San Francisco-born, Oakland-raised, and currently a San Francisco resident, David James may not seem to have traveled very far, but his journey has taken him from rock, rhythm, and noise to art song, Afrobeat, and live Hip-Hop his musical curiosity always alongside.
David grew up enjoying music in school, but when a family friend gave a nylon-string guitar to DJ and his sister, well, he was sprung!!
After plucking all but one of the strings from the instrument, David began to learn bass lines from popular songs at the time – on one string.
After a few years of self-teaching as well as searching, David met Larry Thrasher, a transplant from Kentucky whose songwriting and general inquisitiveness inspired David to explore his own creativity through sound, and they formed the rock band Balance of Power, then the let's-make-sounds-using-everything-we-can duo, Thrasher and Jam. Answering a classified ad in a local music mag, the duo met Kim Cascone, who was looking to form an improvisational noise group, and, with two others, they did just that: Thessalonians. That group, which played SF venues such as 455 10th St, the old ATA gallery, and the Farm, recorded and released an LP, a couple of cassettes, and contributed tracks to a number of compilations. Upon its dissolution, and Thrasher and James went on to form the Bubbles, which became Yes No Maybe, a band which released two EPs with David. During this period David began to write.
David joined a reformed Thessalonians to record the album Soulcraft, which was released on Cascone and Thrasher's Silent Records.
Whack and Dangle, the punk-folk squad which included Thrasher and Rosemary Black, followed, then Function of X, which heard David's first attempts at singing.
Joining Spearhead (later Michael Franti and Spearhead), just before their first album Home was finished, David added guitar to the single "Hole in the Bucket" and played guitar and bass on "100,000 Miles" before spending most of the following four years touring and recording with that group, playing guitar on the band's second album, Chocalate Supa Highway, crisscrossing the United States, and playing many festivals in the US and Europe. As a result of Franti's production, David's guitar was also recorded with Zap Mama, Stephen Marley, and Mutabaruka, as well as for various soundtrack and television projects. During some of the "down time" from touring, David began working with his friend (and original Spearhead bassist) Keith McArthur on recording his own music, which was turning out to be an old-school Soul music-influenced set of songs.
After leaving Spearhead to cultivate his own creativity, DJ began writing in earnest, and formed the trio Black Inc. (later Invisible Inc.) with Keith McArthur and drummer Eric Garland. Some of the songs from this period remain in David's repertoire to this day.
Joining the touring band for the Coup in support of their Steal This Album release, David recorded guitar for the follow-up, the critically acclaimed and controversial Party Music, as well as their next album, Pick a Bigger Weapon.
During this period, David began his association with Beth Custer, the composer/clarinetist/singer whose experimental writing for film, dance and theater–in addition to her more accessible songs–would offer David a chance to pull from all of the various strands of his musical experience to begin to hone a style, one that includes melodicism and noise, rhythm, and shards of soul.
In 2003, David joined Sila and the Afrofunk Experience, playing a high-energy mix of various popular styles of African music (Afrobeat, Soukous, High Life) and funky originals. Their two albums both include music by David James, including the title track of Black President, winner of the 2009 NAACP Image award for Outstanding World Music Album.
In 2008, David formed GPS, an almost-all-instrumental band featuring members of the Beth Custer Ensemble, as well as other Bay Area luminaries (Lisa Mezzacappa, Dina Maccabee, Alan Williams), playing DJ's compositions.
In 2010, the Afrofunk Experience re-emerged with three new singers, one of whom is David James.
Additionally, there's Curtis Bumpy, the "soul B-side" cover band with Omega Rae, David Agretelis, Keith McArthur, and others.