Meet Folk Musician And Kansas City-Transplant Nicholas St. James

Apr 8, 2016

Local musician Nicholas St. James
Credit Jen Chen / KCUR 89.3

His music has been described as “guitar and growl” and “avant-garde folk.”

He also plays a mean kazoo on his new album, Theatres.

But Nicholas St. James says that “folk” is probably the easiest way to characterize his music — with a lot of blues influence as well.

“As much as one man on one guitar can do, it’s very much folk the way it’s presented and the way the songs come across,” he told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard before his live, in-studio performance.

St. James recorded Theatres live at the Jazzhaus in Lawrence, Kansas. He describes it as “something you might hear from the ‘30s, from the ‘50s; sort of that old rock 'n' roll, where’s-the-kickdrum sound.”

The Jazzhaus was closed during the recording, which added another element to the album.

“I played that room so much I wanted to hear the room in this,” he says. “You don’t hear that a lot in records nowadays unless they digitally add it in afterwards."

According to St. James, Theatres is not pristine. And it’s not supposed to be.

“It’s a live record. Very much so,” he says. “I come from sort of the school of thought that less is more in the studio, especially since I’m a solo performer.”

For St. James, music started as a hobby.

“The thing I’ve always loved about music is that it’s mine. I don’t come from family of musicians. I used to hate that; I used to hate that I couldn’t tell my friends, ‘Oh my great-grandfather was a jazz pianist in New York’ and then I come from this long lineage,” he says.

“I found it, and it was something that I nurtured,” he adds.

He was encouraged along the way, he says. Then, a few years ago, he realized that he was spending a lot of time at home on his hobby.

“And unlike, maybe, building model cars in the basement — and I apologize if that’s a big thing where you can go to a convention and find notoriety — it was something where I could go out in public and do this,” he says.

“I just made the decision one day, in 2013, I’m going to go do this. I love it enough that I’m taking this jump, if you will.”

In taking that jump to pursuing music full-time, St. James has also wondered where music could take him, though not in terms of fame.

“Being able to pay your bills is a lot more exciting, to me, than being on the cover of a Rolling Stone,” he says.

Kansas City has been a good place to pursue his music career, he said. He grew up in St. Louis, and he said that finding places to play was difficult.

“Not because there aren’t places, but finding a place that makes sense for me,” he says. “And I’m from there, I lived there for nearly 21 years.”

The KC music scene is so supportive, he adds.

“Like most of the town, it’s on such an upswing right now that it’s just a great place to be in. You don’t really realize just how special it is to be here right now until you travel and see other cities,” he says.

“Kansas City has something going on right now, and that applies to the music scene, the arts, sports, of course — everything we have going on right now.”

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.