Hailing from Derry, New Hampshire our latest dynamic interview features Brendan James, a piano-based singer/songwriter. I’ve had the chance to see him live twice now, and each time he brought a unique sound to the stage. He is currently on tour and making a stop at NYC’s own Highline Ballroom this Friday, Sept 19th. If you have the chance, definitely check him out. Not only is he a great performer, he is also happens to be one of the nicest humans I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
The Soul Dynamic | Being from New Hampshire, how did that influence your music? I might be bias because of Wolfeboro, but New Hampshire is a beautiful place, seems like it would be a great place to write.
Brendan James | It influenced me in two different ways: One because it was a small town. I grew up in a small, relatively rural community. New Hampshire has a million people in the entire state. I think my themes are on the simpler side. I grew up around good people who had simple jobs. School teachers and plumbers, mechanics – a lot of blue-collar people. Salt of the earth types, which is reflected in most of my writing. The other way being nature, which also is a huge part of my work.
The Soul Dynamic | Yeah definitely, New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful states in my opinion.
BJ | It really is! It is a tiny state, but because of the White Mountains you just get so much out of all of the seasons.
The Soul Dynamic | Do you get up there often?
BJ | Not nearly as much as I thought I would. Luckily I tour every year so I’m always up in Boston and Vermont. But honestly a lot of my friends and family have moved away. My dad still lives there and siblings, but I don’t go back as much as I want to.
The Soul Dynamic | My parents and extended family have been visiting and living in New Hampshire my whole life. So even though I’ve moved all over, New Hampshire is where home is.
BJ | Oh wow that’s amazing, yeah I remember you telling me about it at the show.
The Soul Dynamic | Can you imagine a single moment in your life where you knew you wanted to be in music?
BJ | Hmm, that is a good question…I do remember a moment actually. I went to an amazing concert at Madison Square Garden when I was just starting out songwriting. I was in college and there was an amazing line up that night. It was a tribute to a Rolling Stones writer, so Sting, James Taylor, Rodger Waters, and OH Billy Joel all played! And I’m forgetting her name… she did that song you know “The first cut is the deepest..”
The Soul Dynamic | Sheryl Crow?
BJ | Sheryl Crow! Yes, good. She was there too. And they all played five songs as a tribute to this writer. I remember wanting to be in that line up so bad. Those kind of career type artists is always who I’ve aspired to be, and when I was younger and saw all those people on one stage I just thought, “This is what I need to do.” I felt I needed to write songs that hopefully last more than a couple years – hopefully they last decades. I need to work on words that matter and getting myself on a stage like that. One Day.
The Soul Dynamic | Definitely, you want a song that lasts longer than yourself.
BJ | Yes! Totally, that has always been my goal.
The Soul Dynamic | That’s great. I’ve had that moment in my career too… I actually work in advertising as well and I can remember going back to a moment watching my dad’s commercials and thinking, “This is what I want to do.” And now I’m in the middle of my two passions, advertising and music.
BJ | That’s crazy but you knew that you wanted to do it right?
The Soul Dynamic | Yeah it’s so funny to be able to go back to that moment and know – this is it. I see a lot of my friends struggling with what they want to do post college and I can pick the specific point out in my life where it all clicked.
BJ | It is amazing, really is, I’ve had that moment too! Basically what it comes down to, what I would tell any young person: just keep your eyes and your heart open to those ‘aha!’ moments, and where you think “Wow, I would really like to do that” and when you have that moment, just wrap your brain around it and don’t let it go. Because as you get older it is one the most difficult challenges, I think, that adults face – is having that purpose. That singular goal, while you are searching for that one thing. I’ve definitely found mine and I’m really lucky for that.
The Soul Dynamic | What was the biggest impact pushing you to become an artist and make music?
