Book & Album Launch
James Rose is a musician, author, and journalist who recently published his second novel and launched a new album. We sat down with him and asked him a few questions about it all.
Tell us a bit about yourself :
I grew up between Cranbrook and Invermere. I went to middle and high school in Invermere, so that town feels more like home. Invermere is a town on a lake in a mountain valley. Population about three thousand. My mom still lives in Invermere and I frequently go back to ski, bike, hike, and swim in the lakes around there. Invermere is where I learned to love being and doing in the outdoors. I’m a Kootenay boy. Both sides of the family have been in the East Kootenay since the 1950s.
Musically, I played piano as a kid. Mozart, Chopin, etc. I didn’t go through Royal Conservatory. I was far more into sports when I was a kid. Basketball. Soccer. Skiing. Anything, really. I learned to golf in grade three. Dad taught me and my only bro (2 years older). We lived in Cranbrook then. He’d take us to this executive par three called Way-Lynn which was an old ranch turned into a little ma and pa golf course. Way-Lynn is no longer in business. The clubhouse had the best slow cooked ribs.
Back then I wasn’t into doing art. But I was always happy to consume it. Movies, music, painting (my mom’s a landscape oil on canvas painter), reading books. Not until my early/mid twenties did I start DOING art.
I played trumpet in two high school bands. Dropped the piano save for the occasional Count Basie song in the high school jazz band. One Banff was pop music, the other was jazz. Duke Ellington stuff. When it comes to guitar, I always could strum a few chords, but I didn’t start focusing on it until I was in my early twenties. And it wasn’t until April of 2020, the pandemic spring, did playing guitar and singing become so central to how I now spend my free time. I only started singing while I play, and you can probably tell, in 2020. Course I’ve always been singing in the car.
My recent foray into singer-songwriter style music started when I saw an acquaintance on Facebook, Ian, ask if anyone wanted to jam. This was the first pandemic spring. I was living in Invermere after living in Aspen Colorado the previous year working as a newspaper reporter for the Aspen Daily News and coaching ski racing for the Aspen Valley Ski Club. Back in Invermere, I had nothing else going on other than writing my first novel Chung Piece. I needed something, anything to do. I sent Ian a message and I showed up at a friend of his to jam. Ian and his band have a different taste in music than me. I kept returning each week to that house not to play with Ian but for the open mic/jam thing that was also happening outta the walkout basement with a westward view over Lake Windermere. The people who were renting that house, husband and wife with a couple young kids, were dedicated musicians. Especially the husband Jon. That’s all he did. They were so amazing to play with. They had all the gear. They were so supportive. They let me choose songs and then try to sing and strum them. Obscure songs. Songs I’d have to explain. Like Cleaning Windows, Van Morrison, or Hidee Hidee Ho #11 by Jim James. It was like magic. I’d go to play at Jon and Pam’s and leave elated. No matter what. Playing guitar and singing songs I loved WITH people got me hooked on music.
Around this time I also started playing with another guy from Invermere: Tryg Strand. Tryg is now one of my best pals. With others we climbed Assiniboine to the top the week I turned 30, summer 2021. I first got to know Tryg when I was in high school and we were both on the golf team. In the summer of 2020, we started jamming and writing songs together. We are still jamming and writing songs together. We now play on stage. We play at ULLR Bar in Invermere every Wednesday. That’s where I host a night of live music. December to end of April. We’ve gotten so much better on stage thanks to this weekly gig. We prefer playing our originals live.
Who/what do you drive inspiration from whether artists, friends, or things? Where do your lyrics come from?
My inspiration comes from musicians I listen to, writers I read, people I collide and interact with. Stories I hear people tell me. From the adventures I embark on. The places I go. The things I do. It’s unpredictable. Comes when it wants, leaves the same way.
I wrote a song while I was down in Colorado this past January for work as a ski instructor. I have my own business now. Independent contractor. Anyway one night I was out for pizza in Carbondale and I met this guy who said he was a new teacher in town. 25 years old. Moved to Colorado from Charleston South Carolina. Typical outdoorsy Southern boy. Wore earthy tones. Khakis. Fleeces. Likes to hunt and fish. He said he was getting like 25 grand a year for teaching and was saying how on that salary he can only afford land out west that is rural and desert. In other words, nowhere near the playgrounds of Aspen or Telluride or Crested Butte. In other words, land that is priced at a big discount due to remoteness and the severe water drought that has been and still is going on down there. The American West is incredibly dry right now. And it’s getting worse. It’s startling. Demand for water is rapidly increasing in the Western states while supply is decreasing. We take our plentiful fresh water for granted in Canada. I do, anyway. But less now after observing the ongoing tragedy of the depleted Colorado River. The Colorado no longer reaches its natural delta in the Gulf of California.
