Alex James has a quality that separates him from his song-writing peers. The quality I speak of is grievously lacking in the soppingly sad Portland indie scene. Alex haveth the gift of tales. Listening to Delorean is like reading a book of short stories. The music that lies beneath the story is immaculate but subtle compared to the habitually heartbreaking stories he weaves.
Alex James is the founder of Delorean, in which he writes, sings and plays guitar. His voice has a Neil Young quality that gives shivers. When you close your eyes while listening to him you could swear that you are on some backwoods porch listening to an old coal miner sing songs of reflection and of loves long lost in 1920s.
Late this summer James played a mid-afternoon show at Mojo’s coffee shop on Southeast Stark. The place was full and people were airily talking amongst themselves. James quietly sat down with his acoustic guitar and softly started singing his songs. The audience went dead quiet. By the last song, not an eye was dry in the entire place and every one had an exhausted fragile look. It was as though we lived vicariously through the characters in his songs and needed time to collect ourselves.
This quality has cut like a knife regionally and is giving Delorean quite a name for itself.
James started adding members to his band while recording his first album. Jay Clarke (also of the Standard) adds his unmatched, and much-discussed talent as a keyboardist by playing the Wurlitizer to add beauty to perfection.
Delorean’s first album was recorded in Southeast Portland’s Danger Zone, a modest yet up-and-coming basement studio, run by engineer and producer Rob Oberdorfer. The limited pressing quickly sold out as the band grew in members and strength. James wisely added Ben Nugent (also so of the Holy Sons and the Vespertines) on drums and Nick Rotondo on bass to add the soft low end to Delorean.
Delorean have cut their teeth playing regional shows and are currently recording their second album at Portland’s famed Jackpot studio with Jeff Saltzman (Pavement, King Black Acid, Sunset Valley).
“We are recording the album basically live and simply, so the songs can stand up for themselves,” James said over a beer in southeast Portland’s Basement Bar on Monday. “We recorded with an upright piano, drums and bass; we are adding some cello and steel guitar tracks also. Our first album was more guitar driven. Our new album has a much fuller sound.”
The new album is slated to be released in early spring, and pre-production copies are being passed around town. The track “Hannibal” throws listeners into a teary-eyed world of a man in prison, wrongly accused of murdering his lover. The depth of these songs is unmatched; the only good comparisons are Bob Dylan or Harvest-era Neil Young.
There is a humble genius in our midst and most of us do not even know it.
“How do you write your songs?” I asked.
“I drive a delivery truck around all day,” James said. “Sometime I will just see someone or some thing as trivial as an old door and it will inspire to write. Sometimes I’ll have a whole song worked out in my head before even picking up my guitar.”
If you want to see this amazing band do it now, before it’s too late and Delorean finds it’s way above and beyond our little town.