BJ | Hmm, you know it all comes back to this relationship…I knew someone when I was young, this music teacher who really kind of discovered me in Derry. I was around 18 or so. We would talk music and he encouraged me to really pursue this. He said “You know you’ve got an interesting voice, you can learn to play an instrument, and you might really have a message.” At the time I thought it was really kind of crazy because I didn’t even see that in myself. I wasn’t writing songs when I was 18, I wasn’t playing piano. I never wanted to be. But that one moment really changed my whole life, that teacher notice that I might have an interesting talent.
The Soul Dynamic | So your album Simplify was done through a Kickstarter right?
BJ | Yes! Yes it was.
The Soul Dynamic | How did you come up with that and what was the response from your fans?
BJ | To be honest I was reluctant to do Kickstarter or pledgemusic in the first place. I think A) Because I’m not of the older generation, but I’m also not 22 anymore. I’ve made a lot of different albums on major labels and have always had funding come through somehow. Its funny, this state that we find ourselves in, in the music industry, where sites are there for our 100% benefit. They are incredibly helpful, they make so much sense. But if you had been in the business awhile, they seem more like, “Oh I shouldn’t do that, I have a big fan base, I don’t want to cost my fans massive amounts of money.” And then I kind of had an ‘aha!’ moment and I thought “Wow, maybe my fans really want to help.” And that was the best move I ever made, I got such a resounding yes from my fans. I far exceeded my goal and was able to make the album I needed to make at the time. It was a great experience.
The Soul Dynamic | A few other bands have done that as well. I believe Green River Ordinance did that as well. I spoke to Josh Jenkins earlier this summer, not sure if it was Kickstarter, but they got some type of fan funding for one of their records as too.
BJ | Totally, it is the new way. It really helps eliminate musicians’ needs for major labels these days. It’s great.
The Soul Dynamic | So one of the songs on the album (Click Here to listen) is called “The New Plan”. It is a very powerful song, and a good friend of mine is actually from Newtown, CT. When I played that song for her, tears came to both of our eyes. What is the story behind this song? I read that you have previously spoken out about gun violence, if you are comfortable can you go into a little more detail?
BJ | I feel very opinionated about the basic principals of a better world. So when things start to happen that are illogical, and make no sense to me, I’m moved to write about them. The gun violence situation in our country is starting to make no sense to me, it’s making me ask questions. Like “How can we be better?” We HAVE to be better than having a shooting happening once a week….a major shooting happening once a week in our country. I don’t know how, but since the Newtown there have been thousands of gun related deaths in our country alone, I would need to look up the exact figure, but thousands? And without getting too political about it, and I really try not to get political, but we NEED to do better about the issue. We need to do better than what we are doing. So I decided to write a song. There really is no story behind it, Newtown that was just the straw that broke my back. I couldn’t take another tragedy, without being an artist who wanted to talk about it.
The Soul Dynamic | I get chills now from even speaking about it. It was an awful, awful tragedy.
It’s unthinkable. And human beings amaze me, that the rest of us can even go on living our normal lives. If we didn’t know the families then we would maybe actually be able to move on. But if that happened to any one of our family members, it would be devastating to the point where you are immobilized in your life. Your life stops. I just… that tragedy was so horrific. Just unthinkable.
The Soul Dynamic | You will always remember where you were when you heard about it.
BJ | Yeah. Basically how I feel is that there is still a need for guns in…in certain lifestyles. For pleasure or for hunting, I understand that people want their guns. But we have to figure out A) what is going on mentally with these kids and this parenting that is creating this mental illness. These kids were feeling like outsiders, what is creating that? And then, what is it with these parents who have several guns or semi automatic weapons inside their house when they live in suburbia? What’s up with that? There’s no desperation for a gun cabinet of 15, including semi automatics and automatics in suburbia just because you like to go to target practice. There is a gun obsession that we have to tame, otherwise these things won’t stop.
The Soul Dynamic | Hopefully it changes very soon and I appreciate the detail and the passion behind it. This is good! It is great that this passion fuels your music. Switching gears, what’s the most memorable performance you’ve seen? You mentioned earlier that performance for the Rolling Stone writer, is that the one?
