When it comes to writing music, singer-songwriter Beau James lives by a specific motto: Let the words write themselves. While it may seem like an opaque philosophy, he puts it rather simply: “I find a chord progression that writes the first line for me and then I just follow the path.”
The young, blues-inspired musician will perform at Live at Ted’s for a special Valentine’s Day show Friday night at 7 p.m. James’ music is a soothing blend of acoustic blues and folk—a perfect soundtrack for a Valentine’s Day evening.
James has released two solo albums as well as several singles that dance across genre lines. He describes his sound as a slightly less dramatic Ben Howard mixed with the storytelling of Ryan Adams (“too bad he turned out to be kind of a creeper”). James says. “I try to be pretty straightforward with my writing and not go too out of the box.”
When it comes to song construction, he claims songwriters generally fall into two categories: those who stay up all night to complete a song when inspiration strikes (the “inspiration side”) and those who have an idea and work at it over time (the “craft side”). “I always considered myself to be the inspirational side,” James admits.
One of his more popular songs “Indigo Road,” was a product of “craft” composition. James’ mother had the title in mind for years and urged him to make a song from it. The lyrics finally fell into place as he reflected on his travels, being on the road and meeting new people. The song became a hit and was later featured on the fourth season of the popular ABC series “Nashville.”
James’ sound is a product of his environment. He grew up in a musical home, with a mother who played piano and a father who was always playing records from artists such as Eric Clapton, Little Feet and Led Zeppelin. While much of his musical sensibility comes from a mixture of classic rock, he mainly draws influence from blues musicians like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Keb’ Mo, as heard on 2015’s “Indigo Road” and 2016’s “Landmarks.” “I fell in love with the way you could be emotional and open, talking about your feelings,” he states.
James’ latest single, “She Says” is dedicated to his wife. The song’s lyrics focus on the learning curve of a new relationship and the change it brings. Over a gentle, finger-picked acoustic guitar line, James sings, “I don’t want to change what’s in your heart / all the little things that make you who you are / just want to cut out what could leave you scarred.” Released just in time for Valentine’s Day, the song is quickly climbing to the top of his most streamed songs on Spotify.
Currently, James is based out of Greensboro, NC, though he has lived across the country, from New Mexico, to Colorado, to LA. His sound evolved with each move. Growing up in Colorado, he learned to play guitar and began performing in musical theater; however, he didn’t have the deep connection to music he does now. When he moved to North Carolina in 2004, he joined a choir as well as a local improv troupe, The Idiot Box. Both helped him develop his dexterity as a songwriter.
“I would usually make up songs in improv,” James says. “The crowd would suggest the song title and I’d have to write a song on the spot.”
James chased his dream of music to LA after graduation and found himself as the frontman of blues-rock band The Heavy Heavy Hearts. The group had some success, and landed a song on the popular TV show “Shameless.”
Then he moved to Nashville and surrounded himself with professional musicians. They inspired him to constantly strive and work on his craft. “Nashville was a really great place for me,” he says, “I learned you have to write and you have to play and you have to be good at both.”
In 2019 James averaged two to three live performances a week. He still plays with the Greensboro-based indie rock band Chuck Mountain—which will be visiting Jimmy’s at Red Dogs in Wrightsville Beach in August. He recently got back together with The Heavy Heavy Hearts after a six-year hiatus to record an EP. He is also a contributing writer for Songfinch—a company that provides custom songs for birthdays, anniversaries, etc.—and has written a few promotional theme songs for Our State Magazine. “I feel like I’m finally a grownup writing here,” James says.