James Wesley Talks New Music, Touring With Taylor Swift and Connecting With Fans of All Ages
Rising Broken Bow Records artist James Wesley is quickly building a strong foundation for a life and career in the country music industry. Wesley’s forthcoming new album, ‘Real,’ is slated to hit stores later this year, but he has already delivered three songs from the album to country radio, including the title track, ‘Jackson Hole,’ and his latest Top 40 hit, ‘Didn’t I.’
As fans anxiously await the release of the singer’s first album with the label, he is keeping their fire going strong by touring coast-to-coast on many high profile tours, including last year’s Cold Beers and Reindeers Tour and most recently, Taylor Swift‘s Speak Now Tour, which he will be on through October.
Taste of Country recently caught up with the charming and talented singer to discuss his new music, life on the road and keeping it ‘real.’
What can we expect from your debut album?
I think people are going to be a little surprised about what is on there. I grew up being pretty open to music. The only thing I really don’t listen to is rap [laughs]. I grew up listening to a lot of the ’50s and’ 60s rock ‘n’ roll, working in the garage, and also the traditional country artists. My grandmother was a big influence in that area. This album has everything. It covers all ages, and that’s what is pretty crazy about doing this Taylor Swift tour, is the songs I have connect with people from 5-years-old up to 60-yeas-old, who come up and talk to me about the songs. There are a few that sound very traditional, and there are some that are just rockin’! We’ve been playing these songs out on the road, and it’s been so cool to watch the crowd and see their reactions to the new songs. You can see which ones really work. It’s a pretty awesome feeling when you are playing a song, and you see somebody’s eyes light up. There are songs on there for everybody.
What songs are you most excited about your fans hearing from the album?
There is a song called ‘Waking Up the Rooster,’ and another song that’s called ‘Walking Contradiction.’ I also have a song that we are doing on tour called ‘How Much Do You Love Me,’ which is really upbeat. It goes, ‘How much do you love me? / How far would you go? / Would you search for me? / Do you love me that much?‘ And we’ve got one called ‘You Should Be Here With Me,’ that to me kind of reminds me of an old high school dance … sitting on the gym floor, looking across the room and seeing this guy dancing with a girl that you’d really love to dance with or even just have the opportunity to talk to, and he’s the kind of guy who is basically a jerk and you think, “I can’t believe she is with this guy! I would do anything for her, if she was only mine!” Then, of course, we’ve got my new single which is ‘Didn’t I,’ that is 35 on the charts this week. It’s jumped six spots [this week], which is pretty wild.
You are already three singles deep into the album, so hat kind of feedback have you been getting on them?
‘Didn’t I’ is my third single. ‘Jackson Hole’ was the first single, but when we released it, it was the end of November. I actually signed [with Broken Bow Records] mid-November, and we released the single at the end of November. Radio goes on a couple weeks of hiatus for Christmas and the holidays, so the reason we did that is because it was kind of a winter song, and we were just trying to get something out there that was more of a spring song. That is when ‘Real’ was released. ‘Jackson Hole’ went to No. 47, I believe, and ‘Real’ went to No. 22. It was amazing what that song did for me as far as kick starting my career because even at 22, so many people heard that song. It was crazy how it was played so much by so many stations. They played the fire out of the song! It was No. 1 at a lot of different stations. I go out and do this song now, and people are singing it with me. There’s nothing better than that feeling of standing up onstage and having people sing your song back to you. It’s unreal … it really is. You work so hard to get a record deal, and you find a song that you hope will connect with people, and when it does, it’s just unbelievable. That’s been fun on this Taylor Swift tour, too. That song, no matter what age the people are who are listening to it, they connect to it. I know I did. When I first moved to Nashville I worked construction for the first five years before I got my deal, so it really struck me, and I felt like the song could really be something because there are a lot of people that are in the same boat I’m in for sure.
Did you write many of the songs on your album?
We had a couple songs that we were going to put on there, but I think we’re going to wait until the second album. I’ve been doing a lot of writing in the last few months, kind of building up some material for the album. Kyle Jacobs, who was one of the co-writers on ‘Didn’t I,’ wrote a song with me called ‘Burning Love.’ It has a really cool Chris Isaak/Roy Orbison kind of feel, which is kind of cool. I look for those songs that are really different with the melody and the whole shape of the song … of course the words they help too [laughs]! Songwriters have such a gift. To be able to sit down and write a song, and have everybody relate to it, and then for them to give up a song to a newcomer … that’s a big deal. They could have given these songs to anybody! I am fortunate enough to be a part of these songs.
How was the vibe in the studio while recording?
It was really comfortable. When I moved back [to Nashville] in 2006, I was working construction all over the place, and I’d get off work after pouring concrete and laying tile and stone, and I would be a nasty mess. My good friend Michael Martin who had Extreme Publishing would let me come in there and listen to the old and new catalog, and I kept seeing this guy Rodney Clawson’s name. I would always think, ‘Man … who is this guy? He’s got some great songs!’ So I asked if there was any way I could meet him because I’d really like to talk to him. So Michael set us up one day, and I was hanging out with Rodney. He grew up in a little town in Texas and was a farmer, and I grew up in a town with 200 people, just a small little farming community. So we hit it off, and I told him that I loved the songs he writes. They are simple songs, but there is so much to them. So we talked, and about two or three months later, he called me up while I was cutting down some old trees and clearing this guys backyard for him, and he said, “Hey James … Let’s go in and cut some songs!” I was like, “Man, that would be great, but I just don’t have the money to do that right now.” He said, “I didn’t ask you if you had money; I want you to come in and sing.” So that’s what we did. We went into the studio with Dan Frizsell, who is the other co-producer, and we all had a big part in how we wanted the music to sound and just a feel for the album. It was a great environment. It was relaxed, and that’s a big part of [recording]. When you go in there and you can just be relaxed and not be so high strung or tense, because it will show on the record. The inflection of your voice even … the tone and everything. So we went in and cut these songs.
You’re currently out on the road with Taylor on the Speak Now Tour. How has the run been for you?
It’s crazy when you go from playing a conference room at a radio station, where it’s maybe just you and another guitar player, to then play with a full band at some of the clubs and honky tonks with Luke Bryan, Josh Thompson and Miranda Lambert. But it’s pretty cool to go from those size venues to the first show in Foxboro, Mass. that we had with Taylor … it was like holy cow [laughs]! It was unreal when we walked out there just to do soundcheck that day. We’re standing there in the New England Patriots stadium and looking out at all those seats thinking, “We’re right here on the 40 yard line, and we’ve got all these people who are going to be here tonight!” It’s just mind blowing. Then you do the soundcheck, and you think you’ve got the monitors loud enough, but then when everybody gets in there, it’s like a whole new world. There were probably 200 or 300 people in just the pit right in front of me … that’s like my entire hometown in that little pit [laughs]! That first night it was definitely overwhelming, standing there in front of that many people. When you go from playing anywhere from 500-4,000 people to almost 60,000 people, it just blows your mind.
Watch the James Wesley ‘Didn’t I’ Video