JAMES JOSEPH | AN INTERVIEW

James Joseph is not only one of my best friends, but one of the most talented people I know. We often play a game where we go back and forth naming bands, albums, recording styles, gear, etc... to see if we can ever find anything we disagree on. To this day, I'm not sure we have found one thing. With that being said, I can't think of anyone I'd rather have behind the controls in the studio. If you're looking for a composer, engineer, or producer - look no further. He is one of the nicest guys on the planet, and SO great to work with. We are currently in the studio working on the new Highpoint Worship record - LIVE TO LOVE. The other day we took a break for lunch, and I decided to record our conversation. It went a little like this:


Josh Maze: Hey James.

James Joseph: Hey Josh.

We’re sitting in Tropical Smoothie right now with James Joseph - the producer, engineer, mixing guy, & instrumentalist on the new Live to Love worship record for Highpoint Church. Tell us about the rig that we’re running through to record the record and just a few of the pieces we’re using to get these sounds.

For drums we did three days at The Grove studio. They have a bunch of really great mic pre’s, good mics, & API Neve pre’s so most of the drums we did were with API’s - and we switched out the Neves on the snare sometimes. I think we had Neves on the over-head mics. Then for most of the other stuff we’re doing bass guitars at my setup with Chandler mic pres and distressers and... more toys. We’re gonna use mostly analog gear, that’s what we plan on doing at least, maybe a few plug-ins and soft synths.

Based on where we are so far with the record, if you could give it some attributes or adjectives to describe the sounds on the record, where do you think its gonna go? It's obviously very diverse.

I think its going to go slightly unpolished. We might be doing programming and MIDI stuff - but super raw drums sounds, electric sounds, so I think in order to make that all fit together you’ll hear a lot of digital sounds but I don’t think they’ll sound very digital by the time we get done with them. Everything’s going to be kinda messy in a good way. I think that’s what we all like to listen to right now and the other part is that a lot of worship music is really heavily produced and there’s not a lot out there that sounds like a band playing and people being creative and putting down what they want to hear. So we kind of don’t have any restrictions right now which means by the time we get to the end it could have, I don’t know,  808’s and synth bass mixed with like strings. 

How long have you been doing music?

Man. In some shape or form I guess for 10 years maybe. The first thing I ever did was I took piano lessons, learned how to play piano, did the whole classically trained piano thing and then when I got into high school I started trying to figure out like ‘How are these people in bands? They don’t have sheet music. How are they even playing notes? Like I don’t understand. They don’t have anybody telling them what to do. That’s awesome.’ So from there I kinda learned how to do programming keyboards and then I started to play gigs and do session work. That was kinda my main job through college and high school. I didn’t really have a part time job or anything I just played a lot of gigs. And then slowly those gigs turned into ‘Hey you have a bunch of good ideas. Why don’t you produce this.’ or ‘Take a stab at this because your coming up with parts for other people, you seem to have an idea for the song.’ It kind of all leads together because once you start producing your like ‘Oh well I know how to record the songs.’ And you're hearing the potential for the song and the finished product so it kind of only makes sense that you go from there to mixing because you already know what you want to hear and your not going to be satisfied anyway until you hear your vision. A lot of mix engineers who are the best of the best can hear what the other people are going for but if your doing your own stuff you can always hear where you want to end up. So, I don’t know, things just kind of led one to another. I’ve been doing it for awhile.

Was there one person that, in your high school years, taught you a lot about music, being in a band? I know you’ve done a lot of leading worship. Was there a worship leader or a guy that influenced you or inspired you to really go for it? 

Yeah. I think there were a series of people, ya know? I think church world is great for that because really if you are doing your job correctly as a worship leader you’re also really interested in developing the skills that you see in other people. And also reproducing musicians, maybe even more so than in the secular world because I feel like in the secular world everyone is out for themselves. Why would I wanna teach a guy how to be better because he might steal my job? Not everyone’s like that but it could happen. 

