This is lovely, I thought the first time I heard a Shake Some Action! tune. The jangly Rickenbacker, the strong backbeat, the discreet bit of fuzz, the Everlyesque harmonies made me happy. It is a sound that is deeply recognizable, and thoroughly familiar, but at the same time original.
The Seattle-based band is well and truly the work of James Hall, an Australian who now lives in Seattle and has been making music since he was 16 years old. He came to the U.S. in 2001 and formed The Jeunes. When they fell apart in about 2005, Hall took those songs and retreated into a newly created home studio and out came Shake Some Action! Guitarist David Bos, bass player Gary Miller, and drummer Chris Campbell have played alongside and collaborated with Hall since 2006. But for the most part, it’s a solo project and clearly Hall’s musical vision.
And what a vision. Take a look and a listen to “Wait for the Summer.” It drips with nostalgia. For what? The visuals take you back to the 60’s, but with skateboards. The sound is rooted in the 80’s and bless me there’s some Brian Wilson lurking around in there. As previously mentioned, “it’s lovely.”
On the latest studio release: “Crash Through or Crash,” https://shakesomeaction.bandcamp.com/ , Hall is in fine form. The songs ring like bells, and the reverb-soaked harmonies soar, underneath powerful rhythm beds. And there is so much here to listen to. For a child of the 80’s the musical references come so fast and furious it’s hard to keep up. The slowly rising wall of sound that opens “Waiting for the Sun,” takes me back to one of one of my favorite Hoodoo Gurus tracks “I Want You Back.” Is that opening hum an homage, or just Hall borrowing a cool audio trick? It doesn’t matter because it works. And Hall plays it up, his vocals bear more than a passing vocal resemblance to Dave Faulkner, the Hoodoo’s lead singer. And amidst all these sonic hijinks a song that I have to imagine (I didn’t ask, my bad) sums up life and love in Seattle for an Australian native.
I was stranded in the rain/ there was nothing left to say/ Come around again and make me alive/Now it’s time for you to shine/I’m waiting for the sun.
But other times the music sounds like old Kinks, other times it’s like Mitch Easter the front man of Let’s Active and REM’s formative producer is right there.
Mr. Hall was kind enough to answer some of my questions, and I post them almost in their entirely below because he’s a thoughtful guy.
If you like what you hear, head to his website: or to his BandCamp site. Buy his records and send him a note urging him to get the band back together and put together a mini-tour that will let us hear him live outside of those of you who are lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest.
DD: First and foremost why do you play music? Why did you form a band?
JH: This might sound strange but sometimes I feel like I make music because I have to. It started out as something I loved to listen to and experience, then it became something I wanted to emulate, then once I started writing songs it became something that started to flow through me whether I liked it or not.
I played in garage cover bands as a teenager in Australia and started writing songs at about 16 or 17 but it wasn’t until I moved to Seattle in 2001 that I wanted to form a serious band to play the songs I’d been writing. In some ways, it was a way to meet people in a new city, in others I think I was just ready to see if anyone else liked my songs.
DD: What was your first formative musical experience? It could be a concert an album, you name it. Tell me how it changed you, if at all? I tend to break down my musical life into periods where artists made me feel that indescribable… thing. How did music change you?
JH: When I was twelve I saw a Beatles documentary on TV and even though I’d heard some of their music before, I wasn’t really aware of them. I’d always had a strong reaction to music but this was something else. It was like an overwhelming explosion of joy inside my body. Every song gave me chills and I just had to hear more. We didn’t have much money at the time so I had to wait for birthdays and holidays to get new records. It gave me a lot of time to digest each album. Eventually I would go without food and save my lunch money for a week to buy a Beatle LP so I was pretty keen. Every time I got a new record of theirs I would play it over and over, soaking it all up. Eventually I started wanting to emulate that music, not just listen to it, so that was the start of wanting to learn guitar and write songs and eventually start a band. Watching that TV show literally changed my life.
DD: To me, you wear your influences on your sleeve. In your music, I hear the Church, the Three O’Clock, the Hoodoo Gurus, even some XTC. Is this purposeful or is it the muse just finding its way?
Most of the time it’s just the muse. I write a lot of songs and only some of them end up on Shake Some Action! Albums, so to some extent I’m targeting my audience with the songs I choose for the album. The jangle pop genre is pretty narrow and occasionally, I like to leave fingerprints from my favorite bands as kind of a dog whistle, to see if listeners pick up on it.
