Tuesday, August 13, 2019

ARTIST INTERVIEW: JAMES WESLEY: AS "REAL" AS COUNTRY MUSIC GETS

ARTIST: JAMES WESLEY
INTERVIEWER: JENNIFER SMITH 
DATE: 8/2/2019

Twitter - @jameswesley1
Facebook - JamesWesleyMusic
Instagram - @jameswesleymusic


If you haven't been introduced to the music of country artist, James Wesley, then you haven't truly been introduced to 3 chords and the country truth. In a cluttered, pop-country infused environment with little musical substance, you can always count on James Wesley to clear the way with respectful lyrics, a good story and a tip of the baseball cap to his "I've lived it" country roots.

Originally from Mound Valley, Kansas, with a population of around 400 residents, James is no stranger to hard work and dedication. A friend of the local farmers, he's gotten his hands dirty, driven tractors, tilled soil and planted crops. He's worked construction. You name it, he's done it and in between it all, he puts that same love, sweat and dedication into his music.

With a newly released EP and single, independent artist James Wesley is back up and "Running" after separating with his previous label, Broken Bow Records, with one goal in mind, winning.

Lovin' Lyrics: Well, I think the first question everyone seems to have is WHERE THE HECK HAVE YOU BEEN? LOL!

James: Well, I've been hiding out (laughs) .. no, I've been out on the road, I've been playing and ya know, for a period of time, the guys were working on my new EP. That's really the deal, this whole EP. My band went in and actually cut these 5 tracks for me, They went in and did this .. Michael, Jesse, Matt and Brian, they all went to in the studio and cut these 5 songs and surprised me with them and then I went down to Austin, TX where Jesse lives and runs a studio there called Cedar Creek Records and I went in and added my vocals. So there's a lot of time that went by right there in that big transition.

Lovin' Lyrics: Yeah, fans noticed you had dropped off of Twitter and not on social media as much as you were before and wondering what was going on.

James: Yeah, I needed a break. It's good to get away from that once in awhile, ya know? Just take a personal break.

Lovin' Lyrics: Believe it or not, there MAY be a few people who are not familiar with you, For those who might not be familiar with you, let’s talk a little bit about who you are, your background and what connected you with country music?

James: Oh man, you got that much time? You know, singing in church, that's where I started. I started playing guitar a little later. My aunt had a Stellar guitar that she gave me and I taught myself to play it. I just bought a song book, looked at the chording and taught myself. I knew that's what I wanted to do, I always wanted to do it. I remember, maybe it was third grade, we had a talent show and I remember doing "That's Alright Mama" , that old Elvis tune on Sun Records. That was the first thing I ever did as far as singing. Yeah, that's been a couple of days ago. (laughs) but I still remember that day like it was yesterday. It was kinda fun, but kind of embarrassing too because I remember I was standing up there shaking my leg acting like I was playing guitar to it .. uh yeah.(sighs and laughs), oh yeah, I was doing the whole Elvis thing and not realizing that I was doing it. I did NOT do the Elvis lip curl, at least I don't think I did anyway. That was probably the earliest time I remember, third grade and then, like I said, I started singing in church around when I was maybe 15 or 16 and it just evolved from there. I remember, gosh, I was maybe ... hmmm ... 18 .. no, I remember it was the night I turned 21 I was playing at the Old Best Western out on the west side of Independence, Kansas. It was just a little lounge and that's where I started singing and I went from there to singing in the bigger venues around there. This lounge was tiny, it only held 50-75 people. and at that time I was going to the junior college in Independence and that place was packed out. That's one reason we had to move, it was  a fire hazard and Ed, the man that let me sing there, he said "I hate to tell you this, I hate to lose the money but I'm gonna get in trouble with so many people because it's become a fire hazard." It was good there, I sang every weekend, Friday, Saturday and on Sunday, I'd drive to Joplin. Missouri to a place called the Wrangler Steakhouse. I'd sing Sunday afternoons over there and do one man shows.

Lovin' Lyrics: So when you first came to Nashville and knew this was what you were supposed to be doing, how did you get connected to the right people to give your music the attention?

