Gay/LGBT Seattle, WA entertainment news and lifestyle guide featuring dining and nightlife directories, local voices, travel, businesses, free personals, vip event access and photos
The Interview

James TW

James TW makes a good first impression

"The responses online from people who are going through the same thing has probably been one of the most gratifying things I’ve done in my career."

by Gregg Shapiro

Wise beyond his 18 years, with talent to boot, James TW’s aptly titled debut EP First Impressions (Island) make a good first impression indeed. From his respectful cover of the Natalie Imbruglia hit “Torn” (released the year TW was born), to empowering originals such as “Different” and “When You Love Someone,” he is an artist who definitely knows how to reach his audience and uplift them when necessary. Discovered, if you will, by label-mate Shawn Mendes (of “Stitches” and “Something Big” fame) with whom he is currently on tour, James TW is off to a strong start. I spoke with James in July 2016. [James TW performs at the Rosemont Theater in Rosemont on Aug. 5.]

Gregg Shapiro: James, if you don’t mind, I’d like to begin with your name. What was involved in the decision to perform as James TW, as opposed to James Taylor-Watts?

James TW: Well I guess the first thing was my dad named me after James Taylor. Although I think it’s very cool to kind of have that in the back of my mind, and that people might recognize that, I think in the beginning it was about when I was uploading YouTube videos and wanting people to find me. I did start as James Taylor-Watts. People would search it and all that would come up is James Taylor [laughs]. To avoid that, we just went with James TW. That’s the honest answer, really.

GS: Thank you for being honest. You co-wrote five of the six songs on your First Impressions EP.  What can you tell me about your songwriting process?

JTW: The process usually starts with concepts for me. I’m usually a lyrical guy first. In my phone I always have 10 to 20 different song ideas. One of the songs on the EP is called “When You Love Someone.” It’s about parents getting divorced. That was simply written in my phone as “parents explaining to child that they are getting divorced.” When I feel inspired to write about one of the ideas in my notes, I’ll have a search through, find the one I like the best and try and come up with some chords to it.

GS: As I mentioned, you co-wrote the songs. What do you look for in songwriting collaborators?

JTW: That’s a good question. I play different instruments – guitar, piano and drums. I’m very interested in songwriters that are also musicians. I find myself a lot of the time deciding where the chords and music are going. If I can write with someone who can take a chord sequence in a different direction then I value that very much. Really, it’s about having good chemistry with someone. The people I enjoy writing with the most I’d quite happily go and spend time with them outside of the studio, too, or just chill with them.

GS: You mentioned James Taylor. Who do you consider to be your biggest musical influences?

JTW: If we’re talking throwback influences, James Taylor is there with Bill Withers, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. It’s all about the soul guys. Donnie Hathaway. I love their voices. More modern influence – I love Norah Jones, I love John Mayer. Live, I think I take a lot from Ed Sheeran. I guess they all have a singer/songwriter quality to them. But I am a sucker for a soulful voice

GS: The lone cover on the album is the song “Torn,” which was a hit single for Natalie Imbruglia. What is the significance of that song to you?

JTW: I was having a chat with my label. We wanted to include a cool cover. We all went searching and we found “Torn.” “Torn” was released the year I was born. I obviously can’t remember it from when it was released. But I always liked that song a lot. I was keen to try my best and cover it. I got together with a producer called Jordan (Orvosh) and he took my acoustic demo of the song that I had recorded and turned it into its own thing. We had a good crack at it and people are responding well to it.

GS: You mentioned “When You Love Someone,” a song I heard you perform when you opened for Shawn Mendes at the Mizener Amphitheater in Boca Raton Florida. You said the song was written for a music student of yours whose parents were going through a divorce. Do you know what the student’s reaction was to the song?

JTW: That’s a tough question. I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s heard it. I’m not going to bring the song to him. What I do know is that it’s helped a lot of other people that I’ve reached. The responses online from people who are going through the same thing has probably been one of the most gratifying things I’ve done in my career. To write a song of that ilk that is helping people that I’ve never even met before; that’s an amazing feeling.

GS: You switched from acoustic guitar to electric guitar when you played “Sanctuary.” Do you have a preference for one over the other?

JTW: I’m always fighting between the two. My favorite to play is electric. Acoustic is where I’ve come from with James Taylor and people like that. But there is time for me to grow.

GS: “Different,” a song about standing out, being who you are and not changing that, is a wonderfully empowering message, especially for an audience such as yours, which includes a lot of pre-teen and teenage girls. Would you say that also applies to your young queer fans, many of whom I also noticed in the audience at the show?

JTW: Yes, definitely. Everyone goes through insecurities; even me. I was kind of writing songs for myself as well as other people. Growing up, whether it’s school or everything that you’re going through, it’s changing. You have to remember to just be yourself, and that’s what that song is about.

GS: You took a video of the audience at that show. Is that something that you do at all of your concerts?

JTW: Yes, I do. It’s very fun. It means that people at the show can go and try to find themselves in the videos. I like to keep the videos for myself, too.

GS: How do American audiences compare to audiences in other countries in which you’ve performed?

