Tell us about yourself and your music.
As a kid growing up in semi-rural Maryland, my mom and dad were always making music on the weekends. My mom played the piano, preferring honkytonk and 30s and 40’s pop love songs. My dad, on the other hand, played violin, mostly classical material, Beethoven in particular, but would often hop across the music border into bluegrass and Appalachian folk songs. Their music came from very different places – my mother was a wild Irish lass who cried when she played “Danny Boy”, whose parents hopped a boat from County Cork poverty while my father’s ancestors arrived on our shores from England in 1640 seeking intellectual and religious freedom, thus their backgrounds and temperaments were quite different. But when they played music together it was a hybrid of it all – sometimes brilliant, sometimes curious, but always entertaining and a learning experience for me with my first Sears & Roebuck guitar. And then the early SUN recordings of Elvis Presley exploded on the radio and pulled me out of the musical cocoon with my Dad and Mom and brought me into my first garage band at 13 years old.
Consequently, one might understand how I developed both a broader interest and reach in music and lyrics which has continued to benefit from my documentary work in foreign and often remote lands, where one might encounter different musical scales, modalities and instruments, which are of particular value in scoring. Music can tell a world story or a local story, and for me story is foremost.
Talk to us more about your latest release.
I conceived of my release for “Songs of the Revolution” three years ago when issues developed in our government that were putting our Constitution at risk. I fear that too many people today are losing touch with our “founding path”. This I feel is the result of a decline in the teaching of American History and Civics in our schools over the past 40 or so years. So in a quiet sort of way this was a personal crusade for me.
Describe the writing and recording process
The writing process was first of all a research project. To write the lyrics for the critical battles of Bunker Hill, Trenton, and the hit-and-run attacks of Francis Marion in the Carolina swamps, for example, it was important to search beyond history books and dig up actual accounts which told of the often small environmental realities and human traits generally unknown that go into telling a good and accurate story. Take the Battle of Trenton: Just how much snow was falling and how much ice was in the river when George Washington led his men in flatboats across the Delaware into New Jersey to sneak up on the Hessian soldiers on Dec 26, whom Washington surmised to have been drinking heavily on Christmas night. And it was important to know that Washington – truly desperate then from his losses in New York and New Jersey – had scribbled his code message for the battle on a piece of crumpled paper that he passed around from man to man. “Victory or Death” it read. Carrying research to the next step, one has to make a study of the musical forms used in songs and ballads during Colonial times as well as the instrumentation used. Then, of course, comes that blank sheet of music paper or cassette/CD recorder together with a guitar or keyboard as you ponder melody and harmony while you go about creating the marriage of ideas in the forms of words and music.
When recording with acoustic instruments one must allow additional set up time for the engineer. While an authentic harpsichord or clavichord may be difficult to find and move to the studio, multiple mikes to accurately record this instrument will take even more time to place. In terms of voice, one may have to consider accent and pronunciation authentic to a particular location. Consider the “Swamp Fox” song, where spoken language in the southern swamps was distinctly different in the 18th century from Irish flavored English speech in Boston.
Any plans to release a video?
Plans and preliminary designs for videos are in the works, which in the time of covid can be great teaching tools. Here’s where my team’s broad experience in both film and music production will come in very handily.
Any plans to hit the road?
Hitting the road and taking the stage with singers wearing masks and guitarists wearing rubber gloves will not bring in audiences, even Revolutionary War diehards. Zoom events without real audiences can work in a limited way and will be explored.
As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
Who are your biggest influences?
I must make a division between my influence as a SONG-WRITER and as a COMPOSER FOR FILM and TV. There are, of course, overlaps in these classifications.
My favorite SONG-WRITERS come from many different periods in history. Of those who I listened to during my developing years include, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, CSNY, James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Alison Straus, Tom Waits, Emmylou Harris, and of course John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The film scores that have influenced me include, T Bone Burnett (Oh Brother Where Art Thou), Henry Mancini (Days of Wine and Roses), James Horner (Enemy at the Gates), John Barry (Out of Africa), Trevor Jones (Last of the Mohicans), George Delurue (Platoon), Luiz Bonfa (Black Orpheus), Carmine Coppola (Apocalypse Now), Bernard Hermann (Psycho), Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia), and Klaus Doldinger (Das Boot).
Tell us about your passions. Besides music, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
I am just completing a rock-country single “Home from the Wars,” which is the tale of a two-tour soldier in Afghanistan, who experiences awful things fighting ISIS and the Taliban, who is about to return to his beloved hometown on the southern coast. The veteran soon realizes that in fact he’s “returned from the wars only to come home to the wars.” My years of filming the wars in Afghanistan provide me with an authentic knowledge of my subjects and events.
What else is happening next in your world?
“Home From the Wars” will be ready for release in January 2021.
Thanks for an awesome interview, Jim Burroughs!
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