Interview: Guitar Great James Williamson on ‘Shade,’ Pink Hearts Concerts




James Williamson and The Pink Hearts - Photo by Heather Harris
James Williamson and The Pink Hearts - Photo by Heather Harris

By DONNA BALANCIA

James Williamson’s roots are showing.

The former Stooges guitarist has teamed with Frank Meyer and Petra Haden to create a great album, Behind The Shade. The album by James Williamson and The Pink Hearts takes the best of the renowned musician’s talents and applies pedal to the metal for high speed sonic straightaways and wildly curving detours.

It’s a great return to form for Williamson, who has piloted some innovative projects over the last few years. Notably, there were the collaborations with Dennis Tek, and his work with Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays.

Petra Haden, James Williamson and Frank Meyer - Photo by Heather Harris
Petra Haden, James Williamson and Frank Meyer – Photo by Heather Harris

Purely Original Work With Velocity and Power

But the latest album, Behind The Shade by his new band James Williamson and The Pink Hearts is purely original, and shows some velocity and power. The band has produced a debut album that rocks. The music is trademark Williamson that ranks up there with the best of his musical work with longtime collaborator Iggy Pop.

Meyer and Haden trade off on vocals and contribute their respective talents of bass, guitar and violin to the project. Meyer wrote the lyrics to most of the songs. But there is no denying this record is pure Williamson taking center stage.

Pre-Order James Williamson and The Pink Hearts debut album Behind The Shade.

Remember we’re talking about the guy who wrote the music for the tectonic shifting, genre-shattering “Search and Destroy” and “Raw Power.”  With that kind of backing, The Pink Hearts are more than just a random music project. The band has some major chops.

The Pink Hearts will perform at the El Rey on June 29 and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on June 30.

Frank Meyer is cowriter on most of the songs on Behind The Shade - Photo © 2018 Donna Balancia
Frank Meyer is cowriter on most of the songs on Behind The Shade – Photo © 2018 Donna Balancia

Williamson Chats with CaliforniaRocker.com

Williamson said putting together the new band came from his desire to get creative.

“Basically, last year I decided I wanted to write more music, so I started writing a few songs and I realized I suck at writing lyrics,” Williamson said. “I’ve never really had to do it, every time I try to do it I labor at it and I don’t get anywhere. I wrote ‘Lucky Monkeys’ for ‘Kill City.’

“I decided if I’m going to do this I would get a hold of some people,” Williamson said. “Paul Nelson Kimball wrote the ‘Destiny Now,” and while he was doing that, I remembered Frank and the show we did in Los Angeles.”

The Famous Re-Licked Show at Bootleg

Back in January of 2015, Williamson put on a revue-style punk show in Los Angeles that incorporated the A-Listers of alternative rock.  He enlisted Alison Mosshart, Jello Biafra, Cheetah Chrome and many more to perform some of the songs he wrote with Iggy Pop back in the 1980s.

Emcee for the night was Meyer, who led the backup band for Cheetah Chrome before Cheetah reunited the Dead Boys. Meyer is also the ringleader of the band The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs.

SEE RELICKED CONCERT HERE

Frank Meyer of the Street Walkin' Cheetahs with James Williamson - Donna Balancia
Frank Meyer performs with James Williamson at Re-Licked show, January of 2015 – Donna Balancia

Frank Meyer as Streetwalkin’ Cheetah and Songwriter

“Frank is so quick at doing this stuff,” Williamson said.  “He was turning the songs around overnight. I was pleased with that and I know how good a performer he is, so I said let’s record some of this stuff. I called Petra and figured I’d go to LA and record some of the songs and see how it goes. It’s been a blast to do it all and I think everybody’s pretty seasoned.”

“I met Petra thru Mike Watt when I was looking for some backing singers for some of the songs on the last Stooges album “Ready to Die”…he suggested I listen to Petra’s accapella version of the ‘Who Sells Out’ and of course I was blown away and contacted her straight away.”

Petra Haden - Photo by Heather Harris
Petra Haden – Photo by Heather Harris

Petra Haden Came Recommended by Mike Watt

Williamson said he was impressed with Haden’s singing.

“I was impressed with her singing and her violin and used it to great effort on songs like ‘The Departed’ on Ready To Die, beyond that, I continued to use her on my first solo effort Re-Licked then did a couple of singles with her and now finally have her on Behind The Shade as I felt like the combination of voices with Frank together with Petra would be interesting and in fact it turned out to be magical…she’s just a very talented person and it.s always a pleasure to work with her.”

Williamson said that he doesn’t see this venture as necessarily a return to punk.

“I don’t first of all think it’s any particular genre,” he said. “It covers a lot of them. There are couple more upbeat songs like ‘Riot on the Strip’ and ‘Revolution Stomp,’ and lots of ballads on there. If you think about it I’ve written a lot of ballads, ‘Open Up and Bleed’ and ‘Gimme Danger.’ What do you call my music? I don’t know. It’s just stuff that I write.”

Williamson: ‘I Never Considered Myself Punk’

How does he think the punk rock arena is progressing these days?

“Frankly I have no idea because I never considered myself punk,” he said. “I guess we started that whole thing. Iggy seems to have embraced it because it had commercial value. That was then and this is now. I think musicians have to evolve with the times and I think that the new wave of musicians has to plug in to what’s happening.”

Williamson said while today, musicians have to be not only artist but also self-promoter, things are not that different than the old days.

“In a way musicians have always had to be DIY,” Williamson said. “Musicians don’t start out with any money but especially the way  the business has gone there are no budgets for making records unless you’re really at the top of the heap and there’s not many of those. The good news is live shows are alive and well. People who can play can get a following and can move up in the world. ”

Prima Donna - Photo © 2018 Donna Balancia
Prima Donna – Photo © 2018 Donna Balancia

Prima Donna Opens at El Rey Show

Prima Donna opens for James Williamson and The Pink Hearts on June 29 at the El Rey and Dirty Denim opens the show at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall on June 30. 

“We’re putting together the best show we can possibly do,” Williamson said. “We’re going to bring it.”

Tracklist for Behind The Shade

1. “Riot on the Strip”
2. “Judith Christ”
3. “Pink Hearts Across the Sky”
4. “You Send Me Down”
5. “Destiny Now” *
6. “This Garden Lies”
7. “Purple Moon”
8. “Miss Misery”
9. “The Revolution Stomp”
10. “Behind The Shade”

CD BONUS TRACK:
11. “Died a Little Today” **

All songs written by Frank Meyer and James Williamson except:
* Paul Nelson Kimball and James Williamson
** Alejandro Escovedo

Behind The Shade – credits: Produced by James Williamson; Recorded at “Shabby Road Studios”/Outland Studios (Berkeley, CA) and Kitten Robot Studios (Los Angeles); Engineered by Jason Carmer, Nicholas Francis Stein, Paul Roessler, Joe Cardamone and Bruce Duff; Mixed by Jason Carmer; Mastered by George Horn.

Check out Riot On The Strip: