Leopold and His Fiction front man Daniel James has lived many lives, his musical career and personal life taking sharp turns in unpredictable and seemingly unrelated ways.
James’ artistic career started as a fiction writer, turning into a roadie (for THE HIVES!) for a while then deciding he would “rather starve as a musician than starve as a writer”. Born and raised in Detroit, James set his musical roots down in Los Angeles. He just recently moved to Austin.
His music reflects the “many lives” through the range of musical styles, techniques, and eras. I recently spoke on the phone with James in the lead up to his McAllen appearance about his career changes, his new home state, and his hair. Read the interview after this video for “I’m Caving In” off of their 2012 EP, Waves
My mom (who I consider the authority on good rock and roll) really loves your music and describes it as a cross between Credence Clear Water Revival and Led Zeppelin. How do you feel about that? Is it a nice change from being compared to Jack White?
*chuckles* Of course. Yet, being that I’m from Detroit and Jack White is too, I get that a lot. Any time you play a rock n roll rift its “oh that guy sounds like the White stripes” or “the black keys”. The problem though is that not a lot of people want to dig for music they truly connect to. It’s nice to hear someone with more point of references than those two bands. It usually takes a parent to be able to do that, someone with more depth in music. It is refreshing. Although, I do love Jack White!
It’s good to hear that both you and your mom like our music because that means that our music can gap the span between the generations and that’s a big compliment!
While on tour, what was the city you felt you most connected with and reflected your music? Why?
I’m from Detroit originally, and whenever I play there I feel right at home in a weird way. I haven’t lived there in 15 years though. When we play there, it feels like my music sounds so distinctly like the city.
I was on tour 200 days this past year, so I saw a lot of places. I moved to Texas about two and a half years ago, definitely different from anywhere else in the United States. People want to hear live music. They’re open-minded to it. Texans have the cliché of being rough and rugged. Nothing but hospitality all around. Happy to call Texas home now, cause of places like McAllen, places that really embraced the band as their own.
All the other Texan towns I played I liked so much. I’d like to give them all a chance.
People are starting to enjoy music and starting to go out and enjoy things again.
I’ve been playing in this band for 9 years and it wasn’t always like this. [Texas] is really starting to build a community that’s really liking what we do. More festivals popping up too. There’s all kinds of proof that Texas is the place to be.
You traded in your long hair and signature hats for a completely different look. Is there a reason for that? Is it a reflection of big changes in your life?
HELL YES! It went with the sound of the band as well …as the band progressed the imagery had to go along with it.
Now [Leopold and his Fiction] has different band members than the last album. They have been on board for 2 years and helped shape the new sound.
I feel that the music is more in tune with who I am now… and that came across with what they’re doing creatively with this band.
See, now there’s a certain confidence the music emits.
You also have mentioned you traded in being a starving writer to be a starving musician. Do you feel you made the right choice when you reached that fork in the road?
Definitely the right choice. One in the same. Not starving anymore. Writing wasn’t giving me the fruits of the labor.
The word fiction from your band name is paying homage to your roots as a writer. Where does the name Leopold come from? Why not Daniel and his fiction? Where you worried it would make it sound like you were a pathological liar?
*dead silence* Maybe… I think I am a pathological liar… *dead silence* *chuckles* JUST KIDDING! Leopold is the character in a novel I was working on. The Name was the best attribute- I had to keep it with me somehow. I chose song over novel because I’m not that good at writing novels. I wanted to merge the writing.
I don’t believe that you suddenly decided to have a career change and picked up a guitar because you have some serious skill.
I’ve been playing [guitar] since I was 9. I was 22 or 23 when I started the band. It’s 9 years old now.
If you had time to sit down and write an entire book what would it be about?
That’s changed over the course of time. I get ideas for books all the time. I wanted to write one today. So, I would probably document life on the road, especially the new experience of being a father and a musician.
The cliche in Rock and Roll is that there is some sort of rivalry with another band. Would you say you have any enemies you might just want to beat the crap out of if you run into them on the street?
That’s on a certain level of success in any occupation. There will be conflict of interest. It’s easy to stoop to a lower level with lots of these “mini gangs”. Some “gangs” have been around a lot longer than others. It’s just a waste of energy to really hold feelings against another band. If one is more successful that means were not working hard enough.
There is a picture of you wearing a turban and it evokes the feeling of a turn of the century magician. There are quite a few very psychedelic, sort of mixed media images associated with your band now. Where does all that stem from? How did that imagery begin?
I haven’t thought about that just yet… the look I’m presenting is semi recent. The graphic artists run with whatever they feel from the music and put it in their own presentation. It’s just like I can give you words and you chose what to do with it. Not my idea.
It’s interesting [the new look]….. grabs attention. Not going to fight against it, just going to ride with it.