James O-L and the Villains
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James O-L and the Villains

Windsor, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2007 | SELF

Windsor, Ontario, Canada | SELF
Established on Jan, 2007
Band Rock Classic Rock




"James O-L and The Villains explore local roots on new LP"

Folk rock locals James O-L and the Villains are keeping current with the release of their latest LP, On The Banks Of The Detroit River, out this week.

The album — being released on CD and 12″ blue coloured record vinyl — features 10 new tracks recorded at Sound Foundry Studios. It’s The Villains’ first full-length in four years, and represents their first time in a studio.

The Villains’ roots and folk rock sensibilities persist on the new album, but it features some heavier songs reminiscent of singer-songwriter James Oltean-Lepp’s punk days.

“Our natural sound when we play together is louder and more raw. I kind of embrace that for some of the newer songs that were written, so the album on the whole is more rock and aggressive sound than the previous stuff,” he said. “My first bands were all punk bands so I’m welcoming that energy back a little bit.”

The band came together six years ago, releasing 2008’s History of Sex (which started out as a solo album for Oltean-Lepp), followed by Alive at the Colch! in 2010 and 2012’s Canadian Rejection Grant EP.

“Once we did the History of Sex and started playing live as a band, it really was a band with its own sound,” said Oltean-Lepp. “The original album was just James O-L and then I changed the artwork when we reprinted.”

Speaking of the lengthy time between albums, Oltean-Lepp explained “… we just take our time. I’m hoping the next one we put out faster, but it probably has to do that in the past I was recording all our albums. It was kind of an insane amount of work to write and produce the albums. So I think that’s why there’s such a long time in between albums in the past.”

Besides producing the group’s previous albums, Oltean-Lepp has maintained an active solo presence in the local scene: hosting Phog Lounge’s weekly open mic, launching his own music label, Famous Last Records, and releasing his first LP last fall, For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.

“It’s really hard,” remarked Oltean-Lepp of making time for his band and solo work. “I just do my best to keep it all balanced. I have to be really disciplined. I don’t watch TV or give into temptations I think are a common distraction for people.”

To streamline the recording process for On The Banks Of The Detroit River, The Villains decided moved into the studio with producer Brett Humber — a first time collaboration.

“He came to one of our shows like two years back. He thought we should go in the studio and he’d love to produce us. We listened to some of his work like the Cellos’ album and they sounded really good and he’s a nice guy and we wanted to give it a try,” said Oltean-Lepp.

“… where you have a rock band and the music is already written, it’s a really good thing to go into the studio and try to [record] live,” he added. “I’ll keep doing that with The Villains … but I think if I do other projects where it’s more loose I would probably still produce my own music because in the studio you’re paying by the hour. It’s hard to experiment because you’re on a limited budget.”

Oltean-Lepp credits Windsor’s tight music community as a source of inspiration for his writing style and lyrical themes on the new album.

“Some of the lyrics on the album are inspired by the area. We were living in The Mansion on the Detroit River, that’s when I was writing some of the songs on the album.”

James O-L and the Villains came together first as friends and roommates while living in the popular rental home along Riverside Drive West.

“We’re close friends that solidified the friendship more. We had a jam space in the basement so it was easier to get into a regular practice routine. We moved out of that house but we still practice regularly. Before that it was very difficult. Once you’re on a regular schedule you get a lot tighter musically.”

The album’s front cover is a sketch by local artist Matthew Catherine of The Mansion. An old map of Essex County is featured on the back cover. Drummer Caleb Farrugia commissioned the drawing of The Mansion to hang in his house.

“I wanted someone to make a painting (for the album), but when we saw this drawing everyone agreed it was really perfect and suited the album so we ended up using that,” said Oltean-Lepp.

To coincide with the album’s release, James O-L and the Villains put out a music video for the new song “Manquest” last week. Local Garth Jackson produced the video, which features live footage of the band and narrative shots along Riverside Drive at Oltean-Lepp’s old house.

The band is celebrating the new album with a show Thursday, Aug. 28, at 8 p.m. at The Olde Walkerville Theatre with special guest Ron Leary. Advance tickets are available for $7 at Dr.Disc, Phog Lounge and The Windsor Beer Exchange. Tickets will be also be available at the door for $10. - The Urbanite

"Windsor a theme on new James O-L and The Villains album"

Windsor may be a recurring theme among James O-L and the Villains’ forthcoming album “On the Banks of the Detroit River,” but it wasn’t always planned that way.

