James VIII — More than an idol
James Gray Dawson could have made this a lot easier on himself by going with his given name, but instead, it’s James VIII from here on out. That’s James the eighth, not James Vai or James Vee. But the singer-songwriter takes it all in stride, because that’s just his style, marking him immediately as an affable bloke you want to root for. And while it’s not always a part of the conversation, likability is important.
“I think it’s a role in how you perceive any human, regardless of what it is they’re doing,” he said. “Whether they’re an artist like myself or whether they’re a businessman, which my father is. He’s in the tech industry in the Bay Area and I see a lot of the things I saw in him growing up — professionalism, respect. It’s the golden rule mentality. What good do you do yourself if you leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth? They’re not gonna want to work with you again. And all I want to do is make music. And if I make music with someone I enjoy making music with and they don’t want to make music with me again because they think I’m a dick, I’m cutting myself at the knees. I think there’s more to be had being a good person, being someone that people want to work with and spend time with and hang out with it. It’s always been something that’s simple to me.”
Not so simple to a lot of folks, but thankfully, it’s something that comes through in an interview with Dawson and on his first EP, which hit the universe a week ago. The six-song collection has been a long time coming, starting in Utah and reaching its release date in Brooklyn, where he now makes his home. It was a necessary move for him, because now he’s put himself in a place where he can reach the widest audience possible.
“My music was getting to the point where it was approaching ready to be done,” James said. “I was working on it in Utah, where I could work on it really, really cheap. I had finished going to school there and I was staying there until I could get my music done. And I decided once that was done, I was gonna put myself in an environment that would be better for cultivating connections, to be able to make more music.”
Kings County was that environment, and he took to BK immediately.
“I was in pretty quickly,” he said. “I knew I loved it out here, and I knew that with the connections I would be able to quickly make, once I got out here it would start to feel like home. I was always dead set on going somewhere, and if I have my room where I can set up my guitar gear and play, I’ve got my sister here, I’ve got a couple friends, and I’m good.”
It’s about this time in the interview when I reveal that having not watched American Idol for several years, my first exposure to Mr. Dawson is through his EP and not from his stint on the reality show in 2016. That’s a good thing because there are no preconceived notions about his music — which is damn good — but is it also a bad thing because he will have a label attached to him throughout the early days of this new journey?
“It’s a mixed bag,” he admits. “I don’t regret it in any sense. I don’t feel like now my ankles are chained to this American Idol thing. And at the same time, I appreciate what it was able to do for me and my music. It gave me a solid chunk of time where all I did every single day was work on my singing voice which, up until that day was being distracted by guitar, school or something. I improved as a result of it and I never put all my eggs in that basket.”
He wasn’t even planning to audition for the show, only wanting to accompany his friend there. But when she mentioned him to producers, they told him to come along too, and he was a hit, making it to the Top 24.
“It kind of got thrown in my lap and was sort of a ‘I’ll do this while this is here’ thing for me,” Dawson said. “And when it was over, I walked away, I appreciated it, and it gave me a bigger audience. And I’m so dedicated to it that it’s like if that’s one reason that someone listens to my music and feels that a message resonates with some crappy day they had or good day they had or a bad breakup or a good start to a relationship, as long as it’s something that gets people to give my music a chance, I’m okay with it.”
See, no matter how you say it, it’s impossible not to like James VIII.
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