Ready to talk about James?
You know, this is going to be tough. you’re going to have to decide which James you want to interview…
How many James’ are there?
Well Jacques Lacan, he would say that there are two of us, the you and the other you. The doppelganger and you.
Well, which one do you want to talk about? The you or the other you?
This is your interview, you tell me.
Well, this is Gothamist and it’s about New York, so why don’t we focus mostly on the New York James. But still, I’m curious about these different sides of James…
You know, there are different stages of life. We all go through phases of life and I’d say that we all have different forms of ourselves. There’s that guy that was you when you were 23, 26, that guy that was you when you were 19, 30. I was brought up as a philosopher, an artist… I was quite intellectual when I was younger. I read all these books. Hundreds and hundreds of books. That was me. I was a different me, a totally different me.
And who is James now?
You want to talk about me? Let’s talk about New York. My idea of New York. I came here when I was at a very young age and I had a very deep impression of the place. But then I was in Europe and I never really thought that I would come back to the States. I mean I don’t really consider New York the United States anyway, but I had a friend in New York, Dave Insley, who I met in Prague twelve years ago – we bonded over the band Love and Ornette Coleman and we knew the same shit about poetry – it was a very beatnik thing - and we were writing letters back and forth to each other…
Prague in the 90’s. What was that scene all about to you?
It was about joy. It was about finding yourself… it was also about losing yourself. Because we also had a little too much fun. In a world filled with friends you lose your way. But at the same time I would never trade a minute of those days. It was a very important time.
Would you draw any parallels between the Prague of the mid-90’s and Williamsburg today?
I don’t know. Hanging out with our friends. Together. Drunken poetry fun loving power. But they’ve taken the soul out of it. You know that Raphie. You live here. There are these people who seem to have some form of soul… soul that we see in their faces. But it’s a mask. A mirage. A persona. There’s nothing behind it. They know all the hollow forms. How to turn us on. How to talk about Antonioni or Louis Malle, but it’s mirage. They are empty shells.
Isn’t that just a hipster line to scoff at everybody else?
No! Because we, me and my friends are artists. We love hanging out with each other. It’s how we grow, change… but let’s go back to the New York thing because it’s related. So Insley, Insley, he writes me all these letters and he tells me New York is changing. A lot. Quickly. I was living in Sweden at the time and I realized that my friends were as important to me as this feminine connection I felt with my wife. So I let her go and here I am… I mean Dave, he’s the closest thing I have to family. I’ve known him 12 years – I’m wearing his shirt right now - and he understands me.
Do people often not understand you?
I’m a cryptic ass motherfucker. You might think I’m doing this and that, but I’m doing something very close to your heart. At least. At best. Most of the times people don’t understand me and I go to the next level. I piss you off just ‘cause you don’t underdstand me. And it’s actually my pain. The way I feel let down by everybody. I spent so many years of my life being studious, being a scholar and then I looked around and saw that the people who are scholars are idiots. And the real people, like the Beatniks and Kerouac and Fehrlinghetti are actually the poets.
You have a reputation for talking a lot. Is it because you have so much to say or because you believe noone else has anything worth saying?
You can pontificate sideways, but if you have something to say, something to bring out in yourself, I’ll shut the fuck up.
Okay, back to New York…
So, I’m like, Dave, New York is dying? I’m going to come and watch it die. So I washed up on these shores six years ago, October of 1999.
9/11. Is that the day New York died or is it the day it was reborn?
You know, I’d like to say some anarchist shit, but, really that’s just a part of New York. I mean, people in Queens are still talking about it, but the capitalist system which it was meant to destroy forgot it the next day.
DJ Pataphisto. Where’d the name come from?
Well Dave, he was bugging me about that, like “You’ve got to have a name” and… I think if you have a DJ name it’s gotta be stupid. Because I hate DJs. They’re stupid.
So are you stupid?
