Locals: Joshua James finds his voice in a group setting with Yellow Paper Planes

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Joshua James, singer-songwriter for Yellow Paper Planes, discusses the folk-rock quartet’s debut EP, Feather’s Touch, like a contractor leading clients through a massive home remodeling project.

“We stripped everything back to the studs,” said James, 33, who joins bandmates Brandon Woods (drums), Peter Mendenhall (bass) and Jeremy Ebert (keyboard/guitar) for a concert at Tree Bar on Friday, May 29. “I’m a person who can think things into the ground, and I had all this time to think about what we were writing and I wasn’t liking any of it, so we stripped everything back and started to have a deeper discussion about what we wanted [the band] to sound like.”

In the past, Yellow Paper Planes existed as a means for James to flesh out his solo material, but going into recording the frontman wanted to place less emphasis on “strummy acoustic rhythm guitar,” as he termed it, allowing the songs to develop more organically into full-group affairs.

“I didn’t want it to come across like a singer-songwriter backed by a band,” said James, who was born in Bolivar to a welder father and a mother who taught first grade.

Rather, songs like the open-ended “Knock Once,” a prairie vista of shuffling drums and creeping guitar, and the hypnotic “Ghost,” which builds around a buzzing, mossy guitar riff, feel as though they could shift amoeba-like in any direction rather than adhering to a prescribed path.

While Yellow Paper Planes’ music has steadily evolved into a band pursuit, James’ lyrics have grown increasingly personal, with songs born of a recent health scare and the fears and excitements tied to life as a new father. “Trying to cut down on my cursing,” he sings on “Knock Once.” “Fix the things that made me broke so the shape I’m in doesn’t worsen.”

“A lot of those mentions go back to that impending sense of responsibility associated with becoming a father … and it also brings up those fractious moments [following the health scare]. I had some moments where I felt kind of broken for a while,” said James, who received his earliest musical education via campfire sing-alongs alongside his father, an avowed fan of classic country artists like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. “When I was first getting out in front of people I was writing about things that were at arm’s length. Now I’m writing about stuff that’s closer to the vest, and it feels good to get my story out there.”

Photo by Meghan Ralston

Tree Bar

9 p.m. Friday, May 29

887 Chambers Rd., Grandview

treebarcolumbus.com

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