East London born singer/songwriter Tyler James is a seasoned musician. Originally signed to Island Records in 2003, he released his debut single ‘Why Do I Do‘ in November of that year and peaked at number 25 on the UK singles chart. In 2004, he toured with close friend Amy Winehouse and in 2005, supported Natasha Bedingfield on her UK tour. His debut album ‘The Unlikely Lad’ was released in August 2005 on digital download only and failed to chart, which lead to James being dropped by his label.
After a number of years in obscurity, James returned to prominence in 2012 following an appearance on the UK version of The Voice. Following his audition, James made it to the final only to come second behind winner Leanne Mitchell. As the show finished, he was quickly signed again to his former home at Island Records. Punchbowl Blog caught up with Tyler to discuss his time on The Voice, his new sound and his future plans…
How did your new single ‘Single Tear’ come about? What’s the inspiration behind it?
That song came to me really quickly. I was walking across Primrose Hill to Guy (Chambers) and all the melodies, lyrics came to me. I went to Guy, sang him what I had, he started playing around it, put some chords down… and it was pretty much done! That one sort of just… came out because I didn’t really think what it was about. Most songs I write come from personal experiences, but it’s not about a specific incident. I like for my music to be relatable to everyone. Single Tear is about breaking up with someone or losing someone or feeling heartbroken. Whatever the emotional traumatic event was you’ve now blocked it out and haven’t really engaged with; it about that moment when it hits you. You’ve broken up with someone and it’s too painful to deal with so you don’t think about. It’s an emotional song, so I could’ve gone really… sparse with it but I wanted it to sound quite dramatic and quite epic.
The track is rather different to some of your earlier material, much of which was recorded before you entered The Voice UK. Was it a conscious decision to change your sound or was it a natural process?
I hadn’t even though about my old album or how that would compare to this one. I wrote my first album eight years ago and there’s different music I listen to now, I’m a different person; a totally different person to who I was eight years ago. I hadn’t really thought about it and I didn’t sit down and decide on a direction for the album. That’s not how I write; I write songs from scratch with a piano or guitar. For me, it was about writing songs about my life and what I’ve been though. I wanted the production to compliment them. I wanted the music to support what I’m trying to say. If people were expecting me to come on some jazzy/reggae flex then they’ll be a bit disappointed. That’s not where I’m at anymore. Those songs sit in a certain area for me and I wanted to do stuff that’s a bit more open to everyone.
Is your album done now?
No, it’s not finished. I’d say it’s about… halfway done but it’s hard to say what halfway means until we get to the end of it. I’ve been working nonstop on it. It’s been weird working on an album so fast. The good thing about that is its one train of thought in your head. Everything is about similar stuff, but it’s hard to get it done in a short space of time, you just go off adrenaline. Sometimes songs come really quickly and sometimes they take longer. I suppose the advantage of working like this is if a song doesn’t come to you quickly, you don’t have time to mess about with it, you just move onto the next one.
Who have you worked with so far?
There are two people I’ve worked with and loved the most. That’s Guy Chambers and Fraser T Smith. That’s because they’re classic songwriters. I’m much more about songs now. I’m never going to write a song to a backing track. No one is going to play me a club beat or an R&B beat and I’ll just write to it. I can’t do that anymore, that’s just not me. I want to write songs at the piano about how I feel. Guy and Fraser are classic songwriters and they can both write in any genre. Working with them has been amazing because there’s so much to learn from them. They know about the craft of making a song. I’m a songwriter as much as I am a singer; I consider those to be equal. They’re very good at getting me and understanding what I want to do musically. If I go in with an idea they can facilitate it straight away. Most importantly I can trust them. Things are moving really quickly for me and I can’t oversee everything. I can trust their instincts and trust that he knows where I want to go.
Is there anyone you’re hoping to get in with? Will you be working with will.I.am?
We’ve started ideas. Whenever he’s here, we’ll get in the studio together. People always ask this and want a definitive answer. At the end of the day, Will probably makes 60 – 100 songs for his album. Most times we’ll just jam in the studio till like… 5am! Will any of them be present on my album? It’s hard to say. I wrote a song yesterday and that might not be on the album. There’s so much I can learn from Will and I play him my stuff all the time to get his opinion on them. We’ve built a musical relationship and at some point in the future that will present to everyone else. When that will be, I don’t know. Will doesn’t have 12 weeks to make an album!
Going back to The Voice, what made you want to apply for The Voice?
The only way I can describe it is… I wasn’t of sound mind when I auditioned for The Voice. There’s no part of me that would be brave enough to do something like that. It’s not something I really thought about. I was at a point in my life where I thought “You can’t just keep procrastinating any longer. You HAVE to do something!” If anything, that’s what The Voice has taught me. I try not to think too much now and I’m a bit more like “Just do it! What’s the worst that could happen?” I threw myself into it and it was a massive learning curve for me. Not in terms of “Oh, I have to learn to be a singer and a performer at the end of it” I had to get back to being the performer I was. Anyone who knew me in the past would probably be shocked by my first audition and by the end of it; they’re thinking “That’s T again!” It was a massive journey for me to go on in six months but it brought me back to music and now I’m signed to Universal Island Records. Without it, it wouldn’t have happened. The Voice has changed my life.
When people come up to me in the street, I think… it’s almost like they know me. They’ve witnessed a very personal time in my life. I never watched it, but I know what I was going through. I was rebuilding myself and getting my confidence back and becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be because I used to be very insular and isolated. That show brought it out of me. It’s mental to think that people actually watched the show and watched me. I don’t know how they edited the show, but for my first audition I was a quivering, shaken mess! By the end of it I was like “Yeah, let’s get on with it, let’s get on stage!” It was still very terrifying every week!