Funnily enough the Church, XTC and the Three O’Clock are bands that I’ve never listened to in any great detail. The Hoodoo Gurus are certainly a big influence, as are the Stone Roses, but I think a lot of it goes back to the Beatles, who obviously influenced a lot of bands that followed. They’re my primary influence but from there it goes through a bunch of filters and I think people might be surprised by some of my less obvious influences, like Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Split Enz, the Hummingbirds and the Go Betweens. The films of Alfred Hitchcock, and the music in them, are major influences as well in terms of lyrics and themes.
DD: Do you love to listen to the music you make?
JH: Sometimes, but I don’t indulge in it very often. I record songs in my home studio as I write them and that process usually takes weeks and months of tinkering after the initial recording, so I’m constantly listening to rough mixes when I’m making an album. I love listening to those songs when they’re fresh and full of possibilities. That’s my favorite part of making an album. But by the time the album is finished, I’ve probably listened to each song more than a hundred times and for the last 20 times I’ve probably been focused on mixing issues like whether the snare sounds right, or is there too much reverb on the vocal, or something like that. Ironically when most people are hearing the songs for the first time, I need a break from them!
DD: Tell me about the new album. Any great tales about how it was made? What does the album reflect about you and the band?
JH: After the last album came out in 2014, I wasn’t sure there would be another Shake Some Action! Album. I felt like I’d started to repeat myself a little bit and after becoming a parent in 2014, I wasn’t sure if I’d have the time to do it again. So this album was made in a strange way, by stealing moments here and there and often recording or mixing with a toddler asleep in the next room.
One of the songs (“Whose Side Are You On”) I wrote while I was waiting for a person to call me for a job interview. The whole song came out in about ten minutes, lyrics and all. “Waiting For The Sun” happened spontaneously when I was figuring out how to play “April Come She Will” by Simon and Garfunkel. I made a rough mix the same day with just guitars, bass and drums and it felt exhilarating, so I knew I was onto something. I experimented with the Keith Richards open G guitar tuning for the first time, and out came “The Only Way Is Up.” It’s hard not to sound like the Stones when you use the same tuning Keith’s used since 1968.
DD: And tell me a bit about your sound. What about it thrills you?
JH: As for our sound, I’ve always been enamored with warm analog sounds. I grew up on vinyl records in a small country town that only had AM radio and to me there’s some magic in that sound that gets lost in this era of digital recording. A lot of new music I hear is too clean and processed, too perfect, too edited. It lacks character and is too homogenous.
I like to use sounds that inspire me, so I tend to mix drums the way they did in the late 1960s and I use old tube amplifiers for guitar tracks and then run everything through tape, even though it’s recorded digitally initially. Someone once described it as like hearing songs from a parallel universe, where they are new but familiar at the same time. I think that probably sums up my approach pretty well.
DD: How did you come up with your name.
JH: The name came about because of a problem with the previous band I started, the Jeunes. Nobody really knew what we stood for or the audience we were targeting. A label rep told me that they wouldn’t know how to market us.
About a year later I recorded an album by myself in my home studio but I wanted to release the music under a band name rather than my own. After a lot of deliberation I came up with Shake Some Action, mostly because when I first heard that title in a Hoodoo Gurus song, I thought it sounded cool, but also because the album was a power pop album and I wanted something that would speak to people who like that music.
DD: What themes show up most often in your writing.
JH: I think they’ve changed over time. In the past, they’ve often been about people I know or events that have happened in my life. On this new album I think it’s mostly about regeneration and transition. I think there’s quite a bit of light and dark metaphor in there as well.
I’ve never been one for being able to analyze my own songs very well. Usually it’s apparent to other people but only becomes apparent to me with time.
DD: There is, at some moments a sense of nostalgia (reflected, I think most joyfully/sadly in the wait for the summer video) in your music. Do you feel that? If so, about what?
Yeah, I think that’s true. I’ve always been a nostalgic and sentimental kind of person, so I think that just comes out in the music. I also love the Kinks and that Village Green nostalgic element of their music has always resonated with me. In general, I like music and films from the 1960s. There’s always been something about that decade that has been exhilarating to me but maybe there’s also a touch of sadness and longing for the unattainable because I didn’t live through those times.
DD: Who/what are you listening to right now?
JH: Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz, which is what I often do after finishing an album. It’s like a palate cleanser. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to Julia Holter, Aldous Harding and the outtakes from the Sgt Pepper reissue. I’ve also been getting back into vinyl and listening to some favorites that way, like Tame Impala, Melody’s Echo Chamber and the La’s.
Here’s to Rock and Roll! Thanks for reading. Dudediligents!