‘Time to Get Right’ Mixes Jessta James’ Music and Life Influences
Jessta James grew up country, but not in a country household. There was no uncle who played guitar, or family friend who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a producer in Nashville to help guide his fledgling music career. His hometown, Bozeman, Mont., isn't exactly a pipeline for fresh talent -- in fact, James admits he's usually the first country singer fans have ever met from Montana. In a backwards, heartbreaking sort of way, James' success was inspired his brother.
Musically the married father of one is an amalgam of his influences. First, it was Hank Williams Sr. and the Outlaws movement. In high school he found rock and southern rock. Then, he discovered hip-hop. You'll get a clear idea of what James is all about during the first 30 seconds of 'If That Ain't Country,' the first song on his new 'Time to Get Right' album, which is available for free download below. Country rap, hick-hop ... put whatever label you want on it, but don't call it anything short of genuine.
James points out that the music is supposed to imitate the lifestyle, not vice versa. "When it came time to start making music and finding my own style, it came naturally because I realized that those three things -- country, rock and hip-hop -- those were all a part of my story," James tells Taste of Country.
"People all told me when I first got to L.A., 'You're not gonna get country support and you're not gonna do this and you can't do that,'" he continues. "And I never really listened to 'em. And I just made music about home."
He's since left California, but not for Nashville. James splits his time between Bozeman and a second home near Hilton Head in South Carolina. He doesn't want to simply blend in as so many do in Music City. With an eight-piece band that could fill up a stadium with sound, it's hard to believe that's even possible.
'Time to Get Right' is a mix of country, rock, blues, hip-hop and soul. "I've never put a limit on what I can do as an artist or what I'm supposed to sound like," James explains.. 'Rock 'n' Roll Angel' is a great example of this. The tender ballad stands out on a mostly rowdy, but plenty meaningful collection of songs. His delivery is vulnerable and his message is real. Writing and performing the vocal meant working far outside of his comfort zone.
The title track is the song that is making the biggest impression, however. It's the story of his brother, Matt, who died in 2006 due to a prescription drug addiction. James says it's all the things he never got a chance to tell his brother.
"I've had people writing me stories from rehab, saying how that song has changed their lives and it's made them realize it's their time to get right," James says. It's why the song is more special to him than any other on 'Time to Get Right.'
He adds, "I want my music to make a difference, and I find that by using my life experiences and putting that in the music … people are relating to it and it's helping them."
Matt's death helped push Jessta James to take that leap and fully focus on a country music career. He says his wife helped as well, never offering anything short of her full support. But when his brother died ... "That really was the moment where I realized how incredibly precious life is and really how could it could be taken away from us at any moment."
James didn't write his first song until age 24, performing it to a rowdy biker crowd that same night. They loved it, and over the next few years he was always focused on music -- even when maybe he shouldn't have been. He worked construction in addition to a number of other jobs. Despite a 50-hour work week, James was constantly jotting down ideas on any scrap of paper he could find.
Matt didn't love rap, but he loved Jessta's music, which was even more raw then than it is today. "Looking back ... that said a lot to me," the singer says. "It was still on the hip-hop side of things when I first started writing songs, because that was my in to the music, and he was not a fan of hip-hop at all."
"For him to actually like the music that I was putting out, and for him to get it, it really spoke really loudly to me," he concludes.