Interview: Derek James

There are few places New York City based singer/songwriter Derek James hasn’t been. Performing live for the very first time in Australia, James soon found himself paving his way through the streets and clubs of Southern France with an assembled band of French musicians in toe, playing these catchy original compositions that were constantly bouncing around in his head.

His music encompasses his experiences, and his experiences have been anything but ordinary. Stray, James’ debut album, was written in the basement of a family’s home in the suburbs of New York, where he worked as a live-in nanny after returning from Europe. Unusual job yes, but you name it and he’s probably done it – bar mitzvah and wedding video’s editor, spa package salesmen, and once even passed out bottled water at malls to name a few.

FanBolt’s Kat Skaris had the honor of sitting down with Derek James, and here’s what he had to say:


In no particular order: Bob Dylan, Josh Rouse, Martin Sexton, Prince, Queen, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, David Gray, Roberto Benigni, Martin Scorcese, John Starks, Neil Young, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jaymay, M, Pink Martini, Lynard Skynard, Tom Robbins, the woods, Australia, France, Thailand, Sugar, People, n more…

If you could tour with any band or artist (dead/alive) who would it be?

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – in a heartbeat. Petty’s great songs are endless and timeless. The band boasts an all-star cast with Mike Campbell on guitar (favorite lead player), Steve Ferrone on the drums (hits like no other, an amazing pocket), Benmont and the rest. Petty knows how to put on a rock show and is a road warrior. Would love to open for him and soak up as many stories, wisdom, vibes as I could get!

What artists have you shared the stage with?

OKGo, Ben Kweller, M.O.E., Blues Traveler, Sugar Ray, Matt White, Alexa Ray Joel, Switchfoot, Jesse McCartney, Pete Francis (Dispatch), Eric Hutchinson, KC & the Sunshine Band!

How was your tour with Matt White?

The tour with Matt was a lot of fun. I’d never been to a lot of the cities we hit: Dallas, Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Lawrence, Miami, Tampa and more. I love to travel and meet people and the tour was chock full of both. Matt and his band were great to hang with and the crowds were receptive to both of our music which worked out great.

How and when did you begin singing?

Growing up, I was self-conscious of my voice hid it with silly accents and howls. I messed around in high school trying to develop a singing voice, but would end up sounding like Adam Sandler. Finally in college I played my first open mic while swallowing my spleen I was so nervous, and the rest is history.

What was the oddest job you had?

Selling spa packages to Dentists’ receptionists. My opening line was, “You like being pampered, right?!”

If you weren’t singing what would you be doing?

I’d be running around in the woods, swimming with dolphins, backpacking around the globe.

What is the most random and unexpected act that a fan has done?

At an outdoor concert in the summer, a drunken girl and guy in bathing suit and bikini were grinding hardcore with each other in front of the stage the entire set. We’re talking rated NC-17. Everyone in the crowd backed away and old ladies watched in awe. Amazing.

What is your writing process like?

I hear a lyric or melody that I like and I focus on it, see where my mind takes it. The song may start with lyrics or melody, but to get the thing written I need to figure out the topic/idea/story of the song before I can move on. Once I’ve got the topic/idea/story fleshed out, the song and lyrics follow suit. And to come up with cool melodies, I free style gibberish over chords and record myself, then find the phrases and melodies I like best and build upon them.

What are your songs based on?

My songs are based mostly on what Wilbur tells me. Wilbur lives in my head and knows things. He told me the mailman is really a woman. When Wilbur is sleeping, I write songs based on the adventures and tragedies of my life: women, war, love, dancing, sexy time, tragedy, hope, philosophy, wanderlust, and sugar.

What was most recent book you read?

“The Fountainhead” by Aynn Rand – Howard Roark is my hero.

What is your favorite pastime?

I LOVE to ride horses. Don’t get to do it often but absolutely adore galloping through the fields on a giant animal. Last summer I went on a cattle drive through the mountains of Wyoming, pushing cows out of the valley to cool off till the fall. That was my heaven. “Buddy,” my horse on the trip, was a killer companion and didn’t throw me once. Thanks Buddy.

What other activities to you engage in?

Hiking, dog-rubbing, guitar-hero, swimming in large bodies of water, pool (billiards), comedy central, rock of love, millionaire matchmaker, walks through central park, going to the movies, eating in little italy, cherry italian ice.

What is your favorite song to perform?

Lately “What’s That Sound,” cause people start to dance and go crazy for the kazoo.

Do you have any funny road stories you would like to share?

Once the band and I were opening up for Blues Traveler at an outdoor festival in Virginia. We were extremely excited as 6,000 people were expected and the stage was huge. When we got to the field the concert was in, it was fairly overcast, but we loaded up all of our gear onto the stage and did a sound-check. Then the storm hit and it rained 11 inches in an hour. A few hundred people stood in the pouring rain up to their ankles wearing rain jackets. We had a camera crew drive down to cover the show, as well as many friends and family. I have pictures and video footage of the band and I on stage during the monsoon, being told to “smile.” We look like a bunch of sad puppies, its pretty funny.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

Too many places to choose from… I’d love to live in the south of France, where the streets are all cobblestone, the hills smell like fresh herbs, and the locals sip wine till the sun goes down. I like speaking French and eating crepes, so I’d be pretty content!

Interview By Kat Skaris

Derek James Official Site

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