James Choice and the Bad Decisions are fabulous, and they have a debut album releasing this month!
I first came across the Vienna-based indie rock band James Choice and the Bad Decisions last year when I went to an Open Piano for Refugees benefit concert to see Austrian singer Lylit, a singer I had recently interviewed, perform.
James Choice and the Bad Decisions were performing after her and, right as they got ready to play, the wind whipped up, the heavens opened and it began to pour with rain.
The band, being one of those wonderful bands that just gets on with it no matter what the circumstance, hustled the audience into a tiny covered alleyway in between a bar and a couple of shops, lined up in front of everyone while the wind whistled through, and started with their first song.
Standing less than half a meter away from all five members, therefore, I was not only able to get the full effect of just how good James Choice and the Bad Decisions are (because, good God, the energy they have, the fun they have as they perform together, their gorgeous lead vocals and harmonies, and just how equally talented every member of the band is), it was also one of the best concerts I have seen in Vienna.
Back in February of this year, I was finally able to interview two members of the band in a local Vienna cafe. Lead vocalist and guitarist Sebastian Abermann, and vocalist, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Michael Dey.
The band had recently wrapped up their first ever crowdfunding campaign to help pay for their debut studio album, The Something in Nothing, and had not only successfully raised the money they asked for, but had raised an additional 19 percent on top.
Not bad for a Vienna indie band with still just a small number of fans (but growing quickly).
Why do you think the crowdfunding campaign was so successful? Especially as it was your first campaign.
Michael Dey – It’s hard to say really. I don’t think there’s any way of doing a perfect campaign. I think it’s about persistence, and reminding people about the campaign while not coming off as annoying. But being really clear – this is how much we need, this is why we need it – not shying away from asking.
We also tried to come up with some interesting ideas to promote it.
Like the video with the masks? Hilarious. Loved it.
Michael – Yep, we were just sitting in the studio, there was a mask there and we were like, “F*ck it, let’s put on a mask”.
But we’re lucky that we have a good band, because we say ‘Okay, we’re going to have to film something”, and then everyone gets into the roles they’re going to play and we just do it. That’s what happened there.
How long have you been together? Because you (Michael), you’ve been in Vienna for 2 1/2 years, right? Did you know each other before you founded James Choice and the Bad Decisions?
Sebastian Abermann – Yeah, we’d played in a full-on James Choice Band in London together. We already had a five-piece band in the UK.
And then you came back to Vienna, and re-formed with different band members?
Sebastian – Well, I originally moved to London in 2009, with the plan of leaving Austria behind and seeking adventure elsewhere. But then, after three years of London, I realized this is not the ideal situation for me. I just didn’t enjoy living there that much. Not as I thought I would. Then I unexpectedly got homesick and I really wanted to go back to Austria. Weirdly, because I didn’t expect to do that.
So, I moved back to Austria, and that’s when Michael and I decided we still wanted to do stuff together. But it was going to be complicated when we were living in two separate countries. But we always stayed in contact, and Michael came to Austria a couple of times, and I kept trying to persuade him “You’ve gotta try something new. Maybe move to Austria”. And in the end it worked.
Michael, you came here because of Sebastian, and decided you’d figure out what to do music-wise when you got here?
Michael – The band was the biggest reason, and the best way to feel safe. In the sense that there was something already there so, compared to other people moving to a foreign country, it was actually really easy.
And I had more friends in Austria, at that point, than I did in my home town in the UK. It felt good to know there was a support network there, and a band is like a little family I suppose. Plus, they all looked after me when I first arrived.
So how long has the band been together?
Sebastian – The two of us go back to 2012. But when I moved back to Austria, I only had one self-produced record of mine, and I really missed playing with a full band. At first I started doing the solo thing again, and then I gradually picked up people on the way. Because my first idea was to stay a solo performer, but work with different session musicians.
Then Bernd (Faszl – guitar) was the first one to play with me. Through him Georg (Showbaer – bass) came along, and we played as a three-piece for a long time. We also played through a couple of different drummers, but they played on lots of different projects, so it was always really stressful when trying to organize stuff because you always have to make compromises, which are not always good for the band. We finally met Kathrin (Kolleritsch — drums) through Georg, as he also plays in Kaiko, Kathrin’s band.
But I never really wanted to be a solo musician, because the thing I love the most about music is sharing that expression with other people. Like being on stage with a group of friends. That’s what I love about James Choice.
Do you feel like that with James Choice – the five of you work as friends?
Sebastian – No (he joked). Definitely. We all come from similar DIY punk music backgrounds, so we have a similar approach to how we want to run a band, and what is important to us – which is to get along and be respectful of each other.
