In the 1990s, multi-talented James 'Jimbob' Isaac began a very important part of his musical journey when forming the epic juggernaut of a band, Taint. He then spent the following years applying unwavering hard work and dedication to his artistry both musically and graphically (Jimbob is also a very accomplished graphic designer). Hark formed in 2012 and released their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Crystalline’, which they supported by touring relentlessly throughout Europe. With the evolution of their line-up and subsequently the dynamics of their intoxicatingly thunderous sound, we felt it was our duty as fellow South Wales natives to catch up with Jimbob as Hark were on the eve of releasing their widely praised second album 'Machinations'.
What was the first guitar you owned and what guitars do currently enjoy playing?
JB: I'm currently favouring my Gibson SG (1995, black, standard), with my First Act Custom Shop Lola as back up. There's an amazing story behind the SG by the way... I first got it new in '95 and gigged with it during Taint's formative years until it was stolen in 2002. It was taken from load out at a show with Taint and Clutch at Newport TJs. Just last year, some 14 years after it was stolen, a friend spotted it in a recording studio in Newport, and I was lucky enough to get it back.
That's amazing! Who or what influenced you to start playing the guitar and what inspires you to keep playing today?
JB: After my young person's musical path in the mid/late '80s and discovering my Dad's Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits and Cream LPs, I began to tinker on a cheap, old acoustic that my Mum had laying around. She never took to it, but I did. My path continued by hearing AC/DC, Def Leppard, Guns N' Roses and Iron Maiden along with Run DMC and Beastie Boys, all via my cousin. This early set of influences made me start playing the guitar at ten and eleven years old onwards.
Were you a musician or a graphic artist first?
JB: I struggle to consider myself as a musician per se (in the technical sense at least), as I don't know what any notes or even primary chords are called. I don't exactly know what I'm doing - our new lead guitarist Joe (Harvatt) is the man for that. He's a technician of the guitar. I consider myself an artist and a song and riff writer first and foremost. I have the vision for the bands I'm in, and I lead the composition of the songs we collectively write. I don't consider myself much of a lead guitarist, and my concern is far about solid riffs, consistent song craft, thematic threads, and lyric writing. My artwork goes along with that, in terms of pure expression.
Being an accomplished graphic artist, do you think that influences the creative process with your approach to musicianship in any way? By the same token, does your music inspire your art?
JB: The more I progress with both disciplines, the more I feel that they come from the same place. I never feel like I'm where I want to be with either though, such is the artistic drive. My artwork comes from a more technical place, in terms of the technical/CDT drawing that I studied in school. I combine that with my influences from the realms of comic books, metal artwork, illustration old and new as well as tattooing.
Musically, you seem to have been carving out your own style for as long as you’ve been active and it’s exciting that you’re always evolving that style. How do you feel about genres and labels that get thrown your way like "Stoner" or "Sludge"?
JB: I've been writing original music since 1994 and playing live since 1995. So, that's 23 years of doing my own thing. Both Taint and Hark have been collaborative, so I can't take all the credit but with humility here, both bands have been my overarching vision. I love some classic stoner rock bands and sludge metal bands, so I don't mind too much if we're labelled that way (even though I feel both bands have had far broader influences). I'm over getting butt-hurt about some limiting usage what we get described as and I've had some friends say our live show is like watching a hardcore band, which I'm happy about.
For as long as I've enjoyed your music, I believe you have generally been in a three piece band. On the eve of Hark’s new release “Machinations” and during your Summer Disintegration Tour, you bought in Joe Harvatt to play second and lead guitar. How did it affect the creative process and how does it feel playing live with another guitarist in the band?
JB: We initially set out as a quartet during the formative period of Hark, it didn't work out so we settled back to being a trio for 'Crystalline'. After getting to know Joe as a friend of the band and stage tech at Hellfest 2014, we knew he was the right person and player to expand with. His chops are immense, and the creative process was detailed and hard working. I'm super glad as to how our sound and palette has widened.
On that note, do you prefer recording or playing live?
JB: I love them both for their different qualities and rewards. The studio is the laboratory for realising our graft in the rehearsal room. Live is the do or die, physical and spiritual purge.
Do you record using the same guitars you use live?
JB: I use the same guitars, but Joe actually tracked with a PRS.
Being Hark’s founder, guitarist and vocalist, is it fair to say you are the focal point of the band’s creativity? Do you guys jam and collaborate a lot during the creative process?
JB: Hark is my overall vision, but part of that is wanting great collaborators and co-writers to create with. We don't tend to jam out per se, but we will assemble riffs and feel our way through the structures as we write. Feeling out the motif or the song and the flow as we go.
In an age where a lot of music can feel rigid and possibly trapped within the confines of modern technology, Hark moves effortlessly through tempos and passages. Do you record with a live approach to achieve this?
JB: Yes, we record with a live approach but will use some click track to establish tempos, for some song intros and sections here and there.
Coming from the Welsh music scene, do you believe that has helped shape you and inspire you in any way?
JB: Absolutely, the mid-late nineties South Wales music scene totally shaped me. Playing live from seventeen years old with so many different bands of varying styles and quality has given me a foundation that I constantly draw from.
You have been actively creating music during a very interesting time period considering the ever-changing music industry. Would you say Hark has benefited from the shift in the music industry the Internet has created?
JB: The internet has made live work and touring more important than ever. The market is more saturated, however, so you have to do everything within your means to stand out.
I really enjoyed the track 'Fortune Favours the Insane' from 'Machinations', specifically the lyrical content. Do you actively push yourself to achieve artistic goals or is it an organic outlet that leads you to your breakthroughs and breaking points?
JB: Everyone works hard in this band, in different ways. There have been some personal breakthroughs and breaking points for me which you can read about elsewhere. For now, I'll just say that my artistic drive in combination with other pressures has contributed to some hefty personal challenges and transformations.
Talking about creativity, what advice could you give a musician who is just starting to play?
JB: Play because you love it, work hard and do your own thing as much as possible. Speak with your soul and play from your heart.
To find out where Hark’s tour is heading to next click here. You can purchase their newest album ‘Machinations’ from their online store and make sure to checkout their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more Hark. To find out more about Jimbob’s graphic illustration, visit his site here. The live shot from Hark’s Desertfest set was taken by Silvia Sternardi and you can find more of her amazing work here.