Then I met a bartender the following night at a different place in Carbondale. She was the quintessential Colorado girl. Does all the type two shit, wears nothing but active lifestyle, is damn good looking and is content for the time being working nights as a bartender in a hip Thai restaurant. Even though she’s too smart for that kind of work. Probably a yoga instructor. Has tarot cards in her bedside table. Giant dream catcher hanging on the wall of her bedroom. Listens to NPR and Khruangbin. Eats the occasional gummy. Loves her freedom.
The first two verses of the song I wrote called David Crosby Morning:
He left Charleston for land out west
But on a teachers salary what’s left
Has no water, the realtor confessed
She skis bikes and hikes
And serves drinks at the bar
And looks for all the open mic’s
My imagination asked the question, what if these two very different people were to meet? Say they started seeing one another. Can they make it work? How would it come apart?
That’s how that song came to be. I like telling stories with my songs. Call me a folk singer.
What does music mean to you? Why is music important?
I think music means more to me than the average person. Always has. It is the most familiar art form to me. More so than literature, painting, film, theatre. I always have a song in my head. I’ve always been obsessed with music. When I watch a movie, it better have good music. Movies like Easy Rider, or Chariots of Fire. Just the best. Martin Scorsese movies like Goodfellas. The music in those films takes them over the top. Take the movie Wonder Boys. That movie was made 1000% better thanks to the soundtrack.
I associate certain songs with memories. When I hear Gypsy Queen by Van Morrison I am instantly transported back to riding in the backseat of my mom’s Ford Explorer. She was a smoker then - thankfully she quit several years ago - and her cigarette, a Players Extra Light, dangled out the driver side window. We drove Highway 93/95 up and down constantly back then. The road between Banff and Invermere and Cranbrook.
I was always open and eager to seek out a wide musical palette. I burned a CD when I was in grade six of Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong songs. I loved the Beatles as a kid. Still do. That red Beatles CD with the yellow number one it. I listened to that on repeat. I Feel Fine was peak Beatles according to my dad. Hard to disagree. Get Back is right up there too. I love Mozart and Chopin. I love Deep Forest. Blink 182 and Greenday. I love Bob Marley, Beach Boys and Jack Johnson. Gipsy Kings. Pac and Biggie, Dre, 50 Cent and Xzibit. The best rap ever though is Tribe Called Quest. My friend Cal Kerr showed me Tribe in grade eight.
More recently, I went through a five year deep obsession with traditional Cuban/Latin jazz. I distinctly remember hearing that music for the first time. It was coming through the lobby speakers of a hostel in Hong Kong where I was a guest. Spring 2014. The voice belonged to Ibrahim Ferrer. I was lucky to catch Buena Vista Social Club in Calgary at the Jack Singer Concert Hall a few years ago. Most of the original members weren’t on stage, because most of them have died. But some are still around. What a show! Since first hearing Ibrahim sing, I’ve devoured everything recorded from that time and place. I’m a huge Ry Cooder fan. Dylan too of course.
Music is important because it moves me emotionally. It gets through to me. It devours me. Always has, always will. I don’t have a choice!
What is the dream for you?
I can think of many different dreams for my future as a musician or writer. There isn’t one dream. There are several. I can think of many different career situations that make the future exciting and full of happiness. As a writer, if I could get paid high five or six figures to turn in a book once per year either fiction or nonfiction, I would be over the moon. As a singer songwriter, I have a dream of being able to play until the day I die with friends and strangers alike. And if someone were to say in the next ten years that I will be midway up the bill at Coachella or Austin City Limits or Newport Folk Fest or playing to a sold out crowd at Red Rocks or even to a sold out crowd at Ranchman’s in Calgary, AND performing music I love, then that would be a really nice dream to have come true! Not the expectation though.
Tell us about your book/ your writing?
Since 2020, I’ve written three books. All fiction. Two were standalone novels. One was an anthology of three novellas. I wrote all three during the pandemic. Each is rooted in reporting, naturalism, realism. Though I should say there is some magical realism in my most recent novel Run For Roses. I don’t write sci-fi or speculative stuff. Not yet anyway. My training is as a journalist. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine features writer, and editor since Spring of 2014 when I graduated with a bachelor of commerce from the University of Calgary. I’ve published in the Financial Post, Calgary Herald, Forecast Ski Magazine, Aspen Local Magazine, many others. I did a juried-in environmental reportage residency at the Banff Centre, summer 2018.
In college, I wrote a bit for the U of C school newspaper. Michael Lewis was my biggest inspiration back then. Still is though I think his last couple books aren’t on the same level as Big Short, New New Thing, Moneyball or Boomerang. Lewis is all about non-fiction narratives told with brio. I’ve read everything Michael’s ever written. His career is a dream career. Writing informative, entertaining stories. Cinematic stories. So was Tom Wolfe and all the 60s/70s New Journalists like Hunter Thompson and Gay Talese.
