JoAnna James on LA: 'A good place to go to get your ass kicked'

If you're like me, you can grow weary of singer/songwriters. Besides maybe a handful, each one seems as replaceable as the next, strumming lazily the same chords you've heard hundreds of times, laying out the same feelings every one has like it's some sort of inner-struggle gospel that's so uncommon that everyone just needs to shut up and listen because they really have something that's so important to say. Politely you sit, waiting for it all to end thinking, "Yeah yeah we know, you're brilliant, you can express yourself so plainly and naked. You have my whole attention, I swear. Someone please buy me a drink so I can get through this person's set."

But then you come along to someone like JoAnna James. From Saint Paul, Joanna first started getting people's attention in these parts in 2004 with her first self-titled release of original material and as a staple on local stages with performances that begged the question, "Why isn't this girl huge?"

Joanna's uniqueness and ability to really draw you in to shut up and listen comes from a subtle touch, not only with her instrument and voice but also in some of the more ponderous and impressionistic prose she seems to write so effortlessly.

It was no surprise then when JoAnna decided to pack up her guitar and songbooks and head out West to Los Angeles in 2008 to make a go at it in Hollywood, leaving understanding hometown fans sadly missing her soulful voice but still rooting for her to make it in the bigtime.

At the moment JoAnna seems to have had enough of LA and has decided to trot around the country a bit visiting family and friends in Colorado, and is making a rare appearance in town tonight at the Aster Cafe for an intimate performance that is not to be missed.

I had a moment to find out JoAnna's impressions on living in La-La Land, what the future of her music has in store and to shamelessly beg her to move back to town. Here's what she had to say.

JoAnna James on LA: 'A good place to go to get your ass kicked'
Photo by Kii Arens

Gimme Noise: When did you move to LA and what was your goal out there? How did you like it there? Do you plan on going back to LA?

Joanna James: I moved to LA, sight unseen, three years ago in order to experience something totally new, to understand what life could be like without winter, and to increase my chances of meeting George Clooney. While the last of those reasons never actualized, I did enjoy living there while I did. It challenged me in ways I never expected or foresaw and I met some incredible friends and collaborators out there. As for going back, LA for me was a bit like bootcamp. A good place to go to get your ass kicked, but not a place you'd want to live forever.

What are some lessons you've learned working and being a musician in LA? Do you ever run into Lemmy from Motorhead?

Haha, no I never ran into Lemmy, but I did see Dave Navarro on a treadmill. And yes, he was still wearing eyeliner. That's dedication. As far as lessons learned, there have been many--but namely don't believe anything anyone tells you. Integrity is not a common character trait in Los Angeles, which was difficult to deal with at first being from Minnesota where you can rely on people relatively easily. But it got to be manageable so long as you don't expect the truth in the first place and can carry an extra large grain of salt with you wherever you go. And a good sense of humor, of course.

JoAnna performing at the Turf Club in 2008

Have you been working on new songs and new material? Anything set to be released and added to the Joanna James ouvre?

I've got about three records' worth of material written and recorded with various producers, but nothing slated for release anytime too soon. Lately I've been talking with Duane Lundy (the producer of Back of My Mind) about doing a more upbeat, swampy kinda soul record down in Kentucky this summer, so we'll see. In the meantime, I secretly want to ask Heiruspecs if I could be a full time member of their band.

You are back in town to play just one night at the Aster. It's killing us because we want JoAnna to play morning, noon and night around here! Do you plan on coming back and playing some more gigs?

Awww, shucks! Make a gal blush why don't cha. But yes, I definitely plan on coming back maybe early summer and playing a show or two. I can't wait to have a new record out, I'm really psyched about and then having a big ol' release partaaay.

JoAnna does Radiohead

How would you compare playing gigs in Los Angeles to the Minnesota nice crowds here?

There is no comparison. Minnesota anything trumps anywhere else's everything.  

What's your plans for the spring/summer?(please say you are moving back to Minneapolis!!!)

Besides being a groupie on Sade's Soldier of Love tour? Hoping someone buys me a ticket for the show she'll be playing on my birthday in Minneapolis.

JOANNA JAMES plays tonight, TUESDAY, APRIL 5, at the ASTER CAFE. $10. 9 p.m.

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