In 2015, Texas City, Texas native Jason James burst on to the traditional country music scene with his self-titled debut album. Lead by the success of the album’s single “I’ve Been Drinkin’ More,” James’ stock was quickly on the rise.
What followed was an urging to veer away from the traditional sound that he loved. Not willing to compromise, James decided to pursue the next chapter of his career as an independent artist, with his first independent offering, Seems Like Tears Ago, being released in early October.
Comprised of 10 songs loaded that delve into heartache, honky tonkin’ and yearning for love, Seems Like Tears Ago is the record James has always envisioned himself making, and he is reaping the rewards by means of positive reviews, gaining several new fans, and personal satisfaction with the project.
Read along as James notes the artist that drew him towards a traditional sound, the success of “I’ve Been Drinkin’ More,” all about Seems Like Tears Ago, how he plans to follow it up, and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences that have shaped your sound?
Jason James: Some of the big ones were Lefty Frizzell, Hank Sr. and George Jones. It was definitely artists in the more traditional vein.
PC: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
JJ: I started in a rock band early on. In my early twenties, I was hanging out with my dad because the band had broken up, and he put on some Hank Williams recordings, and I just remember being completely blown away. I started almost immediately writing country songs after that. Just getting reacquainted with Hank Williams really brought it back together for me.
PC: “I’ve Been Drinkin’ More” from your self-titled debut album has become the signature song in your catalog so far; earning well over 200,000 streams and 100,000 more views on YouTube. What do you think it is about that song that has allowed it to connect with people the way it has?
JJ: I don’t know, I’d write more of them if I knew [laughs]. You never can tell. Your songs are all your children in a way, you love them all, but some just work better sometimes. That one has a really infectious melody line to it, and it’s kind of a sing-along. And who doesn’t love feeling sorry for themselves? [laughs]. It’s got everything you could want!
PC: Did the success of “I’ve Been Drinkin’ More” give you a certain level of artistic validation with the music you were writing?
JJ: Definitely. It just gave reason to what I was doing, and gave the okay to pretty much do whatever I wanted. Those kind of songs are what I want to make.
PC: After the release of your self-titled album, your record label at the time tried to direct you towards a less traditional sound on a follow-up album. How important was it for you to stick to your guns when you decided to record and release your newest album Seems Like Tears Ago independently?
JJ: The songs come first, and I just couldn’t bend to try to change any of the sounds that I was hearing in my head. The label was really great for me, but there were a few people that came in that didn’t really get it afterwards. I just wanted to keep going in their traditional vein, and I’ve got to sing what’s true in my heart. I couldn’t go up there and fake it on stage every night; that would be a very long, miserable career [laughs].
PC: It was just over four years between the releases of your self-titled album and Seems Like Tears Ago. Where do you think you grew the most in that time?
JJ: I went through a lot of changes, and a pretty dark period over those couple of years. However, the music became a constant to me, and I just found salvation in staying true to that path. Whenever you do things your way and you don’t compromise, it’s just going to be a harder road, so I just had to stick with it. Luckily I had John Evans, who produced the new record, and a lot of the last one, tell me to stick to it. He said that a lot of people were responding to the songs when I played them live; I was just going to have to stick with it and tough it out until I could get the money to do an album myself, which is what I ended up doing with the new record.
PC: “Seems Like Tears Ago” starts its album on a great, up-tempo note. Why did you decide to name the album after than song and have it serve as the first track?
JJ: It was supposed to be the name of the first record, and the record label didn’t want to go with that. They overrode me, and I said, “Okay, I’m going to write a song called ‘Seems Like Tears Ago’ and I’m going to name the record after that.” [laughs]. It was a little bit Tom Petty on my part. All of the songs on this record are songs that were not given the green light by the record label. These are the songs I wanted to do.
PC: What went into the decision to release “Move a Little Closer” as the lead single from Seems Like Tears Ago?
JJ: Radio is always looking for something with some pep to it; something quick that they can put on. It’s also been one of the better live songs. It was just kind of a natural thing. It’s one of my favorites on the album. I wish I could get into being a bit more of a balladeer, so hopefully radio will pick up on some of the slower stuff after this single runs its course.
PC: “Simply Divine” is one of my favorite songs on the album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
JJ: I needed some more happy songs! [laughs]. I wanted to write from the perspective of something that I have always wanted, but hadn’t really found in a relationship. I kind of tried to picture myself in something that was actually “Simply Divine.” If everyone thought I’d actually lived out all my songs, I’d be one miserable human being [laughs]. That’s one of my favorites too, because even when I play it live, I can go there.
PC: On Seems Like Tears Ago, you had several high-quality musicians playing on the album. What was it like to record with them, and how did their presence take the album to another level?
JJ: I didn’t even have time to be scared or nervous about it because it was so quick! A lot of that goes with John Evans doing the production and dealing with the musicians, because he just got the top notch guys and made it sound so good. I didn’t have time to be nervous until we were listening to playbacks when it was all done. We cut it in like three days. Of course, those were like three 20-hour days, but that’s how we did it. Everything was really cool; it was a very smooth birth compared to the last one. The last one kind of left me in agony. Keith Gattis did a good job of making it fluid, but that first record took almost three-and-a-half or four years to make. When people says my voice sounds a little bit different, that’s because there’s big difference between 26 years-old and 30 [laughs]. I’d lived a lot in three or four years.
PC: You’ve said that Seems Like Tears Ago is “the record [you’ve] wanted to make all along.” How gratifying is it for you now that it has been released?
JJ: I don’t know how I’m going to lift the bar on this one. Like I said, these are the songs I always wanted to play, this is the order I wanted them in; this is my swan song if you will. I just wanted to do everything my way. It’s the scariest thing when you put something out and you have no idea how it’s going to go; you just put it into the lexicon and hope for the best. We’ve had such great reviews back on everything, and have garnered so many fans. I’ve been so happy with it. I thought people were going to be upset because there isn’t another “I’ve Been Drinking More” on here. Songs like that sometimes never come once in a career. I wanted to present this record as an entity, not just a couple of good songs on a record.
PC: Given that it is such a personal and important record for you, what do you hope listeners take away from the Seems Like Tears Ago album after listening all the way through?
JJ: I hope it fits their everyday lives. It’s definitely a mood record. I hope they find some happiness from it. I hope they can relate to the songs too, but not all of them [laughs]. They’re just good songs. I took the time to craft them, and I’ve got great musicians on there. John did a great job of not making everything super polished, but at the same time, not going low-fi with it. It’s not supposed to be a record that you find any used bin at a Goodwill for 25 cents. I don’t want it to be super polished either. I wanted something really organic and sonically pure.
PC: Along with promoting Seems Like Tears Ago, what are your plans for the rest of 2019 and going in to 2020?
JJ: We’re going to keep touring! It’s in the works now, but we’re going to do a UK tour either in the summer or early fall of 2020. We’re just trying to stay busy and keep the ball rolling. I’m already ready to make the new record [laughs].
*All images by Valerie Fremin*