Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jeffrey James is already so good at what he does, but that does not mean that he will turn down opportunities to grow as an artist. His compelling and insightful music has been streamed over a million times, acknowledged by well-known publications, and heard in a plethora of movies and TV shows. Still, Jeffrey knows that an artist’s work is never done, which is why he constantly looks for collaborators and projects that will challenge him and take his sound to new heights. We recently had the chance to catch up with Jeffrey to talk about some of these collaborations, his new single “We Can Be Heroes,” his appearance on Songland, and more!
Photo by Chance Edwards
Melodic Mag: What was the song or artist that first got you interested in music?
Jeffrey James: I wish I could say there was one movie-like “Ah ha!’ moment, but I’ve always been around music. Everyone in my family could sing, so we were always singing and harmonizing around the house and on family trips in the car. I just happened to be the only one in my immediate family who kept doing that!
MM: I read that you were in a band growing up, which helped you develop your songwriting skills. How long was it before you decided that going solo was more your thing?
JJ: The band broke up after three months. We only played one show. I think it was a couple months after that I got curious if I could write songs on my own. So, I picked up my guitar and started writing. That was around senior year of high school.
MM: Even though you have been making music most of your life, most people know you from your appearance on NBC’s Songland last year. How did that opportunity come about?
JJ: It was all pretty random. I’m pretty sure they found me online, either from my released music or my videos on YouTube. The show asked me to submit a few songs, and luckily, they picked one for me to pitch! I didn’t know it was officially happening till about three days before I had to fly to LA to film!
MM: The process seems to fly by very quickly on the show, from pitching the song, working it out in the studio, and then performing the final version. How long does it really take to do everything?
JJ: Filming the full episode took about two weeks. Though, we weren’t working every day. The show films multiple episodes at once. But, the second week was when I got to work with Ryan Tedder, and then sing the final version of “We Can Be Heroes.”
MM: “We Can Be Heroes” is set to be released this week. What was it like to team up with Ryan Tedder, who worked with you on the song during your time on Songland, and did you two work together on the song more after the show ended?
JJ: Working with Ryan Tedder was like sitting through a masterclass on songwriting and recording. My song was one of the few that didn’t change too drastically from the time I first pitched it. Some songs on that show completely changed titles and what the song was about. With Ryan, we re-wrote a few lyrics, but the core of the song stayed the same. Ryan did have two seemingly small ideas that brought the song to a new level. He added even more choir parts and changed one note in the chorus that made that section sour. It was pretty cool to see the thin line between a good songwriter and someone who truly knows how to make a song great. We didn’t work on the song after the show ended, but it was pretty much good to go after that! The version I’m releasing is basically what you heard in my final performance. I recorded it with the production team LÒNIS who were the original co-writers of the song.
MM: Is there a special song out there that you love and wish you could’ve written yourself?
JJ: “I’ll Follow You Into The Dark” by Death Cab For Cutie. It’s such a simple, unique, and beautiful song.
MM: You recently released a music video for “Small Talk,” which does well to represent the essence of the song. Where did the idea for the video come from, and how did you link up with the featured dancers Deavon and Lauren?
JJ: I’ve been wanting to do something in this style ever since watching the music video for “still feel.” by half•alive. I love that modern contemporary dance style. So, when it came to making this music video, it felt like the perfect way to tell the story. Deavon and Lauren were recommended first by my friend Charity Baroni, who was going to choreograph, originally. Sadly, she had to back out, but Deavon and Lauren stepped up and choreographed the piece together! I’m so happy with how it turned out!
MM: Going through your videos online, each one has such a unique story (including the one you have for Adele’s “Rumour Has It”!) – do you usually come up with the concepts yourself?
JJ: I’m a big fan of collaboration. I’ve come up with some video concepts, but I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great directors who are extremely creative. If I feel their idea connects with my brand and the song, I’ll lean on them to execute their idea – like my “Both Ways” music video (which was conceived and filmed by a French director in Paris, France!) or the music video for my “Everlong” cover (which a close friend of mine here in Nashville created for me). I’m pretty sure that cheeky “Rumour Has It” cover video was all my idea… just don’t ask anyone else who was there!
MM: Can you tell us a little more about the musical you co-composed, Chaining Zero?
JJ: I was brought in a few years ago to co-compose this musical along with my good friend, Justin Halpin, and some script writers in NYC. I’ve always been a not-so-secret musical theater nerd. So, I jumped at the chance to bring what I do into the musical theater space. The fact that someone wants to put the show on stage is pretty amazing!
MM: I saw that you recently tweeted about Bo Burnham’s new Netflix special – any chance for a collab some day?
JJ: I’m honestly not sure what I would bring to the table there. He can kind of do it all – and what he does is pretty damn great! I’d rather watch what he does, and enjoy it as a fan.
Thank you so much for talking with us, Jeffrey! We wish you the best with Chaining Zero, “We Can Be Heroes,” and all of the other great opportunities that are sure to come your way!
You can check out Jeffrey’s music, including his latest single “We Can Be Heroes,” on platforms like Apple Music and Spotify.