“I wasn’t really going for that, but it was kind of how it worked out in the end," said James Oltean-Lepp, the folk-rock band’s vocalist and guitarist. "I think it’s just because I live here and it’s going to come up in the lyrics.”

The band has also used Windsor quite a lot in its promotional material for the album, which is being launched with a release show at the Olde Walkerville Theatre Thursday night.

Mimicking the record’s title, the cover art features a drawing of Oltean-Lepp’s former riverfront home where most of the 10 new songs were written. The back of the CD shows an image of an old map of Essex County, with the Windsor area labeled “West Sandwich” and “East Sandwich.”

Windsor is also a character in the band’s music video for “Manquest,” the second track on the Villains' third full-length album.

Directed by Garth Jackson, it features several shots of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit River, as well as places like Travellers Choice Motel and Abars on the River.

However, Oltean-Lepp said the Windsor theme doesn’t extend throughout the whole album. While a song like “The Old and the New” might evoke the city by its title alone, that isn’t the case, he said.

“I like it when things are interpreted other ways and it could very well be about Windsor, I don’t know," said Oltean-Lepp. "That song, the lyrics are pretty ambiguous. It’s got a deeper meaning for me.”

A song like “Arts Degree,” on the other hand, mixes Oltean-Lepp’s personal struggles with his feelings about the city in which he resides. He studied visual art at the University of Windsor and said he struggled with student debt and few employment opportunities in the city after graduation.

“I’ve been out of school for a while now, but there was a time when I was very upset about that," said Oltean-Lepp, 31. "I kind of tried to get in the place of those emotions and write a song … to represent that.”

Musically, he said he was trying to go for a more rock-oriented sound, as opposed to the alternative country style dominant on 2008’s “The History of Sex” and “Alive at the Colch!” from 2010.

“I thought of it as ‘punk-pop.’ It’s not pop-punk. It’s punk music. It’s a punk style of music that’s poppy, but it doesn’t sound like pop-punk,” he said. “It sounds a little more mature than that, I think.”

Despite the punk influence, some slower and folk-influenced songs still made the cut, including “Late Night Drive” and “One Horse Town,” which was also featured on Oltean-Lepp’s 2013 solo album “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.”

“I’ve got a lot of different musical influences. I like a lot of different kinds of music, so I always want to write a different song every time … It’s about being dynamic.”

James O-L and the Villains will be performing with Ron Leary Thursday night at the Olde Walkerville Theatre. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or $7 in advance through Dr. Disc Records, Phog Lounge and The Windsor Beer Exchange.

The band will be selling “On the Banks” at $10 for the CD and $15 for the 12” vinyl record. It can also be streamed for free through the group’s Bandcamp page.

“It’s probably going to be the one that gets me the most exposure so far,” Oltean-Lepp said. “I think it sounds and looks the best. The songwriting hasn’t changed much over the years and I’ve worked just as hard on all the albums, but this one will reach a few more ears maybe.” - OurWindsor.ca

"James O-L - For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky"

Windsor, Ontario-based folk singer James O-L can usually be found on the Canadian festival and club scene with his band the Villains. For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky is the musician's solo debut and reflects James O-L's diverse musical background, equal parts classic rock, indie rock, punk, folk, roots and alt-country.

Legend has it the songs on this album were inspired by a backpacking trip through Central America, and early standout tracks like "One Horse Town," "Yellow Gold" and "Bastimentos" have all the charm of a band of villagers rambling through town with their guitars, violins, tam tams, woodwinds and wood blocks.

Less clear is the connection between the first four songs and the last two, a chant about skateboarding (really, skateboarding?) and a two-minute techno guitar riff. This six-song EP starts strong and would have benefitted from a memorable fifth and final track to confirm its early promise. (Independent) - http://www.exclaim.ca

"Walk softly and carry a heavy song: An interview with James O-L"

This summer while camping, I was privy to hear a recording that completely blew me away. A friend who was part of the recording camp let me listen to the final mixes of what was to become a sonic storybook entitled, For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the SKY. The author is local singer/songwriter James Oltean-Lepp.