James: That was over a period of time. Gosh, the first time that I came to Nashville, we had this deal back home called Neewollah (Halloween spelled backwards), a real big parade, high schools from all over would come ya know and we'd had a big parade down Main Street. This was in Independence, Kansas. One year, and I know you remember Bobby Randall, used to be with Sawyer Brown, played lead guitar? It was the "To Be a Star" and if you won the talent show that they had there, it had a big stage that they brought in and everything and made a big deal out of it, well the person who won that got to go to Nashville  and perform and get the opportunity to be on tv and sing their own songs. That was the first time that I went to Nashville, a little scary ya know, not knowing what to do but I remember after one of  the songs that I wrote, Jimmy Webb's publicist called and wanted me to send them another song and the same song that I had sung before. Nothing ever came of it, but that was pretty cool that I had Jimmy Webb's publicist call me about a song that I'd written. Then I went back and I just continued to sing in the clubs and I sent a demo to to Warner Brothers and it was found in the mail by Lisa Bradley who is Joe Doyle's wife. She pulled it out of there , listened to it and loved the music. Gosh, I think I had two originals and two covers and she took it to Martha Sharp and Doug Grau. Martha Sharp was head of A&R and Doug Grau worked in A&R at the time. Martha had signed Travis Tritt, Randy Travis, and the list goes on with her, but she's the one that told Doug he needed to go to Arkansas and find me. So that's what happened, that's how I ended up in Nashville the first time. I was signed by completely unsolicited material, just found randomly in the mail. Someone said that the only other time that had happened, I wanna say it was something like 18 years prior when the Forrester Sisters were found that way. Then we released a single, "Life Goes On", did a record and the record was never released because they started downsizing and then they got rid of Warner Western and that was about the same time they signed Blake Shelton, I think Dwight was still there, Randy Travis was leaving, Little Texas was gone and then I left and just went back to singing and doing my own thing. Then I got a wild hair to try it again and sent a demo to Broken Bow and that's when Benny flew me out to California to Corning to do a show out there at a community center with another act they were thinking about signing and .. gosh, it took them a year to make up their mind on signing me to Broken Bow where I released some singles including "Real" which peaked at #22 on Billboard, "Didn't I" which peaked at #24, "Jackson Hole" which peaked at #41, "Thank a Farmer" which peaked at #50 and "Walking Contradiction" which peaked at #54. The album was never released for some reason. We eventually parted ways and now I'm doing my own thing as an independent.

Lovin' Lyrics: You just released your first single in quite awhile, “Running” that you co-wrote with Marcum Stewart and Zack Wrickson. Robert Oermann, one of the most respected when it comes to his opinion in country music, said “Nicely done” and that it has “a driving “open road” tone that is perfect for summer” and he described your voice as tough and confident. Is there a story behind the song and what made you choose this song to send out to country radio?

James: Oh! What's crazy to me is that's the first time I've had that read to me. I haven't even read it or seen that. Bev was telling me that Robert K. Oermann wrote something about the song and I said "Robert K. Oermann? Are you kidding me?" I tell you what, he's a critic, if he doesn't like something, he just puts it out there." That's pretty cool. I didn't know what he said, I just knew that he liked the song. That's amazing coming from him. I mean, I remember listening to him critique some of the stars and giving them a hard time about their songs so that's flattering for sure. As far as there being a story behind the song, no, not really. We got together that morning and we'd never met each other before and we sat down and none of us really had any ideas, well we had a couple but didn't really like them. We just sat there and started talking and the song just kinda came up and we were talking about trucks. The first  line of the song is "This old truck's seen better days" and we just kinda started going from there and we wrote this song and it ended up being a relationship song. It was uptempo too,  most relationship songs are ballads or mid's, but it ended up being uptempo and that's what I liked about it. It was a driving song, it's kind of a sad song, but then ya know you put your foot on the gas when you listen to it. The reason we chose it as the first single, it was uptempo and relatable and when we play it live, we get such a good response. I can't wait to record the other 5 that we actually have. 3 are still in the can that we haven't completed all the way yet. It was Michael Blakemore's idea to really put this EP all together and going in and co-producing this record along with me and Jessie let us record in his studio. The next single we're gonna be releasing pretty soon is "You Should Be Here with Me." (Insert a "YAY!" from Jenn here). That song has always been, well, we always get such a great response from it. Girls love it, guys love it, it's just a great song that never got released when I was at Broken Bow. When I first went to Nashville, Michael Martin was a publisher. He had all these writers, and was the same place Rodney Clawson was a writer. I was finding these songs and didn't know who Rodney Clawson was at that time.It's such a great song. I've had the song for a long time and it's just got such great music, lyrics and the sentiment about what's being said in the song itself. I had told the label at the time that it needed to be the next single but it never got released. They told me to watch the crowd reaction and that's exactly what I did. Then I was told you can never judge a crowd. So for some reason, they never did anything with it and you know what? I'm glad they didn't because I wouldn't be able to release it now, the way it was originally meant to be heard. Andrew Dorff was a co-writer on it and I got to hang out with him a couple of times at some writer's shows and he was just a good guy.

Lovin' Lyrics: So, you left your previous record label and are now working as an independent artist. How hard has that been for you to make that transition? Well, honestly, you probably have always felt like an independent anyway.

