I can’t say I’ve seen a more entertaining show yet this year.
Originally from Detroit, but now stampeding right out of Austin, Texas is Leopold and His Fiction, an eccentric trio that isn’t afraid to show its bones. I had the opportunity to chat with front man Daniel James before their show at the High Watt last Saturday night, and it was anything but dull.
The electrically-charged Leopold and His Fiction are rock n’ rollin’ and rhythm and bluesy, but not without a take on blending genres—it’s clear that in their latest video, “Caving In,” James delivers both traditional rock n’ roll and a raw, soulful outcry that hits hard in the bones of the musical skeleton.
Leopold's been around for about ten years, and James assures me that a lot’s changed since then. Currently consisting of Shaun Gonzalez on bass, Trevor Wiggins on drums and keys, and James on guitar and vocals, this trio is a walking, whimsical storybook. A recent show at the annual SXSW in Texas brought way for much success, and a continuing U.S. tour is currently in full momentum. “[Leopold and His Fiction] went from fiction to reality,” he goes on, “… I turned my fictional world into my everyday life.” His mannerisms don’t really change from the stage to regular conversation, either—he talks with his hands like he’s telling some tumultuous, tall tale. James himself was an English major back in the day, but decided after some time that the mode through which he truly wanted to spread his stories was music. There were some dark days in between, but we both admitted that it was often from those days that ‘true’ art really sprang. And from there, his creativity blossomed. Stories are still a huge piece of him—he says his professors were “shocked to see him go”—but rather than fiction alone, James transcends boundaries of the story into the world of songs. “I mean,” he adds, “You could write a fiction piece out of this. Like, say I’m fucking juggling.”
So, James is juggling, while I continue to wonder how the man keeps his handlebar mustache in such premeditative, fixed conditions without accidentally rubbing gel off. My eyes are following the shiny black hairs until I find myself sitting in a spacious bull-fighting stadium. It’s reaching dusk on a dry, marmalade afternoon. James is now front and center, and a crowd of people appear to be cheering him on. “What’s going on?” I ask the woman beside me, and she looks at me like I’m crazy, and then continues to cheer.
Then a couple of other guys waltz out into the ring. Together, the three of them viciously tackle a bull, punch it with some boxing gloves for a bit, and then James continues to juggle whilst the bull dizzily walks away. Then the ground begins to rumble, as if-someone gasped, 'an earthquake?'-might hit any minute. Instead, the dry ground breaks way for a figure roughly 50 feet in stature. The crowd is manic at this point, and I begin to wonder how I even got here. But James and his crew tarry on, sporting all black and suspenders, as the figure continues to emerge from the ground. It's a bull, alright, but none I'd ever seen before. It seems to have been birthed from the ground already angry, and some people begin to flee for their lives. I'm thinking that the trio is going to run for it at any second, and I should too, but then the bull stops in its tracks in the center of the stadium, as James simultaneously reaches for his guitar. After a few picks, the bull lumbers over, shaking some people out of their seats, and kneels down beside the guy. As James is picking off a few heavy tunes, the bull starts mumbling Shakespeare in his sleep.
This is all happening in my head, as my eyes zoom outward from the mustache back to James's story of hardships and growth in his career (I multi-tasked). But as far as I'm concerned, Daniel James is a storyteller, matador, boxer, and musician all woven into the fabric of a quirky kind of rock n' roll. His musings upon literature as a driving force really make an imprint on his music, "Being on stage and writing is really the same," he adds, "... in that you've got to engage your audience. Keep them entertained." He’ll make your veins jump rope with themselves—and that’s exactly how their show at the High Watt panned out. With Gonzalez forming a melodic world of his own thumping bass, and Wiggins putting out a stellar performance on drums and keys, Daniel James unified that realm with his guitar, vocals, and overall extravagant act. Through this unique form of fiction, James reminds any striving artist to stay on top of the struggle, for anybody can create a reality. So keep on the lookout for these guys—with their keen originality, they’re quite the rebellious Saturday night entertainment.