Nashville-based Jeffrey James is taking the world by storm with his new release, Unsaid. Toting a style that is equal parts R&B and Alt-Pop, his emotionally charged songs are melodic and intense as he dives deep into his musical mindset. His latest EP which is out now via South by Sea, shows James collaborating with his biggest names yet from John Luke Carter (Mokita), Tony Esterly (Sia - Satisfied ft. Miguel and Queen Latifah), and Chicago writing duo, and The Worktapes (Matt Joynt of The Format). We had the absolute pleasure to catch up with Jeffrey James, which you can catch below.
Can you remember that moment when you heard music, and were captivated? What was it?
Dang! Big first question! lol. I’m trying to channel my 2-year old self to remember what I was doing....The first time that really comes to mind was when I was either in junior high or early in high school when my Mom took me to my first professional touring musical. It was Jesus Christ Superstar— a rock opera written in the 70's. I remember crying a few times during the performance because I was overwhelmed with the voices and the music I was hearing. I think I was in disbelief at how everyone could sing their asses off and captivate the audience like they did. And also, I remember thinking, “I wanna do that. I can do that.”
How would you describe being a musician in the current Pop/R&B scene? Is there a ‘family’ feel around a good portion of the music community? Especially in Nashville?
The Pop/R&B scene in Nashville is in a really cool place currently. There is some great talent in town but it's still a small portion of the giant music scene that is Nashville. It's only been the past year or two that we all found each other. Before that, there were a few of us doing our thing, but it's like we were all hiding in our own fox holes, popping our heads out to see if anyone else was around. And then going back into hiding, thinking we were the only ones. But now, apparently, we have a scene! haha! Which is awesome! Since it's so fresh and new, we all kind of feel like the underdogs who are trying to make a name for ourselves. It's definitely created a closeness between everyone in the scene because we all realize that we need each other to move forward. And the more successful producers and artists there are coming out of the this community, the better it will be for everyone to keep growing and thriving.
"Unsaid" has been a track that has been on my radar for the past few weeks. How long did it take you to write and record the piece?
It was actually a really quick session! I wrote it with Matt Joynt and Laura Pearson. They are a writing/production duo out of Chicago. They came to Nashville to write, we met up to write at 11am and I think I was recording scratch vocals by 1pm. We hit it off immediately and they brought in a killer idea and track. I was able to connect with the story completely and add myself to it. After they left town, Matt sent me a more completed track, and I recorded my lead vocal and the choir parts in one sitting and that was that! I don't think I've ever been a part of an easier recording/writing session. It was like the song had been waiting to be made and just jumped out as soon as we started putting it together.
What song (or songs) on your latest release, UNSAID, are the most personal to you as a songwriter, and why?
Unsaid, in particular, is very personal. I've lived the story in that song, in one way or another, many times. And I think we did a great job describing living in that kind of regret. Also, I'm very proud of Running Away. The lyrics from both verses hit home every time I hear them. They are just very real and true. First verse: "And I know I'm human cause I'm making mistakes. And I can't be honest when my pride's in the way." Second Verse: "And I made a promise, it's for better or worse, And it isn't perfect but it's still in the works."
What artists influenced the sound of your music? Does that play a role in your songwriting?
The past couple years I've been into acts like Jon Bellion, Janelle Monaé, Twenty One Pilots, and Chance the Rapper. Their music and melodies have played a huge role in my sound. But my parents raised me on bands like The Doobie Brothers and Chicago (And The Beatles, obviously... but who wasn't?). And I can't deny that those classic melodies constantly seep into my brain when I'm coming up with melodies or chord progressions.
What can you tell us about the initial concept of the record? Was there a specific theme you were trying to portray and had in mind writing?
I didn't have a theme in mind. All I knew was I wanted to work with multiple producers while making songs that all sounded like me. It was kind of a test for myself to see if I had the kind of control over my art to keep it cohesive with so many influences. I ended up choosing from around 30 songs for this 4 song EP, and there are 3 producers on the record. Some of the songs that didn't make the cut may be used in the future, but the four I chose felt like they stood strong on their own. And, as a package, they created a full picture of the artist I am and want to be.
How was the songwriting in general for the record? Was it an easy process, or does it take you a good amount of time to achieve the sounds you wanted?
It was a pretty fluid process. I felt like I had a strong grasp on what vibe I wanted for my new work, and I think that made it easier for my co-writers and producers to create with me. The songs were all written pretty quickly (2-3 hours), and we were usually recording while we were writing. I don't think any of the songs I picked needed any major overhauls after we had done the initial recording. Luckily, I didn't have a timeline set when I started recording. So I was able to go back weeks or months after working with the producers to make changes or add some new ideas. It was fairly stress free.
What can we expect from Jeffrey James in 2017? Any plans for a stateside tour?
I've got a couple festival dates announced (May 27, Denver Day of Rock, and July 15, Forecastle Fest.) With more shows being planned as we speak. And there will be more content releasing connected to the Unsaid EP. I'm also still writing, so I don't see why there won't be more music releasing later this year…