James: Yeah, I pretty much did feel that way. I've always done everything myself. I do my own social media, the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I mean, I really have done it all myself so it was nothing new. I road manage my band, I took care of payroll, I drove and I still drive my band when we're not flying. (Side Note from Lovin' Lyrics: When I first met James in 2011 at Rapids Jam in NC, what impressed me the most was that instead of splurging on a big tour bus, he opted to go with a passenger van and save that money to pay his band more. That's the kind of guy he is, always looking out for those who are on his team and that's hard to come by these days.) Back then, we were lucky to make enough for a vehicle, gas, food, and lodging from a show and by the time you pay all of that, there's barely enough left to pay your band. I wanted to make sure they were paid enough so I opted for the van instead of the bus. If you don't take care of the ones who work with you, they'll leave.

Lovin' Lyrics: What do you find to be your biggest struggle and what makes you keep moving?

James: It's easy to get discouraged. This business is like a roller coaster, up and down all the time. One thing is that you have to be patient. If you don't have patience, you might as well just check out now because it's all about timing and if you don't have the time to wait, then you definitely need to find something else. This is not a business that moves very fast unless you sign, get a hit out there and going from playing small venues to arenas and stadiums. That changes the mood fast.

Lovin' Lyrics: So, during all of this, what have you learned about yourself, either as an artist or personally?

James: Um, well you learn to be yourself. You can't be somebody that you're not, that's for sure. I've always been my own person. I've never tried to be like any other artist, try to be this or try to be that. You know, the outlaw or anything like that. You know, I got into this business for the right reasons. It was because I loved the music, singing in front of people. I love seeing their faces and seeing smiles when you play a song and the crowd gets it. You relay the song and it connects with them. I guess that's the thing that's kept me in this business so long.

Lovin' Lyrics: If you could change one thing about the industry today, what would it be and why? I mean, honestly there are a million things that could be changed, but if there was one thing that makes you think "I could really change that" and make things work better for the artists, what would it be?

James: I think, for one thing, you have to be able to have really lived to be able to truly relay a country song. Now it's not so much about giving someone a shot who's just really good at what they do, you know, just giving someone a real shot, not just throwing them out there and seeing if they stick by halfway promoting them. You know, you have to really get behind someone 110% if you want something to happen. You can't start a business and get behind it and run 50% and expect it to thrive. It just doesn't work that way. When they sign somebody, they need to get behind that person all the way before they go signing someone else and start putting too many eggs in one basket.

Lovin Lyrics: What is a favorite music related memory that always makes you smile when you think back on it? Was there a moment in your career that really made you just stop, breathe and take it all in?

James: There are times that I look back to when I first started in those little clubs. I remember my grandma , she would come and listen to me sing "On One Hand" by Randy Travis and "Silver Wings." I remember she would show up, I would sing those songs and she and I would dance to those songs while I sang there at the club. I look back at that. Those were good times, simple and thoughtful. They were just real. You look back and you remember times when your family would come out and cheer you on and be there for you. You don't forget that.

Lovin' Lyrics: If you had the opportunity to ask one of your favorite artists one question, who would you ask and what would you ask?

James: Hmmm, how many times did you feel like giving up? I'm not sure how hard Merle really struggled to get where he was at but I think I'd have to ask Keith Urban. He was with "The Ranch" and who knows how many groups before that when he started, but the thing that I've always liked about Keith, he always seems sincere about what he says and what he does. He has country roots, I mean he doesn't always play traditional stuff and his sound definitely isn't traditional but you can ask him really any question about country music or  older artists and he can pull a song out. That's cool. If you're gonna be in country, you need to have roots, you need to know who you are and where you came from. You have to have listened to those old songs to feel country music and to know it.

Lovin' Lyrics: Fill in the blank - "Today's country is _________"

James: Oh boy. LOL! Driving down the road, passing another telephone pole? I'm not gonna knock anyone because they've all worked hard to get where they're at that and there's so much out there. I'm gonna get in trouble no matter what. It's definitely not the country I grew up with. I've always been one for ballads. It's all up tempo, up tempo. up tempo. Anytime you send something to country radio, the first thing they're gonna ask is "is it an up tempo, mid, is it a rockin' song" and if it's not, they say "Well, that's not what we're looking for". To sing a ballad, you have to really be able to sing and carry a note and be able to make the song relatable with emotion. We need more ballads.

Lovin' Lyrics: What's next for James Wesley?

James: Right now, it's just getting new music out there. I think "You Should Be Here with Me" will be the next single, continue to play, enjoy what I do and put a smile on people's faces. I love what I do. I finally get to release some of my music. That's what I'm most excited about. Onward and upward, keep moving.

Huge thanks to James for going well over my usual 15 minutes and giving me so much of his time. I really wanted a chance for him to just talk about what's going on, what you guys have been wondering about and what we can expect. I think you're gonna like what's next. In the meantime, go get his EP on Apple, Spotify, Google Play and tell everyone you know about it. Connect with James on social media, it's really him and not some social media manager. He's a good one and we love him here.


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