Everyone knows I’m stupid. But as a DJ… I’m just a bad ass DJ. I’m probably one of the better DJs on the planet. I do it to give you love and I do it to give me love. You know I want to dance and feel happy and do what I want to do. But when you see 700 people jumping up and down, listening to some fucking crazy Jamaican shit, like some dead Jamaican black cat, it kind of gives you a little willy. And that’s what I want, that’s what I want out of it. I want to spread the music. I’m a philanthropist at heart.
So you still haven’t told me where the name came from?
DJ Pataphisto. Well, you know, Alfred Jarry, he was a great French writer. He was one of the predecessors of Dada, but let’s just go ahead and call him a surrealist for fun, because he was a hero of all of the people who were into that. He had a profound effect on my shit. John Lennon as well, so when Dave bugged me about the name I thought, well, okay, Jarry had something called Pataphysics. His version of physics, which meant nothing, was like if anything meant anything then fuck it, get rid of it. Which is what the surrealists really adopted. So that’s Pata. And then the devil is Mephisto So when I take the Pata and put the phisto into Pata you get Pataphisto - which means I’m the surrealist motherfuckin' devil.
What’s the role of music in the life of James?
It’s my life. When I was a child, I was bought a guitar. See, I grew up in the 70’s around musicians and I thought they were some of the stupidest motherfuckin’ people. Ever. You know what I mean? Then when I was about 15 I realized that this soul, this spirit inside of me, whatever the fuck it is… whether I’m Irish or it’s the American Indian in me, needed to express itself. Music has always been something that’s very spiritual and… tribal. You know, you bring it out when you’re around your people. You bring it out to make them happy. It’s the same way I DJ.
So I was around my friends and they were kind of like “We need a bass player in this punk band. and then I’m a bass player. Next thing you know I’m a guitar player. And a sax player. And a flute player. And then I was working for the largest independent label in the United States, SST.
It started with literature. Miller Camus Foucault. It went further with my love of Black Flag.
As a DJ? - it’s Africian, Brazilian, New Orleans - it’s funk. Its Jamica, Bowie, 60’s Italian music. Whatever I am into. Love, life, Rubulad. My home my friends.
Did you ever want to be a rock star?
Who doesn’t want to be a rock star? I had my moment in the sun. I played in front of thousands of people.
When was that? Where?
In Europe. I swing with a lot of my old SST friends. A lot of them are very famous. But that’s a whole other interview in itself. I was very proud to be a part of that. But that’s a totally different tangent. You know the Black Flag thing. They were my heroes and then all of a sudden they were my teachers and my friends.
If you could make great music and not be recognized or be a rock star, which would you choose?
I would prefer to hone my skills down and work on other people’s music which is why I’m moving to Los Angeles. I need my solitude. And time to practice… and you’ve got to be alone to do these things. In Los Angeles it's so vapid and empty I can do that.
I mean, I have friends out there, there are good people, but the great thing is you can get the fuck away from them.
I have a friend, she’s an artist, and she has this notion of input places and output places. Some places you go to experience and others to create...
Yeah, I would agree with that. I was in Carroll Gardens last night. I was in Fort Greene the night before that. Especially the ethnic diversity… in New York I’ve learned a lot more about what America is. I mean, first of all, New York is not America, but there are Americans here.
Do you love America? Do you love your country?
As much as I would love to say no, I do, but I don’t love… like, I love the Earth that we stand on here, I love the mountains. I love the fucking grass. I love some of the things that we have done here, but this is a very very new country. I grew up in Europe, I mean I grew up here, but my adulthood was created there. And they are us. We’re just weird Europeans.
I mean, we changed the world. Bob Dylan...
Not to cut you off, but what do you mean when you say “we”?
I mean us. I mean, whatever you want to call us, but “we” means beatniks, poets, drug addicts, freaks, thinkers, lovers, Indians… I don’t know what you want to call it. But we are the musicmakers. We are the dreamers of dreams.