“It’s pretty crazy… but it’s very exciting.”
That’s how Australian Singer-Songwriter Jarryd James describes his current situation. Sitting in a hotel lobby the afternoon before his October 13th show at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, Tennessee, James’ excitement is very understandable. Since the release of his single “Do You Remember” in January, his career has taken off in a pretty big way. The single peaked at number two on the Australian charts, only to be followed by the release of the album 31, which debuted at number two. His first headlining Australian tour in April sold out so fast that they added another run in bigger venues in July. He is currently opening for Meg Myers on her US tour, which gave me the chance to pick the Brisbanite’s brain.
So this is your fist big US Tour?
Yeah, before this I played LA and New York earlier this year, and that’s the only shows I’ve ever played in America.
And how is the tour going?
It’s cool, but it’s pretty weird seeing the country like this—being in each place for one day, then you’re in another place. It does your head in a little bit. And we just came from doing three weeks in Europe, so we were in about 11 or 12 countries in three weeks. It’s a cool way to figure out where you want to visit though—it’s a pretty unique way to experience the world.
So what got you started playing music?
I guess I just had a lot of time on my hands when I was a kid. I was pretty sheltered, and I was shy, so I spent a lot of time either reading books or learning how to play instruments. I learned the trumpet first, classically. And then I kind of got over that and just started teaching myself how to play other things, guitar and drums and piano and stuff. From there I was always just really shy. I never sang in front of anybody until I was about 20. I think the main thing was getting over my shyness, because I was so scared to sing in front of anyone. Which is most people I think, but for me it took a while. It’s so personal.
I kind of always knew that I’d end up playing music for a living. I didn’t feverishly go after a career in it, but I just tried to apply myself to being good at it. That’s how I saw anyone else in whatever field they’re in be good. They weren’t out there self-promoting, telling everybody how good they are, or trying to get in on the right circles or whatever. They just got good at what they do. So I guess I just spent a lot of my time trying to get really good at stuff.
This is not your first musical endeavor. Is there a driving motivation or goal with the music you’re making now? Is there something in particular you want it to be?
Not really. I try to let everything I do be a really honest art form. Just something that is what it is—it just comes out. I try to make sure it’s always really emotional, if you know what I mean. Some music isn’t emotional, so to speak. It’s got its own energy and stuff, but the music I try to make I really want to tug at peoples heartstrings. Either make them cry out of happiness or sadness. I don’t know if it always happens, but that’s always in my head when I’m writing music. Because to me, when I hear a song that gives me the shivers or makes me well up a bit—that’s amazing to me. And I want to be able to do that. So that’s really my only goal with music.
What’s an example of a song that does that for you?
Have you hear that Weezer song “Heart Songs?” Oh, man. I’m not even sure which album it’s off, one of his later ones. But it’s SO good. It’s Rivers [Cuomo] singing about the music that made him want to make music. It actually gives me shivers every time I listen to it.
So there’s this trend of awesome bands coming out of Australia, like Courtney Barnett, The Preatures, Tame Impala and other great groups. I also saw that you’re good friends with Matt Corby. How much do you consider yourself a part of that?
Well I didn’t really see myself as part of it, but I think now in hindsight, I am. It’s a pretty small world in Australia, there’s just not as many people. I’m not a social butterfly by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know a lot of people in the music industry around my country. I think even as far as crew, you end up connected to everyone pretty quickly. You end up saying “Oh my God, you did this tour, I was on that tour, I did that festival and you were at that festival.” Yeah, I think it’s a good time right now for Australian music. There’s really stuff with a lot of substance. It’s not like pop music necessarily.
But it’s still accessible! It still can have pop play.
Right! Artists like Alpine and Meg Mac. It’s becoming more so that I feel like I’m involved with the industry, because I’m doing it all the time now. And I meet new people every day. It’s a cool feeling.
Do you ever find a tension between your more anti-social or shy side and your career, where you’re constantly meeting new people and playing shows to crowded rooms?
A little bit yeah. It’s weird, I love meeting people. And I love this kind of thing, one on one, being in a good conversation. I think it’s just big rooms of people. If I’m not playing music, I get a little bit anxious. But I’ve gotten to a point with my singing and my music where I actually get really excited to do it, because that’s the way I escape being awkward in a room full of people. I do what I am confident in doing. It’s my party trick.
So tell me a bit about your songwriting process. How do you get inspired to write songs?
Like I said before, I like to let it be led by my emotions. If I can find a chord progression or a melody or something musically that will spark something in my head… I don’t even really know how to explain it. It’s not about hearing it and saying “that sounds cool,” it’s more about “that feels cool.” That’s how I write. It’s kind of hard to switch off the inclination to go with what you’re hearing. I try to bypass that a little bit. It’s not the easiest thing to do, and I can’t always do it. Because I’ve got to be in the right mood, but when I am it’s really fun.
That’s really the only way I can describe how I write. I always do music first. I don’t write lyrics and then try to fit them to something. That feels weird to me. I like to let music and the feel of what’s going on and the vibe incite what’s going on with the lyrics. That way it all comes from the same place.
So you recently had the Australian release of your new album “31,” with the US release scheduled for the beginning of next year. Are you excited for that? How has the Australian release gone?
Really well! It debuted at number two, which is amazing for me. I had no expectation like that. I didn’t even think it would chart. So, it’s been received pretty well. As for the US release, we’re planning more dates in the US and Europe as well. It’s pretty crazy, and there are all these different timelines, but it’s very exciting.
So it seems there’s a lot coming up for you in the next few months.
Well I’m going to spend about week in L.A. doing some writing. And then I’m going to the UK to play some shows. Then touring a bit with Jack Garratt, who’s just the nicest guy. We have some shows in Germany and Belgium I think. Then after that, I think I’m going home for the ARIA’s, which is like the Australian Grammys, because I got a bunch nominations for that. Which is another unexpected thing. So I got all that, then I’m doing some co-headline shows with Meg Mac.
So you’ve spent some time in L.A., and are clearly traveling around quite a bit. Do you plan on keeping your home-base in Australia?
I don’t really know, I’m pretty open at the moment. I’m still in this weird spot where things are taking off in America and the UK and other parts of Europe, so I don’t know yet. But, I just moved into a sick new place in Brisbane, and I’m never there. So, we’ll see. If things kick off in America I could definitely move here.
For someone in the midst of a meteoric rise, James was pretty cool-headed about the whole thing. Thoughtful and soft-spoken, his shyness bleeds into his music. Emotional R&B, James’ music sits in the same room as artists like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. His music leans a *tad* more pop than the hip-hop influence now typical of R&B, which is a bit of a refreshing change.
On stage, James has found a way to play his quiet nature to his advantage. Typically just singing, with the band behind him, James lays himself quite bare before the audience. Where many artists clearly affect a developed on-stage persona, James delivers the impression that he just walked up on stage to sing you his songs. A tall figure in mute colors, often singing in a soft falsetto, James invites people to lean in and listen, rather than watch. While this is not necessarily for everyone, it rewards those willing to participate. Combine this with his eerily beautiful voice—the tone he is able to achieve live is almost shocking—and the result is a mysterious and enigmatic front-man.
In a market hungry for electro-styled R&B, it is not surprising that Jarryd James’ fresh and well executed take is seeing this much success. Remember that “bunch” of ARIA nominations he mentioned? Those would be Best Independent Release, Breakthrough Artist, Best Male Artist, Best Pop Release, and Song of the Year with “Do You Remember.”
Quite the party trick indeed.