Around 2013, I was in Lafayette, wrapping up recording with Aaron Thomas at KRVS-88.7 FM. We had just finished a 12-hour session when A.T. looked at me and said, "You wanna hear what James (Van Way) has been working on?"
Over the next four minutes, I was overwhelmed. The track, "Blank Fortune," was from Plush Claw, a local band led by Van Way. He's a lifer on the scene, having been in at least a dozen other bands since he was 13 years old.
As the track finished — its atmospheric melancholy, acoustic guitar and Van Way's baritone its lone ingredients — I sighed profanely, telling Thomas that it was one of the best things I had heard.
Since releasing an eponymous debut in 2014, Van Way, 38, has steadily released singles with Plush Claw while DJ'ing for KRVS, showing his multimedia art around town and working a full-time job.
On Friday, the band will release a new double single with Sickbay, a community-minded concert organizer and record label led by Ryan DeJean. To celebrate, the band will perform Friday at Artmosphere with Early Day Miners and Unwed Sailor. The music starts at 10 p.m.
Before the show, Van Way and I caught up, talking about music and the latest release.
Tell me about the new release. What's on it? What was the recording session like?
There are two tracks — "Apple Acre Crumbs" and "Doll Cannot Stand Alone." They are newer songs; newer than the ones on the forthcoming record.
The recording session was great. We did it with (multi-instrumentalist) Chad Viator, a longtime friend of mine and the band's. He played on the first record. He's got a great setup in his house. We ate some tacos. Rob Perillo's (a local meteorologist) son was there. I recorded my parts in a small bathroom. I brought a Darkseid action figure with me as well as a small army of skeletons.
This band is relatively new, and you've been in a ton of other bands. Was there a moment when you thought you might not play music again? If so, why start up Plush Claw?
I definitely told myself at a time that I was retired from at least sharing music with other people. I never thought I would stop writing music though. Aaron Thomas asked me if I still made music. I told him I had some songs. This went back and forth for at least two years. We finally set a date to do it.
I think the idea of the first Plush Claw record was initially gonna be a solo James Van Way record titled "Ex-Clown." After (multi-instrumentalist) Christiaan Mader and (drummer) Greg Travasos worked so hard on it, I figured that wouldn't be a very nice move to look like I was taking all the credit.
This really isn't a question, more of an observation about your stuff — it taps into a melancholy that I think Lafayette music is missing.
Thanks. I think you're right. Lafayette has always had this party vibe, and the music has often reflected that. There have been some good bands that explored darker moods. Rare Avis and Dire Wood come to mind. I hear it in newer Brass Bed stuff, and certainly Shrugs.
I don't really write happy music. I mean, I don't really like writing dirges, either. I don't know where the songs come from most of the time. It's never a thing I can force. The keepers are always the ones that just kind of come out of nowhere.
How did you avoid playing Cajun/zydeco/regional music while growing up in Lafayette?
That stuff never interested me. No disrespect is meant by that. It just never grabbed me. I have an appreciation for it, but I don't really "get it." I think there might be some unspoken rule that if you're gonna be involved with music in Cajun country, you're supposed to pay lip service and be able to speak with some knowledge on the subject, but that just never happened for me.
Lafayette is a place I exist physically, but my brain's always been in its own little world. I mean, if I had been born in the Borscht Belt, I doubt I'd be playing polka. If you wanna break it down to a matter of genetics, I'm only a quarter Cajun. So maybe that's why.
SICKBAY PRESENTS UNWED SAILOR, PLUSH CLAW AND EARLY DAY MINERS
WHEN: Friday. Doors open at 9 p.m. Show starts at 10 p.m.
WHERE: Artmosphere, 902 Johnston St., Lafayette