Every now and then a band gets brought to my attention that has flown so far below my radar that I didn’t even see them. When my good friend/contributor Taylor told me about Old James, her words were, “These guys are right up your alley. You’ll dig this band.” Well, she wasn’t wrong and I didn’t just dig them, I fucking LOVE them. Their straight up, in your face, no frills hard rock played with groove, soul, and passion just hit me like a freight train and the lyrics? Oh man… yeah.
As with any other band I find myself obsessing over, I just had to interview someone from this band and that someone ended up being lead vocalist/bassist Brian Stephenson. Brian was an absolute hoot to talk to. We talked about his love of music in general, what inspires him, the Fappening, and why he would love Michelle Pfeiffer to play him in a movie about himself. This was a really fun and hilarious interview and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Brian, thanks for taking the time to do this brother.
Don, it’s great to talk to you brother. It’s nice to be finally talking to you. This is fucking awesome.
I got turned on to you guys by my friend and contributor, Taylor.
Dude. That fucking girl is an angel on Earth. She and her dad are the coolest. They’re great. If there’s a band, they’ve seen them. We were on the Uli Jon Roth tour and they told us that they flew all the way from Athens, GA and I’m like, “To see Uli? That’s cool” and she says, “No. To see you.” [laughs] They are really amazing.
They really are amazing, dude. So yeah, an 11am interview. How rock n’ roll is that?
Oh man, I’m up and I have the house to myself so it’s a disaster [laughs]. I’m just cleaning up and making some lunch.
So are you a domestic god?
[laughs] I wish. You know that Jack Black movie School of Rock. Well that’s what I do for my day job. I’m a professional band coach [laughs]. It’s my official title.
No shit? That’s pretty sweet dude.
Man, I don’t even know how to describe it. I fucking love it. This job is fantastic. I get to watch kids learn and get excited about music and just watch them keep leveling up. I’m very fortunate to be able to hang out with these kids who are so fucking talented and hungry. I love my job, dude. This is also my first job that isn’t manual labor [laughs].
I was a big fan of the EP that came out last year but the debut Speak Volumes has really blown my mind. What was the process like making this album?
Don, thanks so much brother. Yeah, it was a process [laughs]. You hear these horror stories about bands getting caught up in bad management deals and what not. That kind of happened to us. The album just kept getting put on the backburner and then finally we said, “Fuck it.” We left the management we had at the time and then the writing process for Speak Volumes started from scratch. We just started completely over.
Why start completely over?
We sounded different, we were struggling to be a four-piece and that wasn’t panning, and unfortunately, it took so long.
I wanted to touch on that. For a while, you were just the front man for Old James and now you’re playing bass as well making you all a trio. I love this change in the band and the power trio sound really works awesomely for you guys.
I mean, if we could find a guy who could actually sing, that would be sweet [laughs]. We could just hire Sebastian Bach and he just hangs out backstage singing while I mimic him onstage [laughs].
Dude, trust me. I’ve heard Sebastian Bach sing lately and you don’t want that.
[laughs] That’s hilarious. Man, honestly, I was cool with just being a front man because I look at my dudes like Ronnie Van Zandt from Lynyrd Skynyrd or Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam but on that same level, people like James Hetfield, Lemme, Kurt Cobain, Waylon Jennings, Bob Marley; the list is endless. I think it just kind of happened.
So how did you end up as the bassist?
Yeah, I played bass in Annihilator when I was 17 and that’s where I started playing bass. Then I played bass in Aggressor and when we did our tour that’s when we met our new manager Brian. I just dropped it for a while but Old James was having a hard time finding a bass player. We were going through bass players like nobody’s business so we went down to Florida to meet our manager, Brian. We set up in his jam space and Brian just said, “You played bass. Why don’t you play bass.” I just told him that it wasn’t really my thing but we tried it out and it just worked. I mean, the band’s technically been a three-piece since 2014 when our original bass player left. It’s always been Chris, Andy, and myself. That solid core has always been there. The guys in my band are ridiculous. They are the best musicians that I have ever heard or seen so I’ve got to keep up with these motherfuckers [laughs].
Dude, you’re no fucking slouch on the bass at all but I love the fact that you have this hunger and fire to just grow and be your best.
