To Perform at Homevibe Anniversary Show!!
With his warm, rich tenor and emotionally powerful songs, Brendan James announces himself as an artist-to-watch on his dazzling debut album The Day Is Brave. Rooted in the classic singer/songwriter tradition, with its introspective lyrics and unforgettable melodies, the album is 11 tracks of stunning songcraft: elegant, earthy, and displaying a total lack of artifice that is rare in the pop world these days.
Influenced by the understated simplicity of the Carly Simon, James
Taylor, and Carole King records he grew up with, James knew he wanted his debut to sound natural and unaffected. “The phrase ‘stripped-down’ is so overused, and ‘bare-bones’ doesn’t really describe it,” he says, “but I wanted the simplicity of the art to come through. I wanted it to have tasteful blend of folk and pop influences.”
James, who grew up in Derry, NH, accomplishes all that and more on The Day Is Brave, which was produced by Mikal Blue (Colbie Caillat, Five For Fighting, Augustana). Dominated by James’ expressive piano playing, the songs touch on a wide range of subjects, many of them autobiographical, like “Green,” about a former girlfriend that he met while working at Urban Outfitters, who came from a troubled family and always wore something green, and “Take the Fall,” which ponders a person’s responsibility to others in these quickly changing times. That sort of earnest reflection also finds its way into “Manchester,” about the town in New Hampshire where James spent most of his time after his parents divorced, and the ballad “The Sun Will Rise” — a song so affecting, the music supervisor of the hit ABC show Private Practice used it in a particularly poignant scene in seasons final episode of 2007.
Another album highlight is “The Other Side,” a playful tune James wrote about not being cool. “I did not fit in in high school,” he admits, “and it’s just about that moment when you wake up on the other side of life and are like, ‘Man, I don’t have to deal with that anymore.’” Other standout tracks include “Early April Morning,” a deeply felt love song, and “Hero’s Song,” a soldier’s-eye view of the Iraq war that concludes: “I cannot die this way, no I will not die this way” amid somber trumpet tones.
“I don’t really consider myself a storyteller,” James says. “Arlo
Guthrie is a storyteller. But I do hope my songs encourage people to
feel, and to ask questions.”
Though James was always told he had a powerful voice, he didn’t begin writing songs until his sophomore year at the University of North
Carolina, Chapel Hill. While at home in Derry on Christmas break, James was approached by a local music teacher, Kevin Kandel, who had heard him sing “Candle in the Wind” at the funeral for James’ best friend’s mother. “Kevin said to me, ‘I can’t get your voice out of my head. You have something very unique inside of you and I think you should learn to play an instrument and try to write your own songs.’ We then spent the whole night listening to hundreds of records by classic artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder, and he’d point out the phrasing and songwriting style of each one. By the next morning, I was hooked. It just fueled this thing inside me and I went back to school with a brand-new fire.”
James taught himself to play piano and took a year off from school to
spend time in L.A. writing songs. “I was so passionate about
songwriting, I wanted to get involved in the music scene and start
performing,” he says. In 2002, he returned to Chapel Hill, graduated,
and moved to New York City, where he toiled at Urban Outfitters by day and performed at open mics around Manhattan’s East Village at night. To gain access to a piano to practice, James would sneak into hotel ballrooms around the city. “I’d dress to look like a guest at the Plaza Hotel, so I could walk in there unnoticed,” he says.
In 2003, James’ manager was able to get a demo James had made to Carly Simon at her home on Martha’s Vineyard “just to see what would happen,” James says with a laugh. Two weeks later, he received a call from the legendary singer/songwriter, who told him that she couldn’t get enough of his voice and had begun singing his songs around the house. “It was surreal,” James recalls. “She was so complimentary, not only of my voice, but of the songs. She told me I needed to keep writing.” Simon asked James to come to Martha’s Vineyard, where the two recorded a version of her Oscar-winning song “Let the River Run,” for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
Encouraged by his new mentor, James continued to write and perform and eventually caught the attention of Capitol Records, which signed him to a recording contract in 2005. However, when the infrastructure at the label imploded, James became a free agent. Seeing a golden opportunity, he took the money from his termination agreement with Capitol and recorded As Oceans Rise on his dime and his own terms, enlisting producer Mikal Blue before James even knew how, or if, the album would be released.
Blue, who would go on to score a platinum record with Colbie Caillat,
helped James capture the intimacy of his live performance. “I said to
Mikal, ’I’ve done a lot of shows over the last few years and I want to
give the audience as real and genuine a performance as possible when it comes to the vocals and piano playing.’ And what I like most about Mikal is that he really listens to the artist and tries to figure out how to give them what they want.”
James finished tracking the songs on The Day Is Brave in June and
released a four-song digital EP via iTunes, entitled The Ballroom
Break-In in honor of his days sneaking into hotel ballrooms. The EP
reached 13 on iTunes’ Alternative/Pop chart and the digital retailer’s
editorial staff dubbed James a top singer/songwriter to watch in 2008.
Since then, James, who’s played with Carly Simon, Joss Stone, Corrine Bailey Rae, Robert Cray, and Keb Mo, among others, has kept busy performing in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Chapel Hill as he waits for The Day Is Brave to be released by his new label Decca/ Velour Records.
“It feels great to make this record on my own terms,” James says. “These songs have been pent up in my mind for years and to get them finished and out there for people to hear is extremely exciting. I’m looking forward to playing for anyone that will listen.”
Brendan Will Be Performing at the Walnut Room On May 28th for the Homevibe 4th Anniversary Party
Brendan James – Hero’s Song