King James

He once was an AC/DC acolyte but the velvet-voiced Gavin James hopes to end his days as a Vegas crooner. The young Dubliner who got Adele’s manager rocking talks to Craig Fitzpatrick...

It’s All Hallows’ Eve and singer-songwriter Gavin James is on the other end of the blower, two days before his debut EP drops. There’s plenty to talk about – not least whether he’s got in the spirit of things and dressed up as a decomposing zombie. The 21-year-old lets out a laugh. “Well I’m gonna dress up now I think – as a gingerbread man! Stick a loaf of bread on me, simple as that.”

We can forgive his lack of afternoon pep, he’s recovering from a show in one of his favourite places.

“I did Ruby Sessions. I love that gig. It was cool because the very first gig I did, there was this Australian lad called Renny Field on the bill, and he was playing again last night. I was like, ‘Fuck!’ because he was unreal and I could barely play back then, when I was 16. To have him performing before me was amazing.”

We’ll get to all the amazing developments in this young man’s career but first, seeing as last night’s Ruby Sessions saw things coming full circle, let’s track back to the beginning. A born and bred Dubliner, James grew up in a musical family.

“My sister has been singing since I was born. She’s in the Dublin Gospel Choir and has an unbelievable voice. She’d walk around the house singing all the time. Apart from that, my dad has great music taste as well. He got me into Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens...”

As evidenced by his EP, Gavin James’ voice is all depth, warmth and soul. Recalling the classic R&B stars of yesteryear, you imagine him wandering down the vinyl avenues of Motown as a lad.

“I love that stuff, definitely. Those epic singers. Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr.... Because that’s what I used to sing the most. And I think my style now has to do with performing all those songs. At cover gigs, I’d be doing the likes of Etta James. I must have just adapted to that. Is it brave to launch into those kind of numbers? It can get bad... they don’t always go very well!”

He might be protesting too much. Having learnt his craft performing around his hometown from the age of 18 (“I wasn’t very good in school so I thought if I just keep practising I might be able to make a living out of it!”), he’s been earning support slots from well respected, established Irish acts (Heathers, Ryan Sheridan) and turning industry heads. His first gig, however, was quite different, back when he was merely a member of another teen band.

“Do you remember Ramp N Rail skate park? It was there!”

I can’t imagine his understated, lovelorn balladry being the ideal soundtrack to a bunch of baggy-trousered kids doing ollies.

“Not at all. I was more into AC/DC back then. That’s all I could play when I younger. Well not just... Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix, all of that. It was a bit mad. We’d only got a drummer the week before and he ended up breaking his arm. He only had one hand to play drums with but it was memorable anyway.”

Well it worked for Def Leppard. Memorable shows are now de rigueur for James. It was a trip to LA earlier this year, appearing at the Worldwide Radio Summit, that took his fledgling career to the next level. Having been courted by Believe Recordings, who also take care of James Vincent McMorrow, his showcase slots sealed the deal. He reckons Believe are a good fit for a young artist eager to get his music heard.

“They’re going to let me grow as an artist,” he explains. “I’m learning new ways to write songs and I don’t think they’re going to rush me like a major label would. Also, they’re not going to shelve me. I’ve heard terrible stories about people getting shelved for years and years.”

Despite the positive outcome that brought about the EP release and will hopefully result in an album in March, James admits that the showcases took him out of his comfort zone. Still, he made it work.

“The first gig was in the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood and all the biggest heads in radio were there. I was so nervous. At the next one, Adele’s manager was sitting in front of me. [Warner Bros. Vice President] Seymour Stein was there. Crazy. This was early in the morning as well, 7 o’clock. I’m used to the whole ‘get everyone singing along!’ kinda atmosphere so it was funny. A lot of them were really serious, which is obviously a good thing, but it was just me and the guitar so... I just started to get them singing along. It was weird to see Adele’s fucking manager singing along! I’ll always remember that sort of stuff.”

The deal was announced on Gavin’s 21st birthday. So can we just assume he immediately headed for Vegas and blew his advance?

“I’m trying to remember now what I did,” he laughs. “Anyway, it was automatically the best birthday ever. Plus I’d never been to the States before so that was cool.”

When the moment came to record, James left Ireland once more, this time heading to Leeds to work with veteran behind the scenes man James Kenosha.

“I’ve never worked with a producer before,” he admits. “It was weird because every time I’d think of something to say about a song, he’d say it before me! But I’d a few different ideas. There was one song, ‘For You’, where I was dead set on the way I wanted to record it. I had this big idea of having massive, crazy Frank Sinatra strings on it. We actually ended up doing that but it was overly epic! We had to do a mix with a lot less violins. It had gongs... the kitchen sink!”

Does he think he’ll revisit his big band, crooner-esque leanings in the future?

“Oh definitely! When I turn 50, I’m gonna buy a suit and go to Vegas!”

The Say Hello EP is out November 2.

 

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