Singer-songwriter-guitarist and well-known Tampa Bay area musician Alias Julius, or AJ, for short, is originally from a Detroit area whose musical heritage runs the gamut, from Bob Seger and Kid Rock to Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and the original sounds from the home of Motown.
It was when AJ was young that her learning Tchaikovsky clashed with her love for the music of Bob Dylan and the folk guitarists of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. It was that love which was both inspirational and transformational for AJ, and led to her recording three albums: “Boondox” in 2003, “Two-Lane Blacktop” in 2007, and “Lonely Season” in 2011, as well as annually touring in over a dozen European countries within the last decade.
In this interview, I asked AJ about her transition, her inspirations, and other topics such as her work with veteran guitarist Jimmy James and her views on everything from Florida summers to TV talent shows.
Steve: First, AJ, your bio on your website mentions how you gave up orchestra for guitar-playing. Did this happen during your school days, and how difficult was the transition?
AJ: My first instrument was the trombone. I enjoyed playing a variety of instruments during my schooling. I argued with a guitar for a month before I started to understand it better. I’m pretty sure I won the battle, it’s been a loving relationship ever since.
Steve: Bob Dylan and Grace Slick have been among your many inspirations. Do you think the music of the mid-to-late-1960’s, particularly that which was done by artists like Dylan and Slick’s band Jefferson Airplane, to say nothing of that by the Beatles, still hold up today in terms of its timelessness?
AJ: My opinion of the music before the late seventies is that it was innovative, clever, and well written. I find the music of that time period to have a certain soul and appeal for me and many of the people who come to see me play. Popular music of today lacks the soul that I find in the baby boomer generation. It had never been done before. I find it hard to discover that genius in a lot of today’s contemporary music.
Steve: You’ve played in Europe many times, going back to when you played the Czech Republic solo back in 2003. Does the European market for music, particularly independent artists, offer any advantages compared to in the US?
AJ: The audiences are radically different. They crave live music. Being an American I am something exotic to them so they watch intently and absorb everything you say, sing, and do. Their appreciation for the music and heartfelt respect and affection for the performer gives you a real sense of value.
Steve: You’ve been performing, I would guess, for at least a decade professionally. Has anyone connected with a major recording label ever considered signing you? And if no one has, do you think that’s a good thing, given what the major labels have been up to today?
AJ: I have been approached by a couple of labels. However I opted to stay independent.
Steve: I watched a video of your song “Good News” on YouTube. While it does have a sound that could pass for country, how would your blend of roots-rock, Americana and blues compare to country?
AJ: I don’t really consider myself country. My accent is far too midwestern to even attempt to feign a good ole boy accent. There are a couple of tracks on the new album that do have some “jangily” guitar. I consider myself in the Americana genre but accept the varied opinions and am comfortable with however the public chooses to label.
Steve: You had guitarist Jimmy James on your 2007 album “Two-Lane Blacktop”, and you’ve also toured with him in your band. Jimmy, of course, has played guitar for everyone from Bad Company to Tommy Tutone, as well as has been a Tampa Bay area club staple. How much of an impact has Jimmy been on your career?
AJ: Quintessential. He’s produced the new album as well as playing on every track. He believes in the sound that the trio creates. He’s a professional.
Steve: Since you do both your own original tunes and cover songs live, what do you think of TV shows like “Idol”, “The Voice” [in which Tampa Bay area native Juliet Simms finished runner-up last spring] and “X Factor” that basically do not encourage originality by having contestants sing other people’s songs?
AJ: I’m comfortable in my own skin and completely content with my career to date. I thrive on playing what the public wants to hear as long as it is within what I consider to be my true core and representative of the music I love to hear and play. I was approached by a talent scout from “The Voice”. It’s just not for me.
Steve: Is there a particular brand of guitar–electric or acoustic–that stands out among those you’ve played?
AJ: My favorite girl is my 1965 Gibson Dove. However, my gig guitar is always a Martin.
Steve: Finally, AJ, as one Tampa Bay area transplant to another, you moved down here from Detroit because of the warm climate. But what do you think of the hot, sticky, and often stormy, summer weather that has a hold on that area between May and September?
AJ: I try to vacation as much as possible during that time. I was laughing when I said that but you couldn’t hear it.
But it’s an understandable laugh from AJ, given that a lot of people who either reside or spend their winters in the Tampa Bay area go back up north, or otherwise vacation, during those sultry summers.
And when Alias Julius talks about her own contentment, it very much explains the kind of musician she has is. One who’s talented enough to merit the attention of major record labels and TV talent shows but who plays and performs with her own passion and conviction. Much like one of her favorite “voices”, Frank Sinatra, AJ is doing it her way!
For more information on Alias Julius, please visit her sites below: