|Date:||May 20th, 2011|
|Format:||Over the phone|
|Length:||One hour, fifteen minutes|
Note: The first few minutes of the interview are cut off due to not have the audio recorder ready, but the basic questions I usually ask are here below from notes taken during the interview.
Birthdate – July 17th, 1979
Birthplace – Nashua, New Hampshire
Grew up – Derry, New Hampshire
Mother – Patricia
Father – Randy
Descent - Irish, German
Parents divorced when he was 4 years old.
Not recorded but talked about before this point: Basic infobox questions, growing up in Derry, parents, things he was doing in school growing up (musicals).
Evan Amos: So you did musicals when you were growing up in school. Do you have any memories of school? The only reference I found was that you said that you weren't cool.
- Brendan James: [laughs] Yeah, I never felt cool. I think that when you're a kid who's small and you like to be in the musicals and you get good grades, the odds are stacked against you as far as being one of the cool kids.
Amos: So was a lot of it being in theatre growing up?
- James: Well, I think it was a combination of things. I wasn't boastful, or even really proud of being in the musicals. I would do them because I knew that I liked them, but it's hard to describe. I think I wasn't cool because I wasn't one of the jocks. I was focused on my studies and I guess I was kinda clean-cut.
- It was never to the point where I was getting bullied, I just remember never feeling like the popular kids accepted me.
Amos: After you graduated from high school, what made you decide to go to the University of North Carolina?
- James: I wanted to go to a big school; I felt like a very social person. I wanted to get into the best school that I could get into and I applied to four or five different schools. I also wanted to get away from New Hampshire. I was okay with taking an adventure, going to a big university down south, meeting new people.
- I fell in love with [the University of North Carolina] on a visit that my mom took me to. She took me to a little visit to five different colleges and I fell in love with that school.
Amos: When you went to the University of North Carolina, did you have an idea at the time that you were going for a Communications degree?
- James: No, I didn't know what I wanted. I started majoring in music, because the voice program was very supportive of me and they wanted me to be a Voice major. I ended up really disliking that after two semesters. I then picked Communications Studies as my major, still really not knowing what I really wanted to do, but by that point I was really writing a lot of songs and practicing the piano so much that I started to not care about school.
- I didn't begin playing piano until or writing songs until I was 19. That was after encouragement and inspiration from a local music teacher, Kevin Kandel. I recall many hours spent listening to old records and discussing everything from lyrical phrasing to the history of rock and roll. My time and experience with him was a significant source of knowledge and encouragement during those early years.
Amos: How did you begin to have a relationship with Mr. Kandel?
- James: You know, it's interesting. We started to see each other in the community more frequently. It's hard to describe. One thing that really brought us together was singing at my best friend's mother's funeral. This was before I was songwriting, but I approached Kevin because I knew that he was a wonderful pianist, and he was also the teacher of my friend whose mother had died.
- I said, “Kevin, would you play piano? Brett wants me to sing at the funeral.” So Kevin accompanied me, and at the same time, he allowed me to see something in myself.
Amos: Your first year of college, before this happened, was that the year you started the [UNC acapella group] Clef Hangers?
- James: No, I hadn't done that yet. I didn't get into the Clef Hangers until the sophomore year.
Amos: So you go home, between the breaks of your freshman and sophomore year, the incident happens with the funeral and then you're getting interested in music, so you take that, and then you go back to school, and what changes?
- James: Just so we get it right, the funeral was when I was still in high school. I marked that as a moment where I was able to work with Kevin Kandel for one the first times, but the truth is that was in high school, I graduated from high school, I went to my first semester of college, and on the Christmas break after my first semester of college, was when Kevin and I really started to meet at his apartment and really get into it.
Amos: Oh, okay. In the various articles and bios that I've read, it seemed to paint the picture that this happened all at once after your freshman year of college.
- James: I don't think that it's super important, but I think it's important that it's said correctly, not so much the dates, but it happened halfway through my freshman year, and from then on, I'd go back for my summer breaks, or different breaks, and hang out with him, to show him the work that I was working on.
Amos: When did you go to Los Angeles then?
