Brendan James w/ Brian Jarvis
Some artists name an album after themselves because they’re stumped for another title. Brendan James grins at this suggestion. “As a fellow musician, I definitely get that,” he says, “but I actually had a good reason to do it. The album is self-titled because I feel like it’s my first recording that really showcases the different sides of me as a musician. It’s got everything from the mellow to the upbeat, to the somber to the unashamedly positive. My friends know me as the guy who loves to jump in the middle of a pick-up basketball game, but they also know me as the guy who needs to be reminded to stop spiraling when I start thinking about something too deeply. I have a lot of different sides and I wanted to make sure my music reflected that.”
A singer-songwriter who accompanies himself on piano, James began writing the songs on his second album after winding up a year and a half on the road in support of his debut album The Day is Brave, which was released by Decca Records in June 2008 and debuted in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Several of its songs were featured on various television shows including Private Practice, Bones, So You Think You Can Dance, and Army Wives. After releasing the album, James hit the ground running to support it from coast to coast. “I went to 40 states, ate at 330 restaurants, stayed in 210 hotels, and slept on one boat — John Mayer’s Mayercraft Cruise; I know because I wrote it all down,” James says with a laugh. The 18-month tour enabled James (whom Entertainment Weekly has called “a songwriter on the rise”) to build his fanbase the way many successful musicians have done before him: one room at a time, and he shares the fruits of that journey — renewed vigor, musical maturity, and even a new sound — on his second album.
“The tour gave me a new understanding of myself as a performer,” James says. “I’ve definitely evolved as a musician, which gave me the confidence to be more adventurous on my new record. While The Day is Brave collected some of my favorite songs I had written over the years, with stripped-down arrangements to showcase the vocals and piano playing, I really wanted to change things up and play around with the styles on this second record. We added a lot of musical textures, like synths, strings, and even drum loops on a few tracks like ‘The Lucky Ones,’ ‘Get it Right,’ and ‘Changing Us.’”
Though they’ve pushed the envelope in terms of tempo and production, James and his producer Warren Huart (Augustana, The Fray, Howie Day) have emerged with an album that keeps the spotlight on James’ emotionally resonant voice and expressive piano playing. “First and foremost, it was important to me that the vocals and piano were up front,” James says. “Warren made sure that was his first priority. When it comes to the recording process, he’s a traditionalist, which is important to me because though I want my albums to sound current, I also want them to stay true to who I am as an artist.”
Recorded in James’ new hometown of Los Angeles (where he relocated permanently after seven years in New York City), Brendan James is as layered in personality as the artist who made it. Thoughtful lyrical insights are revealed with repeated listenings. “My lyrical style is unmovable I’ve found,” James says. “I have tried to write a little more abstractly, but I just can’t. You are what you are and my heart is on my sleeve. I am a romantic as well as an optimist. I also go through my daily life thinking too hard about certain things. Stuff doesn’t roll off of me that easily. So I think my songs have this heaviness meets romance meets positivity.”
You can hear that dichotomy in the sheer diversity of the songs, which range from upbeat tunes like “Nothing For Granted,” (about actually being in the moment rather than talking about it), “Stupid For Your Love,” “Different Kind of Love,” and “Emerald Sky”, to a series of elegant piano ballads, including “Anything For You” (featuring guitarist David Welsh and drummer Ben Wysocki from The Fray), “Your Beating Heart,” and “Let It Rain.” James says “Let it Rain” is about seeing the realities of the music business and the challenges of selling one’s art to the masses. “‘Get It Right’ is about that, too,” James says, “for me pursuing a career in music has been one hell of a challenge but everyone has their own individual pursuit they are trying to achieve, for me it is sharing my music with as many people as humanly possible.” Finally, there’s the album’s first single “The Fall,” which James wrote about having to let someone go with the knowledge that the freedom of letting them go is the most grounding feeling of all.
“As I’ve matured I’ve realized that though life is beautiful and enjoyable, it can be legitimately hard,” James says. “I didn’t know that until I had finished touring behind my first album and I was ready to write about it for this new album.”
Brendan James grew up in Derry, NH, and began writing songs during his sophomore year at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. While at home on Christmas break, James was approached by a local music teacher, Kevin Kandel, who had heard him sing “Candle in the Wind” at the funeral for James’ best friend’s mother. Kandel encouraged him to try his hand at writing, which James did, taking a year off from school to spend time in Los Angeles. “I was so passionate about songwriting, I wanted to get involved in the music scene and start performing,” he says. In 2002, he returned to Chapel Hill, graduated, and moved to New York City, where he toiled folding T-shirts at Urban Outfitters by day and performed at open mics around Manhattan’s East Village at night. To gain access to a piano to practice, James would sneak into hotel ballrooms around the city. “I’d dress to look like a guest at the Plaza Hotel, so I could walk in there unnoticed,” he says.
In 2003, James’ manager was able to get a demo James had made to one of his idols, Carly Simon. Two weeks later, he received a call from the legendary singer-songwriter, who told him that she had begun singing his songs around the house. “It was surreal,” James recalls. “She was so complimentary, not only of my voice, but of the songs. She said I needed to keep writing.” Simon asked James to come to her home on Martha’s Vineyard where the two recorded a version of her Oscar-winning song “Let the River Run,” for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
Encouraged by his new mentor, James continued to write and perform and eventually caught the attention of Capitol Records, which signed him to a recording contract in 2005. However, when the infrastructure at the label imploded, James became a free agent. Seeing a golden opportunity, he took the money from his termination agreement with Capitol and recorded As the Day Is Brave on his own terms before signing with Universal/Decca Records in 2007.
“I love my first album,” James says. “It’s a snapshot of what my life looked like then, coming off a bit of music business trauma and persevering to get my career off the ground. Now I’m looking forward to my fans and people who have yet to hear my music to discovering who I am as a person and an artist all around on my new album.”
New England-based singer/songwriter Brian Jarvis released his first full length album in over 4 years in February 2012 under the indie label Soundwave. “Beautifully Broken” tackles a 2 year period of Brian’s life that included losing his father to cancer, quitting his day job to pursue music full time, and personal struggles. “Beautifully Broken” was recorded in New Haven, CT at Sunset Goose Studios (a division of Soundwave), under the guidance of long time Pat Mcgee Band guitarist-turned-producer Brian Fechino. The record features a wide variety of melodic, hooky guitar driven songs including one that was written within 24 hours of Brian’s father's sudden passing.
“The last two years have tested me emotionally and spiritually. My goal when sitting down with Brian Fechino was to create and record honest songs. This album is transparent. I didn’t want the listener to feel as if I was being vague about what I was trying to sing about. I wrote “Beautifully Broken” at the height of my loss. It was strange to write songs about so much of life’s struggles but yet set it to melodies that felt so bright. As I dove into this process I realized even with challenges of everyday lives there is an underlying optimism that hangs over all of it. I feel the themes will connect with the listeners and provide a
story for the listener to escape to.”