Born in the U.K., multi-faceted artist and songwriter James Allison found himself inspired by the humble beginnings of artists like The Beatles from a young age, and after moving to the U.S., music soon became a staple of his life.
As an adult, Allison moved to Columbus, Ohio, but found himself frustrated with the lack of opportunity – it was then that he set out on his tour of the country. Channeling The Fab Four’s endless set of shows in Hamburg, Allison took a humble approach to his rise in the music world.
After paying his dues and honing his chops as a touring artist, Allison found success as electronic-pop/rock performer Digisaurus, playing at festivals that included headliners like Weezer and Joywave. In the span of four years, Allison played over 500 shows in just about any venue that would showcase his talent. When COVID shut the world down, performance opportunities were all but non-existent, leading Allison down a different path, and away from Digisaurus.
Now performing under his own name, Allison’s sound has taken on more of a classic 60s pop-rock sound, full of bright energy. Allison’s vocal range and masterful production are only the base layer of what makes his music so unique; both complex and easy to listen to, he has found himself in the perfect balance of fun and interesting music.
Set to hit streaming services tomorrow, Allison’s single, “California” is the epitome of this sound.
The layers of instrumentation and vocals create a feeling of nostalgia, while the lyrics inspire a sense of wanderlust and wonderment. Written before his move to California, the single is an exploration of anticipation and fascination. Similar to his debut single, “I Just Don’t Know Where I Belong”, the song is ambitious, but wonderfully crafted and most importantly, fun to listen to.
We recently had the chance to chat with Allison about “California,” his background, and more.
Your work as Digisaurus and now, yourself, show that you’re clearly a multi-dimensional artist; who or what inspired you to pursue a musical career?
Musically, I’ve been inspired by everything from The Beatles to S-Club 7 over the course of my life. I’d always dabbled in music and bands, but I think what really inspired me to push things further was working on a live in-studio session series at my old recording studio called “Live at Electraplay.” We’d invite touring artists coming through Columbus to stop in at the studio to participate in the series. We were a pretty scrappy operation at the time (and it shows in some of the videos), but this was the first opportunity I got to talk to bands and artists pursuing careers and seeing success or momentum. I conducted a lot of the interviews, so I’d get quite a deep insight into their personalities and experiences, and was able to see how they were reflected in the songs when I was mixing them. It taught me a lot about what was possible, the work required, and where I wanted to go with things.
Being born in the U.K. and raised in the U.S., there’s no doubt you’ve had a unique blend of musical influences, but if you had to narrow it down to a top three, who/what would they be?
Oasis, Daft Punk, Bruce Springsteen. I grew up playing piano and saxophone, but Oasis was the first band that got me into the idea of being a “rock n’ roll star”. Their early albums are what motivated me to pick up a guitar, write songs, and join a band in high school. It was the first time I could make music my own and do what I wanted to with it.
Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album was the defining album to start my old project, Digisaurus, and approach music from a producer angle. It shattered my idea of bands and how to approach making and recording music. They just recruited the best musicians to come together, see what happens, lay down tracks, and put together something truly spectacular.
And lastly, Bruce Springsteen eventually became my companion on the road. My Dad let me borrow his copy of Bruce’s autobiography (also titled Born to Run), and I listened to the albums while I was reading it. I was frustrated by my seeming lack of “success” at the time, but that book really switched my perspective to appreciate what I was experiencing and how to reflect that in songwriting. Bruce has continued to be the most sincere and honest artist all these years later, and I hold him up as the gold standard.
Your new single, “California” has a very upbeat and nostalgic vibe to it. What is the inspiration and influence behind it?
“California,” is a tale of anticipation. In 2017, I set my sights on going out West to throw myself into something completely different. The words and melody were written in the build up of those days when I was moving my things across the country to the “promised land” and all the ideas I had propped up in my head about this new place. The song took on various shapes on my voice memos over the years, and I didn’t get around recording it till last year. It was kind of crazy recording it in 2020, because I felt like the attitude towards California had completely changed during the pandemic. That feeling of going out West for something bigger almost felt nostalgic, so the idea of giving the song an old timey “western” feel mixed in with a bit of Beach Boys felt right.
What about writing and recording “California” was different or special compared to other songs you’ve worked on?
It was probably the easiest song to get together on the record. Often I start out with this vision of how the song’s going to sound in my head, but translating that to a recording is hard. It’s easy to imagine the energy, but the composition of different instruments and elements to create that energy in real life is often much more complicated to put together. This song was uncomplicated, and ultimately it’s just guitar, drums, bass, piano and a chorus vocal style. It’s got a western feel, and that’s just a fun and easy atmosphere to work in.
So the new single is part of your upcoming album. Will there be a similar sound and/or overarching theme on the project?
There’s a lot of similar instrumentation, but it’s going to be more than an Americana/folk record. The album’s about leaving home and a life I felt comfortable with to pursue something different and find a greater purpose. My idea of success going into it was very different from how everything ended up, so there’s inevitably some darkness to that journey. In the end, I returned back to the place I started (Columbus, Ohio), but with a renewed outlook on life. Despite not achieving what I might have set out to, I learned a lot about myself, did something cool, and am much better off for it. I do view the whole experience as a success now. Especially since I got an album out of it!
What has been the most different and/or rewarding part about performing and releasing music under your own name compared to Digisaurus?
I like the fact that it’s a blank slate and there’s no demand for what the music has to sound like under my own name. It just didn’t feel like there was a lot of room to do anything outside of electronic/synthy music with the name, “Digisaurus”. That “Digi” precursor has a lot prescribed to it.
What does success as a musician or an artist mean to you?
Like most young musicians and artists, I used to have a lot of idealized goals and versions of success. But even if I accomplished something, the resulting feeling of happiness was fleeting and then it was just “on to the next thing.” I eventually learned that if I want to stay motivated, I needed to find happiness in the things I actually have control over. I feel happy learning new instruments and recording techniques to try out on a song. I feel happy coming up with a new idea, getting it down on tape, and putting it together like a jigsaw puzzle with different parts. I feel happy bouncing a session I did and listening back to it in my car as I drive around with the sun setting behind me. So now, if I’m happy, that’s success, and the rest is just a bonus.
In addition to the release of your debut solo album, what else might be on the books for the second half of 2021 for James Allison?
No concrete plans! I’m producing a record for a band called The Ufgoods, and I’m hoping to work on a couple records in a producer role. I’ve been very focused on finishing up the mixing for my album recently, so I’m also excited to just play guitar and piano and write some songs with no record in mind.
I’m not sure what playing out live looks like for me yet. I think I might need to re-fall in love with playing live music again because I just made it so regimented and beat it to death for a while. The only plans I’ve made are to get an acoustic guitar and hit up some open mics or casual shows where I can have a good time with some friends. Then I guess we’ll see where it goes…
Photos by Kris Misevski