- James: So after that moment, I spent a year or two in college, practicing in the basement of Hill Hall, the big music department on campus. I spent a couple years practicing and writing. The first half of my junior year, I decided to get out of college and just go see what the music scene was like, in a big city.
- I had a friend that wanted to go Hollywood, because he'd like to be a director, an actor, so we just took a semester off. Like, instead of going abroad, you know? That was my first semester of my junior year, I went and lived in Hollywood for six months.
Amos: Was it anything official or did you just leave?
- James: I kinda left. I was able to... I talked to my professors and said, “I really want to do this, is there a way to get credit?” Many of them said no, but one said yes, and he gave me three hours of credit. That's all he gave me. That's if I could get an internship in communications.
- In order to make it all work, from my mom's point of view, from my professor's point of view, I went and got an internship in L.A. and got paid next to nothing, but I was able to go and check out the music scene for the next six months.
Amos: Oh. Again, the way that I've seen it come up before, it seemed that you just left school all of sudden and went to Los Angeles, but then nothing happened and then you came back, but there was an internship involved.
- James: Yeah, I went there not only on an internship, it was out of obligation that I got an internship in communication, but really, I knew I was going to come back. I just wanted to go, get out of the bubble, and go into the real world for six months and start to see what it was going to be like if I was going to pursue music. I wasn't actively... I only had four songs, I wasn't looking to get a record deal or meet anybody. I just wanted to go and get out of college for six months and explore a possible career path.
Amos: What kind of experience did you have in Los Angeles?
- James: In a way, it was a loss of innocence. You go and you move into your first big city after living in Derry, then Chapel Hill. I think I realized how challenging it was going to be to pursue music and how hard it was to get a real gig, to try and get people to come to your shows, to try to write songs. I think it was eye-opening for me, to throw myself into a big city. I was still very unprepared, to do it professionally.
Amos: The internship that you had at the time, what kind of stuff were you doing?
- James: I worked at a communication company and I was the intern. [laughs] I would go and get coffee, work on spreadsheets, input data, went to office parties, nothing high pressure, just classic intern, menial tasks.
Amos: Would you say that anything really major happened in Los Angeles? Like meeting someone or getting gigs?
- James: I call Los Angeles (even though I played one or two shows in Chapel Hill for my friends) the place of my first real shows, playing at a place called The Crooked Bar, which was in the old Coconut Teaser. They had a small room underneath called The Crooked Bar and that's what I really consider my first shows for people that weren't just my friends.
Amos: Were you getting a good response?
- James: I don't know. I wasn't getting a huge response, I think maybe 15 to 20 people would come to those first couple shows. The owner was nice and he wanted me back, but the truth is I didn't really have an identity as an artist at that point. I don't think that I was very comfortable on stage. It was your classic example of getting your stage legs.
Amos: After the internship ended, did you ever think to stay in Los Angeles, or were you thinking that you had to go straight back to school?
- James: I was excited to go back to school, excited to get back to my friends, to that life and singing in the Clef Hangers. All of these things that I couldn't wait to do. But I will say that I left Los Angeles knowing that I was going to move to a big city and pursue music the second that I graduated.
Amos: Was there anything major going on between the time that you got back from L.A. to the time you graduated? Were you just biding your time, writing songs and doing things with the Clef Hangers?
- James: I'll put it this way, when I got back from L.A., I knew that I wanted to do it. I knew that I didn't have enough songs or experience or skill, and so my last year and half of college was predominantly practicing and writing.
Amos: Were you playing more local gigs at that point, in Chapel Hill?
- James: Yeah, I did do local gigs. I played at an Irish pub on campus, I did a few shows there, like five to ten local shows in that last year and a half, but I was mainly in the lab and becoming more of a song-writer. I still had years to go, because that's what happened when I moved to New York City for the first few years, too.
Amos: So after you graduate from the University of North Carolina, what made you decide to go to New York City instead of Los Angeles?
- James: [laughs] You know it's funny, because I thought it was going to be L.A.. I actually had a room secured and a roommate situation with something like a $2,500 down payment. I was moving to Los Angeles after college and then I took one trip with one friend to New York City after I graduated. It was supposed to be a day trip, he and I were just going to have fun; I hadn't spent much time in New York City at all. It was that one trip, it was coming up the subway stairs in Times Square and it was walking through the East Village and understanding that people like Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne and Stevie Wonder had played in New York City when they were younger.
