On record, Admirers is predominantly a one-man act, the brainchild of Mikey James, who first came to recognition as the drummer in Longwave during their peak of popularity and critical buzz (from late 2001 to early 2004, during which time the band was often associated with the Strokes because both bands shared a manager and toured together just as a buzz started to percolate). James was asked to join Longwave by Longwave bandleader and childhood friend Steve Schiltz. The pair met in high school.
Prior to joining Longwave, however, Mikey had amassed a large body of his own material. He has always been highly active as a home recordist and continues to be so today.
James has led and fronted several solo-driven acts before and after Longwave, including The Mercies and Mikey Jukebox — both of which have charted on indie charts and had songs featured on hit TV shows including Gossip Girl, New Girl, Ben & Kate, Traffic Light, The Lying Game and the film The Secret Lives of Dorks.
James also plays drums in and produces the Demos.
James has changed the name of his projects frequently, which can make it confusing to keep track of his discography. (See discography below.) Admirers is the latest of these projects. Involuntary Memory is the first album released under that name, but it is not technically a debut.
James tends to favor a combination of lo-fi and more lavish production values. A large portion of his body of work started out on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder.
As a listener and music fan, James developed a strong attraction to production values at an early age, which heavily informs all of his work. He considers himself just as much a fan of certain producers as he is of bands.
Although he typically self-produces during the initial stages of tracking and does a lot of mixing on his own, he is particularly fond of collaborating with producers. He feels that the stronger individual vision an artist has, the more they should feel confident in collaborating with a producer, and that albums go into unexpected territory that neither the artist nor producer would be able to achieve on their own when a collaboration occurs.
In the case of the Admirers album Involuntary Memory, co-producer John Hampton contributed most heavily on mixing decisions. Engineer Adam Hill also worked on the mix.
John Hampton has worked with Alex Chilton, The Cramps, Replacments, Gin Blossoms, White Stripes and others. Mikey was drawn to John Hampton, at first, on a gut feeling on seeing his picture. Later, Hampton’s range as a producer and his association with Ardent Studios (and Ardent’s connections to Big Star) helped him make the final decision.
Adam Hill has worked with the White Stripes, Raconteurs, Big Star, and Don Nix.
Located in Memphis, Ardent Studios is famous in part for its historical links with iconic pop band Big Star. (Founding Big Star drummer Jody Stephens works as the studio manager.) Involuntary Memory marks James’ third time working there.
James has often approached producers out of the blue – with no prior established connection or even clear means of contacting them. In his earliest attempt to do so, he was still a teenager and somehow found a way to call producer Bob Clearmountain, who was sitting at his pool when James called.
Aside from Involuntary Memory co-producer John Hampton, James has worked with Dave Fridmann, Henry Hirsch, Howie B, JBAG, among others — and he tentatively worked with Hirsch as a possible candidate to mix Involuntary Memory. He has also approached several high-profile remixers, and a remix album is in the works as a companion to Involuntary Memory.
James is a huge fan of the production on Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way, which was produced by Hirsch and had a tremendous formative impact in his early years as a listener. In fact, the album title Involuntary Memory was largely inspired by James sitting down and listening to the Kravitz album recently and feeling completely taken back to the sensation of listening to that album on his mom’s couch as a teenager.
However, Involuntary Memory wasn’t influenced so much by the sound on Are You Gonna Go My Way as much as its cohesive blend of sounds.
Involuntary Memory was influenced by many production styles, including Britpop, glam, house, New Jack Swing, EDM, doo-wop, disco, classic rock, modern pop, and Brian Eno’s “oblique strategies,” to name just a few. A full list of influences would take up several pages.
James enjoys wearing his production influences on his sleeve because he feels that he always arrives at his own distinct combinations, that his combinations always sound natural because of the sudden whims that go into his decisions, and that he never falls into the retro trap. The common thread running through all of his work is his songwriting style.
James tends to be a relentless tinkerer when it comes to mixing his music, and often goes through dozens of radically different versions of mixes, even working with different mixers and scrapping entire albums’ worth of mixes of the same songs before settling on final definitive versions. (He is almost as particular when it comes to mastering.)
Whenever he’s working on an album, James usually maps out the production direction of the next album and has a particular sound in mind for the songs that come next. In this case, he has the next album planned, but in the process of making that next record it will likely go through several shifts in direction.
Live, Admirers performs as a full band.
James came across the term “involuntary memory” while reading Proust. He chose the name “Admirers” while randomly thumbing through an Oscar Wilde book in search of a bandname.
James has an uncle who is a literature professor and encouraged James to read at a young age. Whenever he’s making an album, James consciously resists influence from whatever music he’s listening to at the same time and does not typically go back and listen to the records that are influencing what he’s working on. But he does allow whatever he’s currently reading to filter into the music. [+]