Review Fix chats with singer/songwriter James VIII, who lets us know all about his sound, life in Brooklyn and creative process behind his single, “Set It Free” and more.
With such a wide range of influences, James VIII’s sound is not easily categorized into any one genre, but he defines it simply as soul music. In his own words, James VIII defines soul music as “music made with conviction and passion. You can hear someone’s heart when they wear it on their sleeve and that’s what I pursue every time I step on stage. I close my eyes, let my face look as ridiculous as it feels inclined to look, and lose myself in expression. I’m not trying to sound like anything or anyone in particular really, I’m just trying to get a feeling across in a way that will resonate.”
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
James VIII: I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old. I would steal my sister’s guitar and teach myself Beatles songs and old blues songs. I started writing music, and by the time I turned 15 I sort of knew that music was what I wanted to do with my life. Since then it’s just been playing, writing and learning as much as I can, wherever I can and from whoever I can.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
James VIII: It changes all the time, but it’s pretty free form. I’ll usually sit with my guitar and play sort of aimlessly until something I play catches my ear, and I’ll just keep chipping away until it turns into an idea. I also use the voice memo app on my phone a lot when I’m out and about and have a melody pop into my head, so sometimes I’ll go through those sitting with a guitar or a piano and write something around them. I try to change up my process as often as I can so my songs won’t feel static.
Review Fix: Why are Brooklyn musicians “different”?
James VIII: Well I am a recent Brooklyn transplant, I’m originally from the Bay Area, but what’s stood out to me the most so far about New York artists is that there is a big community of people who care first and foremost about the music. There are a lot of the “actor, singer, model” type of artists in the world, and not to turn my nose up at them because they are responsible for a lot of great music and art, but it’s nice to be in a community where it feels like what matters most is whether or not you can play. There’s also very little forgiveness for mediocrity in a place like New York, so seeing so many people at the top of their game out here inspires me to keep practicing and learning and doing everything I can to make my mark and show that I’ve got something to say.
Review Fix: What’s your preferred pizza spot?
James VIII: Tony’s Pizza Spot in Clinton Hill. It’s a tiny hole in the wall, 1-man operation, cash only place that’s been there forever and it’s amazing.
Review Fix: Roll-n-Roaster or Brennan and Carr?
James VIII: Roll-n-Roaster 100%.
Review Fix: Preferred late-night neighborhood?
James VIII: Lower east side, lots of great music in that neighborhood.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
James VIII: Life. I don’t understand it and trying to figure it out fuels the creative fire. So far that’s been a lot of love, and I imagine that will stay the same. Trying to understand why I feel what I feel, and that other people have felt the same, has always inspired me to express myself.
Review Fix: What makes “Set You Free” a special track?
James VIII: “Set You Free” is special because it’s talking about what I love about music. It’s a great equalizer. We all fall somewhere unique on the spectrum of human experience, we’ve all got our own stresses to deal with, but our trials and our differences melt away when we hear a song that really speaks to us.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
James VIII: I always have a hard time answering this question, not just because it’s a hard question but because my sound tends to change with every song. But I usually say it’s sort of jazzy-soulful-pop.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
James VIII: I always encourage the guys in the band to play what they feel best fits the song, not necessarily what’s in the recording. So live songs tend to be unique. It’s the beautiful thing I love about live music, it’s a special moment and an event every time. You may be playing the same songs night after night but the way it’s said every night might be a little different, so every show is special.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2018?
James VIII: Avoid homelessness via music. Really though, gig as much as I can, and find more musicians to play with who inspire me.
Review Fix: What’s next?
James VIII: I’ve got a couple things cooking, working with some really great musicians/overall humans so there’s something coming, I’m just not sure what it is yet.