- The money didn't matter, the money that I had deposited in L.A. and I just called my friends and said, “Guys, I have to choose New York. It's where I gotta start.”
Amos: What was the first thing that you did when you went to New York?
- James: I got an apartment with four girls. It was a five-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. I got a job straight away. I got a job at Urban Outfitters about ten days after moving there, just to pay the rent.
- Then literally, I met people who could advise me to where the best open mics were. I was all about the open mics for a while. For some reason it was, “I want to perform in New York City, on a stage” and that was the first way that I knew how to do it. I really did hit the open mic scene. There was probably 8 or 9 different open mics that I'd go to. One that I really remember was on 7th and Avenue A called the Sidewalk Cafe. It was a very memorable open mic that I think a lot of people start out at.
Amos: When you worked at Urban Outfitters, could you actually afford to buy clothes there?
- James: We got 40% off, so yeah. [laughs] I could only afford to buy them because of our discount and because they liked you to wear Urban Outfitters clothing.
Amos: Do you still own a bunch of Urban Outfitters clothing?
- James: Yeah, I do. It went on to be the theme of my wardrobe for years, because I worked there for three years and wore their clothing so much that it just became a part of me. Any of my friends will tell you that.
Amos: Around this time, you were playing a lot of open mics, but a while later you had a demo that got to Carly Simon, given to her by your manager. When did you meet the manager that made this happen?
- James: The manager that I had at the time is the manger that I still have today. We've been working together for eight years. [Ben Singer] also went to Chapel Hill, but we didn't really know each other in college, he just knew that I was a singer and he heard my early demos. He first approached me at one of my Clef Hanger concerts, said he was impressed, and asked if I had any recordings of my own. I gave him the few that I had, and we stayed in touch. A year after we graduated, when I was already in New York, we had a long conversation in which I told him I wasn't sure I was on the right path and that I had fallen in with some hip hop guys writing urban pop songs. He agreed it didn't feel right and said he wanted to help, and that he would move to New York even if it meant transferring law schools to do it. And he did. We started working together in the summer of 2003.
- It was not long after that he had gotten a new demo we had made out to a lot of people, including Carly Simon. I think it was about four or five months after he moved to New York City.
Amos: It's probably one of the most common things concerning your back story, this incident where you got the attention of Carly Simon and recorded a song with her that would play at the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, but did that recording actually result in any momentum, career-wise? Anything that you were able to use around town or with a record label?
- James: No. That's the other misconception going around, is that... that [experience] was so great, but it literally didn't lead to anything. I mean, it cultivated me as an artist and inspired me and all of that stuff, but it didn't tangibly lead to anything. I had to come back from that experience and it was still like another year and a half of gigs and open mics before anything changed... that's when I really started to play locally in New York at places like Joe's Pub and The Cutting Room. The Cutting Room and Joe's Pub were my two venues in New York that I'd just go to constantly, where I did shows and started to build my following.
- It wasn't until the beginning of 2005 when I met a producer named Tony Bruno. In early 2005 [my manager] Ben [Singer] set me up with Tony. Tony and I made another demo, then it started rolling. That demo we made was my first demo with a full band and it's what I consider my first professional, real music.
Amos: Was that demo recorded in Woodstock [New York]?
- James: Yeah, there's a studio near there called Milbrook [Sound] Studio.
Amos: It looks like before this time [recording the demo], you had started to use Myspace. Were you doing it for promotion because you saw other people doing it? Were you doing anything else for promotion at the time?
- James: No, it was just Myspace. We got excited about Myspace just like a lot of other musicians were at the time. I credit Myspace with helping me get a following, not only in New York City, but starting to get a following around the country. But, yeah, I think it was around then that we really started to use it. It was around the time that I did my demo with Tony Bruno that got me signed to Capitol Records.
Amos: Was there something about this new demo that worked and that was able to get you access to major labels?
