Neon the Bishop's Kendall James on Horror Influences and "a Damn Good First Impression"

Neon the Bishop opens for the 1975 at Mission Ballroom on Tuesday, December 6.
Courtesy Neon the Bishop
Neon the Bishop opens for the 1975 at Mission Ballroom on Tuesday, December 6.
When Neon the Bishop’s Kendall James wrote the lyrics to the band's latest single, “A Damn Good First Impression,” he thought about his tendency to put his best self forward — at least at first. Most people do it to a certain extent, whether it’s on social media or when meeting someone for the first time.

“It’s just the stuff we try and put forward about ourselves that makes ourselves look better than we actually are,” James says. “We all have our issues; we all have our ugly side. I definitely do, too.”

He says that some of the music he’s writing lately addresses his anger as well as his tendency to have big bursts of energy, which some people interpret as craziness. “It throws some people off,” he admits. “I always tell my wife that she’s the only one who can handle the real me. I’m goofy. I’m immature. I’m nothing like the front I put up. I try to be real, I really do — but sometimes I have to play the professional game.”

He adds that he makes a genuine effort to give the real Kendall James to people he is close to. “I want them to know who I really am,” he says. “That’s what a relationship is really for — knowing the good, the bad and the ugly of a person.”

Neon the Bishop, which opens for the 1975 at Mission Ballroom on Tuesday, December 6, includes James, Erik Johnson, Carlos Hernandez and Stephen Morrison. The Denver group has been making unique, synthesizer-heavy indie-pop music since 2019, showcased on the ebullient, four-and-a-half-minute “A Damn Good First Impression."

Bands such as Queen inspire James, and that influence is apparent in the single’s soaring, operatic vocal harmonies and theatrical instrumental arrangement. Twenty One Pilots is another particular influence, because, James says, they do their own thing and offer an engaging, fun live show.

“I remember seeing them when there were 100 people in the room,” he recalls. “Then they sold out that room. And the next time, they were at Red Rocks, and I couldn’t afford to go.”

James says that the bandmates approach each new song with one question: "How can we hook new fans?" They want to cast a wide net by writing songs that stand out from each other, and that variety is on display at Neon the Bishop concerts, as well. “When we play live shows, it’s nice, because even if you listen to our releases, there’s really not two songs that sound familiar,” James says. “It could hurt us or help us. I don’t know.”

At the end of the day, he’s just happy to be in Denver, making music within a tight-knit community of musicians. He says Neon the Bishop is part of a micro-scene of sorts that includes other Mile High City acts such as Elektric Animals, This Broken Beat, Redamancy, Redlands, Sophie Gray and Chandra DeSantis. “It’s not a clique or anything, and we don’t intend it to be,” James explains. “There were just people who found value in supporting one another, and like-minded people have joined us.”

The group is named after a fictional character whose exploits are told through its music and who mirrors the bandmates' desire to support one another as well as other artists. But Neon is also a reflection of how James was in life previously, he says: "He was just a fallen man who wasn’t really chasing a purpose or anything. Something got ahold of him, and now he has a purpose. He doesn’t have a face, but he has a purpose.”

It’s not a hard and fast story, so the band has some leeway as it goes forward. The creative narrative device stems from James's love of film and television. For example, the song “Do You Believe in Ghosts? I Do” is based on an episode of Star Trek, and “I See Fire” was inspired by Stranger Things.

James is also a big fan of horror movies, which bleeds into some of Neon the Bishop’s storylines. That influence comes out in the band’s live shows, too; at a Halloween gig, James emerged from an oversized coffin.

“I’m a big cinema guy,” he says. “I think that even comes into play a lot with how I write. I love storytelling.”

Neon the Bishop opens for the 1975 at 7 p.m. Tuesday, December 6, at Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop Street. Tickets are $69.75 and up.