DFW Music News

With a NOLA-Flavored Live Album, Astro James Rethinks Love and Religion

Astro James ever clad in his trademark gray fedora and reflective circular sunglasses
Astro James ever clad in his trademark gray fedora and reflective circular sunglasses Will von Bolton
Clad in his trademark fedora and reflective circular sunglasses, Astro James walks into Charlie’s Star Lounge, his neighborhood dive bar, beaming from ear to ear. Halloween season is his favorite time of the year, and to mark the occasion, he's recently released a live album, the impressive Live at Deep Ellum Art Co.

Many other things about Astro James are spacey, beside his name. There's his backing band, the neo-soul, jazz-funk group Celestial Clockwork, and the perpetually glazed, starry look in his eyes, masked by his reflective sunglasses.

“With this album I wanted to capture my band's live show," he says. "With studio stuff I’m very meticulous about the way everything should be, whereas in a live recording it’s more improvised, and we can make every song kind of go the way it wants. It’s like in the studio you’re more leading the song as opposed to live, where the song is leading you. I think we did that.”

Once he decided to record a live album, the location was key.


“Deep Ellum Art Company was the perfect place for it because the vibes are always positive and the owners, Kari and John [LaRue], are always so supportive," James says. "Before I even started playing around town I would play at their open mic right before COVID hit. After, John said he thought we should definitely move on from doing open mics and house shows and gave us a shot to play there. That was just under a year ago. So the live album is actually almost a one year mark from when I took my songs from basically my bedroom to stages.”

The modern and timeless quality in Astro James' music stems from his eternal muse, the city of New Orleans, and its cultural and musical history.

“New Orleans is really unique; there’s no other city quite similar,” James says. “One of the things that’s super beautiful about the place is that the culture of the city brings all of the people together, and it's so eclectic. From the music, to the food, to the Second Line [parade], everything there seems like it’s made to bring people together. ... The people there are so welcoming that they made me feel like I was already almost a part of the city.”

In New Orleans, James says, jazz great Kermit Ruffins let him play on stage at his bar Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge. He was also invited by Ruffins to play a fundraiser to aid with losses from COVID shutdowns. That fundraiser was the first time James played with his eventual bandleader Gummi Bear, founder of Celestial Clockwork.


James' storytelling on the seven-song live album describes his unending love affair with NOLA in "Louisiana"; his proclivity to take psychedelic mushrooms, listen to Parliament-Funkadelic and watch Ghost Hunters; and his renewed faith in love after meeting his partner Kiara Bruce, which he celebrates in "Tenderness."

There’s a thematic thread weaved into the album. "I Just Want to Believe in Love Again" was written after a bad breakup, which lead James into a period of existential angst as he searched for a renewed identity. This is delineated in "Paper Soldier," a song co-written with fellow songwriter Savion Perry, resolving in "Tenderness," after James met Bruce.

“'Blood Moon' is kind of about me growing up in church and in that world. It’s kind of hard to think for yourself, and your morality is sort of given to you as opposed to you being moral because you feel it’s right yourself.” – Astro James

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The album finishes on a two-part jam, "Blood Moon/Fire on the Mountain," one of which he wrote, one of which the Grateful Dead wrote.

“'Blood Moon' is kind of about me growing up in church and in that world," James says. "It’s kind of hard to think for yourself, and your morality is sort of given to you as opposed to you being moral because you feel it’s right yourself.”

The opening line on the song says: "I’m just a shadow of the man I used to be holding hands with the devil," announcing James' path into secularism.

“The blood moon symbolizes change and the song is also symbolic of the change in my life which is sort of why I combined it with ‘Fire on the Mountain’ which is a biblical song about the burning bush, but by a secular band,” the singer says.

Now that Live at Deep Ellum Art Co. is out in the world, James is working with Dallas luminary Robert Trusko, who's produced albums such as Bree & the Fellas’ It Be Like That Sometimes, on Astro James' first full-length album.

For the upcoming album, James says, he "got to record with such great musicians," as Trusko, trumpet player Kazunori Tanaka, and drummer Cleon Edwards, who plays with Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Snoop Dogg.

"And I'm really psyched to release it,” he says.
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