James Low talks disappointment, country music and videos

If your heart needs breaking — and if you’re a certain kind of music fan, you know it does — then James Low Western Front is the band to do it.

The group’s new album, “Whiskey Farmer,” is a beautifully downbeat collection of songs about a character who’s always done the right things and is disillusioned by how little he has to show for it. They’re rootsy, country-inflected songs, some of which had been knocking around for a while when Low realized that there was a narrative arc to songs he never quite knew what to do with.

“I feel like I’ve been writing about this character for a long time, and maybe that’s because the character is influenced by me,” singer James Low tells Listen, Dammit. “But I realized that all these songs I’ve written over the years have never quite fit in other projects.”

To accompany the album, Low plans to shoot videos for each song, including the already-released clip for “Thinkin’ California,” a song mostly of resignation that can’t quite let go of that last sliver of hope.

Here are three more facts we learned about the James Low Western Front.

1. His was a dream deferred. Years ago, Low was playing with what he describes as “the best band I had had to date in life, and I had really high hopes,” which were dashed when the entire band was hired away to become Eels. With the rug having been definitively pulled out from under him, Low retreated for a while into a day job. “It was actually kind of good for me to distance myself from the industry for a little bit and re-focus, but I feel like I’m ready to get back fully into the battle.”

2. Country music was an early influence. Though he counts Neil Young, John Prine and Leonard Cohen among his favorite acts, they weren’t the first musicians he heard. Low grew up in tiny John Day, Ore., the biggest town in a county with “about 3,000 people and 45,000 head of cattle.” he says. The only radio station that came in was an AM station that played country. “I professed to hate it, because my parents didn’t much like it,” Low says. “But I ended up listening to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline, and it just sort of became ingrained in me.”

Later, when he lived in New York, hanging out in a bar with a country jukebox in Alphabet City was like a low-key revelation. “Listening to those songs again made me feel at home, and my writing just kind of shifted in that direction,” he says.

3. The video project was accidental. What started as a clip to accompany the Kickstarter campaign Low mounted to fund the album snowballed into plans to make a video for every song on “Whiskey Farmer.” He’ll be releasing the videos over the course of 2012. “It will give me opportunities to remind the world about the album as we go,” Low says. “But I can see submitting it to small film festivals as a 30-minute film. I don’t know what category it would fit in. It would be almost like a silent movie with music behind it. I don’t know what they would make of it, but it feels like a really interesting project.”

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