Sure, there are times, like with a family, where you need a break, but overall we try to look after each other and make everything fair for everyone. And we care about each other.
Where did the band name come from?
Sebastian – I was studying in London, and I was frustrated with my songwriting. I was writing the same thing over and over again, and I was bored with myself. So I started to explore the idea of storytelling.
The idea of James Choice was the first character I invented that is not me. It was like a dialogue between me and a fictitious character. And the idea of James Choice was really he or she, because I thought about it more like a character that wasn’t just one person, but more like an allegorical figure.
I still feel up to today that it’s not necessarily a male person. It’s the idea of a person who can see in a very positive light. A character who can see options, where I couldn’t see options at the time. And that was the first song I wrote for that project. A dialogue between me and the character.
I also found the character of James Choice interesting because I invented that character when I was feeling very bad. I was in a situation in my life where I felt “I don’t have many options. It’s actually pretty grim right now”. I was in a situation where I was very lonely, far away from my friends and family, and I was really broke, and didn’t have much opportunity to go outside in London because it was so expensive. And I didn’t know that many people. So it was a really lonely time for me. And I’m a really social person, and my friends especially are very important to me.
So having that fictitious character to have a conversation with in my head, and to see things from a different perspective, was similar to what a friend would do.
Then I liked the name. I was always intrigued by names like Tom Waits or Nick Cave, where the last names are also things. That’s something I really love about words, it’s a name but a place. A name but an action. I also love the idea that it’s also kind of related to the Irish author, James Joyce, and so it became a name for my project.
Then when we were thinking about making it into a band, we all liked that name, so we came up with the idea of the Bad Decisions.
And why the Bad Decisions?
Because it’s James Choice, and he does see options, but everybody makes bad decisions and, when you do, you live with them.
Do you make your livings as musicians full-time?
Sebastian – Well, on different projects. I’m a music teacher. I teach kids. And I work as a private singing teacher as well, so I do make all my money from music-related projects, but not all from band stuff. I mean, it’s impossible to make a living in a band at the level where we are. And all the money we make, it goes back into the project. At the end, there is no money left for us.
We’re working hard to change that. I mean, we have the ambition to make money from our music. I think we deserve it, and we work hard. We work really hard. Therefore, I think it’s absolutely realistic that we can make money from it. But it’s more of a goal than a reality right now.
Michael – Plus, you reach a certain age and, when you’ve been doing music that long, it starts to become less of a pipe dream as you know more about what it would mean to make a living at it. Because to make a living from music sounds like something huge, and something you can’t quite comprehend, but as long as you’re looking at a basic income you eventually realize it is doable.
We also have the ambition to get out of Austria and Germany as well, and that goes a long way towards helping you make a living.
Because one thing I’ve discovered, that I didn’t really expect, is that bands that sing in German dialect seem to have an easier road than us in that early development period as they become quite popular in Austria, Bavaria etc. And that seems to be quite an easy way to make a living.
But there is a limit to how successful they can be. There’s a kind of glass ceiling – a limit to your audience – with songs in dialect, as they’re not likely to do well outside Austria and some parts of Germany.
For us, though, we see Austria as our home and a place to regularly tour and base ourselves, but I think we have definitely set our sights elsewhere. We’ve already toured the UK as a band, just baby steps, of course, but we see ourselves as more of a European band than just an Austrian band.
Then we got talking about people who make a living touring around Europe on mini tours, and what that takes, how some musicians are fabulous to work with while some are just plain rude, and Michael told a story about a musician friend of his who people love to invite to play a concert or to stay with them while he’s on tour “because he’s really sweet, and people like to book him for house shows because they know they’re going to have a lovely time”.
Michael – I think the personable aspect of that kind of touring is important. And I think being nice nowadays counts for something. We talk about bands all the time, and when bands turn up and they’re rude and really expectant and ungrateful, it goes around like wildfire and people don’t want to book them anymore. So I think we’ve always tried to go in with the idea of being nice and grateful for what we get.
But we love our techs and sound guys and so, when you hear a sound guy likes you and thinks you’re really professional, to me, that is worth more than anything. Because I want people to like us and look forward to working with us. We’re in the industry together, and we’re all depending on each other for work and for a nice evening, and I think that’s an important thing to remember.
Sebastian – Sometimes you see bands, that don’t maybe have a lot of experience touring, and something goes wrong and they complain. But it’s also about how you deal with these things. It’s also about, if it goes wrong, you still have to make it a good evening. You still have to make the best out of it. Especially if it’s no-one’s fault.
