James McCartney, although beginning his life surrounded by some of the most iconic music by virtue of familial ties, is not one to rely on this advantage. In fact, McCartney only began performing in his thirties the music he’d practiced for decades. In a deliberate shirking of what would otherwise be seen as inherited fame, he even performed for several years under a pseudonym, cutting his teeth as a thoroughly authentic artist and creator.
McCartney’s newest release, his sophomore full-length album, The Blackberry Train, was engineered by Steve Albini, whose work boasts a wide range of acclaimed punk and alternative rock musicians like Nirvana, Cheap Trick and The Pixies. In McCartney’s formative years, he lost his mother Linda to breast cancer. As he revealed in an interview in the Daily Mail in 2013, as he mourned her, he found emotional solace in music. McCartney was drawn particularly to Nirvana; in particular, he related to Kurt Cobain, and considered him a role model.
Serendipitously, McCartney would go on to record with Albini on The Blackberry Train. The opportunity did not disappoint: “It was brilliant. A great experience to be working with Steve,” he told me.
Growing up, he was surrounded by music and artists in a very unique way. I asked McCartney if his perspective and relationship to music had changed since he began performing. “It changes all the time,” he replied. “That’s what makes music so beautiful and inspiring.” Listeners will occasionally hear echoes of his father’s work with the Beatles, but McCartney has built a solid foundation of indie-rock that’s at times psychedelic and at times grunge, with a clear voice, reminiscent of early power pop singers.
McCartney diverges from his father not only in musical style but in persona. Where Paul is long-known for his gregarious disposition, James is reserved and quiet, with a reputation of giving scant information on interviews, a point that comes through in our email exchange. What details McCartney does provide show a promising and earnest young performer, who is sincere in his creative output.
One melancholic and dreamy track, “Waterfalls,” evokes the vulnerable and genuine sense that sets McCartney as an artist in his own right. At times, McCartney’s psychedelic tracks are reminiscent of the exploration of Transcendental Meditation, a practice his parents passed down to him. He told the Daily Mail that it’s integral to his identity; his daily routine includes meditation, and he has found ways to incorporate meditation in his life.
Iowans may be surprised to learn this is not McCartney’s first trip to the state. In 2009 McCartney performed under the pseudonym Light at David Lynch’s Weekend for World Peace at the Maharishi Temple in Fairfield. It is no surprise his music incorporates this practice; McCartney concurs with the notion that, similar to meditation, music gives him a sort of therapeutic relief and comfort.
The Blackberry Train has a similar tone to his previous work, but with its own distinct growth, undoubtedly a result of the collaboration with Albini. “It’s all been an evolution,” McCartney notes. “This set of songs definitely has a harder edge, but it’s a continuation of the last album. The main thing for me is to not conform or compromise.” Indeed McCartney has shown he has not compromised his creation on his unconventional route to music.
I asked McCartney what he was most looking forward to while touring the US this summer.
“Stopping at some of my favorite vegan (restaurant) spots is always fun,” he replied. “I just get up on stage and play, same as I always do. It’s a great feeling to connect with the crowd, no matter what stage I am on.”
James McCartney will be performing at The Mill in Iowa City on Friday, June 24 at 8 p.m.
Chelsea Pfeiffer works as a researcher and writes in her spare time. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 201.