My interview with the multi-talented Songwriter, Producer and Arranger James Day who has worked with an array of vocalists from Lalah Hathaway, Tony Terry, Maysa, Cheryl Pepsii Riley, Trina Broussard etc. joins me to discuss his Beginnings, Obstacles, Music, Guest Collaborations, Politics, New Album Song, Soul & Spirit and more! His latest project, Repertoire, is available in all online music stores.
Terrance - Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
James Day - My first dream was to be a singer and a dancer. I used to watch the Jackson 5 cartoons and I wanted to be Michael. I would dance in my living room and practice his spins. My first ALBUM was givin’ to me by my grandfather and it was Natalie Cole’s, Inseparable. I must have played it til the needle went right through the record. That started my lifelong love affair with soul music. Seeing The Wiz with Stephanie Mills and playing the role of Carlos in The Me Nobody Knows made me want to be in Musical Theatre, so I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts to pursue that dream. I ended up dancing on a Nationally Syndicated TV show and in a couple music videos including one with Chaka Khan, but then I got Meniere’s Disease which took my hearing and balance from one side after two surgeries and left me w/ constant Tinnitus (ringing & buzzing sounds in the ear). So that ended the singing and dancing part of my dream. It took several years to get back on my feet and reinvent myself as a songwriter. Long story short, turns out I was a better songwriter than a singer and a dancer and I won grand prizes in Billboard and The John Lennon Song Contest on first entry. In Gospel, R&B, and Alternative music categories. Then I won a scholarship from ASCAP & The Songwriter's Hall of Fame. That’s when I knew for sure I was going to do this for the rest of my life, or as long as I could hear in one ear. I had one in four chance of the disease going into the other ear, which I have now, but i'm still working with what I have.
Terrance - You mention personal obstacles. Have there been any professional ones?
James Day - The professional ones were mostly the same everyone have...money, housing, healthcare, etc. The other obstacle was that I came into the music business just as record sales were declining at the beginning of downloads and streaming, so the value of what I did took a nosedive.
Terrance - So far what has been the greatest achievement in your career?
James Day - On a personal level, absolutely writing a song with five time consecutive Grammy winner Lalah Hathaway and having her record it and perform it with the Metropole Orchestra. It's on her Stax/Concord album, Where It All Begins and I've been given permission to put it on my new album as well. I've given it a special introduction and closing to highlight it’s significance in my life and dedicate it to our moms because the song is a lullaby sung from the point of view of mother to child. She is my favorite contemporary singer so while I have more things I'd like to do, I can die a happy man who feels like his dreams came true because of Lalah. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3k1ZsGrktRU
Terrance - Getting into your latest project, Repertoire, tell me what inspired that album title.
James Day - I called the album, Repertoire simply because it was a collection of what I thought was some of my best writing and I wrote the title song to be a metaphor for bedroom skills ;-) "What's in your REPERTOIRE?" was the promotional slogan. It was supposed to be my last album...I was having significant hearing problems in my good ear when finishing that up and wasn’t able to finish all the songs I had started, so I ended up putting together a collection of new songs and some older ones remixed or reproduced for Smooth Jazz Radio because I wanted to expand my audience and work with more live musicians. I got to work with U-Nam, Walter Beasley and Lin Rountree so that was very exciting. It's a collection of romantic love songs sung by some of my favorite love balladeers like Maysa, Tony Terry, Audrey Wheeler and the last recording my friend Gavin Christopher did before his passing. He really loved the song which made me very happy. I made a dedication video of it for him. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waUfGn0nAG8
Terrance - And speaking of Tony Terry, you more recently again collaborated with him, Cheryl Pepsii Riley, Glenn Jones and Audrey Wheeler on the R&B all-stars song, “Battlegrounds”, which has been climbing charts, tell us the meaning behind this song and it’s significance?
James Day - My emotional process to be able to handle pain has always been writing...poetry as a child, then lyrics, and now complete songs. So I began writing about a lot of things many of us vent and rant about on Facebook that we find unacceptable. The shootings and brutality directed at unarmed innocent Black children and adults by Police officers...The entire election season and the hatred coming out of the mouths on the political right directed at Latinos, Muslims, Women, LGBT's, Black people, Immigrants and refugees...Kim Burrell's parade of LGBT HATE and those that condoned or remained silent about it and the larger issue it represents...and most of all, the election of Agent Orange and the monsters he is bringing into the White house. If there were ever a time for ALL of us to come together, it is NOW. They are against us ALL and THAT is what inspired BATTLEGROUNDS and many of the songs on the New Album. But of course I also write from inspiring, motivating, and victorious perspectives as well. You have to feed the spirit before you send it into war ;-)
Terrance - You talk about new album. Share with us what we can expect and who are you working with this time around.
