DOORSTEP INTERVIEW: Dean James & The Black Dogs | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Local songwriter Dean James is poised to release his debut album with backing band The Black Dogs. Here, he tell us more about the release, playing live and what inspires him as a musician.

He plays Music Lounge, Stockton on Saturday 9th April.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you, where are you from?
My name is Dean James Stobbs. I’m from South Shields and have lived there all my life.

What inspired you to first start making music?
As all musicians, I’ve always loved listening to music from an early age as I found it an outlet for my emotions. I used to sing in bands in the youth club when I was a kid, actually the room we used to rehearse in was the same room the Angelic Upstarts used to rehearse in 10 years before. I picked up the guitar very late on in my life (21) and was shown a few chords by a friend. Within three years I was playing the local covers circuit with a friend of mine and also dabbled in a couple of covers bands. Although I’ve always wrote my own songs, I never thought I’d get the opportunity to play them live.

Who would you say are your biggest influences?
Definitely Nirvana; I remember being about 14 years old watching them on a TV show and thinking ‘what the hell was that!?’ The video was Smells Like Teen Spirit and I was blown away by the energy that was coming from the new sound. They hooked me into being a lifelong fan and even though I’m naturally a solo artist, I’ve always tried to incorporate their pure raw energy into my music. Other influences are Billy Joel, the Doors, Police, Bob Marley and John Lee Hooker, and I mustn’t forget Radiohead, Damien Rice and Fats Domino!

How would you describe your sound?
Well it’s really difficult to describe, it’s really a mixture of the above acts. I’ve always relied on reviewers to tell me, because to me my music doesn’t really fit into a genre. Some of my tracks are really steeped in the blues, others have a definite rockier edge to them whilst other tracks are R’n’B or fingerpicking country/singer-songwriter stuff. What my sound definitely is, is accessible to all types of listeners. There is something for everybody on my new album. I worry a lot that my stuff doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, but I’ve been told that’s the beauty of it.

Where do you see yourself fitting into the local music scene?
I’ve been fortunate enough to play on some great stages in the region and to play alongside some great acts — being a solo artist really benefitted me in that I could turn up to virtually any gig with my acoustic guitar and do my thing, it opened me to a number of genres.

Since I’ve started playing with the Black Dogs our sound has become heavier, but also a little more technical, as the lads in the band are great musicians. We can get much better slots now we’re a band, and we’ve already secured a string of great slots to promote the album.

Tell us a bit about your live performances. What can we expect from a gig by you?
Whether playing solo, as a duo with percussion or as the full band, you can expect the room to be filled with raw emotion. We are all so passionate when playing live that the audience always comment on how engaging our show is. I write songs that anybody can relate to because they are about life, struggle, death and hope. Our shows are very intimate, so the louds are deafening and the quiets are almost silent — it’s always a great atmosphere.

What do you think has been your biggest achievement so far as a band?
I’ve achieved a lot locally as a solo artist, but as a band our biggest achievement is our amazing album. Originally it was going to be a Dean James acoustic album. I went to the studio and recorded all the acoustic and vocal parts, then the producer (Brendan Portues), who is also my drummer, decided he was going to fill the songs out with some percussion etc. It was his attitude and musical genius that helped turn the album from good into great. Six months later we have a fully finished 11-track album that has been mastered by Pete Maher (U2, Jack White, Rolling Stones). Pete was so impressed with the songwriting and production that he has offered us some space on his website showcasing independent bands he has worked with.

Every day brings a new opportunity; launching the Sunderland city of culture bid was fantastic, we have already supported Mark Morris of the Bluetones and Hyde & Beast, and we have the feelers out for festival dates. My reputation means that people are still requesting me as a solo artist, but I want to play with the band — it’s an entirely new experience!

Have there been any major challenges so far in your musical career?
To be honest it took me a while to gain any sort of credibility locally as an artist. Because if you’re a singer-songwriter playing an acoustic guitar, and you’re over the age of 30, people assume that you’re just some X Factor hopeful playing covers for money — but I’ve never been that person. I suffered a lot from being pigeon holed and not given a chance, it was only last year that I got signed (by Forgotten City Records), and I was 39! It’s not fair, but it just drives you to work harder.

What else have you got planned for the future?
In the next two years, as well as making another album, I would like to be playing festivals and touring the UK and Europe. We’ve made some friends in the Netherlands and Sweden so I’d love to get over there and see how they do gigs! I’d love to be able to travel Route 66, playing all the bars along the way. Playing shows in Memphis and New Orleans would be a dream. I love American music and think my sound is very much orientated to the American market.

I tend not to over plan for the future as I find I don’t enjoy today. Being signed really takes my future out of my hands as they take the role of management as well, but I know that everyone at the label is behind me and are as passionate about my music as I am. All I have to do is write songs, rehearse and turn up to gigs — what better life is there?

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