- James: Yeah, this demo had a lot of... it had a full band sound and it had a lot of energy, and it was produced professionally for the first time in my career. It had a song on there called, “Let Your Beat Go On” and a song called “Green.” Those were the two songs that got a lot of the record labels interested, but they were produced in a full band way, which finally let the record labels open their eyes and ears to me, I guess.
Amos: Who did you end up speaking to? Who did you end up showcasing for?
- James: Andy Slater at Capitol Records.
Amos: Did you do a sweep of different record companies at the time? Epic, Interscope?
- James: There was Epic, there was Warner Bros. and Verve Records and... there was another big one... Atlantic. I also didn't do a sweep, I did a showcase in The Living Room in New York City. That showcase was what really directly lead to me going to Los Angeles to meeting Andy Slater. Andy was really the only president that I sat face-to-face with. He was notorious for signing an artist on the spot so the artist wouldn't then go and make his rounds.
Amos: What was that audition process for Capitol? Did you just play a few songs and he said, “Let's do this.”?
- James: I had a meeting in the afternoon with Capitol Records, and I walked into the famous Capitol Records recording studio. You know, The Beatles, Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys, where all of these acts had recorded. Actually, Nat King Cole's grand piano was sitting in the middle of the room with a microphone.
- The entire staff of Capitol Records came down and stood around the piano and Andy Slater came, and I'll never forget, he was half an hour late. The staff and I had to wait awkwardly in the studio for half an hour, but he came down and he said, “Play me some songs.” I played him three songs.
Amos: Did he just say, “You're signed” right after that?
- James: Right after that he said, “Come up to my office. I want to talk.” I went up to his office, and this was all directly after that moment, we went up the elevator to his office on the ninth floor and sat in the office for 45 minutes with my manager and my producer at the time. Andy proceeded to pitch Capitol Records in a big way. He ended his whole pitch by telling me he wanted to make me Capitol's next artist, and asked me would I sign with them.
Amos: After signing, how long did it take for the deal with Capitol Records to fall apart?
- James: It took 18 months.
Amos: I knew that you were recording music at the time, did you lose all of that music?
- James: I actually didn't lose it, I just chose not to use it. I was kinda lost, it was a very classic “young artist on a big record company” story. I got lost in the gears of the record company. There was a lot of opinions about my record and the single, the type of production that was on it. We argued and went back and forth, it was a tough time.
- Just when I thought that things were getting okay, that we were getting the sound we wanted and the record was getting mixed and worked on and almost finalized, Capitol Records financial infrastructure imploded. All of the people got fired that I was working with and several artists got dropped, including me.
Amos: Was... well, a year and a half is a long time, were you in Los Angeles for a lot of this time?
- James: It was back and forth. Yeah, I was in Woodstock, I was going to make a record with Tony Bruno, we did that in Woodstock. Well, actually, it was outside of Woodstock in the mountains at a studio called Allaire Studios. I was making a record that didn't work with him. Then I went to L.A. and I was making a record that didn't work with Patrick Leonard, who was a pretty famous guy that had worked with Elton John. The record that I did with Pat Leonard was the one that was almost released, so yeah, it was just spending time writing and working on an album. That was my year and a half, really.
Amos: Were you writing a lot of songs? Or were they songs that would just get reworked over and over again?
- James: Yeah, it was mainly the latter. There was a pool of 15 songs and even though we wanted wanted to put 10 or 11 on the album, yeah, they were just constantly getting reworked and re-recorded and then judged by Andy Slater and held up by the process. We were always waiting for more money.
Amos: So would you finish a whole suite of songs and you'd send them in, and they would just send them back with a bunch of notes about what they didn't like?
- James: Yeah, yeah. You'd finish a group of songs and hoped they'd really like it. The biggest problem was that they didn't respond and you couldn't get... because it was going to be Andy that really had to decide. Andy was known as a pretty flaky guy who was hard to get a hold of. So it was weeks in the recording studio that would be held up by the bureaucracy of it.
- I think it just started to fall apart. It made me lose my vision and my hope for each album [version] and each song because I didn't feel like I was getting anything done.
Amos: Was the name of the record that would have been released from that called As Oceans Rise?
