I had the pleasure of chatting with Canadian Country Music Association® 2014 Discovery Program finalist David James about his upcoming debut EP titled Songs About a Girl and about his career. This was a “chilled” interview because David is so laid back. Besides taking his career very seriously, he is humble, grateful and easy to bring to laughter.
David calls Winnipeg, Manitoba his home. As a singer / songwriter that “has played in every type of venue you can imagine, from churches to bars, festivals and fairs” he has become very diverse in his talent. David describes his sound as melodic pop rock influenced country. He lives by the motto “nothing worth having comes easy and opportunity looks a lot like hard work.”
Songs About a Girl includes two very successful previously released singles – “What We Weren’t Looking For” and “Some Hearts,” along with his newest single “Lonely Girl.” David spent time in Nashville and Vancouver writing for this album while producing it at Savard Music in Vancouver.
The release date for “Lonely Girl” is March 8, 2016.
The release date for Songs About a Girl is March 11, 2016.
Where did your inspiration come from for the songs on this album?
I think it is pretty self-explanatory – songs about a girl (he chuckles). Songs that I write typically seem to be about love. I like songs that seem authentic and love really is an authentic emotion.
“Lonely Girl” and “What We Weren’t Looking For” – they’re similar stories told in different ways. It’s a little full circle for me on the whole first single release.
It’s always exciting for an artist to release their first album. What would you like to tell your fans about this album?
All the songs are genuinely me. Something I am committed to do as an artist is making songs that do really mean something.
I took a long time on the recording and it’s partly because I am a perfectionist and partly because the first single did really well. I was so picky with it because we wanted to make sure that we got it right.
I started this album in 2012. “What We Weren’t Looking For” took a year and a half to record. It was recorded in the fall of 2012, so the album has been three and a half years in the making.
I just love music so much and I try to get it right so really that’s the consistent theme for this album. Darren Savard and Carly McKillip, my producers, were getting a little anxious at times, but I just wanted to make sure it was authentically made because this is my debut EP. I am really proud of every single song.
And that’s what’s so important. An artist can just throw an album together and it could be crap because they want to get it out there as fast as they can.
That’s why this was a big thing for me. A lot of albums have “filler songs” on them. I didn’t want that. I wanted each song to bring something honest and evoke something in you when you listen. We did that. I’m really excited.
Now that you have the finished product, how was it to work with Darren Savard? I’ve heard that he’s a true professional and strives for the best in each artist.
Our relationship goes back a long way and our friendship is special. (Darren Savard also hails from Winnipeg.) I first met Darren in a bar when he came up to me and told me he thought we should work together. That got us chatting. I actually had no idea who he was at the time so this is a funny story: this random guy comes up to me after my show and says “Hey man. I play guitar. We should play together sometime.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Yeah okay Buddy. Do you even play country?” I didn’t know that he played with Dallas Smith, Deric Ruttan and Brett Kissel. That was pretty a cool meeting a bit of fate! We have become the best of friends. It’s so easy when the people you work with are really good friends of yours.
Does it make a difference when you are friends with someone and you’re working professionally with them?
I think it just depends on the situation. Darren and Carly (from One More Girl fame) are great.
Darren and I are extremely hard on each other in a professional situation. We’ve been in the studio cutting vocals and I come out feeling really good about what I’ve done and he says “Man, that was trash. Go back in there. You can do better.” I’m thinking “WHAT?” (David has a good laugh at this.) We bounce things off each other all the time and since we’re both perfectionists, that’s a good thing. It does make it more of an arduous process but at the same time we aren’t interested in cutting corners. It’s tough; sometimes it’s gruelling. I’ve sung all of those songs about 150 times in the studio. But, we got them right.
Darren is a motivator but is very blunt. He wants the absolute best out of an artist and he is great at doing that. I think that is why we work really well together.
But, there is a point, and that point is now with my EP. I have to let my baby go out to the music universe and hope that people like it as much as the first couple of singles.
