James Friley is the guy behind the band Idiot Glee, who are playing tonight at Glasslands. Because his Mormon religion prohibits him from drinking alcohol, he spends his days making hazy, astral pop-music and his nights driving drunkards like myself around Lexington, KY.
I had a lot of questions about Mormon crap so I figured I'd bombard him with those first. Then we both sort of realized this was turning into a pretty heavy theological discussion, so we talked about Bill Withers covers. I tried to shatter my squeaky clean image of James with this interview, but failed spectacularly. He doesn't even know a good dirty joke! Boys who believe in angels don't think of such filth I guess.
Vice: Do you know any good dirty jokes?
James Friley: Yeah, two condoms walk past a gay bar. One looks at the other and says, "You wanna go inside and get shit-faced?"
Um, I said a good dirty joke. Have you ever set fire to anything?
I’m an Eagle Scout, so I’ve set a lot of things on fire.
Did they give you a pocketknife?
I can't remember if they did or if my parents did, but I definitely had a mega Swiss Army Knife for years...but don't think I really used it much.
Have you used your pocketknife, or set things on fire more?
More fire setting. I’m going to be a great Dad.
Your dad does Court TV stuff.
He does sound and stuff for live trials on what is now the international TruTV channel. I worked with him on the Duke rape scandal. Sometimes it’s really tense, like lots of crying because peoples’ lives were ruined, etc. It was interesting to say the least. I sat off to the side behind a table of TVs and soundboards with a headset on, whispering jokes to my dad and uncle about whoever was being questioned.
Oh my god. Were you like the good son?
No! I have a bad temper. There was lots of screaming at my mom, lots of sneaking out, lots of rebellion, lots of not wanting to go to church (I’m still Mormon, but church is boring). I basically struggled with her because I never tried in school and just did the minimum to get by. My brother was just fine. They argued some, but he was the golden boy.
Did you feel left out when the other Boy Scouts snuck beer and cigarettes when y’all went camping?
What if I told you I’m drinking a Coors right now?
I would scoff at your poor taste. Why don’t you care to drink?
I was raised Mormon, my dad never had a drink, I was kinda older than most when I started being around parties and stuff, so it’s a little late to start now. I just don't feel like it'd help me.
It’s never too late to start, James.
Well I mean, I didn't even curse until I was 17. Of course, you eventually have to make all the decisions in life for yourself...I really enjoy cursing. The guys in my old band Bedtime make fun of me because when we started I was 16 and I said, "fudge" and "shin" instead of, "fuck" and "shit."
What's it like growing up Mormon? Do you believe in the golden plates that Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) discovered and whatnot? Why do you think they were held together by binder rings?
Binder rings, haha, that's great! Never thought of it that way. I dunno, maybe that was easiest. Beats me, but they totally existed, or if they didn't then the people who wrote them had good ideas. The Book of Mormon is pretty great, I mean, if you can believe the Bible, you can believe the Book of Mormon.
Like, the Bible has lessons but it isn’t literal, and the Book of Mormon is the same. Is that what you mean?
Right. If that's the case, I’m OK with it. But even so, I do think most of it's true. Probably some stuff is lost in translation over the years, or someone may have fucked with it sometime and no one knew.
So you think that Joseph Smith saw God and God was like, "Do this religion, because the others aren’t quite right?”
Joseph Smith totes saw God in Jesus Christ, who said, "All the religions aren't close enough to what's right, so you should start the rightest one of them all." I mean, why not?
Well, lets look at all organized religion as different little cults.
I’ve always wanted to be in a cult...
Funny you should say that. Cult leaders insist that their followers shouldn’t question authority or else they’ll be damned. Complete subservience to the Mormon Church is a keystone of Mormonism, right?
I totally understand what you're saying, but the not questioning authority thing--not really. In my experience, the bishop would just talk you through what he means, then send you off to make a decision for yourself. Is this part of the interview? I’m gonna get slaaaaaaaaammed.
What is your opinion on the angel Moroni (who told Joseph Smith about the tablets in upstate New York)?
My opinion on the angel Moroni? He was pretty cool. Totally freaked Joseph Smith out by appearing to him in his bedroom and getting him prepped to be the first prophet of the church. I mean, he was probably freaked out the first time and then got used to it after a few times I'm guessing.
Moroni was said to be a Nephite before he was an angel. The Nephites lost some battle to the Lamanites. How do you feel about historians and archeologists and geneticists saying that neither of those tribes existed?
The Nephites and Lamanites thing, that's cool with me. They were constantly battling. I've never done much research regarding the physical history of it all, but it happened. And if it didn't happen we just learned some valuable lessons to use in our lives from the stories someone made up. That's dope, too. I just had this weird image of me all of a sudden coming across as an idiot to loads of Vice fans. Wait...maybe that's ok. Idiot Glee! Feel free to continue Mormon questioning. I am bold and fierce.
Did you know that before he became a prophet, Joseph Smith made money by extorting it from people who hired him to use his seer stones to find buried treasures? He was taken to jail for being a fraud, because in six years, he never produced any buried treasure for his employers. Does that affect how you see him as a prophet? His own vision of divinity is intermingled with his past as a con artist. That's hilarious. Where'd you find that? That one’s just false. Love it, though.
I found it on page 59 of a book called Under the Banner of Heaven. Anyway, let’s change it up. Do you play a keyboard or a synth or what? We have two toy keyboards (SK1, Yamaha), one microKORG, one loop station, and one sampler.
How’d you get so good at covering Bill Withers? His voice is like the satin lining of a lingerie drawer and yours comes pretty close. “Ain’t No Sunshine,” was pretty much all I knew about Bill Withers, and almost still is. My friend called me one day on her way to work and said, "James, I know what song you should cover!” I ended up giving it a shot and was like, “Hell yeah, I dig this.” I love playing that one live. There’s just something about doing covers. I’m way more comfortable playing “Ain’t No Sunshine” than anything of my own. I’m looking for another song to cover.
You did a great Zombies cover on New Years, what about them? The Zombies have always rocked my world, at least Odyssey and Oracle has. I somehow got sucked into YouTube, watching every live Joy Division video I could. They're awesome! I've never listened to them much besides "Love Will Tear Us Apart," but "She’s Out of Control" is so fucking good. Today, all I could think about was how badly I want to be in a rock band again. I want something like Joy Division meets Roxy Music meets Sonic Youth. I need that in my life, it's getting bad. Lou Reed isn't any good. Just kidding, but I bought a tape of his at Goodwill and didn't like it one bit.
Hating on Lou! Maybe someone who reads this will comment a good one for you to cover.