- James: No, the album that was released was The Day Is Brave and I was going to name it As Oceans Rise. I think what happened there was that I met with someone or somebody in the press, some bio writer, six months before I released it. I told her that was going to be the working title and she printed it, you know what I mean? So now people think that there was some album out there called As Oceans Rise but that was just an idea for The Day Is Brave.
Amos: Oh, that reminds me, one of the things that I noticed is that you have different cover designs for both of your albums, are you involved with the art direction or that process?
- James: Yeah, I was, especially on the first one. I really conceptualized that with some of my closest friends. We set it up in their studio in Charleston, South Carolina, where I have some really dear friends. We set that up ourselves. We got the piano keys from a real piano and put them out on this wood floor, picked my outfit, shot it, and it ended up being what we went with.
Amos: The alternate cover art was very similar to that, where you were on this dock and it curves. Was that just the first design?
- James: Some of those were for press shots. I needed something that I could put up on my Myspace page, so we did a lot of different shoots up in Charleston. We got some good stuff. We used that one on the dock of just more for a branding shot instead of the album cover.
Amos: At the time you were with Capitol, something like Myspace would have been relatively new. What were the record company's opinions about these social media sites at the time?
- James: They were... I'm trying to think back. Capitol at the time, they were a true example of a giant just crumbling. I think it was more of my own manager and that I knew how important Myspace was, that was us. Capitol at the time was really a slow moving giant who's main concern was making sure that the singles could get on the radio, and that the artist that they signed had singles. It was still a very singles-driven market.
- The rest of it they didn't care about. They didn't care about the touring, they wouldn't let me tour. They wouldn't pay for anything for me to go on tour. I was just supposed to focus on the record. All they wanted were singles and the record. The Myspace stuff and all of the promotion or outside-of-the-box thinking had to be done by me and my manager.
Amos: I know that a label will sometimes make an effort to control the image that you have at the time, so they didn't come up and say, “We're going to take this down” or, “We're going to take this over.”?
- James: They just ignored it. I think at the time a lot of people didn't even understand what Myspace was. They didn't know whether to be worried about it or whether it was a big deal at all.
Amos: How did you find out that your deal with Capitol fell through?
- James: My manager called me. I think it was January of 2007, Ben called me and said, “I got some news for you. It's some big news, but I don't think it's bad.”
- “You're getting dropped. Andy Slater got fired, his staff got fired, Jason Flom and Virgin Records are moving in and taking over Capitol. You're not one of the artists that they're going to carry on with, because apparently, there's another piano singer-songwriter on Virgin records that they need to put their focus into. They don't want to take you on as well.”
- “But they're letting us keep our masters and they're paying us a severance check to leave.”
- “Wow, that's kinda good.”
Amos: So that's how you looked at it at the time? Because I've heard deals or situations that have ended up much worse.
- James: Oh yeah, yeah. It could have been so bad that I could have had the record in my hand that was the record of my dreams and all I wanted to do was release that to the fans and they could have said, “You can't release it,” or, “If you want to release it, we own it.” That could have been devastating, but because of all of the turmoil I went through and all of the different mixing and changing of the songs, I was so ready to just pull away from that giant and re-record my songs in a simple way.
- That's why... well, if they had kept the masters that would have been heartbreaking, but they gave me my songs. They said, “Go. We put you through hell and now we're dropping you.” I took my songs that I owned and I re-recorded them with Mikal Blue. Thus began my real first album.
Amos: The songs that were released on The Day Is Brave, those were songs that you had been working on for two or three years at that point?
- James: Yeah.
Amos: Was that true with all of the songs, or did you record some new songs for the final album?
- James: It was about 60/40. It was 60% that I had worked on, re-recorded, pined over, but I wrote almost half of the new album.
Amos: I guess that you were sorta of living in New York City at the time, even through the Capitol ordeal?
- James: Exactly.
Amos: To go back a bit, you had originally moved to Manhattan when you got to New York, but then you eventually moved to Queens?
- James: I moved from Manhattan to kind of a rough neighborhood called Bushwick, Brooklyn. From Brooklyn I moved to Astoria, Queens. I'll never forget my old address, it was 30-30-30, 30th street. I always thought that was funny.
