Flightless’ James Ward Speaks on “Higher Education”, Recording With a $15 Guitar, The Ventura Music Scene

Flightless are a lo-fi indie pop band from Ventura, California. We asked frontman James Ward about their latest single “Higher Education”, how Flightless came together, future plans, the Ventura music scene, and more.


COUNTERZINE: How are you today?


James Ward: Not bad. Ate some eggs and toast. Feeling pretty good.


CZ: Tell us a little about Flightless.


JW: We’re all in our mid-20s. We’ve all played in other bands, either in Southern California, or on the east coast. Flightless is where we all ended up, about four months ago, so we are in our infancy as a four piece band. We try to host shows in our area as often as possible. We like the local music scene.


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CZ: How did you meet/come together as a band?


JW: I (singer/guitarist) moved to Ventura, California just about two years ago. I was sitting in my room in college, alone, making dozens of hip hop beats, and dreaming of playing them live. I never actually got around to it. When I got to California, I started writing more indie rock, and then I met the lead guitarist and bassist. We hit it off and started playing music regularly. Eventually, I came to them with the songs I was producing in my room, and we got together and started practicing them.


CZ: Who would you consider some of your foremost influences, musical or otherwise?


JW: It’s a wide range, but it falls on the side of the lo-fi, DIY sound in a lot of cases. I’m hugely influenced by bands that sound like they figured out the recording process at the same time that they figured out the songs. LCD Soundsystem is a big influence. Pavement is a big influence. Modest Mouse, Mac Demarco, Todd Terje, Starfucker, MF Doom, Jamie XX. All these people seem like they wrote the songs, and then also worked on the production side of things, as well. When you listen to their music, you hear that. It feels cohesive, and it feels unique. I guess I’m a sucker for vibed out guitar music, really, but there are dance and hip hop influences as well.



CZ: Your recent single “Higher Education” hit home with me quite a bit harder than I’m proud to admit. Was your own personal experience with college the inspiration for it? If so, how was your college experience?


JW: The song is definitely inspired by my experience at college. It’s also inspired by the feeling that I’m not some musical genius. I’m not Paul McCartney. I’m not Miles Davis. I guess I want people to know that, listening to our music. I really think the lyrics on “Higher Education” express my general feeling about myself. Do I have something earth shattering to say? Something very unique and brilliant? Not really. I went to college, I fucked it up, I drank, I felt like I wanted something more. When I wrote those lyrics, that’s basically the motto I used, and I really wanted the lyrics to be ironically simple. It’s interesting that originally I was trying to emulate Talking Head’s “This Must Be the Place”. That is such an honest song, and David Byrne’s live performances resonate with me so much, I really wanted to create something in the same style. I ended up with “Higher Education”. It feels honest.



CZ: “Higher Education” is from a double-single called Red, which seems to be a companion to another earlier double-single titled Blue. Is this a series you have planned? If so, when can we expect the next one? What exciting new colors might we look forward to?


JW: The goal originally was to go Blue > Red > Purple, but I’m not sure if we’ll see that happen. These songs, released so far, are a sort of collection of stuff I’ve tinkered with in my bedroom. I was building all of it by myself, playing each part, using a $15 guitar I found in my parents attic. Since the release of the first EP, I’ve met my bandmates, and I’ve had a lot more opportunity to record real instruments, play with much better musicians, etc. The lead guitarist, bassist, and drummer are all incredible musicians, so the situation has evolved a bit. There are definitely more releases imminent, and maybe I’ll put Purple out like a capstone to the little DIY project I started two years ago, but you can expect some things I might consider more official, more seriously produced, coming down the line.



CZ: If you had to list a signature quality or qualities that define the Flightless project, what would it/they be?


JW: We certainly aim to be catchy. I think there’s a certain simplicity in aiming for really catchy choices. That simplicity also informs our production style and our lyrics. We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. In terms of style, you can expect some lo-fi, dance-y, strange indie rock. Maybe some funk and disco influences, which have been bleeding more and more into the new music we are working on.


CZ: Any shows coming up?


JW: Come to Ventura and we’ll throw a show just for you. We’re playing in our area all the time.


CZ: What are some of your favorite acts you’ve played with?


JW: There are a number of incredible bands coming up in Ventura right now. Martini Drive, Kumomi: those two groups are seriously worth checking out, and keeping on your radar. They each play an incredible live show. Rafa Rose is blowing up in Santa Barbara right now. Their album on Spotify is fantastic. As I write this, I’m listening to “Penny Girl” by Cola Boyy. He’s a local artist, and its one of the best dance songs I’ve heard this year. I can’t stop playing it. Seriously, this interview should just be a huge promotion: Cola Boyy – “Penny Girl”. Go. Now. Listen.





CZ: Any particularly crazy or interesting show stories?


JW: Our best show was in a bike repair shop. We’ve been throwing shows in our living room (shoutouts The Living Room), pulling 50+ people, all standing in a tiny little apartment. So far, we’ve only been playing live for a total of ~2 months. Ask me again in 12 months, I’ll give you some incredible stories.



CZ: Any plans to tour in the near future?


JW: It’s on our radar, definitely. Right now, we just want to develop our presence in the local area.


CZ: If there was just one thing you wanted everyone to know about Flightless that hasn’t been covered, what would it be?


JW: Finish cooking your pasta in the sauce for maximum cohesion.




Flightless’ ‘Blue’ and ‘Red’ singles are available to stream on Spotify. You can follow Flightless on Instagram and Spotify to keep up-to-date with the band and their future releases.

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