One year and a half after creating this blog, I’m proud to present you Country Music France‘s first interview. Steven James accepted to answer some questions about his band’s third album, “Starr Street“, released on May 31st, this year. The Texan artist, whose success is continously growing, has a lot to say, not only about this awesome album and its making, but also about his career, his life as a musician and his plans. If you want to know more about Steven James and the Jaded, then keep on reading!
Starr Street is the third album of the band. In which way this album is different from its two predecessors ?
On this album, I let go a little and gave up more control. It was way more of a band effort than the previous two where I did everything myself. On “Starr Street“, the other guys came up with their own parts and offered suggestions about the flow of the songs, and of course I put them on the cover too! It was much more of a team effort. Which was hard for me to let go at first, but actually in the end made everything less stressful and run more smoothly. As a solo artist, it’s easy to be a control freak and want to do everything yourself since it is your baby, but it’s good for anyone to let go of the reins a little and just let things go where they naturally want to.
Also, this album is the third of a “trilogy“. I’d always planned it that way. The first record was me starting out as a solo artist, on my own kind of finding my way. I got a little attention and got on the radio and it was a great start. The second album “On The Run” was about being in the thick of things. I was out on the road a lot more, literally on the run, touring and playing wherever I could, trying to make a name for myself. But I was starting to miss my home and my family. And right when that album came out I had my first child, so I really wanted to be at home. Then the third record is a look back at all those expectations, hopes and dreams and accepting that things turn out the way they will regardless of all our grand plans for them. The final song “Starr Street” really encapsulates that. I’m looking back on 20 years of playing live music since I began playing clubs in high school in Houston. So the three albums form one body of work. Even with the artwork. That was a conscious thing. The first album is just palm trees. No band. No backup. The second album cover is me on the road, trying to find my way. And the third album brings back the palm trees full circle, but now I’ve got a band and friends with me, and we’re standing on “Starr Street“.
Two months and a half after its release, how was the reception of your work ?
The reception has been great! The first single “Lucky Stars” went higher on the charts then I ever expected. I didn’t really care this time around. I just put this album out there, and it seems like people liked it even more. I think when you stop trying so hard and worrying about what people will think, you focus more on the music and the craft of playing music, and ironically, people end up liking it even more. That’s where we were at with this record. I was sick of promoting, and touring and social media and just trying really hard to get everyone to notice me and talk to me, which is what you have to do now as a musician more than ever unfortunately. I just wanted to write and play. And we did that. And I think it turned out really well.
What was the kind of music and artists you were listening to when you grew up ?
I grew up listening to what my parents listened to. Those were artists that had a lot of melody. Big melodies – The Beatles, Billy Joel, Elton John, Buddy Holly, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen. That’s why my songs are always described as “catchy“. That was the first thing I heard growing up. Melody first. So I always start with that when I’m writing a song.
Then, as a teenager, I grew up in the 90s and listened to all the Grunge artists at the time – Nirvana, STP, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins – and that definitely gave me an appreciation for rock. But then in high school I heard “Being There” by Wilco for the first time and that blew me away. It was NOTHING like the Grunge rock bands that I’d been listening to for the past four years. It was Country and Americana and singer-songwriter, and I was like WHAT IS THIS??? And that set me on a path that I’m still walking down – chasing country songs and songwriter songs and focusing on everyday life in my lyrics.
How was the process of making « Starr Street » ?
We spent two years on this record. Which sounds insane, but we recorded it ourselves in two different studios. We spent a year recording the songs and writing them as we recorded, then we moved to another studio and re-recorded everything. Then we sent it out to L.A. to be mixed. It was a long process that was happening while I was promoting “Dance With Me Tonight” and later “Wildflower Lane“. So we had these big radio hits on our hands, and were playing huge opening shows for big time artists, all while trying to finish this record. And my wife and I had our second child during the making of this album. So it was nuts. There were times that I thought we would never finish, but the fact that we recorded it ourselves meant we could take our time and get everything just how we wanted it.
« Little Texas Town » is one of my favorite songs of this album and it was on repeat for me this summer. Tell me about this song and its meaning.
