WE often misuse the term ‘real music’ and give it a rather…
subjective pull. In terms of those you can call a ‘real musician’: your choices are always a little limited. Against the sea of reality T.V.-trained Pop singers and short-term chart assassins – the dedicated and refined music-lover knows where their bread is buttered. James Sayer is one of London’s hardest-working and most established artists – having performed for the Minogue sisters and on the same bill as Steely Dan. Sweet Baby Jane is his latest track and frames immaculate piano skills, upbeat songwriting and rousing voice together. I was excited to ask Sayer about his musical upbringing and plans for the future; his views of the London music scene and the musicians that have helped shape and define him.
Hey James. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi there! I’m very good, thank you for asking! My week is going well, thanks!
For those new to your music: can you introduce yourself, please?
Sure! My name is James Sayer and I sing and play piano (with the odd bit of saxophone and guitar thrown in!). I play Rock ‘n’ Roll/Soul music!
You have played all across London – and farther afield – in high-end bars and restaurants. How did you get into music and can you remember the first venues you played?
I first started playing drums at primary school and started doing little gigs with my dad – who is also a musician. We played all around the pubs and clubs in the West Midlands – which is where I’m from. We eventually got my brother involved and had a little three-piece band playing around Birmingham.
I understand Kylie Minogue is a fan. How did that come about and have you two met?
I was lucky enough to play a party for Kylie and Dannii! They were very supportive and such a fun group of people to play for!
You hail from Birmingham. What is the music scene like there – compared with cities like London – and do you get the chance to play back there?
Birmingham is a great city and it’s definitely changed a lot over the past few years: there’s definitely a lot more opportunity to play live music. I used to play a lot of the Blues/Jazz pubs when I was younger and these really gave me an opportunity to get my teeth into playing live music. I try and get back there at least once a month as all my family is still based around the Midlands.
Among your touring and travels, you have performed at U.S. festivals including Coachella and supported George Ezra. Which gig or artists has been the most memorable to you?
Travelling around America was so much fun! Coachella was a real highlight for me! I was playing with my good friends (the) Ruen Brothers and we were on the same bill as Steely Dan.
They were so amazing to watch and heroes of mine – so that was a real honour! AC/DC were the headliners who were incredible, too!
What compelled you to step away from touring with others and focus on your own music?
I’d always wanted to be a solo performer so I think the timing was right, really. I started to get my music heard and then when it was picked up by B.B.C. Introducing. That was great and gave me the push and confidence to go for it even more.
Sweet Baby Jane is your latest song. Can you tell me about its inspirations and the moment you wrote it?
I’m really inspired by old Soul and Rock ‘n’ Roll music – so that was the inspiration behind it, really. I love stuff like Sam Cooke, Van Morrison; Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder etc. The chorus just seemed to pop into my head and then I sat down at the piano and the rest followed! I co-wrote the song with my good friends Alan Glass and Bex Gregory. When I came up with the chorus I had the idea of an old 1950s/’60s dancehall in my head – so that really inspired me when I actually recorded it.
B.B.C. Introducing has made it their track of the week. What was that like when you heard the news?
That was such great news and I’m so thankful that they are able to support me in this way!
Taking Back My Love was your previous track – and gained lots of love from B.B.C. and other stations. Can we expect to see an E.P. or album anytime soon?
Yes, for sure! Next year I will be releasing something!
I can’t wait to get it out there and have more people hear my music! Recording in the studio is so much fun!
Your music is uplifting and has that fantastic piano-Pop sound. Do you think too much modern music is too dour and emotive? It is important to bare your soul in music but do you think there is too little positivity?
I do love ballads but I think at this stage I’m just in the zone of creating feel-good music! I just love watching people dance and sing with us when we play live! My iTunes account is about 99% 1970s music – people always call me an ‘old soul’. I do love some new stuff and actually heard a new Emeli Sandé track called Highs and Lows. It’s such a feel-good track – I’d love to jam with her on that!
You have performed across London and travelled far and wide. Is there anywhere you would love to perform?
My dream is to sell out Ronnie Scotts’ in London (a week-long run would be good!). But yes, there’s so many venues around the world I’d love to play in – I’d love to do a headline show in New York, too. I played at Webster Hall with my friends (the) Ruen Brothers – but I’d love to headline that venue.
How does London differ to other cities in terms of the people and venues? Do you feel, with some high-profile venues closing, London’s music culture is in danger?
London is such an amazing city but I do worry about the amount of venues that have closed down in the last ten years. We need small venues to give new artists the chance to play and reach new fans.
I guess the industry has changed a lot over the last ten years with shows like The X Factor but real musicianship will always shine through – so it’s important we have a thriving live music scene in London and all over the U.K.
Who were the artists and musicians that meant the most to you growing up?
I grew up listening to the C.D. collection of my mum and dad (wow C.D.s: almost forgot what they are!). We always had stuff on like The Beatles, Rod Stewart; Tina Turner, Elton John etc. One of my absolute heroes is Elton John – he’s inspired so much as a piano player. It would be my dream to play music alongside him.
Which modern or unsigned artists have caught your attention and recommend we investigate?
Jamie Lidell is one of my absolute favourite artists! He came out about ten years ago but has just released a brand new album. His song, Another Day, is one of my favourite songs of all time! Also, Vulfpeck is another favourite of mine (with incredible musicianship)!
Would you be able to offer any advice to young artists coming through right now?
I would say just stay true to yourself and the music you love and never give up!
Finally, and for being a good egg, you can name any song you like (not yours as I’ll include that); I’ll play it here…
I reckon you should give Another Day a spin (by Jamie Lidell)! I know you’ll love it! Thank you for chatting with me and playing my track!
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