World, meet Marty
Chicoan Marty James of Scapegoat Wax prepares for his shot at the big time
Marty James, aka Scapegoat Wax, is a busy man these days. The former Chicoan is on a nationwide press tour promoting his soon-to-be-released debut album on Grand Royal Records, Okeeblow, scheduled for release on June 19.
The album, a crossover mix of hip-hop-influenced pop tunes, sounds perfectly geared for today’s young masses, many of whom have had musical hybrids peddled to them since birth. And, as part of his image, James insists on keeping in touch with his small-town Chico roots. The cover art was shot weeks ago on the Duffy’s Tavern/Melody Records corner of Main and Fourth streets.
“Things are rollin',” he says over the phone from the Virgin megastore in New York. “The people at Grand Royal and Virgin have been so supportive. … I’m excited. I think we’re all ready to take Scapegoat Wax to the next level.”
The first single, “Aisle 10,” with its hummable refrain, “A-li-son, I wanna hold your hand,” is a catchy, Smashmouth-ish number about a woman who used to frequent All the Best Video on Walnut, where James worked. The song is currently receiving major airplay on the biggest-market radio stations across the country, and a video is being readied for MTV, which will likely determine whether the song becomes an instant hit, sells millions and makes the 24-year-old James the biggest musical success story in Chico history.
“It’s funny, that song is more about my sorry ass,” he laughs. “I was living in Chico in my early 20s, not going to school, in and out of my dad’s house … and I was a little insecure. This girl, Allison, who I hardly know, would come in there to the comedy aisle.” For the song, James changed the location to a grocery store, Aisle 10, for the sake of rhyme.
As he will tell you, any recent success comes from years of hard work and dedication to honing his craft. Though he felt like his music was on the verge of “blowing up” for many years, he claims that being naïve about success actually ended up being a good thing.
“I was like a cat playing with a ball of string that kept rolling out,” he explains. “But I’m thankful for being naïve. That push kept me going all those times I was super-broke. Working a dead-end job at All the Best … always thinking I was at the doorstep to making it happen. I didn’t realize how far away I was.”
Since he was a kid, James has been pursuing his musical goals however he can. His parents split up when he was little, his mother “got into some trouble and was out of the picture,” so he went to live with his grandmother in Dixon. When she died, James moved at age 10 to live with his father in Chico, where he attended Rosedale Elementary, feeling comfortable right away in his new hometown.
He now describes himself as “super-driven” for a reason. By the time he was 16, James had begun honing his skills in the studio—like working with the drum machine that he uses to create most of his songs. He saved birthday money for studio time in the Bay Area and plied whomever he could in Chico to learn more about song engineering—not an easy task, since most local producers at the time knew little about sampling, loops or other hip-hop production values, he says. Somehow, he managed to continue learning and moving forward toward his goal.
Initially signed to an independent LA-based hip-hop label, The Good Vibe, his alter ego, Scapegoat Wax, made enough noise on the college circuit to court some major-label attention. He chose Grand Royal, home of the Beastie Boys, because its president, Gary Gersh (he’s the former Geffen president who signed Nirvana), took a personal interest in the Okeeblow record, which contains six tracks off the previous independent release, Luxurious. In 1999, James left Chico for the Bay Area, where he could use a buddy’s studio equipment for free and work on his songs before leaving for LA to record the album.
“LA is such a rat race. I’m thankful that I decided to wait to move down there until I was ready. People go to LA to become a star. … There’s bands there more worried about where other bands are playing—a lot of jealousy and bullshit. I’m not into that.”
Although he doesn’t plan to settle there, James currently lives in LA, right down the street from Beastie Boy and label-mate Mike D., who has become somewhat of a mentor to the young artist.
“He is so respectful of me and my career,” James says. “Real supportive on the business end. He gives me advice but doesn’t preach because he knows I need to learn in my own way.”
On June 1, James plans to move into his own studio in LA with Kevin Martin from Candlebox, where he can focus even more intently on being creative. With a tour most likely falling in July, James says he will come back up to Chico to write some material for the next album.
“I didn’t know how much music itself was therapy for me. I haven’t had my drum machine for the last few months [because of his living arrangements], and it’s been driving me crazy.”
Concerning those people who think they need to leave Chico in order to pursue their art more seriously, James has a little friendly advice.
“I don’t think there’s any specific time when you can decide to take the next step,” he says. “If you handle your business, do your thing, not worry about what everybody else is doing, things will work out. … There’s no time limit for anyone to become a professional. Eventually your time will come. … I’m only in LA right now to make my career happen, but I’m glad I waited to move down here until I had it together.”
Who knows? Maybe James will be opening for large-scale Beastie Boys concerts soon. It’s a distinct possibility. Grand Royal has made Okeeblow and its "Aisle 10" single—with a bullet—top priority for the summer of 2001. It could just be that hit summer theme song that everyone remembers.