You’ve released videos for “What We Weren’t Looking For” and “Some Hearts,” both produced very differently from each other. Tell me about those videos – how the concept came about, your thoughts and emotions.
“What We Weren’t Looking For” was financially sponsored by CMT Canada, which is really cool, and an outsider producer was used. There was a sense of professionalism throughout the shoot because of that. I had multiple meetings with the director Amit Dabrai, who produces videos in the pop world, so I knew going in that he would come up with a different idea for it. Getting there on the shooting day and seeing such a huge crew was a little daunting, a little overwhelming.
“What We Weren’t Looking For” video debuted on CMT Canada on March 14, 2015.
“Some Hearts” was the total opposite. I was the director with a few crew, a camera and a slightly low budget. The released version was actually our third concept. The first two just didn’t work. This was my first foray into directing and it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.
“Some Hearts” appears to be your funeral?
For me, it was kind of like a legacy – how do I want to be remembered by that song. That is where the concept came from. I wanted the song to evoke self-reflection and introspection, just a little bit, you know. I think that there are not enough songs out there with real lyrical content. Everybody knows people who, to their core, are just great human beings. And that’s where the whole idea came about. I try to find a unique way to hopefully impose that kind of self-reflection on the viewer.
It turned out great.
It was difficult and it is definitely going to be my last foray into the world of directing. It was a lot of work and videos are not my forte – music is, so now I’m going to leave the videos to the experts.
What was the highlight of each video?
Honestly, just seeing them on CMT Canada was pretty cool. Like I said, I’m a musician so that is really where I put my focus and my energy.
But, as a musician, it is about the video. You can’t just have a song anymore. You have to have a video as well.
Totally. This is something that I’ve been talking about with my team a lot lately: brand recognition. It’s the difference between people thinking a song is fantastic or not being able to mentally connect to it and the artist because they don’t really know how to interpret the song. Having that visual aspect is very important. And, that’s been a big learning process for me. I’m just kind of seeing that and now that the videos are out, people know who I am, a little bit.
Just how awesome is it that they are being played on CMT.
So cool. I’m not going to lie. Every couple of days I’ll get a Twitter picture from somebody saying that they’re catching my video on TV or somewhere else. It’s wild. Sometimes it feels like – wow I really belong because I am in this huge category of the established artists. It’s a big rush to be on CMT.
In 2014, you were a finalist in the CCMA Discovery Program. How was that experience?
It was pretty incredible.
Walk me through the process.
Basically, they asked for two songs. That was their only criteria. Afterwards, I filmed a short video talking about myself. Because I heard a lot of positive things about the Discovery Program by producers and by Wes Mack I really wanted to be part of it. The whole of 2013 was spent on how we were going to get into the Discovery Program in 2014. And that is the reason why I spent so much time on “What We Weren’t Looking For.”
The Discovery Program was essentially a boot camp for new artists. We were put into a room for a week with different panellists. There was a Marketing Panel compiled of five marketing gurus. They each spoke followed by a Q & A. There were five major record labels there with a Q & A and they gave us experienced answers. Then there was a Management Panel, Social Media and Branding Panels; so it was extremely informative. I knew that it would be going in and it was amazing because it put us newer artists that nobody ever heard of before, on a first name basis with all these people in the industry. That’s actually how I got hooked up with MDM / Universal – through that.
There have been some great artists that have come from the Discovery Program: Wes Mack in 2013,Tebey in 2012, Chad Brownlee and Jess Moskaluke is 2011, Emerson Drive in 2002, to name just a few.
It is honestly an incredible opportunity and rightfully so. They accept six artists every year out of over 200 applications and most are really talented people.
What kind of advice would you give to emerging artists in the CCMA Discovery Program?
