It’s a week before his two-night event at Velour Live Music Gallery and Joshua James is in his backyard, helping his wife trim their goats’ hooves. James recently returned from playing eight shows at SXSW in Austin, Texas, showcasing a batch of new songs that will appear on his forthcoming record. This weekend’s Provo shows won’t be as prestigious as his performances at SXSW, but James said he looks forward to playing for the hometown audience.
“It can be nerve-racking because you’re playing for your buddies, but at the same time I’m very comfortable playing here,” he said. “We just did a free show in American Fork and it was one of my all-time favorite shows. There were so many people there that I knew and this is where I started playing music, so for me it’s very much a hometown feel.”
Sharing the limelight at Velour this weekend is James’ longtime friend, current bassist and Columbia Records recording artist, Isaac Russell. Having returned to Utah from Los Angeles to continue work on his debut full-length album, Russell said he’s happy to be back in the music scene that nurtured him as a young artist.
“The crowds at Velour are always really nice,” he said. “It’s really a home away from home for me. Great times and great people.”
The Joshua James vs. Isaac Russell event, as it’s been advertised, will be a homecoming of sorts for the nationally recognized artists. Despite the competitive nature of the title and vintage Irish boxing poster art, Corey Fox, Velour’s owner, said his intent is to create an intimate atmosphere between the performers and the audience.
Fox said he originally concocted the idea for a “versus” show about five years ago, although he first intended to feature James and Brinton Jones, current frontman of The Devil Whale. With Russell’s recent relocation to Provo, however, Fox decided it was a good time to resurrect his vision for a songwriter showcase.
“This will be a variation of my original concept,” Fox said. “The first night will have both artists playing on stage with full bands and the second night will be a stripped-down floor setup with the audience surrounding the performers.”
Fox said spreading the event over two nights will let people choose which type of show they would rather see and also allow more people to attend.
Having been present for the nascent period of both performers’ music careers, Fox said he’s been lucky to watch them grow from fledgling open-mic performers to nationally recognized artists.
“They’ve toured the world and shared the stage with the likes of Adele, John Mayer, Jacob Dylan, Pete Yorn and others,” Fox said. “I’m very proud of them and I’m honored they still choose to play Velour.”
Because of the popularity of both artists, Fox said he expects both shows to sell out. Tickets can be purchased in advance either at Velour or online at 24tix.com. Fox said Saturday’s show has very limited seating, so it will most likely sell out before the Friday show.
Even though James and Russell have achieved considerable success outside the local music scene, Fox said they maintain the humility and work ethic that got them to where they are now.
“I think both of them keep a pretty good balance of being successful artists and living a normal life,” he said. “Joshua is a rock climbing, goat raising, organic farmer and Isaac is a normal kid barely out of his teens.”
Russell, who just turned 20 at the beginning of the year, said he’s currently working on solidifying his sound, preparing to record the follow-up to his 2010 self-titled EP.
“I’ve been writing and working on getting my sound to be concrete,” he said. “I’m working to get stuff placed in a movie or TV show because I feel like that’s the best way for my style of music to gain popularity in an organic way.”
James, on the other hand, has finished work on his third album and is in the process of talking to various labels. It was engineered, produced and mixed by Richard Swift, who currently plays keys with The Shins. James has also been working on a Modest Mouse covers record that he plans to release for free later this year.
For both artists, this weekend’s event signifies a return to their roots, and, for James at least, it provides perspective on how fortunate he is to be able to make a living doing what he loves.
“Music does it for me. It fills me up,” he said. “It’s insane to me that this is what I get to do. I am beyond grateful for the life that I’ve chosen.”