David Lewis is a worship leader that I played keys for all throughout high school and he was awesome. He really pushed the whole band and I think working on a couple projects with him might have been the first time I recorded anything in the studio as far as recording keys. I did a couple worship albums with him. We played worship songs but also we would do covers and it was a lot of material. I mean at the time I was in high school and there were four covers of stuff that was on the radio and then we’d do four worship tunes. And that’s a super good way to get good fast is just figuring out what other people are doing and how they’re doing it and figuring out how they made a synth sound thats on a record or an organ part. So without realizing it I had a big education just by having to learn and I never realized until later that oh yeah that was really helpful.

Definitely. Was there a record in high school or college that was a turning point for you that you would say it was one of the most influential records for you?

I have a couple different periods of musical influence. One, I think I was a senior in high school and Parachutes came out. I remember it was kind of like hearing the piano for the first time again. Chris Martin basically started a whole new piano style. It was back to the rhythmic thing - playing with the drums. That was really influential. I remember when I first started playing B3 kind of around the same period of time, like I just absorbed as many albums as I could that were jazz, blues, B3 sounding records and just trying to figure out how that worked. I think that’s a progression with me  when I’m interested in a song or certain style of music or a certain style of playing or whatever it is even now with styles of mixing like a just find all the records I can that really showcase that and I just absorb it. The same happened with programming and learning about synths and stuff with listening to Kid A, OK Computer, and Kanye West - people that are just really good at what they do. And that goes into soundtracks and stuff doing some of the film score stuff that I do - you start paying attention to what he did on the strings there when your watching movies or when commercials come on. 

What are some of the most memorable live concert moments you’ve ever had? Not playing but attending... 

There are probably a couple. The first one I can think of is Aqualung. Two of their shows, I might have seen them more than twice, but two of them are really memorable. One was here in Memphis at Young Avenue Deli and I think there were thirty people there. It’s a really small restaurant, bar, pool table place and they played way bigger than that room you know - when you're there and they are intimate with you and they’re playing and they’re talking with you but you’re like "they are way to good to be playing here right now and I’m standing like 4 feet away from them?!"  I saw them in Nashville too and it was kind of the same thing. The first time I ever saw Mute Math I remember kind of feeling that way because I didn’t know who they were. I saw them open for David Crowder and they just, I don’t know, they just brought it, keytars and awesome tracks and Darren King was freaking out, I was like ‘Who is this?’ I’m standing in a church pew and I’m like what is going on!? That’s probably the most memorable - I mean U2 and Coldplay and bands like that have the “wow” factor when you go see them live so thats definitely memorable but for different reasons. 

Do you see yourself in Memphis for the remainder of your career, pouring into the city of Memphis, or could you see yourself moving to a different city for a change of pace and scenery? 

I see myself here for as long as God wants me here. I mean I don’t have any plans to move anywhere and I think one of the great things about Twitter and Facebook and the internet is you can really work with whoever you want to anywhere. I work with guys from Nashville that do like guitar sessions for me and there in their house with their set up, I’m out in my place with my set up and another guy is down the street and we all put the files together and mix it. Yeah I don’t know whats going to happen, but I really like Memphis. 

If there is one artist you wish would ask you to mix a project for them what artist would it be? 

Mmmm…

Mat Kearney would be really fun. It has big beats but big melodies. Something like that would be cool. On the other end of the spectrum I really like quirky, weird stuff. I think it’d be awesome if like Jonsi or Fleet Foxes or something that is more about the space and landscape and not how hard it hits. So those are like two opposites but they would both be really fun. 

There’s one piece of gear that isn’t even on your list right now because it’s out of reach. If it could magically show up at your doorstep, what piece of gear is that?

A magical piece of gear?? I’ll say anything from Abbey Road that The Beatles actually used to record. Like it could be anything. Pre’s even. 

Best band of all time?

The Beatles. They pretty much win. I think they win, hands down. They shaped everyone in some way. Even people that came after them that you could make an argument for being the best band of all time, they still were influenced by The Beatles. 


NOW : Go check out JamesJosephAudio.com

Posted by Josh Maze at 9:15 PM