- I lived there a while, but then I ended up living for another couple of years in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I kinda got around.
Amos: And you currently live in California?
- James: Right.
Amos: After the Capitol thing, did you just think that you were going to record your album yourself, or that you would try to go to another label?
- James: Ben and I, we really decided, after all of the stuff with Capitol died down, all we wanted to do was make an album. These are times, as they certainly are now, that you could conceptualize making an album without a major label, just based on the times because people were starting to do that.
- Our first focus was on making an album, we were going to try and get that album signed either while we were making or after we made it. That's what we ended up doing, we made the album six months after I got dropped from Capitol.
- Then we released an EP, we didn't release the full album. That EP started to get some excitement among some labels. I got signed to Decca, basically based on that EP and them hearing the rest of the album. They released it with me the following June.
Amos: Also during this time with the EP, there was a soldier, Tomas Young, that had heard a song of yours and used it in his documentary. I've read some conflicting reports of exactly how he found it, can you tell the story about it?
- James: I'll tell you exactly how he heard it, it was from iTunes. He was sitting at a computer and he was searching for songs he might like; songs about the war. I think he typed in “hero” in the search, or was trying key words for songs he could relate to, then he found my song on iTunes.
Amos: How long after that did he contact you?
- James: I think it was within the month of him finding it. He was putting his film together, doing a compilation CD as well for for the film. He called and asked if he could put me on the compilation CD.
Amos: Was that press that helped you get a record deal or was that just something else that was happening at the time?
- James: I think that helped, but it wasn't direct. It's so hard in this path. Other than that one demo that I made with Tony Bruno, that was so direct, that's what got Capitol Records. The rest of the path has just been so... it's a sum of the whole, rather than one thing leading to something huge. The "Hero's Song" thing just really helped. It was just one of those things out there that was just helping and I think that validated me. It further validated me to Decca, to Universal, for them to really take the step.
Amos: What was the signing process for Decca? Was it similar to Capitol or was it different in the sense that they already had enough knowledge of you at that point?
- James: It was different, it wasn't “brand-new artist, come in and play for us.” It was based on the fact that I had a following developing and I had a real album in my hands, there was press about me, it was definitely more organic, I guess. I didn't have to go and showcase for them.
Amos: During this time, before Decca, were you still playing shows while you were recording the album?
- James: I would say on and off. When I was making my first album I was still very focused on the album and not playing that many shows. I got out of Capitol and knew that I didn't have anything to ride on if I didn't have my album, so I put myself into the album. After that, I played shows in New York and L.A..
- You know, I remember now, I did play shows in New York where Decca came to those shows, and I remember the A&R man that signed me, who's now my friend, David Novik, he definitely had to come to shows in New York City to see me play live, before he would sign me. I remember that. I was playing shows, but I wasn't touring. I was playing here and there, I didn't start touring until really June of 2008.
Amos: Did you record any of The Day Is Brave in Los Angeles?
- James: We recorded all of it in Mikal Blue's studio 30 miles north of L.A., in Westlake Village.
Amos: Is this separate of The Ballroom Break-in recordings?
- James: No, the EP was just me meeting with Mikal Blue and doing four or five songs to see if we could work together well. The four or five songs turned out so great, we decided to release them as an EP while we continued to work on the full album.
Amos: After you record The Day Is Brave, how long before you went out on your first tour to support the album?
- James: I recorded it in June, I signed right around Christmas, we released it the following June, then I started touring nonstop.
Amos: And this was your first tour?
- James: It was my first official touring of more than two weeks at a time. It was finally that I had a product in my hand that I was proud of. That was when I really hit the road and I kinda haven't stopped since. It's almost 2012 and I feel like I've toured around eight months of the year every year since then.
Amos: What is touring life like for you?
- James: I enjoy it. I enjoy touring life and I enjoy home life, but where the struggle comes in is the transition, and I think that a lot of musicians would tell you that. Touring life is good for someone like me, I like to be on the move, I like to be accomplishing things. I like to have one goal at hand. When you're on tour, your goal is just to give great shows.
- I think that's why touring for musicians can become additive. It can become a big part of their life because they're finally out there doing what they do naturally. They're not stressed about the rest of the world, they're able to do their thing every night.
