately go through bad relationships (most of which were my fault, I will admit) I didn't deliberately end up at the bottom in rehab… Nobody sets out to do these things; Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse, you just get caught.
However, I will say this: Happy, normal, well adjusted people don’t get written about.”