02 April 2011

art/official presents: Michael James of My Graveyard Jaw


I always wondered what it would take to be a local celebrity in New Orleans. Obviously, you would have to be a talented musician, but it takes a lot more than that to be noticed in life, let alone in this city.

Art/Official recently sat down with Stix, the man behind My Graveyard Jaw and Michael James and His Lonesome, in order to get to know the kind of person that gets facial tattoos, straps a tambourine to his boot and uses a Samsonite briefcase as a kick drum.

Stix was even nice enough to let us record an Art/Official exclusive of the song below, which was he had yet to name when he played it for us.

Born in Carmel, California, he grew up with a single mother and two other siblings. By “grew up” we mean only kind of — he was out of there at 16 when he met a girl, but only after his sister had to kidnap him to sober up (oh, to be young).

He ended up in Oregon, hitchhiking the entire way, and was invited to stay with some hippies. They were working on saving old-growth forest from loggers, and he joined their cause. When he climbed his first tree, his hands were so beaten up he had to stay up there for three weeks while they healed. Nevertheless, he must have liked it, because he ended up living in trees for four years. The group he worked with was pretty fucking successful, too; Michael told us they saved every forest they fought for.

For interactive fun: drink as much whiskey as you can in one gulp, press play on this song, and then read the rest of the article.

All good and crazy things, however, must eventually come to an end. Stix tired of political activism, left his girlfriend, and joined the circus. He was involved in two separate circus shows. One was called “The End of the World Circus” and was sometimes performed for children. The other was called “The Know Nothing Circus Family Sideshow,” and was, uh, not for children. Stix describes one troop member lying on a bed of nails while performing autofellatio. One woman in the troop would hang a six pack of tall-boy Busch beer cans from her labia. While tree sitting in Eugene, Stix had heard about a guy who put things down his urethra — nails, screws, etc. Stix began trying this himself. But he used a drill. “I would hook the drill up to a PA so people could hear it,” he says.

My Graveyard Jaw- I Just Don't Know (from his self titled album)

He eventually found himself in NOLA as an incredibly precocious 23-year-old, where he began to focus on making music. He played with Meschiya Lake for a bit, but they split. He tried playing with some other friends, but that did not work out either. “I said, ‘Fuck it, I’m playing alone.’”

Aaron, founder of Art/Official, first discovered him upstairs at the Dragon’s Den about 4 years ago:

The room was dark, but the man in the corner immediately caught my eye. He sat relaxed with his back against the wall. His broad shoulders and large beard made him look like the kind of guy who could kill me in a second if he wanted to. His energy was different from anything I had ever experienced — calm, yet mysterious. Immediately my eyes darted to the make-up he was wearing: two small triangles under his eyes and small stars above them. I was to learn later that this clown makeup is permanent. In front of his left foot sat an old suitcase with a kick for a drum behind it, and on his right was strapped a tambourine. He would rock his feet up and down to create a rhythm. He began to strum the guitar that sat in his lap. The music seemed somber. Then he opened his mouth. What came out was a voice like none I have ever heard. It had a soul to it that screamed of more heavy life experience than I could fathom. My heart sank. It was beautiful.


Aaron isn’t exaggerating. Michael James’ voice genuinely haunts you. You want to describe it as freak folk, which would be a fitting label considering his character. But what we’re looking at here — and I hate myself for making this comparison — is music that would be perfect as the theme to True Blood. Haunting, soul-filling folk that makes you feel like you’re drunk as hell and waist-deep in a bayou.

My Graveyard Jaw- ?? (from the album Old Man vs. The Dirt)

That kind of biography is intimidating, but Michael James — like of all us — is more than “simply” a former radical environmentalist and sex sideshow performer. He has young daughter, Lucy, and he now channels all of the circus and ecoterror energy into passions for taxidermy and fatherhood. This is the heart of My Graveyard Jaw’s newest album Coming Winds. It's not about taxidermy (though that would be cool), but maturity — coming to terms with your place in society after running away from home, living in trees, and using power tools to insert things into your dick.


My Graveyard Jaw used to be a one-man band, but he was recently joined by Scott Potts and Denise Bonis from the Zydepunks, New Orleans’ zydeco-punk outfit. Michael’s solo act is still around, Samsonite briefcase and all, but it goes under the moniker Michael James and His Lonesome.

Anyway, you can help him out. They have a page over at Kickstarter and they are only $120 away from their goal of $1500. If they meet their goal within the next three days, they will be able to get Coming Winds pressed onto vinyl. If you donate more than $20 you can get one of those records, signed by all three members of the band. For $100, he will play a show for you; and for $200, he will write a song about you.

Update: Success! My Graveyard Jaw met their goal of $1500 at Kickstarter.  Come see them play with the Zydepunks at the HiHo Lounge this Saturday, April 9th.

Interview conducted and compiled by Aaron Saltzman
Article by Jeffrey Silberman
Video by Helen "Isa" Rogero


Jessie Richardson, Fort Walton Beach, FL said...

I love the sweet hard honesty of Already gone. Michael's voice and style is unlike I have heard before,I feel it inside. I cant wait to catch Graveyard Jaw next time I am in NOLA, I keep spreading a couple of his songs around the web and to all my true music lovin buds.

Timothy said...

Hello Mike,
it's me Tim from the Bootshop and the old Wetalley studio in Auburn California sounds like your doing well rock on brother and check my face book if you ever have a chance

michael patrick said...

That was a good article. But you need to open another tab in your browser, go to google.com, and check the spellings of people's names and whatnot. You don't have to pay or even subscribe to google. It's easy.