Honestly, country music is so hard for independent artists to now make a career out of it. It’s really difficult so my advice is: record a couple of songs that you really believe in and invest all your time, energy and money into them; do whatever you have to do to those songs to get them as good as you can with the right team. Because at the end of the day, any professional in the industry will tell you that it’s all about the song. You can then build on the rest of it – artist, brand or whatever you want to call it, but it all starts with great songs. That was the one thing that I really focused on and that just started everything going.
What was your initial reaction to being nominated for MCMA Music Video of the Year and Single of the Year for “What We Weren’t Looking For,” Emerging Artist Award and Male Artist of the Year?
It was pure shock! Two and half years ago I knew I wanted to record my own music and I didn’t really understand how to attack it as a career. I knew that I wanted to make music; I wanted to record a couple of songs. I was at an amateur level back then.
But that’s how all artists have to start out.
Totally. And, you just have to learn as you go. For me, attaining that recognition among such talented people was pretty cool. It was exciting to see the hard work that my team and I were doing was starting to pay off.
It’s got to make you feel great to be nominated in four different categories.
I definitely feel super blessed to be a part of that.
You won the MCMA Video of the Year Award for “What We Weren’t Looking For.” How did you feel when your name was announced?
Also shocked! That was my first award – EVER! And, for a video professionally done.
These past couple of years have been a lot of firsts for me so every time something happens, it’s pretty cool, because I am not used to it. Any time you get recognition for your art or something that you are really passionate about is always super cool. It’s not why I do it but it’s definitely really cool.
How great was it to have your mom in the audience?
She is a huge supporter so it was really great to have her there.
Your family is a huge support system for you. How has this support impacted all your musical accomplishments?
I think any time you do something that is abnormal and requires a lot of dedication and hard work, like being an artist and doing it for a living, it’s impossible to do it without people supporting you whether they are friends, family, whoever. I am lucky to have so many people in my life who love and care about me and who support what I am doing.
I have seen your family come together for you. They are amazing and they are so proud of you.
At the same time it’s not always easy. When I told them that this was something I was going to be taking more seriously, my parents might have been a little concerned that music was my end career goal but they have been so great.
What does the future hold for David James?
Well, we are focusing on the new single “Lonely Girl” and my EP. It looks like we’re going to go out and play some shows this year, which I am really excited about. It’s just about building and building; it’s about keeping the momentum going. We had that in 2014 with the CCMA Discovery Program and in 2015 we released two singles that did well.
I think I spoke too soon back in the beginning of 2014 when I said that 2014 was going to be your year. Look what’s happened since then. 2015 was better and now, here we are in 2016. With all the festivals that have booked you, you’re now getting more national recognition.
It’s very cool and I think it’s just a credit to my team doing a fantastic job. I would be totally lost without my road fam. And that’s all you can hope to do as an artist is slowly build piece by piece, keep the ball moving forward and hope that is works out.
You have some great shows coming up. Where will you be performing in 2016?
All over actually. Still crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s for some shows. One of the highlights will be Boots and Hearts. (The Boots and Hearts Music Festival is a multi-day country music festival in Oro-Medonte, Ontario that is held annually at Burls Creek Event Grounds. Also included in this year’s lineup are Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Tim Hicks and Alan Doyle, to name a few.) That’s one that I’m looking forward to performing at. It’s one of the major festivals I haven’t played yet so it will be a lot of fun. We’re going to be playing pretty much coast to coast. It’s going to be a busy year. I am really excited about 2016.
I remember how excited you were so excited to be playing at Big Valley Jamboree (country music festival held annually in Camrose, Alberta) in 2014.
BVJ was interesting because if there was a moment going on stage where I felt unprepared at that point in my career, that’s where I was. I felt I had no business being in that time slot. It was Friday night and I started about half an hour after Hunter Hayes finished on what they call “the side stage.” The capacity was 15,000 to 17,000 and it was totally packed. It was a remarkable experience. I also got to meet Hunter Hayes, which was very cool. He is a great fellow.
What are you looking forward to most in 2016?