I’m just trying to really practice and get better. I just think that the bass guitar is the coolest instrument. I feel like I can really express myself with it. It’s a journey. I just want to be a great bass player one day.
You guys all have roots deep in the NWOTHM scene. How did you guys end up as a roots rock power trio?
The way Old James actually came about actually was from Aggressor. Chris and I recorded a five-song demo over a summer after Beyond All Reckoning came out. We had just toured with Vindicator and did some shows with Havok. That last Aggressor album was pretty much the beginning of Old James. The other guys in the band weren’t into it so we just said, “Fuck it” and we started a new band [laughs].
So was this kind of music just something that was instilled in you and it just started to surface over time?
Yeah. Honestly, it’s just always been in our blood. Chris and I have always been playing in rock bands at home and just doing our own projects. We had our band Aggressor for like 10 years and it was just thrash; a million miles an hour all the time. Towards the end, we released our album Beyond All Reckoning and that one had a more rock and roll feel going on. It was looser and truer to what I loved. Growing up I was just whiskey, speed, beer, Sepultura, and Motorhead [laughs]. That was me as a teenager so it was just go go go all the time but at the same time, we listened to Jim Croce and The Beatles from my dad.
What is an album that absolutely kills you every time you put it on?
Right now, I’d have to say Yield by Pearl Jam. I also love Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and any Bob Marley album. Those are just as deep and a part of me as Master of Puppets or the Black Album which I heard for the first time when I was 9. I believe that you just love what you love.
The fact that you have are open to having so many different kinds of music that you love totally helps you to be a better artist.
Exactly. Being a musician and creating my art, I’m just so fucking thankful that I have so many colors to paint with. On Speak Volumes, there’s a song called “So Real.” That bridge part in there, I don’t know if anyone will ever hear it but that’s a direct ripoff of Immortal [laughs]. It’s just kind of my tribute to them. I wanted to write this big, heavy part that’s essentially a Black Metal riff with no blast beats and a rock and roll tone [laughs].
I’m sure you get asked this a lot but…
It’s my Grandpa [laughs]. To be honest, it just kind of came about. Chris and I were on a bus ride one day and we all these stupid fucking names because this was just going to be another side project until we could start another band. This was back in like 2011 or 2012. We’re big on naming things though and having a solid name on things so I think I just said as a joke, “How about Old James?” and Chris was like, “Hell yeah.” [laughs]
Did your Grandpa dig that at all?
He was totally offended by it [laughs]. He was like, “I’m not old!” [laughs] He’s cool with it now though.
Well he’s got his fucking name on t-shirts and CDs so he should be cool with it at this point.
[Laughs] No shit, right? Exactly. He’s a money making machine and if he ever forgets who he is, he can just look down at his shirt [laughs].
What are some other types of music you really dig that we may not hear as influences in the sound of Old James?
When I’m at work, I’m cranking Superjoint Ritual, Black Flag, Cromags, Fugazi. I’m very much into 80’s hardcore punk. Henry Rollins is a massive, massive influence on me. If there was a Rollins religion, I’d probably be the fucking head priest [laughs]. He’s the coolest.
Mental illness has been a huge thing lately especially after the deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. Do you think that more people should be more transparent about sharing their struggles with their fans?
To be completely honest, I say yes and no. I kind of go back to when I was 14 and I was obsessed with Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society. I remember reading a guitar player magazine with him on the cover and he said, “Suicide is not an option.” That struck me like harder than anything that any other musician has ever said. That resonated with me fully. Don, you and I both, we suffer from anxiety and depression but knowing that there’s a way out that’s not negative I think is something that everyone should know. Personally, if anyone loves my band or hates my band, you’re my brother, you’re my sister and if you ever need to talk, I will share my experiences with you. No problem. It’s always easier to have somebody to talk to.
Especially if that someone is some who truly understands what you’re going through because they go through it themselves.
Exactly. I have people who are supportive that don’t have or really understand anxiety or depression but when you have a friend or know somebody that does, it makes all the difference in the world so yeah, I think people should be open about it. Not necessarily to their fans if they don’t want to but then again, I don’t believe in fans; I believe in family. One blood, one Earth, one people. We’re all in this together. I do think that it’s something that should be shared and talked about. Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Layne Staley. Who knows what was going on with them. Some people treat their illnesses with drugs and alcohol. I did that myself too. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I covered my shit with booze and drugs and just treated myself with shit.
