From KERA’s Art & Seek:
Today, James Talambas produces music for indie bands from his Fort Worth studio. He travels around the world to work with musicians. He’s a composer too and recently, “Fort Worth Weekly” named him the city’s artist of the year.
Growing up, though, Talambas was a troubled kid. He kept to himself and was uncomfortable in social situations. School wasn’t his thing either. He describes himself as a terrible student and says that by the time he was in high school, he had enough and dropped out. But there was one thing that that he did love – music.
“As soon as I could, in fifth grade, I started playing cello. And then in sixth grade, I started playing trumpet. And so when I found music, that was my ticket out of internal hell,” says Talambas.
He had always had an affinity for music. As a child, he took piano classes, but he wasn’t a fan of the instructor, or the didactic nature of lessons. So he quit. He still loved the rich sounds that came from the piano and continued to play it. The piano began to help him understand and communicate complex emotions.
“I’d sit and watch TV and play the piano. Ya know?” says Talambas. “I’d just play along to these sitcoms and see what kind of different feelings I could get out of those, and I would do that for hours.”
It wasn’t until his late teens that Talambas was diagnosed with severe depression with psychosis. And recently, the 33-year-old learned that he’s also on the autism spectrum.
“It explains so many of the reasons why I had such trouble in school, and why I had such trouble at home and so many problems just trying to exist,” says Talambas
Talambas is open about his struggles with mental illness. We were only five minutes into our two-and-a-half hour interview when he told me about the challenges.
“Depending upon how I feel, I can have different types of hallucinations,” says Talambas. ”
He says the hallucinations can be visual, audible and completely sensory, but the hardest thing is that they can cause him to question his own reality.
“[They] can be anything. Sometimes it’s dots or lines across my vision or the feeling that someone is there when they’re not. I get vertigo a lot. So the feeling that the world is moving is something that happens a lot,” says Talambas.
Impacting His Communities
Megan Henderson, the Director of Events and Communications at Near Southside, says Talambas is a one-of-a-kind artist who brings something special to the scene.
“James is very mysterious,” says Henderson. “In fact, he’s elusive. For some time, I had seen him around at coffee shops, bars or even deejaying an event, but he was so quiet. Then I started talking to him and I realized he was so sweet and funny.”
North Texas photographer Rambo says that so many artists and musicians in North Texas have counted on Talambas to help them make their art come to life.
“I think he’s a huge dream-realizer” says Rambo. “James is the kind of person that can get things done. He’s the kind of person that when you want to do something, you call James.”
Rambo recalls a time when musician Leon Bridges turned to Talambas to help him record.
“This is before Leon was signed and before he had a place to record, but James was recording him in his own living room, just so that Leon could have something to put out there,” says Rambo.
His reach as a collaborator goes far beyond North Texas. Artists from Sweden, Brooklyn and Austin have come to Talambas’ house to record in his professional studio, New Media Recordings.
Fort Worth artist, writer and curator Christopher Blay says Talambas’ expertise with sound manipulation and engineering makes him equipped to collaborate with all sorts of artists in all sorts of mediums.
“When you think about someone who mixes music, they have have to combine a lot of different elements. And I think that’s an apropos metaphor for his work, because he’s combining a myriad of elements to create his work,” says Blay.
Rambo says Talambas is someone she counts on for personal help as well.
“When we first met, we were both working a million jobs. We got to know each other when I was working at a bar he dejayed at,” says Rambo. “I really liked music he spinned. Anyway, we were both dealing with mental health issues and we sought help around the same time and we supported one another. We both understood where the other person was coming from.”
She says they still talk with each other about their issues and rely on each other to explore how their issues are affecting their art.
Creating Music And Sound Inspired By His Illness
Talambas’ illness informs and inspires his work. One of his installation pieces was called Panic Room. Using light and sound, he created an experience that would help anyone understand what it feels like to have a panic attack.
Talambas has fully embraced sound design as an art form. His most recent installation work is titled, “2524 Earthquakes This Past Year.” It’s a critique on the fracking industry and its possible link to the natural disasters. Talambas’ gallery installations fill a different need than the work he does other musicians.
“The questions that we all have in our contemporary society cannot be answered with a song and so I began to think, ‘How else can I answer those questions?’” says Talambas.