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Leif James 2.0: He's back with a new band, a no-booze policy and a disdain for fake cowboys 

click to enlarge New band, new hat, same duct-taped guitar.
  • New band, new hat, same duct-taped guitar.
New band, new hat, same duct-taped guitar.
The last time I formally interviewed Leif James, it was a strangely warm spring day in 2007. The article was about James' career as a street performer and the quick rise to local notoriety of his then band, Poor Bastard's Romance. After the interview he propped up in the breezeway connecting Wall and Brooks streets and began strumming for some extra beer money.

Last week, on the day after Thanksgiving, it was a different Leif James sitting at a café table lining Bond Street. First off, James is now married with his first child on the way. Secondly, his Poor Bastard Romance days are long behind him, the band having broken up in 2007, and now he's either playing his acoustic rock songs solo or as a locally grown act he's dubbed Leif James and the Struggle. And there's no longer any strumming for beer money.

The 30-year-old James rolls a cigarette, adjusts his black, thick-rimmed glasses and says he quit drinking a few months earlier, save the occasional glass of wine with dinner. James is still the fast-talking, endlessly optimistic soul he's always been and is especially so when discussing these life changes.

"I think I've finally reached that next chapter in my life and it's looking to be pretty beautiful," he says.

After Poor Bastard's Romance ended its run ("I'm stoked that it was fun as it was for as long as it was," James says of the band) he was hard to find on the music scene, but had hardly given up on his music career. All the while he was playing a steady string of out-of-town shows, continually writing new material and painstakingly working on his new album - which he has scrapped on two different occasions. Then, this past summer James reemerged, playing a few local festivals as well as the rodeo events in Sisters. Now, he's surrounded himself with talented local musicians including bassist and jazz trumpeter Jason Jackson and percussionist Jeff Ingrahm for an acoustic rock and Americana act dubbed Leif James and the Struggle.

And James says the band's name is reflective of some of the life lessons - many of them harsh - he's picked up throughout a life that saw him leave home at 15 to travel the country with his guitar.

"Unless you're really lucky in life, it's going to be a pain in the ass to get where you want to be. And most people give up," he says.

James' music can at times reflect this "struggle" theme with his deep and at-times haunting voice, but at other moments he and his band can be both funky or folksy - whichever is necessary. It's this versatility that allows James, with or without a band, to play an array of diverse gigs. This was evidenced when he was booked for a week of shows at the Pendleton Roundup - which became an experience all of its own.

"All the locals were cool as hell and all the real cowboys were cool as hell. But it's all the jackasses that come into town and buy the 10-gallon hat, buy the boots, buy the shirt and act like ridiculous frat dudes. Every time I played there was a fight, and that had nothing to do with the music," James recalls.

There's likely to be more changes for the reinvented Leif James in the months and years to come. And there's a good chance that one of those changes will be a rule against weeklong rodeo bookings.

Leif James and the Struggle
8pm Wednesday, December 3. Silver Moon Brewing Co. 24 NW Greenwood Ave.
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