Posted on January 8, 2008 at 11:41 am | 1 Comment
I believe it’s safe to say that there’s no creative career out there quite like the one that James Kochalka has fashioned for himself. I can’t think of another artist/writer who jumps back and forth so easily between vulgarity and innocence, between the mundane and magical. For isntance, his 2007 brought us not only the charming children’s story “Squirrelly Gray” from Random House, but the 4th issue of the curse-laden, oversexed Top Shelf comic “Super F*ckers”. Even within his daily drawn diary, online at American Elf, (which also gets collected every couple years by Top Shelf), he jumps between strips that make you go “hmmm” to ones that make you go “wow”. And the occasional one that makes you go “ouch.” But for James, it’s just his life, all part of what makes up his Burlington, Vermont-based world.
And even if you did find another creator who expresses both the grand and the gross so easily, you’d have to ask yourself: “Do they rock?” Because, every once in awhile, James Kochalka does. When not in front of his drawing board, or being a husband and dad, you’ll find him fronting his band James Kochalka Superstar, which he’s been doing for well over a decade. And for years before that, he lead the University of VT-spawned casio/sax combo Jazzin’ Hell. The guy was probably doing leg-kicks before Robert Pollard was, and at any James show, there’s always a chance you’ll get some full frontal. Like it or not. While he’s singing about rainbows, out-of-control ballerinas, or pee.
So in honor of the fresh redesign of his American Elf diary site, which now freely offers every single daily strip he’s done since 2002, I’ve decided to finally share up a rockin’ set that he played with his band here in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2006. This particular version of James Kochalka Superstar was a little different, as regular members Jason Cooley and Creston Lea were joined by the ace fill-in rhythm section of drummer Neil Cleary (of, um, Neil Cleary) and bassist Herb van der Poll (from the Jazz Guys), and for a couple songs, totally unprepared guests. So feel free to blame any looseness on them.
Here’s the set, with some info on James’ future musical and artistic plans below…
Live at the Middle East Upstairs
in Cambridge, MA
on Saturday, October 28th, 2006
01. Smell Ya Later / Magic Finger
03. Fascist Bikes
04. God / Wash Your Ass
05. Why Is The Sky Blue?
06. Rainbow Love
07. Britney’s Silver Can
08. Breaking Stuff
09. Open Mic Night Improv
10. Hockey Monkey
11. Albert’s My Friend
12. Ben the Stupid Brontosaurus
13. Twinkle Twinkle Ringo Starr
14. Monkey Vs. Robot
Record label Rykodisc wasn’t up to the challenge of making money off of James’ music, despite “Hockey Monkey” becoming the theme of Fox TV show “The Loop”, and the song “Britney’s Silver Can” being one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Songs of 2006, so they ended up dropping JKS after releasing the “Our Most Beloved” compilation in ’05 and the “Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly” full-lengther in ’06.
Ryko’s marketing of JKS was likely made more difficult given the fact the band isn’t able to tour all that much, but James will still be making much more music in 2008. He says…
“I’m hoping to record two new albums. One rock, and the other gameboy style. It’s just a dream at this point though, and they will probably be self-released.”
Until that dream becomes reality, subscribers to the American Elf site can listen to in-progress and unreleased songs that James shares up, and those subscribers also get bonus strips and other random goodness. Well worth a measly couple bucks a month.
Speaking measly dollars, Top Shelf is having a ridiculous sale on some of James’ finest work: Those big collected editions of American Elf strips. The price of Book 1 (which gathers 5 full years of strips) has been cut in half, and so has Book 2 (2 more years worth). Me, I sprung for the deluxe hardcover of Book 1 awhile back (and there are still some of that swanky limited edition available), and used this sale to put Book 2 alongside it on my shelves. Book 3 will appear on shelves this year, and can be pre-ordered here.
Also ahead for James in 2008 is the release of the first two books of his new Johnny Boo series of all ages graphic novels, which can both be pre-ordered as well. Volume 1 ships in June from Top Shelf, with Volume 2 later in the year. Head here for a preview.
Some Kochalka-quality links…
American Elf, his Wikipedia entry, his Top Shelf Comix page, the American Elf forum, the JKS band page, Rykodisc page, and the Kochalkaholic fan site. Additional Audio: Apart from subscribing to American Elf and getting some Mp3s, you can still order JKS discs from Ryko here. Stream “Hockey Monkey” here, where you can also find iTunes links, or at a fan-created MySpace page.
And here’s a little somethin’ extra that would’ve been more timely if I’d actually gotten this post finished in December like I planned, but what the hell, you can save it for next Christmas. It’s a holiday classic from James’ old band, Jazzin’ Hell…
I’d offer you even more pointers to some Jazzin’ Hell songs, but someone needs to fix a few broken links (considering this a little poke).
Video: A Kochlka YouTube search turns up plenty of James videos, live footage, and interviews. I shared up a very old clip of the JKS experience performing live in 1994 during my short time behind the kit, and hopefully will share more songs from that tape eventually. Photos: Check out the full Kochalka Flickr tag search, which will turn up lots of James’ artwork along with some live shots. In honor of the American Elf strip archives being made freely available for all last month as part of the site redesign, Wizard Magazine interviewed James about it, and they also talked about his unreleased “Dragon Puncher” book, which lacks a publisher. I need to see that sucker just based on the title alone. Listen to any and all ‘Nac-hosted Mp3s at the Hype Machine.
the fine print… If anyone has an issue with these Mp3s being made available, just let me know (my contact info in the ‘nac faq). Live sets recorded with a Sony ECM-719 mic and a Sony MZ-RH10 minidisc, converted to .wav and then edited to 192kbps Mp3s. Files are made available for a limited time, and are not reposted once removed.