It’s basically “we’re all in this together”. We are all responsible for making this a great evening, and we all wanna go home sharing a great evening and with a good memory, whether you’re on stage, behind the sound board, or even behind the bar. It’s a community effort.
Your videos are really well done. Very professional and with some interesting concepts. Are they a community effort? Who comes up with the concept of the videos?
Sebastian – Often it’s Mickey (Michael), and then we discuss ideas. The last video ‘Small Talk’ (watch it below), we tried to do it like a community effort, and everyone brought in some ideas.
For that one, I looked for the phones online through Willhaben, because I was remembering when I was 15 or 16 and I would call my friends. I knew all their phone numbers by heart, and I would have to call through their parents because nobody had their own phone – and that gave me the idea for those phones.
Michael – But it wasn’t just a case of, “We’re going to get in the studio and mess around with some phones”. We really thought about it a lot. Plus, we tend to go overboard, with dream ideas – if we had a million euros, we’d do this – then we break it down to what we can actually afford to do.
And I was going to mention earlier, that’s one of the things I like about this band. Everyone is multi-talented, and multi-skilled, and I’ve never experienced that with a band before. We do everything in-house, with some friends helping us with lighting etc. It’s a lovely experience, with everyone contributing.
The soon-to-be-released James Choice and the Bad Decisions album, The Something In Nothing, is your debut. And it’s finished, produced, ready to be released?
Sebastian – We just got the masters today.
When are you releasing it?
Sebastian – On the 27th of April we’re going to release digitally, online and physically, and you can buy it from then on. Then on May 11th, we’ll have the release show at Flex Cafe.
It’s going to release on an indie Vienna label, because we felt like we wanted to take that next step.
How many songs are on the album?
Michael – Ten.
Have you released any of them yet?
Sebastian – ‘Small Talk’. And we’re going to release another single closer to the album release, and then release the album right after.
And how long have you been working on the album?
Michael – Since last April with the first studio dates, so almost a year. And then about a year and a half before that. So two and a half years altogether. But it’s worth it.
Sebastian – We chose to do that, though. Because we’ve been putting out records DIY style, all of us in a way. And it’s cool, but there is always a point where you know you have certain limitations. But, with this one, we wanted to have that one record where we try everything to get it right. You want to do it well, and that just takes time. Especially with budget limitations. Because you need to find the right people, and the right environment, and it all just takes time.
We worked with Markus Perner as our producer. He is the drummer from a band called Garish. And he has been a really really wonderful person to work with. It’s been an interesting process, and that’s another thing we wanted to try as, until now, we’ve been our own producers. We never really found the right person to let someone else into that process, but with him it was interesting, as he really dove deep into those songs.
I really admire that kind of way of doing things. Someone who does something 150 percent. It was everything we hoped for in a person with that experience.
Like, he was really enthusiastic about it, which we are too as we love these songs. It is a little bit like children, and you want the right school where they can grow up and develop — and it felt like he was the right person for that for our songs. He was really positive about them all and, for example, if there was one thing we weren’t happy with, we would try it again and again, and he himself was like that too. The whole relationship was just very fruitful for us.
We were so lucky. We had three people to choose from, we met each one of them, and all had their advantages and disadvantages, but we chose him for a multitude of reasons and it was a very good decision for us.
Michael – And I think, with any producer, he has that right balance of being encouraging and critical. And knowing how to give criticism.
Plus, it’s someone whose opinion you respect, as you respect them as a musician too.
The non-verbal communication was really cool with him too, where you’re listening back to what you’ve just recorded, and you’d both look at each other thinking the same thing.
Besides, I just really like his energy. He’s a multi-instrumentalist too, and a good all-around musician who understands each instrument so well.
James Choice and the Bad Decisions will be releasing their debut album, The Something in Nothing, on April 27th. If you’re in Vienna on that date, you should head to their Album Release Party at Flex Cafe because, when I say their concert was one of the best I have seen in Vienna, I’m not joking. And I have seen a lot.
You can find out more about the band, including upcoming concerts, video and music releases and more, on their Facebook page.
You can also follow them on their Instagram page, where they upload concert photos, upcoming concert dates and where you can get tickets, as well as video snippets of live performances.
Don’t forget to subscribe to their YouTube channel.
And, of course, you can pre-order their upcoming album, The Something In Nothing, on Bandcamp. It will be sent to you on April 27th, 2018.
Finally, if you want to hear just how good James Choice and the Bad Decisions are live, watch the hour-long live stream concert they put on in Michael and Kathrin’s living room as a way to persuade people to crowdfund their album (and it worked!) in the video below.