When asked what Jodi James brings to their collaborative musical relationship, Clay Parker jokes, “A pretty face.”
James laughs and says, “I was going to say that about you!”
The two are seated before cups of coffee at a table in MJ’s Cafe, passing a mug of cauliflower soup and a plate of crusty bread between them. James has shrugged off her royal blue peacoat, and Parker leans back in his chair with a T-shirt for Lafayette band The Conrads showing under his denim Wrangler button-down.
“We don’t have any professional backing; we do everything on our own. We fund our own records, make our own T-shirts, print our own fliers, do our own graphic design, book our own shows,” Parker says. “Jodi brings a certain professionalism to the table that I usually am a little more lacking. She’s a hard worker. She makes lists of things she has to do. She’s very organized and professional about it and makes the machine run.”
While James’ faster pace keeps the duo moving, Parker’s laid-back approach has taught her plenty about taking her time and letting ideas flow.
“The way I write has always been very candid and emotional and put-it-all-out there, and Clay is kind of the opposite,” James says. “He’s kind of vague and mysterious, and he doesn’t want you to know exactly what he’s saying. I write differently now [after working with him]. I think I even write for different reasons.”
Both already well-established on their own in the Baton Rouge folk scene, Parker hails from Thibodaux while James grew up on a sugarcane farm in Burnside. The two have been locked into a musical collaboration since the summer of 2014, when they wrote their first 12 songs together via email over the course of two weeks while in different states.
Mutual admiration brought their talents together, and each confesses they still can’t believe they get to perform with the other—much less a co-headlining show at The Varsity Theatre, as they did in January.
Together they’ve played shows across the Southeast, as well as local venues, including Tables and Tunes events right here at MJ’s. Owner Maureen Joyce catches sight of Parker and James at the table, and they hug her at the bar as she reminisces on their Valentine’s Day set at the café last year. The performers had huddled together in the corner to share a plate of food before their performance.
“They looked like Lady and the Tramp,” Joyce says.
James laughs, and the subject quickly changes. Though the two are obviously close creative partners, the details of their personal relationship never come up. In the end, it feels irrelevant to what they’re doing musically.
Their self-titled first joint EP, which dropped in December, showcases a gentle, thoughtful approach to folk. Parker explains that it came together both electronically and organically, passing sound clips and snippets of lyrics back and forth over email, always completing each other’s musical thoughts. Part of the ease came from the fact that these were songs they had written for other musicians James met in Nashville but that they eventually decided to keep for themselves.
James’ bluesier soul and straightforward songwriting blends with Parker’s poetic lyrics and bluegrass vibe for an Americana sound that slides in under the noise of today’s folk rock trend. There’s no stomping or clapping, no intense Mumford-esque banjo solo—just a carefully balanced craft that speaks for itself.
“We aren’t loud. We aren’t showy,” James says. “We like the subtle character. We put a lot of thought into the details of our writing and performing.”
A full-length album is in the works, but for now, Parker and James are focused on letting their EP gather steam and taking it out on the road—as well as continuing individual projects. As for how long they plan to continue collaborating, Parker’s answer comes quickly, with a laugh: “’Til the cows come home.” cpjjmusic.com