Under his more recognizable moniker of James O-L, he fronts the Neil Youngian rock band James O-L & The Villains. Mondays, he’s the current “Doctor” in charge of Phog Lounge’s Open Mic Surgery. He’s also the acting “Captain” and founder of the experimental ensemble Star Trek: The Band, that features crew members from bands such as Learning, Orphan Choir, the unquiet dead, Middle Sister, What Seas What Shores, Vultures?, The Golden Hands Before God, not to mention his own Villains. When the times got louder, James was a member of the full throttle shock rock outfit, The Sean Connery Supergroup.


Currently, O-L’s focus is on his solo work, culminating in For The World Is Hollow…’s official CD release coinciding with this year’s Harvesting The FAM Festival. Jointly presented by FAM Fest and Phog Lounge, it’ll be held at the historic Capitol Theatre downtown on Thursday October 12th alongside the premiere of local film maker Eric Boucher’s documentary, Windsor Shift Change. Windsor Independent recently caught up with James O-L to discuss the timing and anatomy of his new solo offering.

You’ve done solo work in the past, but you’re also quite prolific in your full ensemble, James O-L and The Villains. How do you decide if the material is for the full band or if it’s better suited for your own solo project?

James OL: The Villains have a specific sound that’s very rock, with Caleb Farrugia on drums, Steve Oltean-Lepp on acoustic guitar, Bohdan Pidskalny on lead guitar, and Kyle Lefaive on electric bass. If I write a non-rock song that requires different instrumentation from the Villains, I’ll reserve it as a solo song and possibly collaborate with other musicians. For my new album, I wanted to avoid using any amplification and focus on acoustically based instruments like grand piano, classical guitar, clarinet and double bass.

James O-L & The Villains were on a pretty heavy roll the past year, with a lot of great, noteworthy performances. Why did you decide to launch your solo album now?

It was good timing to release the album now so it could be a part of the Harvesting the FAM Festival. The album release is also a film release for Eric Boucher’s new film ‘Windsor Shift Change’.


You started out in area punk bands (i.e. Lennigan) before shifting to the more roots rock sounds of the Villains and your solo work. What influenced that musical migration?

Towards the end of Lennigan, we were incorporating elements like thrash metal and progressive rock into our skate punk songs. When Lennigan broke up there was all this pent up creativity that I could finally use to explore others styles of songwriting. My parents listened to folk music when I was growing up and my older brother wrote acoustic songs. Once I discovered the music of Elliott Smith I knew that I wanted to go in that direction.

Your solo album features a plethora of local musicians from various projects. Would you care to unveil any of them now?

Paul Loncke (The Locusts Have No King, Years of Ernest) kicked off the collaborations with his double bass. Richard Champagne deserves huge credit for his piano contributions. The clarinet parts were played by Richard Driedger. Roye Truong (Worry) threw down some Violin. Caleb Farrugia played drums and djembe. Damien Zakoor (The Golden Hands Before God, The Vaudevillianaires, The Tyres) layered many tracks of auxiliary percussion. Eric Welton and Kaitlyn Kelly (Middle Sister) are the backup singers. Martin Schiller (What Seas What Shores) played electric bass on “Sk8 or Die”. Jon, Kirk and Nick from The Nefidovs added trumpet, trombone and sax. I knew what instruments I wanted on the album so it became a matter of finding people that played those instruments and asking them if they wanted to get involved. I’m very thankful for the players on this record. They really brought the songs to life.

For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky is a mouthful…what was the inspiration for the title?

The album is about travelling and searching. Many young people feel an impulse to leave where they are from and explore the unknown. They are restlessly searching for something undefinable. If you don’t look inwardly you can search the world over and never find what you’re after.

You also have a new Villains album coming as well. Will you be touring for both or will you be just inserting solo material into the full band sets?

I’ll be touring for both albums. For the solo album I’ll be focusing on weekend dates during the fall/winter. The Villains are planning to release our next full length record in the spring and we will tour the album at that time. We’ve already tracked those songs with Brett Humber at The Sound Foundry.

Phog Phest and FAM Festival are both sporting their strongest line-ups in years, local festivals are starting to book original local acts over cover bands – what do you think about the state of the local music scene right now?

I think the local music scene is stronger than it has been in years. The number of venues has risen and some great younger acts are getting out there. Its important for bands to reach out to each other and not just play with their own groups of friends.

Last question: will we see Sean Connery Supergroup again?

