(Photo courtesy of Coby James)
An Interview with Coby James
By Sarah Komisky
Music history 101: every artist has a breakout moment. Looking back in time, these are favorite moments that receive tons of hits on YouTube. The moments that go down in the books. Moments that wow us, intrigue us, and even confound us. The moment an artist is emerging in the early stages of their career and beginning to take off. And every now and again, we see an artist that we know will go far––not just for their ability to fit in, but actually for their ability to stand out. These are the artists we look back on in their career and smile when everyone else is just discovering how good they really are. Moments when they themselves don’t really even know their own potential.
Coby James is one of one of those artists.
Although he looks, sounds, and sings much like the ever-popular pop artist Shawn Mendes, don’t mistake him for a carbon copy.
While the inspiration of Mendes is very present along with hints of John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, and even Michael Jackson, James inspiration is none other than an expression of homage to his favorites who inspired him as a singer-songwriter. Paradoxically, it is this inspiration that has also challenged him to create his own music. And, at the center, is his faith, which has empowered him to carve his own path as a Christian music artist who has the same trendy pop sound with a twist.
“I’m in love with the music in general. I would be doing music if I wasn’t a Christian,” says James. “I’ve just decided to dedicate what I do to the Lord.”
So, how do you take steps forward into uncharted territory? Follow your convictions.
The artists shares, “It’s a tough pill for Christian music to swallow sometimes because it does sound so different. And they’re not really sure what to do with it sometimes. It’s not really proven ground yet. It’s definitely a test in a lot of ways for the industry and for the listeners because I don’t know if it’s always going to connect, but my hope and prayer is that it does. It’s challenging to do the things I do the way I do them, but I think it’s worth it.”
Music is such an integral part of who this artist is that he decided to produce and co-produce everything he creates, crediting his hands-on approach to caring for his craft.
While the love for music was always there, songwriting began traditionally. James’ songwriting started when he turned to his artistry, after his heart was broken by a girl to express himself the best way he knew how. Out of the pain came five songs and a proposed idea from his dad – use your gift for a purpose in the Christian music world. A choice given that he took and ran with without ever looking back.
Crediting Steven Curtis Chapman as his favorite storyteller. He hopes to forge on his own special opportunity. When asked what kind of story he wants to tell at this point in time, he says that time and separation to gather thoughts to form what kind of story he would want to tell is needed.
When the conversation turns to his pop influences, James lights up with “I don’t get asked that very often, so I’m smiling really big right now.”
Being only a few years younger than Shawn Medes himself, James credits the artist to helping mold his career being one of the reasons why he wanted to sing when he discovered his music at fifteen.
Confessing, “In a way, he was always two steps ahead of me because he was older than me and I could listen to his albums. Like, he came out with an album called ‘Illuminate.’ He was about eighteen and I was about sixteen. So, I knew where my voice was kind of going and I could really work on those kinds of things. And then he released his new album and I worked on my vibrato and all the stuff that he did in that. So, I kind of learned to sing through Shawn Mendes, which is funny. That has been a huge inspiration to me.”
Unearthing John Mayer’s discography, “Room for Squares” and “Continuum” also became go-to’s for guitar playing and song arrangements, especially acoustic versions that can pair vibrancy and complexity.
When it comes to songwriting, Ed Sheeran has been the one to influence many of his unreleased songs as well as Michael Jackson who, as he put it, was a “world class entertainer;” someone he tries to emulate through his performance as a guitar player on stage.
Just as these artists have had defining albums, James also desires to create something that defines himself at some point in his career.
All of the above being what he tries to draw from in his own music.
When it comes to defining moments, James (who participated in Blackout Tuesday with his music colleagues in an effort to raise awareness and collectively act against racism and police brutality on June 2nd, 2020) is something the new artist is proud to be a part of.
“I’m managed by a black manager, and we started to go back and forth to Nashville together when I was fifteen. That was the first time that I really began to see racism for myself. I was furious. I asked, ‘What does it mean to be an African American in this country, in this day and age?’ We talked a lot, and he really educated me on things they have to go through and the pain that comes with that.”
He continues, “When I participated in it [Blackout Tuesday], I was thinking about all the people that are in my life that I love and care about, and I think it’s time for people to speak up and get educated.”
When looking at our current culture and everything that has transpired over the past few months, James is looking forward to taking a step in providing hope-filled content that can be a positive deterrent for listeners going through this hard time.
“Music has been the one healing device in any type of situation. It’s a 3 minute and 20 second escape in many ways where you can say, ‘I relate to that or I understand that.’ I’m excited to maybe be a distraction for some people for a little bit.”
James turns the conversation to one of his upcoming singles entitled, “Homesick,” a song he wrote about heaven a few months ago.
“In this time, it feels like the most perfect song to come out. Recently, with the times we’ve been in, how we’ve just been sitting still, I think we’ve all been feeling and noticing how desperate we are and how broken this world is and I think we all are a little homesick in a lot of ways. I feel like it’s something a lot of people need to hear and maybe it will help somebody, I don’t know.”
Family has also played a huge role in this uncertain time as often seen in his Instagram lives with siblings and close friends. Family that James was quick to note he couldn’t wait to visit soon.
“The world’s gotten time with people that they wouldn’t have necessarily gotten. There’s a lot of bad that came with this, but there’s a lot of good that we’re gonna find later on in life, like, ‘Wow, we really did have that quality time with our loved ones that we’re not probably going to get again.’ I think it’s been amazing––bonding and growing with the people that I love.”
In terms of the fans that have rapidly been following James on social media, the young artist who dubs himself a “people person” shares that it’s still kind of hard to believe.
“That was always a pipedream to me, so it’s hard to address the reality of it sometimes, so I’m just grateful for them and the platform they’ve given me and everything in between. I share a lot of unreleased songs because I have quite a few songs that I’m passionate about that aren’t released. So just the fact that I got to share them on the live and have people listen to them and give reactions to them has been amazing and really, really cool.”
While James might argue that he hasn’t created anything definitive just yet, I would disagree. The evidence traces back to the following statement.
“I think I’m an entertainer at heart, so just being an escape for someone for an hour or thirty minutes is just so fun to me.”
Yep, the breakout has occurred. The definitive is now in process.
Find out more about Coby by visiting cobyjames.com