Tall, curly-haired redhead and self-described “lo-fi bohemian” James Force performs under the moniker Subpar Co-Star.
His lifelong friend Joe Tringali came up with the name Subpar Co-Star when the two were “writing a song about failed love. A ‘it’s me, not you’ kind of thing,” Force says. “When I did the solo stuff, I took the name, and he gave me [his] blessing.”
Force draws on a mix of artists for inspiration. “Shel Silverstein is a big influence. He’s like the ultimate bohemian to me.”
“I was reading a lot of Michael Crichton,” he says, laughing, of when he was a teen. ”Musically, Nine Inch Nails is my hero … When I was a kid, Downward Spiral was possibly my favorite record. That and The Blue Album by Weezer … Tom Petty was a big influence, too.”
James Force moved to Boston in 2007, the year after he graduated from the University of Southern Maine and started the band Death and the Dance Machine with his downstairs neighbor in 2009.
“He was a very talented piano player,” Force said. “Over time it turned out that we just kind of gelled into a band with my friend Joe [Tringali] … And then my friend who’s a drummer ended up moving in with me … Then one day a friend overheard some of the jams that we’d done, liked them, and came on as a bass player. Suddenly, we had a full band.”
“I started it in Maine and finished it in Boston. When I got down to Boston I didn’t really do anything with it for a couple of years. I just sort of had it, gave it to some friends, and just kind of left it real low-key.”
However, when Death and the Dance Machine broke up in April 2011, Force started to focus on Subpar Co-Star.
“I didn’t want to go out and just call myself James Force, but at the same time I didn’t want to do a full band … I wanted to play solo, but I wanted it to be bigger than just the acoustic [guitar], so I got the looping pedal … The idea behind it was to learn how to use [it] as sort of an on-the-spot band.”
But there is more to James Force’s artistic expression than simply his music. He also creates individual posters for each of his shows and designs unique images for each CD that he sells.
“I like to do crayon drawings, and the idea dawned on me, ‘Oh, you can buy those little CD labels.’ And then I just started thinking about doing small batches, like individually hand-draw them. A friend who was an artist said, ‘Oh, you should number them’.”
To date, he has drawn 106 individual CD designs. But there are many more out there that for which he is not personally responsible.
“Even at the shows nowadays, I have markers and CD labels at the show so you can draw your own CD, and I can put it right there on the CD for you and give it to you. It gives you something to do, because sometimes it’s kinda weird to have people stand still and stare at you for 40 minutes. I feel like it’s good to have a couple different senses going.”
The artistic satisfaction that he derives from doing this is, of course, important to Force. However, it is just as important to him that the audience takes something from his effort.
“It’s nice to have something tangible … Even if you just hang it up, or put it on a shelf somewhere. It’s a neat memento; it’s an individual; it’s a one-of-a-kind. And you’re the only one who is gonna have it.”