Early James and the Latest on Birmingham: Where Music Comes to Grow Up…
Photo: Brent Thompson
Interview by: MusicBham’s Josh Matthews and Kaydee Mulvehill
Edited by: Rebecca Scott
Videography and Film by: Ben Wedlund
WITH AN EXCITING, NEW COLLABORATION AT DAN AUERBACH’S EASY EYE SOUND GIVING THEM A DAMN GOOD REASON TO HIGHTAIL IT TO NASHVILLE, JAMES MULLIS AND ADRIAN MARMOLEJO EXPLAIN WHAT MAKES THE BIRMINGHAM MUSIC SCENE WORTH STICKING AROUND.
MB: We are here with James Mullis and Adrian Marmolejo of Early James and the Latest. Welcome Guys.
AM: Thanks for having us.
MB: What have y’all been up to?
JM: Mostly writing, a few shows here and there, but not an extreme amount of things.
MB: So y’all shared some recent good news here lately. Do you want to elaborate on that?
JM: Yeah, We got signed to Easy Eye Sound, which I guess is the dream-to get signed to a label. It’s all over now, but its good to get there. It’s super exciting, more intimidating than anything. But we’re excited to have a full-length record and actually have funding behin into making something sound like you thought it would.
MB: So tell us a little about Easy Eye Sound. Who is that?
JM: It’s Dan Auerbach’s label. He’s got a really cool studio with a million guitars in Nashville, TN, and he’s a dude. I was very afraid to meet him, but he’s just a dude.
MB: He’s doing a lot of good in the music world. He seems to make a lot of things happen.
AM: Yeah, he’s got his hands in a lot of different pies. That Dr. John album that he did is so good. It’s very different from a lot of the other stuff that he’s doing. It’ll be nice to hear what his hands create.
JM: I think for awhile he was mainly interested in producing artists that were already established, and now he seems to be looking for undiscovered people. We’re obviously thankful for that. Just the fact that it happened is so strange to me… I listened to that guy in high school. The Black Keys. You know when you absorb someone’s music for so long? All of the people I listened to in high school, I have trouble getting back into that, because it’s like revisiting memories. It’s hard to go back to the thing you spent so much time learning from. You could say, atleast for me and for many of my peers, that Dan Auerbach was responsible for introducing us, and making blues cool again. He did Chulahoma. The entire album was dedicated to Junior Kimbro. Him putting out that album not only impacted us, but must have had an impact on Junior’s surviving family.
JM: I joked with him and played one of his songs and presented it as my song, and he laughed. He didn’t laugh long, but he laughed. But yeah, it was nerve-wracking. He was like, “Show me one of your songs,” and I was just, shaking and sweating, sweating a lot.
MB: That’s really cool. So you had a bit of some back-and-forth. Y’all shared some song-writing, and obviously that worked out well.
AM: Yeah, I dig all the songs we wrote so far. There’ve been a couple where we can do better. But you gotta do that. That’s part of song-writing-knowing when you wrote a good one and knowing when you wrote a bad one.
MB: You’ve had an interesting experience since you’ve been here. Tell me about your experience in Birmingham, just from an artist’s perspective. Why Birmingham, number one, and what is it that you love about Birmingham and the music scene here?
JM:…I was just working a dumb job and playing like a gig a month, maybe, and still writing songs…. Moving here was really strange because, if you want it, you have the opportunity to play a gig every day. One of my buddies from Luverne told me, “When you go up there, it’s going to be like a clique, and no one’s going to let you in. No one’s going to share the gigs.” It’s totally the opposite. I like to think that me and my friends have an impact on that. I think everyone in Birmingham is the most open. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play, everyone just wants to play a gig.
AM: Yeah, I’ve certainly lived in other places, where that’s not the case. People are just real bad about sharing, and it doesn’t go very far…. Birmingham is not at all that way…. I like a lot of the bands around here, and it’s really nice to get to know them and see them play. James and I go out and see music almost every night, and we don’t get tired of it.
JM: And it’s not an excuse to drink, either. Not at all.
MB: Ya’ll have recorded with Les Nuby, and I’ve had a conversation with him about the freedom that Birmingham musicians have…part of the reason that people collaborate here is that you’re not really competing for anything down here.
AM: Absolutely. It’s not as clinical, I guess, as it is in other places. You know, there’s not a union here. Something where you’re limited with who you can work with. People are just willing to work. It’s more of an incubator where people are just happy to explore and just do weird things. Like tonight, we’re going to play with some other friends and try to do a bunch of cowboy songs.
JM: We’re getting real gussied up. Cowboy hats. We’re open-carrying.
AM: Two of our friends from the Yellow Dandies, it’s going to be the four of us trying to figure out whatever cowboy songs we halfway know.
MB: So, what is it about the Birmingham music scene that you love the most? It sounds to me like you guys very easily in your future could make a move to Nashville and garner a lot of support there. Is that something that you’re considering, or is Birmingham your home?
JM: It’s certainly been a consideration for awhile, and it’s still on the table, but it honestly doesn’t feel necessary because the drive’s not that bad and, I don’t know, that town just kinda sucks.
AM: Yeah. We think about it a lot, just out of convenience. Just being there, being where the stuff is. But, I don’t know. I like it here too much to want to move. And there are plenty of folks, who tour very hard, that live in Birmingham and have no issues with it. So, if we’re able to cross the hurdle of getting seen without having to be in Nashville, I don’t think there would be any reason to be in Nashville after that point. We’re close enough.
MB: So, your musical background’s a little bit different, Adrian. You’re from…
AM: I’m from El Paso originally but grew up in Fairhope. … [And studied music] at UA….I started as a Jazz Studies major, and I actually graduated in the program they have called New College, where it’s interdisciplinary, and you can design your own major. I have more of an electronic music degree. Once I started as a music major, I realized that was probably a terrible thing to spend so much money on- and time. Because a music degree is not the thing that makes you a good player or a bad player, it’s just the thing that says that you went to college. So I decided to get some more engineering classes in there and make it something that was kind of fun and useful.
MB: [James], your musical upbringing has been a little different. Did you have a mentor? Were you taking lessons?
JM: My uncle taught me how to play… It’s funny now because it was terrible advice. ‘Alright if you don’t have a tuner, this is how you tune a guitar: Get that E to where it’s not flopping around anymore. Make sure the E’s not flopping. Then put it on the 5th fret and make that string sound exactly like that one.’…I hated school. It’s just really boring to me to have a curriculum. I would rather just skip to the thing that I want to learn and only do that. So I just watched Youtube videos for a long time and listened to records and learned just how everybody else would have learned.
MB: So how did y’all start playing together?
JM: I met Adrian on the same night that Jesse Phillips from St. Paul and the Broken Bones just happened to be there at the Nick listening to me and Davonte [Hutchins] play. I didn’t know who the dude was, and he messaged me on Facebook, and I didn’t look him up or anything because he’s not a pretentious dude. His [Facebook] picture is actually a picture of him and not him playing bass. So, he was like, “Hey man. I sent some of your stuff to a buddy of mine. Just gonna see if he likes it. I really dug the set last night.” All I said back was, “Thanks, man. Glad you had your shovel handy.” I think I was drunk.
AM: This is the kind of thing you can look forward to on our next album. Its an all-comedy album. We promise that it will not age well, and it will be a relic that you can have forever.