w/ Brian Dolzani and Alyssa Graham, May 21, 8 p.m., $15, Café Nine, 250 State St., New Haven, (203) 789-8281. cafenine.com. Sold Out.
McCartney... McCartney... where have I heard that name before?
This Tuesday night, London musician James McCartney is playing a solo, sold out show at Café Nine, and at 35 years of age he's celebrating the release of his debut full-length record Me (which hits stores the very same day he arrives in New Haven). He put out a pair of digital-only EPs in recent years, but now things are getting serious and his music career is gaining momentum. Last year he appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" to rave reviews, and he's currently in the midst of a 47-date tour.
You may have heard James' playing on his father Paul's albums Flaming Pie (1997) and Driving Rain (2001) or his mother Linda's Wild Prairie (1998), and given such resources as he must have, you might wonder why he waited until he was 35 to officially put his own stamp on the family legacy.
"Well honestly, I just wanted to wait until I had the strongest possible collection of songs before introducing them to everyone," McCartney says. "And, I wanted to do this in the right way. So I waited until I felt both the music, and myself were ready."
Me was recorded and produced by David Kahne (who also produced Driving Rain as well as Sublime's self-titled album), and it was tracked at several studios, one of which was Abbey Road. McCartney has got keen pop sensibilities, and a strong but sweet and soothing high tenor, but his music doesn't bear any resemblance to his father's despite being influenced by it.
"There are so many influences for me," he says. "Kurt Cobain, the Smiths, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, the Cure, the Beatles, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams. I could name so many more! In the end, I don't really prefer a particular style, just great music, truly."
In addition to playing guitar and singing, McCartney also plays bass, piano, drums, mandolin and ukulele. He's a talented dude. Historically, he was one of the most reclusive of the Beatles children, and at one point he was said to be waiting tables to prove he didn't need to rely on his mega-famous dad for support. He doesn't ignore his rock royalty background, but he's keen on shifting the attention elsewhere once it's acknowledged rather than dwelling in a spotlight that hasn't yet been earned.
There's no doubt that many tickets and albums are being sold because of his name, but McCartney is confident he can keep the momentum going on his own merit. When it comes time to write a new song, he's just another guy with a notebook trying to write something down that will resonate with people, and when you're doing that, it doesn't matter who your dad is.
"It really varies, but I usually start with music first, and then lyrics," he says. "I try different approaches though, because sometimes you can find something for a song in a way you wouldn't have thought. Just singing nonsense words to a melody, or bouncing between different instruments, for example. Sometimes you can get a foothold in an unexpected way on something, and suddenly it starts to take shape. I've often blocked the lyrics out or written them in my notebook too, sort of like poetry. But in the end it's about having as much emotion as possible for me, musically and lyrically. Cathartic, heartfelt and true."