It’s happened so many times in the music industry: an artist not being on the same page as label executives in terms of sound and style.
For country singer-songwriter Jason James, that happened when new personnel came in at New West Records following what he calls the “soft release” of his self-titled debut in 2015.
“The record wasn’t getting any traction, but it wasn’t getting any traction because we didn’t get any press, and we didn’t get any press because we didn’t put any money [behind] it,” he says with a laugh.
The Texas-based James recalls New West personnel wanting him to tone down the traditional aspects of his music — taking the steel guitar out, suggesting he play electric guitar instead of acoustic — around the same time he submitted songs intended for his second album. All were sent back to him.
“I wasn’t given the green light,” he says. “I got a little upset, and I said, ‘I don’t want to do this song-and-dance again. This is what I’ve got, and this is what I want to release. I told you I was just going to do country.’ ”
He adds, “I got to the point where I thought, ‘I’m not getting any younger with this. These songs gotta come out, and I can’t release another record until these songs come out, and I’m dang sure ain’t gonna put out something I don’t want.’ So I just essentially said, ‘This isn’t working out; I want out of the contract’ — and they were happy to oblige.”
James parted ways with New West in 2018, and about a month and a half after becoming a free agent, he got down to work at Signal Hill Recordings in Texas with producer John Evans, who handled that role on James’ debut. The objective for his second album, James told Evans, was “to showcase the songs and the vocals. I didn’t want everything mixed all right up in your face. I wanted some room to breathe.”
Evans assembled the band that backed James on what would become Seems Like Tears Ago, released in October on James’ Melodyville Records label. Prior to the sessions, they had a memorable exchange on the phone about who should fill one of the spots.
“I was on a show at the Broken Spoke [in Austin], about two weeks before we started to record,” James says. “I called John to tell him about this steel player I just played with. And John said, ‘Cool, man, but I already have a steel player.’ And I said, ‘You’re not understanding. This is the guy I want on the record.’ So John said, ‘Cool, dude. What’s his name?’ I said, ‘Geoff Queen.’ And John said, ‘Yeah, dude. That’s the guy [I got] for the record.’ … We had a big laugh about that.”
When it comes to honoring and respecting country tradition, James doesn’t joke around, admitting he’s “100 percent influenced by George Jones — and especially Lefty Frizzell.”
“I’ve been told that [what I do] is more of an interprative work than it is an original one, but I disagree,” James explains. “I feel this is just what’s coming from me.”
He takes it one step further with his tasteful fashion choices.
“If it’s coming from the heart, I could go up there with holes in my pants, an untucked shirt and a baseball cap and sing these songs if I wanted,” James says. “But my theory on this is about paying homage and tribute to the way things used to be. … It’s a presentation, but it does help me get my head right. You know, when you’re looking in the mirror and adjusting your tie, [the thinking is], ‘All right, are you ready to do this? This is tradition.’ ”
— By Chris M. Junior
Jason James concert dates (schedule subject to change):
Nov. 23: Goode Company Armadillo Palace — Houston
Dec. 6: The Lonesome Rose — San Antonio, Texas
Dec. 28: Mama Tried — Irving, Texas
Photo by Valerie Fremin