Years before playing raw-throated rock & roll with Long Arms, James Menefee cut his teeth as a punk rocker, forming his first band at 12 years old and touring across America while still a teenager. Those were whirlwind years, filled with the highs and lows of a life spent on the road. He played shows with his heroes. He appeared on MTV. He slept on floors, signed with a major label, and wrote songs that told the whole story.
Years later, that story continues with Young Life, the third album by Long Arms. James formed the band in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, eventually cementing a four-piece lineup around lead guitarist Phil Heesen III, drummer Greg Butler, and bassist Alex Smith. Together, the musicians whipped up a sound rooted in electric guitars and vocal hooks - a sound built for open highways, car dashboards, and barroom stages. Young Life is the sharpest version of that sound, delivering a batch of songs trapped halfway bewteen the rule-breaking spirit of James' teenage punk days and the epic sweep of electric rock & roll.
It's also an album about what it means to be a rock & roll lifer.
"I think the songs represent the struggle with trying to stay young and innocent at heart in the face of a constantly evolving world that places excessive and unrealistic demands on us," says James. "And in the process, we forget what truly matters. Life, love, friendship. Music. The easy, wonderful things that we end up second guessing as we get older, because we are taught to leave those behind, that there's no place for them. And along with trying to hold on to the freedom and innocence comes loneliness and isolation, as the reality sets in that staying true to these ideals becomes harder and harder, as outside forces try to strip these things from us...technology, anxiety, depression, our own self doubts, and life in the modern world."
James wrote much of the album alone, during a string of late-night trips to the band's rehearsal space in downtown Richmond. There, while the rest of the city slept, he turned up his amp and workshopped new songs on the electric guitar, falling in love with the instrument all over again. In doing so, he rediscovered the same excitement he'd felt years earlier, back when the process of writing an album was still new. The punky teenage angst was gone, and in its place had grown something deeper - a longtime appreciation for the spark and swagger of loud, live music.
To record Young Life, Long Arms headed into the foothills of the Appalachian mountains and booked a week's worth of sessions at White Star Studio with producer Stewert Myers. They captured the basic tracks live, shining a light on a band whose stage show has earned them opening gigs with Tommy Stinson, Evan Dando, and others. Later, they put the finishing touches on Young Life's 12 songs in Richmond's Montrose Recording and Audio Verité.
Stocked with literary references to Faulkner, Kerouac and Salinger, Young Life is a rallying cry from a band of rock & roll lifers who, in the spirit of their influences, are still flying the flag for art that's pure, punchy and personal. It's big music for big places. It's Long Arms at their best.