"Soulful" is one of those terms that seems to get wantonly thrown about these days, particularly within EDM circles where it is apparently applicable to just about anything with a vocal. However, taking a step outside the electronic bubble, Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Everett James is one artist whose music is very much worthy of such plaudits. After discovering and subsequently falling in love with his Giles Peterson-approved track "Shot Through The Heart" we wanted to know a bit more about the man behind the melodies and the true meaning of "soul".
For those unfamiliar with you and your sound could you tell us a bit about yourself, your career and the music you make?
I'm an artist first. Music is my medium and my life is the muse. I got my first set of drums at 2 and was forced to take piano lessons at 4. When I started performing and writing songs at 7 or producing at 12 I had no concept of a music career. It was just something I did. I think when I realized there was a business behind it and that you could have a "career" I began to lose what I loved the most about music. My sound evolves like my life has. I've gone through phases which is why I named my latest album "Metamorphosis". I just try to remember what made me fall in love with music in the first place. The experimentation, the process of making something out of nothing then balling up the paper and starting all over again with new colours.
You mention that you were born into a musical family. How much of an effect did this have on you growing up, was music always a career aim from a young age or is it an ambition that you've developed more independently with maturity?
My father used to sing, play keys, and sax in bands. My mom would make me tag along with him where ever he went. She figured it was a way to keep him out of trouble. My sister is an amazing vocalist and would constantly be asked to sing at church and events. My mother would make us practice and discipline us making us do it until we got it right. That discipline is what made me a strong musician. It was a different era in the late 80s and early 90s. Not everybody wanted to be an "artist" or "producer". I grew up people wanted to be Michael Jordan or a Cosby kid. My dad opened a studio in our basement around '91. By that time I was rapping at talent shows and playing trumpet in the school band.
"It was a different era in the late 80s and early 90s. Not everybody wanted to be an "artist" or "producer"."
When the drug dealers wanted to get off the street and blow some cash they'd come by my dads studio and rap. No other studio would allow rappers to come in. Mind you this is before hip-hop reached critical mass. My pops was NOT a fan of hip-hop and the producers at the time had no idea what to do or how to make it. One day, a client was in the studio and saw me making noise and told the producer he was working with "you don't know nothing about hip-hop" and demanded that I make a beat for him. He paid me $35 and that was when I realized I could make some money doing this. $35 is a lot of money to a 12 year old.
Your material appears to me to blend several genres together, often effortlessly. Which artists do you cite as your biggest influences and from day-to-day where exactly do you take your inspiration from, musically or otherwise?
Miles Davis is probably my biggest influence. I started playing trumpet the same time I started producing music. There hasn't been a time in my life where his art hasn't influenced me because his music was so vast and ever changing. Duke Ellington, George Clinton, Prince, Stevie Wonder and The Beatles had massive influence on me for the same reason. I really have too many influences to mention. I am a student of music. From day to day my life is the inspiration. I am a spiritual person and believe God communicates through you. A lot of the time I am inspired by the places i go, the people i meet, and by technology. As I get older I am also inspired by memories… They say hindsight is 20/20.
"I am a student of music."
On top of being a multi-instrumentalist am I right in saying that you self-produce your material? Do you find it beneficial to your writing and recording processes being able to perform and create music with a producer's ear and vice-versa?
I write, produce, perform, and engineer all of my music. It wasn't by choice. For a number of years I wrote and produced music for other people and would be made to make what they wanted. As a reaction, I started making the music I wanted to make and going as far left as I could. When I perform or made these songs people would be like "what is that?" For me its a natural thing. I really don't think about the process or formula when I make my music. Sometimes I am really trying to make noise or blow up the computer. Other times I'm just trying to get the thought out of my head. It's how I communicate and document my life.
Something that people look for when analysing music is this raw sense of emotion that is sometimes crudely deemed "soul"; whatever you want to call it, your music has got plenty of it. How do you go about trying to capture and convey emotion through sound?
Just be real. I think people are so caught up on analysis. A lot of people need an explanation. The most beautiful or painful things on earth can not be described with words. I think the words get in the way of the truth. When its the truth it needs no explantation. When you label something you immediately limit its possibilities. When I try to think about capturing this or that I've already lost what I was searching for. I have to remember the childish feelings I had when I started making music as a kid. Making joyful noise or sometimes just noise. It will drive me insane to determine what people will like or how they will analyse it. You never know what people like. You just have to be real with yourself.
"Shot Through The Heart" has been supported by Radio 1's Giles Peterson and appeared on a recent compilation from his label, Brownswood, is it fair to call this a breakthrough moment for your career? With you and your music presumably receiving a great deal of attention as a result of the release, which direction do you see yourself heading towards next and what can we look forward to from you in the near future?
I thank Giles for his support and respect his dedication to pushing music forward. It is great to have the attention and I am thankful that the people enjoy the art. It is completely foreign to me and I admit that it caught me by surprise. "Shot Through The Heart" was a song I almost didn't release. You never know what the people will like and I held on to the song for months. My wife, Stacy Epps, sent the song to Giles and I heard him feature it on his radio show. If it is the breakthrough in my career God bless it! I just released my album "Metamorphosis" and have a vault of material that goes back years. I'll continue to do what I do and make music with or without the acclaim. Its what I do. I'll continue to experiment and take the ups and downs. I'll document them through music. Maybe one day I'll be an old man look back on my life and have some kid say my music inspired them. For me that'd be the best. To be what Miles, Duke, George, Prince, and countless others were to me.
"Shot Through The Heart" is out now on Brownswood Recordings and as part of Everett's self-released 2011 album "Metamorphosis", available at www.735music.bandcamp.com.