Singer-songwriter James Houlahan debuts the new track “California,” exclusively with C&I.
Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, guitar player, and founding member of Boston-area bands like Dogs on Television and the Jody Grind James Houlahan has channeled his signature dark folk sounds and eclectic Americana sensibilities into the forthcoming album The Wheel Still in Spin.
Produced by Fernando Perdomo of Linda Perhacs and Jakob Dylan, and featuring Houlahan’s talented girlfriend, Esther Clark, on background vocals, The Wheel Still in Spin evokes the feeling of constant motion.
Album highlights include the track “California,” a slow and steady folk ballad that paints a stunning romanticized vision of the West.
Houlahan recently talked about the song with C&I.
Cowboys & Indians: What is the song about?
James Houlahan: This song is about being disoriented and loving it. When you pursue something for a while, and you get so far away from where you’ve been that nothing looks familiar anymore. You’re not exactly sure where you are or where you’re ultimately headed. You become alienated from all the initial expectations you had about the trip. But you have to keep going. And you have zero regrets about making the journey because it’s all born out of a necessity that you feel deep inside. Something you can’t really explain compels you forward. The longer you travel, the more lost you get. And it all boils down to falling in love with that feeling of getting lost.
This song definitely reflects my own journey in making music. I’m trying to forget about the expectations I used to have or the expectations of others, and just really do what it is that I love. Easier said than done, of course. But I still feel compelled to write and sing songs, no matter the outcome. And as long as I still feel that necessity, I’ll keep on keepin’ on.
C&I: Who or what were some influences when it came to writing the track?
Houlahan: Tom Waits once joked that “songs are just interesting things that we do with the air.” But there’s a lot of truth in that. Music is so ephemeral, so transient, only existing in that brief moment of performance. When we listen to recorded music, we forget that implicit truth. But in this tune, I wanted to return to that simple idea of singing as just a movement of air. Sounds that bloom and then fade into memory. And for both singer and audience to really have an appreciation of that moment without letting the impermanence of it all get in the way of enjoying the music. To maybe even love the music because of its impermanence. And perhaps get lost in the beauty of the moment. To truly lose yourself in the music.
Living in California has greatly influenced my sense of space and geography. I grew up in New England, and everything there is on a much smaller scale. So when I came out here to L.A. and got to spend time in places like Joshua Tree and Big Sur, it did something to my mind. Something just kinda opened up. The scale of the land and the sky is just so different. You have to relate to it differently. So I wanted to root this song in a specific kind of geography that could perhaps reflect on that great expanse of Western horizon — what it does to your head and how it makes you feel.
Get an exclusive first listen to “California” below.
For more information on James Houlahan and the new album The Wheel Still in Spin, visit his website. Photography: Courtesy Esther Clark.