When Christian James’ mom died recently, he immersed himself into his music entirely to cope with the loss.
“I knew I wouldn’t be OK without that outlet,” the Spiral Sound frontman said, “so I let it consume me, so her death wouldn’t.”
After he sat with her through hospice care, watching COPD and the rest of her maladies draw the life from her over the last two years, James found a deeper layer in creation that wasn’t there before.
“Giving myself over to the service of someone else changed my art,” he said. “I felt her speaking through me on the songs I wrote this year. They began to feel like a lullaby to her.”
Many of the songs James wrote have now been released as Sister, Perfect, a collection of several tracks available on most streaming platforms.
James is also returning to the stage for the first time in over a decade.
Music was always a calling for James, even when inspiration wasn’t as hard won.
“Sports were fucking boring,” he said when asked what pulled him into music early on, “and I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. Also, I hate myself,” he laughed, “so in social situations, I’d always create these strange scenarios in my head. I think that’s something that leads people to be creative. They’re so used to involuntarily creating things in their mind, it eventually turns into art.”
That’s partly how James created the New Wave garage-rock Spiral Sound circa 2002 with drummer Paul Goetz and bassist (and Weekly contributor) Patrick Higgins in a town, Fort Worth, where, speaking of genetics, James’ father, Richard Mauch, was already known throughout the ’70s and ’80s by way of Savvy. James mentions his father’s popular rock band with a hint of derision, also noting that his mom, Pauletta Yandon — a talented poet in her own right — worked a “soul-crushing job in bill collections” so Mauch could rock out with the guys as a “leecher” most of his life. Mauch died a couple of years ago.
“He wasn’t a bad guy, though,” James said. “You guys [the Fort Worth Weekly] did a really touching tribute to him as a sort of local rockstar when he passed away, and I really appreciated that.”
James’ vocals are what make Spiral Sound stand out from most other dancey garage-rock bands, with hooks smoothly flowing into place in contrast to choppy waves of dissonance. The difference between ’90s grunge and garage rock from the aughts is that the latter understands the almighty groove that bands like Nirvana worshipped, pounding out “something that people can dance to and enjoy as well as an element that’s a bit dark and spacey,” James said.
A throaty baritone that’s raspy at times with that Southern alt-rock charm a la Vaden Todd Lewis and Kurt Vile, James’ voice is that forearm on your shoulder pulling you in.
Julian Casablancas also comes to mind, but don’t mention the reference to James’ face as it is so frequently made that his ire for this statement birthed one of his most popular singles, “Oh, Julian.” James wrote the song as a sort of conversation with The Strokes frontman to check his resentment about the endless comparisons: “I’m like, ‘Hey, we were doing this way before those guys!’ ”
The Spiral Sound broke up after nine years in 2012 when Higgins’ daughter was diagnosed with a terminal illness and he — understandably — had to quit.
“I am so grateful to those guys for the years we had, though,” James said. “I always look back at all that as a really great experience. We just weren’t ready to go all the way, and I think I had to give it some time to really have something to say.”
As the members drifted apart, James still kept the band name for any new music he recorded over the years on his iPhone and released on Bandcamp, not knowing whether or not he would ever perform live again.
Practicing and recording music as a solo artist for the last 10 years in contrast to playing in a band, James found that there is a certain level of machismo when working with guys which he has been liberated from on his own.
“Like, if you want to try something new, it better be good, or you’ll just feel really embarrassed,” James said. “Drinking helped with that, but when I started doing my own thing, I felt like I could be more experimental and lyrically open, which helped me a lot, especially after my mom passed.”
James knew he had something new that he felt compelled to share after the pain and isolation of the last several years.