Jay James is a producer creating free-flowing Electronic / R&B music. He’s also a Music Major at SDSU.
You’re producing your music, have you ever produced anyone else’s?
Yeah I’ve produced for a ton of different people, friends, other artists. I don’t want to name drop [laughs] but yeah I’ve produced for other people in the industry.
Where did you start?
I’ve been playing piano since I was three. I just taught myself how to play, and then I picked up guitar, started picking up some brass instruments, and it got to a point where I was like I wanna be in a band but I always sucked at working with people, because like people are unreliable. So I was like I’m just gonna record these different instruments on top of each other.
So what you’re doing right now, what you’ve put forth in your more professional recent setting, what are you mostly focusing on and how are you making it?
My workflow is kinda weird. I use a few different kinds of software to get the sound that I have. I usually start with the keys, I’ll just be sitting playing something, like ‘Oh I like that’ and I’ll take whatever melody or chords I came up with and then I’ll use other instruments and start layering and adding other counter melodies until I have something.
Are you ever inspired by other artist’s sounds?
Yeah, all the time. I guess like my biggest inspiration that you can like hear is probably like Kanye, Dilla, Flying Lotus, people like that. And I also like to incorporate live instruments because I pay live instruments and I go to college where there’s music programs with amazing musicians, so I try to like get all that in there and just make it work to where its like you don’t hear something and its like ‘Whoa where’d that come from,’ you’re just like ‘That works perfectly.’
What inspired you from the beginning?
I watched a documentary on Timberland in like 7th grade, and I was like ‘Why don’t I do that?’ Music’s always been a huge part of my life. I kinda grew up in a church with a lot of music there and I was always involved in that. I’ve always been the kid tapping on things, banging on pots and pans, so it always made sense that I was gonna make music.
What about your cover art, what was the inspiration there?
My album artwork was based off a picture that was taken of me. I went home for summer break and I found a bunch of old pictures and I took pictures of them with my iPhone, and like uploaded it onto Photoshop and f****d with it and sent it to him [friend] and then he messed with it and that was it.
Wow, cool. How much of your music has vocals?
About like 50 percent of my music has vocals. It’s rarely me; I think I’ve put out one song where I was kind of singing on it
And you don’t want to do that? You like making it more?
I’m not ready yet. I’m not happy with where my voice is yet; I’m working on it. Until I’m ready to put out music where my voice is very prepared, I’m not going to.
Yeah, that makes sense. Ok I want to talk about your success on iTunes, like your album Beautiful. When did that come out?
Yeah, my album [Beautiful] dropped in May, and the first week or week and-a-half, it was on the iTunes charts and that was cool.
Damn! That’s exciting to see.
That was wild. I didn't have a body of music before that. I don’t put out a lot of music compared to how much music I make. Like there was a time when I was making three or four songs a day.
Are you very picky in what you put out?
Very, very picky. Like people have to push me to put out music. Recently it’s been better; I think I’ve been putting out as good as it’s gonna get. That's like my philosophy. I try to make it as perfect as possible and I try not to rush, but sometimes you just gotta put it out.
What’s your favorite work?
I definitely have a favorite song, my song “Polaroids.” The biggest reason, is like so when I was working on the EP I had six songs that I had in mind but I had about ten songs that I had done, and I was like alright I’m gonna put out like 6 songs. But some sh*t happened between me and the artist and their label where I couldn’t put out the music and it was very frustrating. So I wrote a new song and then I sent it over to Crystal, who’s the singer on there, and so I got her part and then I was like this needs something else so I extended the song and worked with another producer and had someone play guitar over it and I added that rap verse in the beginning.
So kind of because it came from something that didn’t work out.
Yeah, it was kind of rushed but I was really happy with it.
Did you have a vision for the whole album?
I like to do concept albums; my first album [Beautiful] is based off a story. So everything is based around the same general ideas. But for the EP I didn’t want to do too much of that. The EP was more of leftover things from the album. After the album I was like ok I’m not going to make music for three months, but I started making music again after two weeks.
You can’t not make music.
So it’s kind of the pieces that didn’t follow the script of your album
Yeah, but then the concept came into it. Like I said, I came across those pictures, and so a lot of the music has kind of a nostalgic feel to it. All the songs have reference to something that’s happened. I wanted to make it personal, and I want to turn it into a series KOFI 1, KOFI 2, in the future.
Have you ever done any shows?
I’ve performed before but I’ve never performed my own music, not yet. I’ve had the opportunity, like a lot of venues have contacted me asking me to play, but same with the singing thing, I’m just not ready. I took a different approach to things than most artists I feel like and I want that to resonate with my performance. A lot of the music I have, I don’t think it would be very entertaining live.
So that would change the music you make a little bit.
Definitely it will; when you go to a show you usually want music that’s a little more upbeat. I have sitting-down, thinking-about-life music.
You do; you really have to listen to it. As an artist does that bother you at all, that you might have to change it up?
I mean, I don’t want to be a boring artist and only make a certain type of music, so I’m branching out to other genres still in my own way. I eventually knew I was gonna have to do something where I could perform.
Gospel was a big part of your childhood; do you ever see and impact of that in your music?
Oh all the time especially vocally, like how I like people to sing things is very like… have you ever been to church? You know, being in a room, and the church choir is singing, it doesn’t even matter what they’re singing, it’s that environment.
Yeah, that feeling. Like if you can make music that gives that feeling to your listener, then you’ve succeeded.
I think that’s what I’m trying to do. I want people to put in their headphones or turn on their car or whatever, to listen to my music, I want that to evoke some sort of emotion. More than just expressing my own feelings, emotions, or whatever, if I can get something out of someone else, I won.
You can check out Jay James' latest music below and view the newly released Kofi documentary.