With his warm, rich tenor and emotionally powerful songs, Brendan James announces himself as an artist-to-watch on his dazzling debut album The Day is Brave. Rooted in the classic singer/songwriter tradition, with its introspective lyrics and unforgettable melodies, the album is 11 tracks of stunning songcraft: elegant, earthy, and displaying a total lack of artifice that is rare in the pop world these days.
Influenced by the understated simplicity of the Carly Simon, James Taylor, and Carole King records he grew up with, James knew he wanted his debut to sound natural and unaffected. “The phrase ‘stripped-down’ is so overused, and ‘bare-bones’ doesn’t really describe it,” he says, “but I wanted the simplicity of the art to come through. I wanted it to have tasteful blend of folk and pop influences.”
We had the honor of sitting down with Brendan to discuss his new album, how he got started in the industry, and his musical inspirations. Here’s what he had to say:
Can you talk a little bit about your new album? How would you describe it?
My new album is called “The Day is Brave”, and it’s coming out June 3rd. It’s pretty simply produced. When I write songs I try to think about my own life, or the lifes of my friends or people I have met and write relatively specific songs about those occurrences. It ranges from some slower songs to some upbeat songs. It’s got 11 songs in all, and there will be some bonus material on iTunes as well.
Were there any specific artists or bands that had an influence on the music you wrote for this album?
It’s my first album so pretty much every band that I’ve ever listen to has influenced me somehow. I was especially influenced by the singer/songwriters of the 70’s like James Taylor and Cat Stevens. When I think about lyrics, melodies, and chord structures, I think Elton John and Billy Joel played a large part in that. But yea, just basically a lot of 70’s music.
What is the song writing process like for you?
For the most part it’s me sitting at the piano until chords and melodies come. I don’t really think about the lyrics for a few days, or sometimes a few weeks. Then the lyrics come to me, and I try to place them into the melody. But the melody and the chord structure come first for me, and then I make sure to take a little time with the lyrics.
Do you have a song that feels the most personal to you?
I guess the most personal would be a song called “The Other Side”. It’s about growing up and the hard things that happen to you. For me it was getting picked on in school and having my parents get divorced. Then you wake up one day and you realize you’re not a kid anymore and you beat it, you’re an adult, and it feels great.
What has surprised you most about the music industry?
What has surprised me most is probably how much of small world the industry actually is. When you’re entering the industry, you think oh my gosh there are all these record labels, people, and bands. Then after you’re in it for a few years, you start running into people you know all over the place. Everyone is kind of tied into everything, it’s interesting.
What advice would you offer to someone who wanted to make in the music business?
I would say number one, believe in yourself. Number two, find a city and a place that best fits your music, to me that was New York. Number three, play some open mics, play some shows, and get some solid demos together that represent who you are.
I read that it wasn’t until your sophomore year that you started writing music. What was your plans for the future before the decision to do music, and what was it that made you decide that music was indeed what you wanted to do?
Like any sophomore in college, I was pretty lost [laughs]. I think I had just dropped my music major, because I knew I didn’t want to be a classical musician. I was studying communication, and I really didn’t know what I was going to be or what I wanted to pursue. I could barely even pick a major, let alone think about a career or a future. Then these songs started to come, and I sat a piano for the first time in my life. It was pretty much the first day that I did that, that I had this feeling that this is what I was supposed to do.
So that was the moment you made the decision?
Yeah, I’d love to say it was the very first day, but it really was within the first few weeks of sitting at the piano. I had always love to sing, but it wasn’t until I started playing piano that I realized that you could put poetry over the piano and you could actually sing your poems.
What’s in your cd player now?
Band of Horses, Belle and Sebastian, and Ryan Adams
What has been your favorite venue that you’ve performed in thus far?
I would say probably Town Hall in New York City.
What’s your guilty pleasures? Any TV shows you can’t miss or hobbies that you do when you’re not performing?
Well I don’t know if it’s a guilty pleasure, but I really love basketball. I’m also into photography. I like to watch the Discovery Channel a lot. My friends make fun of me, because I think I like the show Man vs. Wild a little too much. I don’t know why but I think Bear Grylls is pretty awesome.
Interview By: Emma Loggins