I think finally getting these songs out. I’ve just been on some them for so long now and I am really excited to show people what I’ve been working on. To actually have something tangible, some finished product that I can give to people.
Here at Canadian Beats, we like to include a portion of questions that may help your fans learn something new about you, so here we go:
What was the first concert you ever attended?
Green Day. I was 14. It was at the old Arena in Winnipeg.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
It’s Glenn Frey from the Eagles. Just from a musical, song writing, vocal perspective, the Eagles are my favourite band. Their song writing, their singing… growing up I wanted to sing like him, I wanted to write like him, I wanted to play like him.
If you could choose one song to perform every time you got on stage for the rest of your life, what song would that be?
It’s a song that I never do perform; if I could it would be a little bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s “Bring it On Home to Me” by Sam Cooke. It’s 50’s soul, Motown 60s. It’s a beautiful song and is one of my favourites.
What is your go to cover song to perform on stage?
It’s changed a lot. It used to be “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison (on a side note, this is my favourite cover that David sings). Lately though, I’m trying to do a different fun cover at every show; one that people don’t expect.
What was the first venue you performed at?
The Kings Head pub in the Exchange District in Winnipeg
Where would you like to tour?
Ideally everywhere. Worldwide. Australia and the USA would be cool. There’s a lot of stuff happening in Europe, even South America. I hope to get to all those places.
Who is your favourite Canadian artist or band?
That’s a tough question. Some of them are embarrassing, some not so much. Let’s come back to that one. I’ve got to think about it.
If you had the chance to interview someone you looked up to, who would it be and what would be your first question?
You know what, this would answer the previous question too. I pick Neil Young. I would ask him where he gets his song writing inspiration from because his songs are so unique and he just has a way of packaging his lyrics, and they just translate so well.
If you were in charge of a music festival, what would the line up look like?
Canadians – I would most likely pick some hometown boys, maybe myself, Petric. And, for a female artist, I would choose Jess Moskaluke. It would be nice to have some American headliners. A guilty pleasure of mine is Rascal Flatts. They are one the bands that got me into country music. I love their layers of vocals and great melodies. I’ve always loved Keith Urban. American female would be Carrie Underwood. I’d like to have Carrie Underwood so I could convince her to marry me. (David has a bit of a laugh at that thought.) Yeah, Mike Fisher and me. You know that would be a great story if Mike punched me in the face.
If you could blink your eyes and be in your favourite place right now, where would that place be?
Nashville. For sure. No question.
What is the most played song on your iPod right now?
The last couple of weeks it has probably been Eagles Their Greatest Hits (1971 – 1975). Maybe “Take it Easy,” “Desperado” and “Seven Bridges Road.
What is the most random fact that you can think of?
About anything? (Another laugh) Okay. Ants can carry the most weight proportionate to their body weight out of any living organism.
What is one thing that your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
My first time ever hearing my song on the radio I was delivering flowers for my mom, who owns a flower shop. So it’s kind of random that in a life prior to this one I was delivering flowers.
Last but not least, is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Oh man. This last year has been so incredible, in so many ways. I am just totally blown away. I feel so blessed that people have connected to my music and every time fans reach out on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and tell me how much they connected with a song, how much they love my music, it truly means a lot to me. So those are humbling experiences when that happens, and at the same time it’s just incredible.
At the end of the day, as an artist, you want to able to make music that people can connect with.
Who ever it is, if you can do what you love, it’s just the luckiest thing in the world. It’s always great to hear from fans. I love it!
Support live music in your area – get out and see local artists perform at your favourite venues.
Hi all. I’m Nanci Dagg. I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and have lived my entire life here. There is nothing I like better than supporting local artists followed by supporting Canadian artists. Although I was a classic rock gal, my go to genre is country. Something about this music that just makes me feel great. I can be found at most country music concerts and shows (from someone’s house to really large venues) taking lots of pictures. Music and photography are two of my passions. Add to this mix, writing about artists, well let’s say, life doesn’t get better than this.