I love journalism. I could be a features writer till the day I die. But the market for that kind of writing has shrunk to such a degree that it is no longer a stable, viable career. Least not that I’m aware. I spent my 20s chasing the dream of being a long-form magazine feature writer. For magazines like Vanity Fair when Graydon Carter was the editor. Or New York Times Magazine. The magazine market is all but gone now. Yeah you can still buy Vanity Fair, but it’s a pamphlet. Note Michael Lewis has switched to doing only podcasts and books. No more magazine writing. Hopefully that changes, but I don’t think it will. I heard Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine, say in a recent interview he doesn’t see the magazine as we once knew it ever coming back. Oh well, he said. It had its day.
So now I write novels. And I went to Vancouver Film School for screenwriting during the pandemic. An old publisher boss of mine suggested I try to be a screenwriter. So I went. Not sure if it was worth it. I did learn lots about writing cinematically. Scene by scene construction, dialogue and so on. That was valuable. I’ve written a couple of feature scripts. I’ve created a series bible and written the first two episodes of limited series for television. Nothing has been produced. There is so much that has to happen for a script to go from pages to screen. So much that is out of the control of the writer. I don’t like that aspect of movie making. One of my screenwriting instructors said that it’s a miracle to get ANY movie made. Even if you’re Aaron Sorkin. So, going forward, my creative writing plan is to write novels and then screenplays based off those novels. The idea is to control as much intellectual property as possible. If I could direct my own scripts, like how Martin McDonagh does, that’s of course a dream career too. I feel like I’m light years away from that.
I also write a Substack newsletter called Bear Mountain. The premise of Bear Mountain is simple: I supply you with amusing/informative articles on subjects ranging from travel, finance, business, sport, food, books, movies, music, lifestyle, health, politics, tech, humour, dogs and more. Found nowhere else. It’s free and there’s an option to support the newsletter financially. All of the content is free though. I would rather do what I can to build an audience than to charge. I’m at about 2000 subscribers now. Only a handful are paying subscribers.
Last summer I read about how Tom Wolfe serialized his blockbuster novel Bonfire of the Vanities in Rolling Stone Magazine during the 80s. Every two weeks he turned in a chapter. It’s how he overcame writer’s block. Deadline pressure. Tom, ever the reporter. This went on for a year. Wolfe was inspired by the way Dickens and people like that published back in the day. Serialized novels are nothing new and used to be commonplace.
That’s where the idea came from for me to serialize my latest novel through my Bear Mountain newsletter.
Since Labour Day 2022 I’ve published roughly every two weeks a chapter of my novel King Hell Spectacle through my Bear Mountain newsletter. I am over halfway done the novel. Once I’m done, I plan to self publish the complete book through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing platform and offer it for sale as paperback, hardback, or e-book. I’ll also stock the book in local bookstores. And I may as well send the manuscript to lit agents. I don’t have hopes of traditional publishing houses buying my manuscript. But you can’t know unless you try.
King Hell Spectacle is about a 30ish year old folk singer who lives in Banff. His name is Cliff. The story is told from his perspective. Each chapter of King Hell Spectacle opens with original song lyrics written by Cliff. The prose beneath is the supposedly real life incident that inspired the lyrics. Each song is a piece of a larger story concerning Cliff’s attempt to win back his girl and dog at the risk of losing his own life. Cliff says it’s a true story. Each song makes up a concept record. Think Red Headed Stranger. And each song and its backstory make up a chapter in a book to be sold at Cliff’s merch table.
The record is what Cliff agreed to hand in to a shady record label dude from Los Angeles he met one night in Banff after a gig. The same night this Dude from LA groped Cliff’s girlfriend on the dance floor. Of course, Dude from LA is totally unaware of who the girl is. Next day, Dude from LA offers Cliff a deal. Cliff takes it even after his girl tells him about what the label guy did to her. She leaves him without saying goodbye and doesn’t tell anyone where she’s gone. Poof, gone. The dog they share together goes missing as well. Cliff thinks Gracie, his girl, took him. But he doesn’t know. His mission is to do whatever he can to win back the loves of his life. Yet, somehow by doing so, he gets tangled up with people who’ve mistaken Cliff’s identity for someone else. Someone these people want dead. So now Cliff has to outrun these people all while trying to win back his girl… it’s a king hell spectacle I tell you!
What do you think is missing in the bow valley in terms of art (what would you like to see happen)?
How cool would it be to see a well attended hootenanny style open mic occurring once per week. In the winter it takes place indoors at somewhere like the Legion or maybe Mel’s. Somewhere with a great listening room. Summer months it’s in an outdoor setting. The kind of open mic where people come FOR the music. They WANT to hear what the musicians have to say and play. The music is not background. Better yet if the song is original. A place to let your freak flag fly. This type of thing, like what used to take place in Manhattan’s West Village during the 60s folk boom, where Dylan cut his teeth, exists to this day in Jackson Hole Wyoming. I’ve played it three times now. Why can’t something like the Jackson Hole Hootenanny exist in Banff? Banff/Canmore/Lake Louise has more than enough local/passing through musicians. And I would like to think there’s enough people who want to listen.
As a writer, musician, and avid reader, what do you think the meaning of life is?