James Day - YES! I didn’t know I was going to be able to make another record but I have had enough cooperation from my ear and have adapted to some of the new obstacles it has presented so I was able to produce enough songs for a new collection this Spring & Summer. I got to work with so many of my favorite singers and musicians AND write with some of my songwriting hero’s like Gordon Chambers and Preston Glass. Not only will you hear the amazing voices of Tony Terry, Cheryl Pepsii Riley, Glenn Jones & Audrey Wheeler-Downing...but you will hear Elisabeth Withers, Sandra St. Victor, Karen Bernod, Trina Broussard, Tim Owens, and my favorite new independent artist Cleveland P Jones. The icing on the cake was Lalah allowing me to close the album with our lullaby...it's the perfect soothing closer after the emotional ride the album takes you on. Oh...and I wrote & produced one other song for this album but Tony Terry, his label & manager all wanted it for his own album, as a single and title song...so of course you gotta say yes to Tony Terry! I'm very excited about that, I think it's one of the most beautiful ballads I've ever written and is one of the best singer/song matches I've ever had.
Terrance - Sonically what do you think will set this one apart from previous releases?
James Day - Lyrically it is a mixture of a protest and inspirational songs...in the footsteps of many of my favorite works by Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway & Curtis Mayfield. And there is more Gospel influences in this album too...but none of that "Love the sinner Hate the sin" bullshit...this message is love everybody as your equal because they are. I also worked with a live drummer from Italy, introduced to me by Terri Lynne Carrington, a percussionist from Nicaragua who has played with Santana (Fabrizio Cavallaro & Jorje Bermudez-Abuelito) and an amazing drum programmer BUTTER who all gave my productions the best beats I've ever had. I relied heavily on my friends U-Nam, Ian Martin, Gary Schreiner, Jim Gately & Brad Young for the polish people expect from my productions on bass, guitar, keys, and mixing. And then I reached out to a few new places to give the sound a new slap in the face. Stereo Lif & Boogie Back productions both provided some super cool remixes. I also was heavily influenced this year by the music of my new friend Ricky Kej, Grammy winning World Music artist from India. Although our collaboration won't be done in time for this album, I believe you can already hear the influence his music has had on me in some of the productions on this record. I hope to release our collaboration before the end of the year. So to sum it up, this is def the most eclectic mix of sounds I've ever put together...fusing Soul, Jazz, R&B, Pop Ballads, Gospel, Rock, Country, and even World Beat & Electronica.
Terrance - Although you’ve worked with a string of artists, is there one in particular you would love to collaborate in the future that you haven’t before?
James Day - Well, as I mentioned I just started writing with Ricky Kej and I could see us writing an amazing movie soundtrack together. That is def one new dream and vision. Some singers I've always wanted to hear on my songs are Chaka Khan, James Ingram, Patti Austin, Jeffrey Osborne. I already have a collection of songs that would go beautifully together featuring those classic vocalists but of course I would need label or financial backing to produce it. I also have an entire collection of original R&B/Smooth Jazz Christmas songs I'd like to put all together on one album someday.
Terrance - Switching gears, why do you think record stores are becoming more and more obsolete?
James Day - Man...I've been thinking alot about this lately because my friend Tim Owens, former Atlantic recording artist, was in Japan on tour with EWF and he went into the Tower Records there and I have my own section and everything. I couldn’t believe it, my own tab right there with James Ingram, Jamie Foxx and Janelle Monae (they go by first name there). So it reminded me of how much I miss the record store experience. I would really like to do a RECORD STORE TOUR for this new album and go to the few cities that have record stores left and have a listening, meet & greet party. So record store owners, please hit me up ;-)
Terrance - If there’s one album you could listen to for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
James Day - I'd have to say Natalie Cole's Inseparable because it was my first album ever, my first album experience, which ended becoming my life. So I feel like it would help me retain my memories of all the music and the journey music has taken me on between that album and today. Of my own music it would def be the upcoming record because I wrote about all the most important things in my life on it. And I feel like if someone really wanted to know who I am, I could just hand them this record and I wouldn’t have to say a word.
Terrance - Powerful. And lastly, where can the readers connect with you in social media?
James Day - I'm a Facebook person, not much of a Twitter or Instagram person. So you could start at my FB Music Page facebook.com/newdaymusicpage and then try and hunt down one of my personal pages under JAMES DAY SONGS. I just started a second one cuz the other one is already at 5,000 and the music one is over 10,000. But anyone who supports my music with a purchase, you can BET Imma find a way to connect with them if they reach out to me.
"James Day is one of the most beautiful, visual writers I know. His lyrics fit me like a glove." ~ Lalah Hathaway