By Anya Shukla
“I hope that my music makes someone happy, or makes someone laugh, or lifts someone up when they’re not doing well,” James Fall said, guitar in his lap. At first glance, I characterized Fall as adorably awkward: he’s more laid back than the typical rock star. But while he may not have the classic guitar-god attitude, his passion for music soon became apparent—between questions, his hands almost unconsciously strayed to his instrument.
Fall’s love of music began six years ago, when—inspired by his grandfather—he began to play the guitar. After spending a few years learning rock tunes, he transitioned to jazz music in high school, where he also joined several bands varying from punk rock to indie. His extensive music experience allows him to adapt to various styles: in some groups, he plays the guitar, in others, the bass or drums. While seemingly inconsistent, this approach actually propels Fall toward figuring out his sound as an artist: “It allows me to explore a bunch of different genres of music, which is really cool.”
To that end, Fall embodies the ideal of a “collaborative” musician. He recalled “trading” a song with a fellow teen—Fall laid out the instrumentation while his friend created the vocals, and they edited and revised the piece together until they felt the song was complete. “That’s probably the most fun part about what I do, just seeing [a piece] grow,” he observed. “You build connections with people. Making music together is a different form of conversation.”
In his bands, as well, he finds his songs keep growing and changing in small ways: “Even if I think a song is done, it can still have potential to grow,” he said; pieces are never fully finished until recorded by the band. “I just like how music evolves like that… it never comes fully formed.”
“I’ve been pretty fortunate: I don’t feel my being a minority has inhibited my arts participation,” Fall said. Although he did acknowledge a lack of Filipino representation in mainstream music, in his experience, “music is pretty good about not being discriminatory.” However, Fall wants more interaction between music from other cultures and American pop: “There are some really cool genres indigenous to other parts of the world, and I would love to see them integrated into popular music,” he noted. He cited labels such as 88rising, a company known for bringing Asian voices into the American music scene, as examples of successful cross-over between cultures. “It’s taking pop music and putting a unique spin on it,” he said. “That’s what makes it worth giving a listen to.”
Fall’s interest in meshing cultures carries over into his own music. When playing alone, he gravitates toward a blend of folk, bluegrass, and pop. As an example of his eclectic style, one only needs to look at the piece he’s currently working on, a cover of ABBA’s “Mamma Mia”... on the mandolin. As Fall noted, the song is “a good way to sum up how I go about creating folk music: making it more ‘pop-py.’” Additionally, this traditional-mixed-with-contemporary approach also informs his upcoming EP, which features a mash-up of folk, indie, and funk music.
Fall doesn’t seem like a conventional guitar player: he doesn’t subscribe to the edgy attitude or the heavy-metal headbanging associated with a rock star. He works together with other musicians; plays wholesome, folksy tunes (although he can pull out a Green Day song when he wants to); and above all, stays positive. “If it makes you happy, keep doing it,” he said. “It will probably make other people happy too.”