“Philly… I like Philly a lot.  I don’t know Philadelphia that well… I know Philly cheesesteaks… They are quite good,” James Iha tells me.  I’m more than a little jaded when it comes to being a music critic and getting to regularly talk with musicians I find to be cool, but even I still get excited when it affords me the opportunity to chat with musical heroes of my youth, like Alec Empire, Kristin Hersh, or… James Iha.  James Iha is most famous as one of the founding members of The Smashing Pumpkins, but has also been the rhythm guitarist for A Perfect Circle since 2003 (excluding their 2004-2010 hiatus), and lead guitarist for supergroup Tinted Windows… in addition to working and recording with the likes of The Sounds, Melissa Auf der Maur, and Isobel Campbell.

James Iha photoMost recently Iha has been focused on his sophomore solo effort, Look to the Sky, which dropped last September, a follow-up to Let It Come Down, released 14 years previous.   The sound of Look to the Sky is a blend of the dreamiest of 70s psych-tinged rock and the sunniest of mid-90s alt. rock.  I ask Iha about the mindset he was in while writing and recording LTTS, compared to his solo debut, a decade and a half ago.  “It’s a lot of time.  A lot has changed in music and I’ve been through a lot,” he tells me, adding, “In some ways you’re different and some of it remains the same,” alluding to his creative/songwriting-process.  He tells me the album was influenced by, “Just life stuff, like living in New York City… I’ve been exposed to a lot of bands that I wouldn’t have been otherwise, if not for the people I’ve worked with… David Bowie’s always a reference, I really like Beach House, and some old stuff, like Nick Drake.”

But apparently it’s the live performing and not the writing and recording that has had the biggest impact on Iha: “The whole thing has been a learning experience for me because I haven’t done shows as a lead singer, like, ever…” Since he was still committed to the Pumpkins camp during the release of LICD, his experience leading a band was limited to a only a handful of shows, so now being the one calling all the shots with his recent touring has been a bit of a new experience: “It’s been fun, but a quick leaning experience with how to be the front dude.  It’s a totally different kind of energy, a totally different thing than being the guitarist.  I totally give it up to front guys who are able to do that well and command a room.”

As far as what’s to come in 2013, James Iha seems to be  in a good place.

“I’m optimistic.  I’m glad Obama got re-elected.  I hope we get some gun laws passed.  I think it’s gonna be a good year.  I’ve got some A Perfect Circle touring.  We did a rehearsal in Vegas last December and we’re going to be playing these big festivals [Soundwave Festival] in Australia with Metallica and Linkin Park.  It’ll be nice to get away from New York for the winter, but I don’t have a master plan.  I’ll probably be doing a lot of different things.  I want to continue doing solo stuff [He already has a handful of songs in the works.]  A lot of stuff is up in the air, that I can’t really talk about.  I mean, I don’t want to read on the internet a few months from now, ‘What ever happened with that thing with Jimi Hendrix?’”

*For the record, James would like to clarify that the Jimi Hendrix thing was a joke.

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