Starting With A Melody: A Q&A with Singer/Songwriter Jeffrey James
You might know him from the NBC series Songland, but if not, it's time you get to know him. We recently caught up with upcoming singer/songwriter Jeffrey James to talk about his budding career and his newest single "Like Love". We chatted about his process, how health is an important part of his success, and his journey as a singer/songwriter. Here's what he had to say.
Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a singer/songwriter. Were you a songwriter or a singer first?
I was a singer first. I grew up in a household where everyone could hold a tune, and hear and sing harmonies. From there I joined every school choir that I could. Songwriting came around junior year of high school when I found myself joining a garage band (we literally practiced in the drummer’s parents’ garage!) that needed a lead singer. I started writing lyrics and melodies to the band's instrumental songs. And I found that I came naturally. I haven’t looked back since!
You spent your early career writing and performing your own songs as an independent pop vocalist in the indie scene. How did that shape you as an artist?
Being independent as long as I have has shaped everything about me. From my hands-on approach to interacting with my fans to the types of songs I write and sing. Being “indie” and not having a label try to adjust my music or brand has allowed me to find my own unique voice and style. I know my art is stronger because of it.
You joined the cast of Songland Season 2 a little last minute. Can you tell us how it all happened?
I’m pretty sure they found me from my previously released music. I was asked to submit a handful of songs for them to possibly choose from. I thought “We Can Be (Heroes)” was going to be used for a different episode, but, as luck would have it, the show held off and added my song and me to the Martina McBride episode! It was great to be able to pitch a power ballad to a singer who I knew could handle singing it. And working with Ryan Tedder was a dream come true. My confidence really grew after our studio sessions. I learned a lot from him in a very short time. Mostly from seeing the high energy level he works at. But I also felt like I held my own as a collaborator, and he was extremely complimentary of me as a songwriter.
You just released your first single as a mainstream artist. Congrats! Can you share where the inspiration for "Like Love" came from?
Thanks! "Like Love" was initially an idea that my co-writer and producer, Natalia Malo, brought into our session. I immediately connected to it. It’s all about unexpected heartbreak. And the anger, denial, and sadness that can come from it. I had a past relationship end when she broke up with me via DM while she was in another country. It's funny to think about now, but at the time, I was destroyed and caught completely off guard!
Do you have a process for writing new songs?
For me, it all starts with the melody. I have a running list of random hooks saved in my voice memos that usually don’t have lyrics yet. From there I figure out what that melody wants to say. Which is usually whatever I want to talk about that day.
When you’re not singing or writing songs, what do you do in your free time?
I love playing basketball, and have had a running pick-up game going for a few years now with some friends in town. I also love reading/watching anything science fiction. There’s nothing like a good space opera novel. Anything in the Star Trek universe has my immediate attention.
You’ve written music that is featured in a lot of shows. Which were you most excited about?
An older song of mine, Bad Woman, was in season one of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime! I love that Tom Clancy series and John Krasinski can do no wrong. So, I was extremely pumped to get that!
What’s the hardest part about being a musician?
I think the fear of the unknown has been the hardest for me. There’s no guide or map you can follow if you want to be an artist. You could interview ten of the top songwriters and artists in the music industry and they’d all have a different story about how they got to where they are. There’s a wonderful freedom in that as well, knowing that the sky’s the limit when it comes to what art you can make and how you pursue your career. But there are plenty of days where it feels like you're walking in a pitch-black tunnel, hoping you don’t trip and fall.
What is your favorite way to sweat?
I started boxing/kickboxing last year, and I really love it. It’s one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done. And I love that it’s an exercise, but it’s also learning a skill that I’m really interested in. If I’m not doing that, I love a good HIIT workout!
How does staying healthy help your music career?
My main instrument is my voice, so staying healthy is so vital to my career. When I’m eating right and working out consistently, there is a noticeable difference in the strength of my voice and in my ability to be creative on a daily basis.
Favorite item of Rhone clothing?
The Bolinas Beach Poncho is so damn comfy! It’s my go-to hoodie in almost any situation.
Jeffrey pictured above in Navy Bolinas Beach Poncho
Musical artist that has inspired you the most?
I’m not sure there’s just one. Bill Withers, David Burn, and Janelle Monae are always high on my list! They all make/made very different music, but they have extremely unique musical voices and are/were unapologetically true to themselves in life and in music.
Any advice for aspiring musicians?
You can always get better, and there’s always someone better than you. The music industry is a bit of “who can last the longest” game. You have to have the kind of passion for music that makes you be willing to sacrifice everything else to stay in the game.