Ok, let’s loosen shit up here a bit, dawg. If you could sing/play in any band for just one night who would it be and why?
Old James [laughs]. My serious answer man. I mean, if I could go back into the 70’s and sing a song with Ronnie Van Zandt or sing a song with Willie Nelson or play some bass with Cliff Burton, hell yeah I would but honestly, I’m fortunate and I feel like the luckiest dude in the world to play in this band with Andy and Chris. They’re my best friends and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
If you had to describe Old James in three words what would they be?
Pork and Beans [laughs].
That’s fucking amazing.
[laughs] My uncle actually pointed that out to me. He’s been calling our band Pork and Beans for the last two years and I finally asked him why and he says, “Well, you’ve got you two veganators and Andy eating the meat, you’ve got two beans and the fucking pork.” [laughs] So yeah, I’ll have to go with Pork and Beans.
If Hollywood made a movie, who would play you?
Michelle Pfeiffer; and then I would go finger blast myself in the mirror [laughs].
That is amazing. Michelle Pfeiffer in head to toe leather dude…
Oh yeah. That’s a prime investment in the spank bank [laughs]. Did you ever see that thing called The Fappening?
Oh my god dude. That was just too much awesome.
Man, I kind of feel bad for the invasion of privacy and I probably shouldn’t be jacking off to these pictures but man, it was awesome [laughs]. Honestly, my perfect movie would if I got to play myself in a bio pic that’s just whatever I want my life to actually be. Like, I’d have all these hot Asian porn star chicks as my wives. I’d be cruising around in a shitty old Honda Civic that’s been all souped up picking up Asa Akira and Charmane Star and they’re just all like, “Let’s go fuck” and I’m like, “Ok, I guess we’ll do it again” and then we’ll go back to my beach house and bang it out. Then I’d kiss them both on the lips and get them each a dry towel [laughs].
Awe, that’s sweet.
You gotta be a gentleman. My mom raised me well [laughs].
If you could see Old James hit the road with any band, who would it be?
Oh man. Pearl Jam, Metallica, Queens of the Stone Age, Mastodon, man, there’s an endless list. If we could do a stripped down thing, I would love to play Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit or even Farm Aid.
What was a truly life changing moment for you when it comes to music?
When I turned 21 or 22 and I first heard Black Flag… Henry Rollins… that motherfucker changed my world. This guy is a badass motherfucker. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t do drugs, he lifts weights and that’s been my model ever since. He opened up a whole new world and I had no idea life could be like that. Now you see Zakk Wylde’s quit drinking, James Hetfield quit drinking and I was like, “Fuck. What do I do? [laughs]
And as we get older and you’re trying to live the life of a musician, that shit can take its toll on you.
I did this a tour in Europe last fall filling in for a guy and watching these guys get fucked up every single night was brutal. I learned this on the Annihilator tour and if I have to thank Jeff Waters for one fucking thing in my life, it was learning that you’ve got to be able to play at a million percent every fucking night. These guys were getting fucked up, having bad shows, some nights where their voices were on and others where they were off. I kind of feel for the people who are paying to see this. I have paid to see so many shows where the guys are fucked up or had been drunk the night before. These people love your music and they support you whether you put on a good show or not. In my eyes and my heart, you owe them all you’ve got. They’re here for you and you’ve got to do it for them.
So what’s the plan dude? Old James touring or what?
Yeah, we’re going to be doing the East Coast of the US this November and then after that, we’ll be chilling out until January. Then we’re going to South America and then back to the States again. After that, we’ll hit Europe and see where we go from there.
Well, I hope you make it to Atlanta so we can sit in a corner and socially awkward together.
[laughs] Yeah. Maybe we can hold hands and take upper deckers in the bathroom together.
We can film it for your DVD!
Don’s Upper Decker Party Live [laughs]!
Brian, this interview was a fucking hoot man. Thank you so much for doing this.
Don, I appreciate you calling and being interested in us. It really means a lot, man. Thank you so much, brother.
For more on Old James, head over to https://www.facebook.com/OldJamesband