After leaving his well-paying graphic design job, Shaw and his brothers continued to play in their family band, followed by the Andy Shaw Band, and now the two-years-in-the-making Topher James and the Biscuit Brigade (TJBB), which last month released its first-ever EP, In Good Company, with a show at Brothers Drake.
With TJBB, Shaw swings 180 degrees from the folk/acoustic and rock/reggae of his other bands, electing to produce what he calls “art/soul” – a hybird of art, fashion, and throwback ’70s soul that borrows from classics like Stevie Wonder and contemporaries like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. The project blends old- and new-school with plans for a video game featuring Shaw and his backup singers, and his flashy suit, custom-designed by Brittany Lawson of 9 Stitches.
Shaw let (614) pull at the threads to find out why it’s okay for musicians to put a little panache back into their persona.
I see a paradox between you not liking the corporate world and you wearing a suit to look good on stage? Do you see that?
(laughs) Yeah, that’s funny. I like the idea of being different. With the grunge scene, they began wearing flannels and T-shirts and ripped jeans, which has now become the norm. Before, [musicians] dressed up. I’m really interested in setting myself apart from the crowd, whereas a lot of [musicians] I know say, “Yeah, but we’re just normal guys…” Well, how about let’s not be normal guys? Let’s separate ourselves from the crowd because we are different from the crowd.
How are you able to balance the three bands you play in, and is balancing that your job?
It’s a balancing act. I don’t have a job during the day, so luckily I’m able to do the music thing and make it work. The Andy Shaw Band doesn’t play much, the Shaw Brothers plays the most, and the Biscuit Brigade plays the least. The idea behind the Biscuit Brigade was to play once or twice a month and do something a lot different.
Would you consider yourself a struggling artist?
Yes, every artist is a struggling artist. Obviously there’s monetary success. Look at the recent events with Bono: he gave everyone a free album on their iPhone and everyone’s so pissed. Like, how does that make any sense? Who cares? Erase it, whatever, move on. We have to get flagged for everything. And now it’s like, “F**k you, you gave me a free album.” If that’s not an example of every artists’ struggles, then I don’t know [what is].”
What is your definition of success?
For me, I want to continue to be creative and make music that I’m passionate about and play with musicians that I respect. I want to be able to make the art and make money – it’s very vague. You want to always look forward and get better to that next level, but be comfortable where you are. The end goal should not be wanting to play for a million people, but that’s something you look forward to if it ever happens.”
How important is fashion to your performances?
I really agree with the concept from the ground up. I love conceptualizing. I love Jack White and Motown artists. White puts everything into a box and that’s how he conceptualizes. You put all these restrictions around yourself and your art, and within those restrictions, you can have freedom to do what you want. His idea, which I stole (laughs), is to put lots of constrictions around it and within those confines, explore. I call it art and soul. There’s a specific sound and look.
Topher James and the Biscuit Brigade will perform Bub’s Time Out Sports Bar in
Chillocothe on November 22. To listen to In Good Company, visit topherjamesmusic.com.