JTW: [Laughs] that’s a good question! I think the biggest difference is sometimes, if I tell a joke on stage, it depends on the humor of the audience. Sometimes the joke will go way better in America than in Europe, for example. I guess you have to be careful about people’s sense of humor. I guess the only difference is when I play covers. Sometimes a song is huge in America and it’s not a big in the UK or vice versa. In my set, I do (Flo Rida’s) “My House” or (Justin Bieber’s) “Sorry,” I’d say that generally has gone down better in America than in Europe. “Sorry” was a big song everywhere, but “My House” was definitely a bigger song in America.

GS: Finally, James, When can we expect a full-length album from you?

JTW: I’m going to be honest, I’m not sure yet. I released the EP and I’m touring it. I’m kind of all over the place with recording new songs which I’d like to be on the album. I think people can expect more music after the tour in November or around that time.

This was a very enjoyable interview. So much I can respond to. I loved the ending about the songs. When James played Justin Bieber's 'Sorry' in England on the 5th of May I knew it, but when he mashed it with Flo Rida's 'My House' I was left slightly boggled and my lips were moving in a completely different motion to what the lyrics would have them do, I tried not to look stupid, but I'm sure I made it worse for myself, haha. I could hear people around me singing it, and obviously as you do, I didn't want to stand out, haha. Imagine standing still whilst everyone is bopping and your just like "YEAH, ha, ha what is going on?" Anyway. I love 'Different' the concept of it is brilliant and sums it up pretty well. It is something I find hard to do, be myself I mean. I have anxiety issues but with songs like this it can be more helpful than someone talking you and trying to give advice. Music has a way of doing that, making sense to you with emotion instead of a monotone voice and melody which guides you through what is practically a therapy, without you even noticing. Music can make you happy when your sad. It can make you want to jump up and jive whilst your stood in line at your Costa coffee, even if your a very shy person in public, like myself. I have actually done a few dance moves. Ironically right after James headline show on the 12th of May. People stared but I didn't care, the music was good and I was still buzzing from seeing him an hour earlier. At this time it was like 10pm maybe 11pm and I'm stood in line dancing to music playing through the place. Oh, man, I do love a guitar. Especially electric guitars. I love when they break it down on stage giving me a rush of adrenaline when they have a full on riff solo. But acoustic will forever be needed, it gives you quite a emotional mood, whether it is happy or sad, it works well. It almost paints a backdrop to the lyrics which paint the story, it is beautiful. Electric guitars are like the rev of a motorbike, they drive me insane with satisfaction, making me all hot and sweaty. TMI. But isn't that what concert are for? Haha. When you love someone is a song that makes you want to hold a pillow and bawl your eyes out till you can't anymore. Even if you have never had that experience in your life, it has so much pain and so much love in it. It makes me want to hug the child I don't even have. It's just got that power and emotion to it. With this song James really shows his talent and also his maturity to express such a feeling. I mean he's only 18 and this song is reaching out to people who were once kids and now have their own families and may have moved on, and this song is relating to them through the melody, the lyrics and the tone in his voice, probably almost like a flashback for them, it's insane. I'm so glad he said obvious he can't remember the release of 'Torn'. Still managed to have a great laugh at it although he said 'obviously' I heard his cover for 'Torn' as he performed for Shawn as his opening act, I had never heard this song. This could be seen as bias but, in my opinion *holds hand up in defence* in my opinion, I repeat, I think James cover of this song is much better. But. This may only be because it is much more modern. But also. I do like loads of old music so maybe it's not that, it's just something about this cover makes me like it more. Maybe it's the ragging bass or the raspy feel to his voice but I like it.I've listened to some James Taylor music, tah James. But ah, yeah I like it. It's soothing. I could listen to it without a problem, just chilled with him playing in the background. Totally. Also Marvin Gaye, I mean come on, he's, he's awesome. You have to admit. Ed Sheeran and John Mayer. I love their music. I've listen to Ed from when he was starting out and I've always loved every piece he dishes out to us, I know it's only that good because of the work he puts into it and I know James does the same. Music isn't to be treated as a quick piece of work if you want it to be perfect. Also John Mayer, now, wait a minute, this guy is 22 years older than me. This guy is amazing. I NEED to go to a concert of his one day, and I'm planning to buy all of his albums when and if I can. He has such..I can't even explain his voice to you, you'd have to go listen to his music to know just beautiful and soothing and everything it is, it is just so, so good. Making music with someone you can be chill with it an obvious positive. You can feed offnof each other and just vibe and things role smoothly. Not that I know, but I can imagine from other things I've done. You have to feel comfortable to be able to express yourselves and release what you have inside, you know? My mum named me after some girl in a move, well my second name. Pssh I don't know. Haha. I'm so happy James and Shawn are touring together because they just have so much talent and they are great friends with a similar age. It's like an all boys tour it's cool. I'm sure it's such a great experience and an experience they will and we will never forget and always cherish. Wish they could tour together again or even all the time, but I doubt it, hopefully they will do shows together, just Show up at each others shows and belt out a few songs, would be amazing. As you can tell, I loved this interview. Had much to say. Thanks so much for this interview. You guys are amazing. Made me smile and yeah, it was great.
Posted by Cherelle Reid-Johnson on Tue, 8/2/2016 4:48 PM
{ts '2018-05-27 20:25:08'}