Simon James is called Woolfy both because he “ended up in a loony bin one time” and also because he has hairy legs. On the other end of the phone, before he says hello, James yells “How much is it?” to his wife, trying to give her money before she’s out the door. He yells “Bye, Monkey!” to someone—either her, their daughter Neeve or one of their dogs—before he tells me he just got some fish and chips in his “nice greasy belly.” Then we start talking. Born in Surrey, England to Scottish parents, James moved to Los Angeles when he was eight and has been a “Cali boy” ever since. His jumbled accent sounds calm and pleasant, as though he were narrating a commercial for a Caribbean vacation. That voice is the core of his songs, the mellowest British accent on record, occasionally sped up for urgency, but always freckled with West Coast lassitude. His debut album, If You Know What’s Good For Ya, varies wildly across genres, from rollerskate jams to crunchy late ’70s Motown funk. “Looking Glass” is the standout, a soft plodding slow burner covered in synthesizer both crystalline and gloopy, with James’ sad voice echoed and pleading, Don’t take your eyes off me/ You’re leaving and I’m looking lost/ You’re leaving through this looking glass. Though he sounds melancholy in his plea, the song itself is like twilight—warm weather in a cool season. Listening amidst the loose freedom of the record, it sounds like bedrock.
“I’ve got all this stuff inside of me,” says James, referring specifically to the breadth of genre within his album, but sounding epically Shakespearean about personal purpose and art. “‘Oh Missy’ had some teenage angst left in my right calf,” he says about the album’s first single, which was rerecorded to mellow it out. In fact, all his songs are tempered, as is he—a gentle family man, who has been waiting patient “four or five” years for his album’s release. He’s busied himself working at the Scotland Yard Pub his parents own in LA, DJing frequently in Europe, playing with his other group Projections and writing a musical. But he’s ready to be subsumed by Woolfy. “I’ve been in pub life for half my life now, so hopefully next year will be a welcome change, just going music full time,” he says. “I can’t wait to go out on the road with the lads and just fucking charge.”