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So maybe they’re not that sad, but you’ve gots to love the cello.
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Branden & James: Sad Bastards

20-ish questions with the piano-cello-vocals duo

July 12, 2017, 12:00 am

Branden & James is actually two people: Branden James and James Clark. The pair, hailing from Los Angeles and Australia, respectively, have performed together for two years, been in a relationship for three and steadily formed a signature sound (mostly through their sporadic residencies at Vanessie) that has allowed them to tour the world with a self-described “Bach-to-Beiber” style. Obviously, I had to meet ’em and throw some Qs their way.

SFR: Branden, what do you do?
Branden James:
I’m a singer.

Just a singer?
BJ:
Yeah. Well, and I play piano.

James, how do you fit in?
James Clark:
I’m a cellist, I play piano, too, and I’m like Pumba and do backup vocals.

Pumba, like, from The Lion King?
JC:
Yeah.

OK, so how did you get involved?
JC:
We’re romantic partners, and we met online. I was getting my masters, he was doing freelance music; we did a gig together, and people liked the cello and the voice together.

Your masters in what?
JC:
Cello performance at Cal State Long Beach.

I’m detecting from your accent that you’re not American.
JC:
No. I’m from Austraila. Adelaide.

Branden, covers or originals?
BJ:
Covers. We’re definitely more covers-driven. We suck at writing, but we’re trying to write more.

What’s the division of labor like?
BJ:
It’s kind of sometimes this ... dual struggle, for lack of a better term. Sometimes it has to do with my voice, sometimes it just goes with what we’re playing or not.
JC:
Branden comes up with most of the ideas.

Is it challenging to play together and be together?
JC:
We joke about it as being a challenge. We do spend so much time together. Luckily, we’re very good friends.

Why/how did you come to Santa Fe?
BJ:
It was random. I got the job [at Vanessie] on Craigslist and came alone. I had just moved back to Los Angeles after four years with the Lyric Opera in Chicago and I was kind of in this weird place in my life. I saw the ad on Craigslist, came out alone and people just went crazy for it.

So you’re from LA?
BJ:
I was born in Anaheim, lived in southern Orange County and got out as soon as I could. I went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, lived in New York for 10 years, then Chicago. I was trained in opera singing, though I came late at 17.

Gotcha. So. Bach to Beiber?
JC:
Yup. We cover all that.

You travel a lot, it seems. Is there a home base?
JC:
For the last 18 months we’ve been on the road. We did buy an apartment in Las Vegas and move our stuff out of our Los Angeles storage unit. And now that apartment is our storage unit, but at least it has a kitchen.

Branden, you were on America’s Got Talent. My knee-jerk reaction to that is kind of like, “Ehhhhhh…”
BJ:
I’m so grateful for the experience and the opportunities it brought me. Being able to carry a brand like that really intrigues people, but it’s definitely a little cringey. Being in that reality TV environment was definitely stressful.

How far did you make it?
I made it to the finals.

Can young people get into more classical styles?
JC:
Everything is so fused with everything, there are so many mashups of everything—like this Steve Jobs opera [at the Santa Fe Opera] is EDM fused with classical. We fuse Bach with Elton John or Vivaldi with a Disney song; we’re just trying to acknowledge our backgrounds in classical music, but play what we prefer, which is pop, rock and jazz. We do have surprising young people who get really into it; a 17-year-old girl from Albuquerque who cried when we were leaving Santa Fe the last time.
BJ:
Yes, and ... you know, our whole sound came out of being here in Santa Fe. The repertoire we play is because Santa Feans would request specific songs, and the next night they’d request them again. You get immediate feedback.

Happy music or sad?
JC:
Oh, I think we go for sad. The cello is just like that.

So that’s the headline? “Branden & James: Sad Bastards?”
JC:
That would be a really great album title. Maybe when we do our originals.

How much longer are you here?
BJ:
Through July 21, and then we come back to do a one-night-only thing at the La Casa Sena Cantina on September 9.
JC:
We’ll head out to New York for a couple days, and then we do a cruise to Cartagena. We do about 50 percent of our work on cruise lines.
BJ:
On the big ships they have these 1,000-seat theaters, which is so interesting, because we play a lot of more intimate shows.
JC:
They have great production values.
BJ:
But we’ll keep coming back to Santa Fe. We love traveling—we’re going to Cuba later this year—but we keep coming back because the people have endeared themselves to us and so much of our sound comes from right here in this weird, enchanting town.



Branden & James
7 pm Wednesday and Thursday July 12 and 13;
8 pm Friday, Saturday and Tuesday July 14, 15 and 18. Free.
Vanessie,
427 W Water St.,
984-1193

 

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