Thank you! That is a very personal song. It is about looking back on a brief few years when I was a little boy and I lived in Nacogdoches, a very small town in East Texas. It is a very beautiful town with very large pine trees and creeks and lakes and rivers. It was the early 1980s, and you could do whatever you wanted. I rode my bike around with just a pair of shorts on. I chased the neighborhood kids, we went down to the creek behind my house and tried to grab fish and bugs. It just made me very sentimental to look back on that time when things were so simple and easy. Now I own my house and two businesses. I have a wife and two kids. I travel a lot. I’ve always got more emails and texts to answer than I have time for. It is a much more complicated time now, and that song is about wishing you could go back and freeze time and just appreciate the simple moments.
The lead single, « Lucky Stars », is about the way that your wife stands by you while making music and being on tour. How difficult is it for a musician to reconcile his passion and his family ?
It’s very difficult to have a significant partner when you are a musician, especially if you are serious about it and play a lot on the road. Luckily, my wife has been with me for about 10 years, so she has seen the growth from playing small shows to no one, to opening for Dwight Yoakam or Randy Rogers in front of 3,000 people. So she gets it. She’s seen the career blossom. And it would be a lot harder without her support. It is tough once you have kids though, because they are so proud of you and love the music, but they don’t really understand why you have to leave for days at a time. It gets harder every time you walk out the door. So you have to find that balance. I try to be present as much as possible when I’m with my kids. They want to sit on the floor and play with cars? Let’s do it. They want to sit in my lap and watch The Little Mermaid for the 1,000th time? I’m down. And I think that’s the key. I may travel and stay out late, but when I’m with my family they have all of my attention, not just a piece of me.
Texas is very present in this album (« Little Texas Town », « The Piney Woods », « Starr Street »…), as it is in all the songs of the band. You were born in Houston and have lived in Corpus Christi. What makes Texas music and Texas scene specific and what makes South Texas music different from the rest of Texas music ?
Texas is really like its own country or nation. Geographically, it’s huge. You can drive all day and still be inside Texas. And culturally, each region has its own take on Texas food and music. The South is definitely more influenced by its neighbor Mexico. Those grooves, and hot nights, and peppers and sweat make their way into your songs whether you plan on it or not. The north and west is more barren. There are large plains that just go on forever and eventually break into the mountains of New Mexico. So you can hear that on artists from there, and East Texas is where the South ends. It’s the edge of the Pine Curtain, or The Piney Woods, as I reference in my song. It has gigantic pine trees and lush foliage. Everything East of there looks like that all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. So it’s very different wherever you go, BUT I think Texans share a lot of the same heritage and history that unites us. The outlaw and frontier spirit, the appreciation of the outdoors, an honesty to our art. We sing about what we live, and where we live, and that’s Texas.
What will the rest of 2019 and the next year look like for the band ? What are your plans ?
Well, I took a leap and moved to Georgia about two months after releasing my new record, which sounds pretty crazy! But my wife is from Savannah, which is an amazing and beautiful city, and I’m excited to live out here and play up and down the East Coast. Georgia and Florida are a lot like Texas in many ways, and my music is already being played out here on the radio, so it was an easy transition. And I think it will make me appreciate Texas more now, because I can watch it from a distance and go back and play there when I want. But now I’m a lot closer to Nashville, and Atlanta, and Memphis and all these exciting cities that have sights and sounds and tastes that I am unfamiliar with. So I am looking forward to exploring all of that and seeing how it will influence me. At the moment, I’m wrapping up a stripped-down EP called “Acoustic Songs“. I think our fans will enjoy it. It’s all of our radio singles but recorded acoustic, with a few choice songs of our new album “Starr Street” as well. So it’s great late night, or chilling by the pool music. I hope people check it out! And I recorded that one entirely on my own at home in my new studio in Georgia, so that helped me get everything unpacked and plugged in, and now I can start on a new record which will probably come out in the Spring that should be influenced by the East Coast and all my new experiences. I haven’t written a single song for it yet, which is exciting to me. I’ve got a completely clean slate to start from. And beyond that, just look for us to be playing some shows in Texas, Nashville and along the East Coast this Winter and Spring. We’re excited to play some new spots!
Interview made by Nicolas Davelu