And you still haven’t watched any of your performances back?
I’m not a fan of watching myself, whether it’s pictures or performances. I find it really weird. I love looking at pictures of other people and watching other people perform. I’ll listen to stuff I’ve done in the studio for example but ultimately, on The Voice, under the level of pressure I can guarantee I won’t be happy with anything I did on there. I won’t watch it now and I couldn’t watch it when I was on the show because I think it would have given me.. . I think it was good that I didn’t have any perspective on it. I knew it was going on TV and I knew when I got up on a Sunday morning people would come up to me and be like “Oh, you sung this!…” but I had no perspective on it. I just went to a TV studio every week, so what people saw of me was real. I wasn’t playing up to anything, I wasn’t playing up to a camera, I was in that situation. However it was presented, judging by what people say to me, I’ve presented me exactly as how I am. People got to see me being totally honest. Isn’t that the purpose of reality TV? If I’m watching a reality TV show, I want to see reality. If that person is going home every night and watching the edit of that show, they’ve kind of got a weird perspective on that show themselves and there’s something about their performance, and I say performance because even when they’re talking to the camera they’re performing, it isn’t really real. Whereas with me, it’s just me sitting in a room, with a camera on going out to 10 million people. I was just answering question about how I felt in the moment about everything. I think that was a good thing. I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. I could have created a persona, which I think some people do. But I was just myself.
After finishing The Voice and signing to Island Records, the first taste of new music we heard from you was your cover of Kate Bush’s ‘A Woman’s Work’ on SBTV. What influenced your decision in covering that?
I wanted to do it on The Voice! I love Kate Bush and I’m also a massive fan of Maxwell, so when Maxwell did MTV Unplugged and covered that song… I’ve always been obsessed with that cover. It’s probably the greatest male falsetto voice I can think of. I wanted to cover it for about three weeks running on The Voice until it got to a point where it was really clear where they weren’t up for the idea. Everything I did on the show was my idea but that was one idea I didn’t get to do. There were loads of ideas I didn’t get to do. When the show was on, I started speaking to Jamal [Edwards]. He hit me up on Twitter, that’s how we started talking. I said “It looks like I’m not going to get to do this. When the shows done, we’ve got to do A Woman’s Work!” so that’s how it came about. That’s exactly how I would’ve done it on the show, with a harp. I’m sure they would have made it a lot bigger than that, but I love doing stuff like that. I love that whole stripped back sound. I always wanted to do it. A part of me wants to do it for the album.
The Voice Tour was unfortunately cancelled earlier this year, but you’re now going out on your own solo tour?
Yeah! The cancellation of the Voice tour… I was gutted for the fan, really. They talk to me on Twitter and I know they were looking forward to going. It would have been nice to relive that experience, as it changed my life. I’ve made some good friends on that show so it would have been nice to spend two weeks with them on the road and it would be great to hand out with Bo [Bruce], Vince [Kidd] and Max [Milner] again. It would have been nice to get on stage without the pressure of the public voting for you; it would have been nice to just perform. The kind of venues that were booked would have made it an amazing experience. But ultimately, it’s about moving on from that and for me, I’m looking forward to my first gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire. It’ll be the first time people get to see me perform my album in its entirety. I’ve performed at Shepherds Bush Empire probably… 10 times, but never as a headliner. I’ve supported Amy (Winehouse) there, Musiq Soulchild, Natasha Bedingfield, but this is my gig. It’s quite mental to be honest. Things have happened so quickly, it’s hard to believe what’s happened! When things happen so quickly, it’s hard for your brain to catch up sometimes. In the last year I’ve managed to land a record deal again. How the f**k has that happened? [Laughs]
Are you still in touch with the other acts from The Voice? Will you be working with any of them?
Everyone’s really busy at the moment. Bo’s now signed to Mercury Records and she’s just gone through a whole load of emotional s**t. I haven’t really spoken to her yet. I’ve text her a few times and I just hope she’s alright, but I know she’s back in the studio again. Vince, I haven’t even had a chance to talk to him. We’ve text each other and we’ve forgotten to reply to each other, and I talk to Max, but when I want to call him, I don’t have time or vice versa. I know they’re all doing their thing though. Max is in the studio too, Vince has a single coming out I think. They’re all wicked. I just hope they’re all having a wicked time and aren’t too stressed out.
You’ve had an amazing year so far. What’s been your highlight so far?
I’ve had so many! Getting to the final of the Voice was a massive moment for me. Going through over Jaz [Ellington] was a massive moment for me, and I wanted that so bad! Signing a record deal, performing at the MTV event in Malta was incredible; Hackney Weekend with Will was wicked, there’s been loads of moment this year that have been amazing, but they’ve happened so far. I’ve barely had a minute to really grasp that they’ve all happened. I feel like a very lucky boy and this is all I wanted. At the moment it’s hard to put an album together as quickly as I am and I’m tired! I’m so tired! [Laughs] It’s still what I want, It’s what I love doing. I just hope that there are loads more moments because that’s what it’s all about. I want it to go well this time; I want to be able to make music forever and ever, amen. And next year spend six months on my album!
And what are you looking forward to for the rest of the year and into 2013?
Like I said, I’m looking forward to things going well. Any person in my position is to be able to go out there, share their music with people and make a living from it too. Be one of those lucky people who get to make music for the rest of their lives instead of anything else. People have to make money in this world so be someone who can get up every day, go to the studio and go perform somewhere to get by in their life is a lucky, lucky person and I hope that’s how things go.
Where can people find you?
What’s with all the seven’s?
I just like the number seven. And someone took Tyler James!
Thanks for your time, Tyler!
Tyler James’ new single ‘Single Tear’ is released on October 14.
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