In a society that covets marketability more than the product or service itself, it’s always a breath of fresh air to stumble upon artists who make music they feel compelled to make- even if it might have been more popular 50 years ago. And when that music helps keep alive a true-blue American tradition and adds a modern sensibility, that’s when you know it’s worth listening to.
Early James is one such artist that delivers a unique and authentic brand of rootsy, Americana-soaked music, which is made evident through his two new tracks, “Tumbleweed” and “Mama Can Be My Valentine.”
The Alabama singer-songwriter is a fairly fresh face in the Americana and roots-music world, but has quickly ascended having signed to Dan Auerbach’s label Easy Eye Sound, to which James released his debut album in 2020, Singing For My Supper. The album was produced by Auerbach himself and the legendary David Ferguson. Unfortunately, James was unable to do much if any touring to support the album, but surely this weekend he’ll be hammering through some tunes on the album along with the new singles.
James will be taking the stage at the 20th Anniversary Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Festival this weekend in Bristol, TN/VA, singing for fans and strangers alike, sharing his gift of honest, traditional songwriting with the masses. It’ll be a welcomed respite from the current social climate we’re all trudging through.
We got the chance to ask him a few questions about performing at Bristol this weekend, what’s on the horizon, and more.
Have you felt the past 18 months has helped or hindered your creative process and artistic drive? Neither? Both?
It was probably a little of both. The feeling of not having any shows on the horizon at some times lulled me into a sense of not feeling like I had to create. But, at the same time that almost created the perfect environment to write, play, or sing in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise.
And have you been back in the swing of regional shows and/or light touring? If so where?
We thankfully have. Early on I got to tour with Marcus King on his drive-in movie theater tour, so we got to do most of the U.S. Since then, we’ve been able to do Newport Folk Festival, Summerfest, Horse Pens 40 Bluegrass festival, The Ryman, Saturn in our hometown of Birmingham, AL, and several other great venues across the U.S. either on our own or touring with The Lone Bellow.
Speaking of shows: you will be playing the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival next weekend. How does it feel to be playing an event of this magnitude again?
We love playing festivals and are certainly blessed and lucky to be part of such a lineup. Hopefully we leave it all on the stage and make some new friends.
Do you have a preference of bigger festival-type shows like this, or smaller more intimate shows? Pros and cons?
There’s pros and cons to both of course. With smaller festivals I feel that it allows you to maybe connect with the crowd a little better. Time moves a little slower there, and you don’t feel so in a rush to do everything. Larger festivals of course you get the opportunity to play in front of ridiculous crowds, and share the stage with folks you never even thought you’d meet. It’s also a lot easier to find drugs. (just kidding)
Other than presumably your own set, what part of the Bristol weekend might you most be looking forward to? Any particular artists you’re most looking forward to seeing/hanging with?
I look forward to hanging with my buddies Great Peacock and The Red Clay Strays. I highly recommend going to see their sets. Would also love to hear Dr. Dog, Hayes Carll, Cory Wong, and Charley Crockett.
I see you dropped a few singles recently as well. Can you talk about the inspiration and influence behind “Tumbleweed” and “Mama Can Be My Valentine?”
“Tumbleweed” was kind of about that growing up process of falling for someone else’s new bullshit as soon as you learn from the last time you fell for the old. Kinda like getting patted on the back while being pick-pocketed. “Valentine” is sort of a silly song of romanticizing the past and complaining about modern times. A grass is always greener type thing.
What is your songwriting process like? Is it more sporadic and as inspiration strikes, or more rigid and structured? A bit of both?
I usually just get a little nugget of inspiration that I hold on to until it burns a hole in my pocket. Then, I go back and try to understand why it inspired me to begin with. Some days I can make myself sit down and work a few hours, and some days that’s just not necessary because it all comes out at once. But, in reality it is work and should be treated like work.
What might Early James have in store for fall, and frankly, the rest of the year?
We have AmericanaFest September 23rd and 24th, some regional headlining shows that all can be found on our website, The Waverly Boogie October 16th in Waverly, AL, Kellypalooza on October 30th, and a nice chunky tour to finish the year out with The Lone Bellow from Nov 4th to the 21st. We’ll hopefully get back in to studio as well.