Singer-songwriter James Smith is vibrantly full of life in our sit-down zoom conversation with the East-London-born star. At such a young age he has accomplished plenty but continuing to strive for more in every aspect of his career. His accomplishments have not come easy and thanks to the mentality of pure graft, passed on to him by his humble upbringing.
He has released his fair share of timeless tracks this past year, but admits that his favourite is his most recent, My Oh My, which entered the official charts at number 27. “[it’s] opened a few doors for me which has been amazing,” says James. “There’s a song I put out a while ago on my EP called Rely on Me, that song was the first time that I was writing about a situation I was in. So, it was maybe one of the first ones that I really connected to.” Unsurprising, as he slips into the conversation that music is his life, rarely partaking in hobbies due to his passion.
Here is what happened when we sat down with James to talk about those passions…
Tell us a bit more about your latest release, My Oh My!
In its most basic form, it is a heartbreak song. I wanted to write a song that was about loss but not about mourning or anything like that. In lockdown I noticed my circle was getting smaller, when I was in school, I had so many friends but now I have such a small circle. I find it positive and negative, and that is what inspired this song. I wanted it to be big and loud to show that it’s basically a million people shouting this.
What are those challenges like for you?
I think that having a smaller circle is easier when you’re in this industry, so many people just love jumping on a bandwagon, I’m not into that. But what I am into is rooting for other artists. It really annoys me when artists don’t support each other. We should all support each other, it’s all love!
You’ve been very open in using your music to describe emotions, how is it being so candid with vulnerability?
It’s actually wicked man! Like, I’ve never been ashamed to say I’m such an emotional person! It’s cool, for me I don’t really talk about my feelings or I don’t tend to speak about my personal life too much with my friends. But if I’m sat in a writing session, it sounds so basic, but it is such a therapy thing for me.
How have your roots and childhood inspired the kind of musician you are?
My childhood was actually such a huge influence on my music, I was such a huge fan of Elvis. We used to go to these rubbish Caravan camps every year when I was around 8 years old. I used to get up and do Elvis covers, it would pop off! In front of these people with no teeth! It was so funny.
As I grew older, I used to work on a market that my dad used to run, and I would sing for all the stalls. As well as Elvis, I used to be obsessed with Johnny Cash. His thing used to be to sing to prisoners all the time, so I used to stand there and think I was him, like singing songs to these convict market traders. And they’d love it! it was very much about getting blokes in their emotions. That’s probably why I write so emotionally now, I’m like a bloke who’s opening up, hahaha!
What songs would you cover?
Devil in Disguise and Jail House Rock were my favourites!
I suppose everyone loves to ask the moment you wanted to do music but discovering and performing at such a young age when was that moment for you?
I think it was as soon as I started first building my home studio and doing bits on my own, it feels like you’re the only one in the world doing it. because in my head there is no one else making music in the studio I’ve built in my garage, it just makes it special.
Do you always feel like you have to always create something better than the last release?
YEAH! All the time, I’m really struggling at the moment because we have the next few songs lined up so I’m kind of panicking trying to figure out what to release. When you get a bit of commercial recognition as well, is crazy it’s such a dream and I always thought that once that happens I can just chill. But now, It’s made me even more stressed because I need to keep that door open.
Name three albums that define who you are.
Sunny-Side Up by Paolo Nutini
Voodoo – D’Angelo
Songs in the Key to your Life – Stevie Wonder
Do you know your audience? How do you cater to that?
No! I remember I did a tour in Europe and I wasn’t expecting that many people to turn up, and I got there, and people were queueing up outside from midday when it was starting at like 8 pm! I had no idea these people were out here listening to me, it was such a nice feeling, but I try to connect as much as I can with my audience.
What can we expect from you this year?
The single I’ve just released is part of my EP, called the district Line, because I wrote all the songs on the District Line!
Then I’m hoping to work on my debut album which I am buzzing for!