Starting out as being “ broke as a joke” in NYC, Brendan James is now an inspiring singer-songwriter. With the help of becoming a self-taught piano master,, his gifted voice and various song inspirations in his life, James is truly an artist to watch out for.
James said,” I want to be a musician and be someone who people can depend on to make good music and perform live.”
James has signed with Decca Records and is hoping to release a second album in March of 2010.
In a recent interview, I talked with Brendan James who discussed his struggles, triumphs and advice in the music industry. What follows is a selection of question and answers from that recent interview.
Ashley: How did you get started in the music industry?
Brendan: I had always been a singer. I always loved singing but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I started to get interested in the piano and song writing. It really was because of a mentor who discovered me early on when I was in New Hampshire at home on college break. He was very encouraging. He told me I should be more than a singer, and that I should try to learn an instrument and write my own songs. He was a pretty pivotal person in my early development. So he was my initial inspiration and then it took some years of song writing and honing in on my own stills. I moved to NYC after college and had to do my best to get noticed on my own.
Ashley: How did you get noticed?
Brendan: Well there were several things that led to where I am now, but I guess it started out the old fashioned way. I was living in NYC in a five-bedroom apartment with four girls, which was …interesting. I was broke as a joke living on canned tuna and Kraft macaroni and cheese. I would just go to all open mics in NYC (had nine plotted out). I cycled through them awaiting to be “discovered”.. Open mics can sometimes lead to gigs at those places and it helped me out that way. I started to play live shows but it was not until years later that I got my first record deal and I met my first manager, then it was a matter of meeting a producer.
Ashley: How did you learn to play the piano?
Brendan: Hours of sitting by myself and trying to figure it out. When I was around 20, I was focused on trying to figure that piano out. I always enjoyed it and taught myself.
Ashley: What was your experience like touring on the John Mayercraft. How did that differ from playing in a venue on the road? Would you do it again?
Brendan: The Mayercraft, and I have to laugh and say this with a smile, it was a crazy five days. It was really great. It brought out a different performer in me. It was a lot of outdoor shows and all about playing to the crowd and having a fun time. On a tour like that, people want to escape normal lives and jobs and want to have a drink in hand and listen to great music. The tour brought out the fun performer in myself and others…. I would definitely do it again!
Ashley: Now that you are married, how does going on tour and being a musician impact your family life? Does your wife travel on the road with you?
Brendan: My wife does not travel with me. We met a few years ago, she met a musician (myself) and I was someone she knew was going to travel a lot. I think that’s the only way a relationship like this can work… when you both understand each other’s dreams and aspirations. She is amazing for that. She is very supportive and I also find time to fly out and see her and she flies out to see me when I am on tour or recording albums.
Ashley: You mention your mother in most of your songs, what influence does she have on you and your music?
Brendan: My mother has always been the most solid person that I have had in my life. I feel she has just been the ideal mother and I think in a lot of my early songs when I wanted to describe that source of strength, she was the first person that always came to mind.
Ashley: Many of your songs seem to come from personal experiences growing up. Is that where you get most of your inspiration? What else inspires you today?
Brendan: A lot of traveling that I have recently been doing has inspired me for this second album. I always draw on what I know and who I know. For a lot of my songs I am trying to tell stories that are close to me and then I tell stories that are close to other people. Most lyrics come from really searching for the truth in people’s lives around you.
Ashley: You are under contract with Decca Records, correct? How did that come about and what was it like to sign with a major record label?
Brendan: Yes, though I first signed with Capitol records 4 years ago and didn’t release my album with them. I made my own album when I left Capitol, with a producer, and then it was up to us to get me signed. Decca Records was interested in signing me, so I had to showcase for them by doing some gigs. They also had to like the album I just made and, once that was finished, we decided to work together.
Ashley: Your songs are so personal, is it hard to get on stage and sing them to a large audience?
Brendan: Funny, I have never thought of that. I don’t think so, it’s hand- in- hand for me, when I write a song I know I am going to share it with people throughthe lyrics I write. Sometimes I make lyrical choices that aren’t too personal. I make them just personal enough where I feel comfortable sharing that with the fans. It's kind of a fine balance because you don’t want to alienate the people closest to you but you want to tell others the honest story of your life.
Ashley: Which is more important to your success, getting on the radio or being seen live?
Brendan: Good question… They are two very different things, but, for someone like me, I want to get my songs on the radio to help facilitate getting my message out. I’m ready to get my music out there to as many people as possible. If you can get on the radio, it helps your recognition across the nation and across the world.. I can’t wait to tour as many places as I can and I love playing live.
Ashley: Did you ever consider playing piano in someone else’s band or did you always want to be a lead singer and sing your own songs?
Brendan: I always wanted to play my own songs. I am one of those guys who never really learned cover songs. I always wanted to sing and play my own stuff because, for some reason, they go hand- in- hand for me; the performing aspect of music and the playing part of it.
Ashley: Do you have any long-term goals for your career or do you pretty much play it one day at a time?
Brendan: I have a long-term goal of making a lifelong career in music and story-telling. It took a few years in the industry to realize that it's tough and you will have hard days but it’s what I want to do with my life. I want to be a musician and be someone who people can depend on to make good music and perform live.
Ashley: What is your favorite part of being a singer-songwriter?
Brendan: Having an outlet that allows me to vent what is going on in my life. Sometimes, even live shows can be very cathartic. When you finish a show, you feel better that whole month because something got out of you.
Ashley: What is the hardest part about the industry?
Brendan: The only consistency is inconsistency. And my parents raised me to plan things out and to always kind of have an idea of your life. So if you really want this, you have to know that it's impossible in this career. It is hard to adjust to; if you really want to do this full-time you have to be at mercy of your music. That’s the biggest challenge for me. You have to stay flexible.
Ashley: What other activities do you like to do outside of music?
Brendan: I love sports. I am a very active person. And I like outdoor activities so you can always find me on some basketball court or out hiking somewhere. It's a big deal to me to stay active.
Ashley: What are you working on right now?
Brendan: I am almost finished writing all of album two. In a couple weeks, official recording begins. I hope to release the new album in March 2010.
Ashley: What is your biggest piece of advice for upcoming artists?
Brendan: Be ready for anything and practice as much as you can by yourself. That way, you come to learn exactly who you are as an artist and a performer before other people try to tell you who you are.
Check out Brendan James online at : http://www.myspace.com/brendanjames