Amos: Did you have dreams about touring, during all the years leading up to it?
- James: Not really, because I didn't know what touring was going to be about, what it was going to be like. I just heard it was what people do; when you have an album you tour for it. I didn't really have an expectation.
Amos: Did you get to go with a full band?
- James: No, no. I had to start out solo, then I could move up to a band. I did a lot of touring with just my drummer at the time, Chris Higginbottom. He and I worked together for years. He played my early shows for me in New York City. Then he did a lot of touring with me for the first two years just as a duo, just a piano and drums.
Amos: How did you get around?
- James: First my car, and then Decca helped me get a van that I still have. I still use it on certain occasions if there's not too many of us.
Amos: Were these big or small shows? Were you doing multi-state, all-across-the-county shows?
- James: It grew kinda fast, my touring circuit. I started off regionally, the East Coast and down as far as Washington D.C. and then on the next tour I'd take a stab a little farther south, a little farther west. Finally, I did one at the end of 2008 that was called the MTV SoundTracker Tour. That's where we brought a camera man that was uploading things to MTV, it was cool. On the MTV SoundTrack page that would post video of my tour along with other artists that they were following.
- That was the first tour that really let me get a full band, get in my van with a trailer and tour around the whole country.
Amos: What on earth do you do when you're on the road and driving around? Do you have habits or things you do to bide your time? I can't imagine what it's like three weeks in of driving five hours a day.
- James: [laughs] You know it's funny, you just get into the zone of it. We watch movies in the van, we look out the window, we joke, we sleep. There's really nothing that you wouldn't expect. It just becomes a way of life. You wake up and you're like, “Hey, we gotta drive today.” Or you do a show at night and you drive through the night tonight because we have a lot of energy and we couldn't sleep if we wanted to, it just becomes part of it all. You bitch and you moan, but you love it at the same time. I think any honest musician will tell you, if you're on a tour, as long as the people you're touring with aren't bad people, it's a good thing.
Amos: Were you getting a good response out of the tour? To be able to go out and see these people who were your fans all across the country?
- James: For the most part, but there were still so many markets where people didn't know who I was, so it was a slow build.
Amos: Were you opening for artists?
- James: I did a lot of different opening gigs, some small ones and some big ones. That was interspersed with me being able to go out by myself or with my band. I opened for Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend, Susan Tedeschi, The Fray, Robert Cray, Keb' Mo', and a bunch of others,
Amos: After you began that touring circuit, how long before you begin your writing for your new album?
- James: That's where it got a little tricky. I got home from that MTV SoundTrack Tour in December of '08 and we wanted to make a new album. We had done six months of touring and felt like we had got it out to the country, but I had songs and Decca was interested in making a second album with me. We got right back in. I started writing in January of 2009.
Amos: Was it a long process, the writing?
- James: Yeah, my second album was far more difficult to write than my first. I can definitely admit that, it was a classic sophomore album. You really have to buckle down. You gotta try to harness who you become as an artist after touring. Everything it took to make the first album.
- I really consider the next ten months of my life very difficult. It was pretty tricky to write those songs.
Amos: Was it because you had spent so long on the material that you had for The Day Is Brave?
- James: Exactly. It's also because you want to raise the bar. You go on tour and you meet people, other musicians, your mind just expands. There you are with a pen and a paper and your piano. I've seen a bit of the country now, I've seen other music, and I've played my songs live and felt myself grow as an artist and performer on the stage. I want to make a bigger album now. I want to challenge myself to do that. It took a lot of work and a lot of effort.
Amos: Part of the recording you did for the new album you did in London?
- James: Yes, but it ended up being more of a writing experience because I didn't keep any of the production. We thought I was going to go there and hit it off with this producer, but we didn't end up hitting it off, but I ended up writing some good music for my album.
Amos: Have you done any shows internationally?
- James: No, but I'll tell you, that's on my horizon. For the next 12 to 16 months of my life we're going to try and do that. The more people that I meet, play with and talk to from the UK, people are being very encouraging that my music would do very well over there, so I'm probably going to give it a stab soon.
