With No. 1 chart-toppers like “Jesus Take the Wheel,” the hit maker for others steps out as a singer of his own songs.
If you Google Brett James, you may or may not be amazed to find out how many of your favorite country songs he wrote. He’s credited as a writer on hundreds of tunes, and clocks in with a bunch of No. 1 hits for other artists, among them “Who I Am” by Jessica Andrews, “Blessed” by Martina McBride, “When the Sun Goes Down” and “Out Last Night” by Kenny Chesney, “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Cowboy Casanova” by Carrie Underwood, “It’s America” for Rodney Atkins and “The Truth” for Jason Aldean. And then there’s a slew of Top 20 singles, a Grammy Award, and two ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year Awards.
“I am a longtime songwriter for other artists, who finally decided to release my own stuff,” James says in anticipation of the September release of his new EP, Tell the People. (Listen to the title track here.)
“I had a bit of a birthday epiphany and realized that after having written songs for others for so many years, it was time for me to write some songs for me and my voice,” James says. “I didn’t put any parameters or limits on it; I just set out to write music that I love. The stuff I’m putting out now is all part of that process.”
It’s not really surprising that when he sings his own stuff, James sticks the landing. Judge for yourself with a listen to “Southern Soul,” off his forthcoming EP.
“I’m naturally a soul singer, so this music is sort of what came out of me organically from an honest place,” he says. He describes his musical lane as Nashville Soul, and the new music does bear it out organically and soulfully.
Good thing for country-music lovers that James dropped out of med school at Baylor University after three years to follow his star to Nashville.
“I grew up mostly in Oklahoma City,” he says, “but Nashville has been my home for a really long time. I love Nashvegas!”
We talked to James about his new music and got his recommendations for a Feel Good Playlist.
Cowboys & Indians: Congrats on the new EP, Tell the People, due out on September 4. We’ve got the track “Southern Soul” here. What’s your favorite part of the song?
Brett James: “Southern Soul” just fell out one day and it feels like a lot of the stuff that I love from the ’70s to me — simple and emotional. I am proud of the rest of the EP as well, especially the message in “Tell the People.”
C&I: What’s the meaning in it for you, and what do you hope listeners will get from it?
James: Almost all of my songs are really just about love. I’m all about loving the people that God puts in your life as best you can, and I’m in a great place of love and gratitude right now.
C&I: How does your songwriting process differ from the songs you’ve written for other artists versus the songs you write for yourself?
James: It differs a lot. I write songs for me by myself and usually just from the heart or “the gut” as I like to say. When I write for other artists, I almost always work with one or two other writers and we are trying our best to craft a hit. Both processes are really fun in different ways.
C&I: You’re so prolific. Generally speaking, what inspires you? How do you “refill the well” of creativity?
James: I get inspired by all great art, whether movies, music, or books. I have to take time off from songwriting and not even think about it sometimes. Afterwards, I usually find that the creative part of my mind is hungry to get back to work and full of ideas.
C&I: What have you been doing during lockdown?
James: Moving into and renovating a new house. Hanging a lot with my kids. Writing songs by myself and on Zoom with others. And taking care of the other businesses that I’m involved with via text and email. I’ve loved some of the downtime, but I’m ready for it to be over!
C&I: What’s next for you?
James: I’m just hoping to have enough success with this music to get to keep making it. The joy is in the process for me and I’d love to be able to tour soon. After being behind the scenes for so many years, I’m really excited to travel and connect with audiences. … I hope everyone enjoys listening as much as I enjoyed making this music.
For more on Brett James, follow him on Instagram.
Brett James’ Feel Good Playlist
“Mama Knows” — Sister Sparrow
“Hey Ya” — Outkast
“Electric Fever” — Them Vibes
“Family Affair” — Mary J. Blige
“Still on My Mind” — Brett James
“Superstition” — Stevie Wonder
“Sunday Best” — Surfaces
“Jungle Love” — Steve Miller Band
“Moondance” — Van Morrison
“Love and Happiness” — Al Green
“When the Sun Goes Down” — Kenny Chesney
“On the Road Again” — Willie Nelson
Photography: Images courtesy Shore Fire Media