While still attending school in 1977, British guitar player James Stevenson joined the punk band Chelsea, launching a career that saw him performing with acts such as Generation X, Kim Wilde, Gene Loves Jezebel, Glen Matlock, International Swingers, and, currently, the Cult (as rhythm guitarist on the Electric 13 tour). Throughout the journey, Stevenson also became a vintage guitar expert (his personal collection includes a ’54 goldtop Les Paul and a ’56 Les Paul Custom Black Beauty), a magazine writer (Guitar & Bass), and a film and television composer. One thing he hadn’t done, however, was release his own solo album—a goal he just crossed off his to-do list with The Shape of Things to Come [jamesstevenson.info].
“I was playing one of my tunes during a soundcheck on a New Jersey gig with Alarm keyboard player Mark Taylor, and Mark said, ‘That’s a great song—you should do a solo album,’” explains Stevenson. “And then he kicked me in the ass to work on the songs and get it done.”
Calling in “a lot of favors from friends” to complete the album, Stevenson put to the test many of the ideas he’d accumulated during his long career.
“The most important elements of a rock tune are the guitar riff and the vocal melody, but you must also create textures, warmth, and a lot of interesting things surrounding the main parts,” he says. “And I learned from Mick Ronson that every part you put on a record has to stand on its own and support the song. Even one ‘sprang’ of a chord has to have the right tone. So I hate it when a guitar solo has nothing to do with anything—it’s just some guy showing off. To me, technique for its own sake is bullsh*t.” —Michael Molenda