Amos: Was the release of your newest album pushed back? I see dates for an original release in July, but then September.
- James: It was going to be released on June 1st. It was going to be released on July 22nd. It got pushed back twice.
Amos: Was the album finished or did they want you to re-record stuff?
- James: The album was finished, it was more disagreements within the label as how to promote it. How many months do we want to spend before we release it, stuff like that.
- During that time, too, I can say that I went on two really memorable touring experiences while I was writing my second album, from that winter and spring of 2009. I played on the Mayercraft, John Mayer had invited me to play with seven or eight other artists. It was a great, little experience.
- I also did a Vespa tour, it was a great little highlight of my career, it was so enjoyable. It was with Jason Reeves and Amber Rubarth. We Vespa-ed from San Diego to San Francisco in 18 days and we camped every night, talked about the environment, played about 10 shows. We took showers in the ocean basically. We tried not to use any energy. It was a great experience that I remember happening during all of this.
Amos: Do you still have a Vespa?
- James: Nooo. We couldn't keep 'em. Vespa provided them, but it was only for the tour. I think I'd buy one. It got me addicted to being on two wheels. I then tried riding motorcycles and I got my motorcycle license. I would buy one or the other, it's an amazing feeling to be out on two wheels.
Amos: When you do something like the Mayercraft, where you have this close experience with other musicians, do you get a chance to do some collaborations with other artists? Something that results in studio sit-ins after the experience?
- James: I don't know. I don't want to say no, but that's what I first thought, that those things just lead to that, but it could lead to that. In my case, I'm not that person right now. I think only slowly that I'm starting to collaborate with other people. I've been very focused on just finding my own sound and writing my own songs. I think that it'll come in the next few years that I'll want to collaborate with other artists.
Amos: Some of the songs that you done have been used on television or movies. How do you go about getting the deals with these publishers or companies for that?
- James: It's a lot about pitching. It's a lot about your manager, your publisher if you have one. I don't have publishing right now, because I've chosen not to sign away my publishing. My manager and Decca have their own in-house pitching company called Universal Music Entertainment, UME. It's your record label and it's your manager pitching different networks and people who are in need of music. They either like you or they don't.
Amos: So sometimes it's not something that you're explicitly aware of? You'll get a call that's like, “Brendan, we got a show that's going to feature a song of yours.”
- James: Exactly. Well, I'll find out a little bit beforehand, but it's like, “Criminal Minds, we pitched them your music and they're using this song for this episode. They're going to tell us next week.”
Amos: For deals with television and movies, is it something that's a lot more lucrative than, say, going out and doing a stretch of touring?
- James: It is. It's a little hit or miss. Some shows don't offer a lot of money. MTV was notorious for just using music and saying, “If you don't want us to us it, we won't us it. We're going to use it and we're not going to pay you.” But overall, if you can get a steady stream of spots, it's a good way to supplement your income as a musician, because it's so hard to make money in other ways now.
Amos: Can you talk at all about your album that's coming up? Are you currently writing for your new album?
- James: I am actively writing my third album. I'm hoping to release this album this summer; I would love to be able to do a release that quickly.
Amos: Are you going to record it in L.A. or some other place like Nashville?
- James: I plan on doing it in L.A..
Amos: Does Nashville interest you at all? I've been talking to some artists recently, and there seems to be this buzz in the community, that there's this idea of people moving from L.A. to Nashville.
- James: There's a songwriting thing going on. Nashville has transformed from just country music to other music, pop, indie, rock, songwriting and producing. It has grown a lot in Nashville. Just like L.A. has been, Nashville has been an escape from New York City for producers and writers, because you can live more economically. You can have a studio that's bigger, you can charge less to rent out that studio.
- I think that a lot of people are moving to Nashville because it's not just a country music center anymore, and all of a sudden it's becoming a music city. There's great writers there, not just country, there's pop writers who live there now. That's been an allure for me. I might take a trip to Nashville this month, maybe write a couple of songs there, but I know that I'm going to do my album in L.A..
Amos: Okay, so we've basically covered your history up until now and it's been a bit and I don't want to take up anymore of your time. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, I really appreciate it.
- James: Thank you, too. It was cool.