Musician Aaron James moved to Memphis several years ago and soon found himself playing in a variety of acts there. Before long, he started writing his own songs and filling a niche he says wasn't represented in the Memphis music scene.
He performs at The Donut Whole on Friday, June 1.
Jedd Beaudoin: I'm curious about when you started writing music. Was this something that came fairly early on, or was it something where you'd been in a band or two and picked it up from there?
Aaron James: Me starting to write music went hand-in-hand with me moving to Memphis. I wrote songs when I was in high school, like skeletons of songs, I guess. Those are always terrible. I was starting to dabble in songwriting, but I was mostly just a guitar player. When I came to Memphis, I immediately wanted to get immersed in everything, musically, that the city had to offer. So, I found myself playing guitar in several different bands of any genre that you can name.
I was in a punk rock band here, but I also played for a soul/pop singer. I played for a hip-hop artist one time. Every single genre of artist you could think of. I eventually reached a point where, without thinking about it, without thinking, "I'm going to start my own songwriting," I started writing. I figured I had my own story that I wanted to tell myself. I ended up recording my first four-song EP with friends from school. It was called Here Comes The Rain. I released it that spring, that would have been two years ago now.
I've only been seriously writing music for a little over two years. When I released that, it was just very warmly received among my community and my friends here in Memphis. Nobody in Memphis was really doing a folksy, indie thing that I was trying to do. So I realized that there was a market here for that because nobody was really tapping into it.
You described the experience of just starting to write songs not that long ago. I think that when we're first starting in our craft, there are these kind of wonderfully naïve things that we do that we later learn isn't exactly proper.
Did you have things like that, that you started to learn as a songwriter, like, "I probably should have never done that, but I pulled it off"?
Recently, I've been studying Malcolm Gladwell. I've been watching a lot of his TED Talks. He's an author, just a really smart guy. He had the 10,000-hour rule. A lot of people live by that, that it takes 10,000 hours or 10 years or whatever to really get good at something or become a master at something. Recently I've been listening to that and thinking that I've only been writing for two years. I think, "Oh my gosh, it's only been two years!" There have been things that I've been looking back on and thinking, "There are so many things I could have done better."
At the same time, I try not to compare myself to what other people are doing or what other people might see as naïve or saying, "I shouldn't have used this phrase or these words because that's very cliché," because I guess I focus more on being as genuine as possible. Even though something may sound naïve or cliché to somebody else, if it comes from an extremely genuine and raw place of me, what comes from the heart will reach the heart.
I try not to focus too much on, "I shouldn't put things this way because it's been done before." Nobody else has my perspective and if I come from a genuine place of my perceptions and what I think and what I feel, then it's going to be original. There have definitely been lines in things that I've written or things that I've said that I've thought, "Maybe I shouldn't have tried to pull that off." The less I think about it, the more I just become unapologetically myself and not really worry about what other people are going to think about what I say or how I write or how I sing or perform or anything. I just try to act as genuinely me as possible, which is tough to do sometimes.