BJ | Hmm, most memorable performance…
The Soul Dynamic | It’s a hard question, because I think every performance I see is memorable.
BJ | Yeah that’s how I feel. Let me think. I mean it does have to be that concert at Madison Square Garden, but it was a different moment. You had an amazing line up of artists and then Billy Joel came out and ended up closing the night because he is such a New York guy, and was so strong. He came out with just the piano and got everyone up on their feet. It showed me that you can have 15,000 people dancing to just a guy, playing piano. Incredibly inspirational for me.
The Soul Dynamic | What is the most memorable performance you have had?
BJ | Well I have a funny thing with my wife and friends where about every six months I say, “That was the best show I’ve ever had”. I think as you get more comfortable on stage, your audiences get bigger, and your song writing evolves, you have a new favorite show every night. Very memorable nights…well one was about a year and a half ago in New York City, playing a lot of the new songs from Simplify and some from my previous album to a sold out crowd at Highline Ballroom. That went down so well.
And to the same token in that same room 5 years previously I had an album release show, it was my first album, and it was a night I’ll never forget. There’s something about New York City – just because I started there and the shows are big there – it feels like nothing else.
The Soul Dynamic | Agreed New York is a powerful place. It really gives you a sense of energy and even just walking around – you are on a high. You don’t get that in any other city.
BJ | Yeah, totally.
The Soul Dynamic | You are coming back to the Highline Ballroom soon aren’t you?
BJ | Yeah, September 19th!
The Soul Dynamic | Right, I’ll be there for sure. I’ll bring friends as well.
BJ | Bring everyone. As many people as you know.
The Soul Dynamic | Done. So who’s your favorite artist/band out now?
BJ | My favorite artist or band… Do you mean someone more current as opposed to someone that came out of the 70s?
The Soul Dynamic | It can be anyone really. If you have been digging Beyoncé, great no judgment. But it can also be someone like Tom Petty as well.
BJ | Ok I’ll do an old faithful of mine and that would be hard to top. That would be Paul Simon. Paul Simon is one of the best, if not the best influence of mine as it pertains to song writing. And then a more modern band that I’ve been so into lately is St. Lucia.
The Soul Dynamic | Yeah! They are great.
BJ | I am digging St. Lucia so much these days. Oh! New Hampshire license plate in Charleston, how bout that?
The Soul Dynamic | Haha hilarious.
BJ | Crazy. But yeah I’m working on a more up beat sound in the studio these days, and just having a lot of fun with different sounds, beats, rhythms. Pulling a lot of influence out of Paul Simon and St. Lucia, so I’ll be curious to see what the final product sounds like.
The Soul Dynamic | If you weren’t a musician, what would you be? A different type of artist? NBA player?
BJ | That is such a hard question to answer. I have been a musician now for so many years that I have no idea. But I can tell you that I absolutely love photography. I think that is probably my second passion. If I were to do something else, what I would advise any young person to do, would be to follow my passion. So I would definitely be a photographer.
The Soul Dynamic | So third would be the NBA player then right?
BJ | Oh yeah definitely. You should watch me play basketball – I’m like lightning you can just never see me.
The Soul Dynamic | What is the one thing you want people to take away from your music? What story are you trying to tell or what impact are you trying to make?
BJ | I want people to enjoy living in their own skin as much as possible. And I want them to have optimism despite hardship. I think those two things are the resounding thing I try to get at. Even when I try not to, it finds its way into my songs. I think whatever I went through as a child, I had a great childhood but there was some divorce and rough times. I think I pull on those and try to flip it and make music that is empowering. My goal is to empower people through music.
The Soul Dynamic | Last and most important question: What inspires you?
BJ | These days the inter-connectivity of everything is what inspires me. And not because of things like the Internet and technology but this realization, well fact, that we are all much more connected than we once thought. The energy of it all – or however you want to describe that interconnectedness. That is what inspires me. When people are good, the world is good.
Brendan James will be performing tomorrow night at the Highline Ballroom at 7pm. You can get tickets HERE.