Casey James Talks New Music, Writing With Sugarland’s Kristian Bush and Having Randy Owen as a Mentor
An Indiana newspaper recently included Casey James on a list of shocking eliminations from the latest season of ‘American Idol.’ The mistake is understandable, because while James did appear on the reality show (but on the 10th, not the 11th season), he’s releasing his debut single at the same time as Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Pia Toscano.
James finished third on ‘Idol’ in May 2010 and soon signed with Sony Nashville. The label had been quick to take advantage of contestants’ television fame in the past, rushing out projects from Phil Stacey and Kristy Lee Cook before dropping them after one single. While James made appearances, the label waited, and waited and waited to release anything from the 29-year-old bluesy guitarist.
In an interview with Taste of Country, James says he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. His first single, ‘Let’s Don’t Call it a Night,’ has just shipped to radio, and he’s putting the final touches on an album he hopes will be in stores early next year.
Is Nashville home for you now, or do you still have a place in Texas?
I have a place in Texas I’m about to sell, I think. I moved out to Nashville in October or November and have been out here ever since.
Sony didn’t rush you along like they have some other ‘American Idol’ contestants. Had you noticed that, and why do you think that is?
Yeah, I guess it’s the mindset of coming at this from the angle of “this is an artist that had it not been from ‘American Idol,’ we would have picked him up anyways.” I think that’s how they’re trying to handle it and take me forward in the way that I can continue and have a 50-year career, more than just rushing something out and trying to capitalize on the fact that I’ve got fans from a TV show. I really appreciate that because I spent more than 12 years of hard work playing smoky bars for four or five hours a night for seven nights a week and you know, I hope that would count for something.
Was it difficult to be patient after you were signed?
You know, not really. I’ve always been really thankful that I just got to do what I loved for a living and have enough money to eat, at least most of the time.
What does ‘American Idol’ leave you unprepared for?
There’s just a lot of things that don’t translate between TV world and music world — I mean a lot of things you can take with you, just general ways of doing things, like be prepared and do your best, but other than that it’s a whole different world.
Most contestants don’t have much stage experience, so that part of their career suffers for a few years after ‘American Idol.’
Yeah, it’s never been an issue for me, and if anything, having a crowd in front of me helps my game. So that was something that was a benefit for sure. Those 12 years of playing in front of crowds big or small definitely came in handy.
Had you always planned on moving to Nashville or would you have been content making a career as a Texas artist?
I’m content to play music in general. A dream of mine has always been to do it on a bigger level where you have more people wanting to come hear you play, and just getting out there and getting to play bigger venues. And that’s been something that I’ve always wanted to do, but I would be happy just getting to play music in general.
You’ve opened for some big artists, including Sugarland.
It’s been great. Especially with Sugarland, getting out there being in front of the big crowds … was really a blessing. Sugarland puts on a great show and it was great to see it, it was great to be a part of it. Me and Kristian [Bush] wrote a lot, and that was a lot of fun as well. And we wrote some really great songs, so it was beneficial.
How many songs that you wrote together will end up on the album?
You know, who’s to say? I’m still working on it, so I don’t even know. It just depends, because you just go one at a time. You go, “What’s the absolute greatest song that I’ve got right now? What could I not live without?” And you put that one on there and then you do it again. And you do it again. And you do it again. And at some point you start to build this CD, and you have to decide, “OK, now what now goes with this CD?” If I pick five slow songs, then I absolutely must pick five fast songs.
Talk a little about writing with Alabama‘s Randy Owen.
Well, Randy Owen first of all is a freaking legend. Just mind-boggling nice. It was shocking to me that you could be on that level and still be such a genuine, humble, kindhearted, great guy. And he’s been so kind to me, and really, really supportive and just sort of out of the blue just kind of took me under his wing. It’s been a real blessing and a real honor to get to work with him. We actually went out to his cabin, not too far from a river that he sang about. We got to write and have a great time. And the song is great. I don’t know that it will make the album yet. It’s still in the works, so it’s still too difficult to say.
So you guys still keep in touch?
Sure do. Every now and then just give a call and say, “How you doing man, just catching up.”
What’s one piece of valuable advice someone from the country music world has given you?
I haven’t gotten a lot of advice in general … but one of the best ones was from Randy Owen. Just saying, “Keep in touch and really connect with your fans.” And I feel I do that really well. Maybe not through social networking all the time, but at my live shows I always take the time before and after to talk with everybody and hang out. I think that’s a great piece of advice because at the end of the day, I’m just sitting in a room by myself playing guitar unless someone wants to hear me.
Has anyone tried to get you to cut your hair?
Other than me, no.
Have you cut it?
No, I haven’t cut it, but eventually I will.
That was my intention — to grow it out and donate it.
Listen to Casey James’ ‘Let’s Don’t Call It a Night’