We’ve broken up after every gig we’ve played but the spirit of debauchery always seems to bring us back together. The members of SCS have made a pact that in the unlikely event Sean Connery every dies we will join together for one final show. So there is a good chance The Sean Connery Supergroup will return, much like Sean Connery’s character Ramirez did in Highlander 2: The Quickening. - The Windsor Independent


JAMES O-L AND THE VILLAINS, 2008. The History of Sex [CD].

JAMES O-L AND THE VILLAINS, 2010. Alive at the Colch! [CD].

JAMES O-L AND THE VILLAINS, 2014. On The Banks of The Detroit River [CD, LP].



     In an era where music seems to be stuck in two extremes – either too reliant on technological assistance or too much of a tribute to days gone by that it becomes caricature – Windsor, Ontario's James O-L & The Villains shows that it is still possible to organically blend the music that moved so many previous generations into something that remains relevant and progressive.

     Shedding gimmick and MTV aspiration, James O-L & The Villains creates music at its purest level. As a voice of curiosity as well as alarm, as enjoyable to perform as it is to envelop. The spark is created in the songwriting of James Oltean-Lepp, whose early work created the foundation upon which the rest of the Villains would add their distinctive layers to create a sound that feels fireworks in Algonquin.

     Since their inception, they have matured, both musically and personally, evolving a sound that tells different stories, but through a familiar narrative. The debut EP, The History of Sex (2008) first introduced the world to James O-L's words and music, as he quietly assembled the backing band that would become The Villains – guest performances by What Seas What Shores' drummer Caleb Farrugia, additional guitar by Orphan Choir's Boh Pidskalny and backing vocals by Andrea Stratton, all of whom became staple members of The Villains (although Stratton left the group in 2013). This new found electric energy was akin to the folk side of Neil Young colliding with the eclectic stomp of Crazy Horse, instigating a whole new level of creativity in James O-L.

     The result was 2010's jam album, Live in the Colch!, recorded live in Colchester, Ontario, a small rural town just outside the concrete confines of Windsor. Adding bassist Kyle Lefaive and his brother, Steven Oltean-Lepp, on guitar, complimented the three hold over guests from his debut EP. Extended jams of live favourites showcased the synergetic chemistry that had embraced the five musicians, giving a taste of what a growing crowd across Canada was discovering. This band knew their craft. Simple songs on record could become 10-minute jams that never lost its groove or sincerity. They became Director's Cut versions, adding in scenes and soundscapes that where clearly designed for those in the same room, not for those distanced by headphones or speakers. It uncovered other influences, such as the raw despair of Pavement, the lo-fi feedback of Dinosaur Jr., and the whiskey soak twang of The Sadies. Subsequent touring that took them from Windsor straight through Eastern Canada to Halifax, Nova Scotia, only tightened the band's connection and resolve.

     Their live shows resulted in sharing the stage with such diverse yet respected Canadian indie veterans as Elliott Brood, Daniel Romano, Rah Rah, By Divine Right, Brasstronaut, Rural Alberta Advantage, Wild Domestic, The Wooden Sky, Shotgun Jimmie, Jon McKiel, and Teenage Kicks. They played shows from Detroit's Magic Stick to Toronto's legendary Horseshoe Tavern, from Kingston's Mansion to Gus' Pub in Halifax, with stops in Montreal, Quebec City, Cape Breton, and many more, James OL and The Villains honed their sound in tight four wheeled quarters. They became familiar faces on the festival circuit, playing almost annually at Windsor's prestigious Phog Phest (thrown by CBC Radio Searchlight Winner Phog Lounge, Voted Best Live Music Venue in Canada, 2009) and the inter-arts event Harvesting The FAM Festival, as well as other festivals such as Owen Sound's Lupercalia Winter Art & Culture Festival and a showcase at the 2012 edition of North By Northeast (NXNE).

     Following several years of touring, James O-L withdrew from his community and re-inserted himself into travel, backpacking throughout Central America. His encounters with the places and people of Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica recharged his creative batteries, resulting in the material for 2013's For The World Is Hollow and I Have Touched The Sky, once again released under his name only. The EP was released as the entire band put the finishing touches on 2014's full length release, On The Bands of the Detroit River. The Villains are currently releasing a series of singles through the summer of 2016 that will lead to an album called, Wild Goose Jack, to be release in the fall.

Band Members