On The Table Read, The Table Read, the “Best Entertainment Celebrity Magazine in the UK“, musician James Melton describes his music career and musical inspiration.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed singer-songwriter James Melton about his life, what inspires his music, and his creative process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am a gay singer/songwriter. I play guitar and studied jazz at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. I’m a nerd at heart with a love of retro sounds, styles, and games—Necromunda, anyone? I play a variety of musical genres. This release was more pop/R&B oriented, but I also play improvisational instrumental music and have played in metal bands, too.
When did you first WANT to write songs?
I’ve always been musical. I can remember back to being a young teenager writing riffs and poetry. It was only a matter of time until they combined.
When did you take a step to start writing songs?
Probably the first “songs” as far as songs are concerned were written when I was in middle school. My friends—who I’m still very close with today—were in a band called the Ransom. We were pretty awful, but we had a lot of heart.
What was your first song released, and what was it about?
My first official release was my debut album Will Made Manifest. Overall it was kind of a reflection of my anxiety and depression during the early days of the pandemic. Many of the songs are aspirational—about imagining a brighter, better future.
What was your latest song released, and what was it about?
I haven’t released new music yet, but there is plenty in the works.
Focusing on your latest song. What were your biggest challenges with it?
I think the biggest challenge with the latest release is translating what I recorded on my own to the live stage with other musicians. The whole album was completely self-recorded, self-produced, and self-written. It’s a challenge making the live performance sound like the record.
How many songs are you working on right now?
I’m always working on melodies, harmonies, and other musical exercises that keep me honest and connected to my material. There are certainly more than 10 potential songs floating around right now.
Do you keep to a theme with your music, or just go where the mood strikes?
I try not to decide what it’s about before writing it. I feel my stuff becomes too contrived if I try to force a certain style or mood.
What is your favourite song you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?
The one that’s probably the most personal is “I won’t Write Another.” This song cost me quite a bit mentally and emotionally. I think there is a lot of pain and raw emotion in it. It’s probably my favorite.
Do you find other people’s music inspires you? Who do you listen to most?
Of course! I love all kinds of music, but lately, I’ve been really getting into jazz composer Wayne Shorter’s compositions and recordings.
Do you write your own music, or do you have musicians you work with?
Yes, I write my own music. I’ve done collaborations in the past when I was in other bands, but this latest release was my own writing.
Do you play any instruments?
I play guitar and bass. When I was really young, I played the saxophone, but I switched to guitar when I was 13.
Do you like performing live, or does it scare you? Where can people watch you?
It depends on the gig. My favorite kinds of gigs are jazz gigs which are really about the musicians playing with one another and for one another. I’m pretty anxious and self-concious so I always get nervous before performing— but once things get going, I feel pretty good.
Is your music available online, and where can people listen to it?
Yes! it can be purchased directly from my website, or through Apple Music or Amazon. You can also stream it on Spotify! Just search James Austin Melton and you can find me on most platforms. Or, visit my website— jamesaustinmeltonmusic.com
Are you able to make music full time, or do you have day job?
I wish!!! No, I work full-time as a content writer and strategist at a digital marketing agency. Additionally, I teach private music lessons for extra income—plus, any money I make from gigs. I’d love to be able to do music full-time, but I haven’t figured out a way to make it work with my student loan payments, bills, and costs of living.
Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?
Almost too supportive.
What’s something you never expected about being a songwriter? What have you learned that surprised you?
I never expected to be able to put together an album on my own. In fact, I’ve been trying to get back into that headspace. I find it challenging to get into the flow, but I know it will come again soon. I’m surprised by how horrible the music industry is—but I guess I shouldn’t be.
Have you had any experiences that really stand out because of your songs?
I wrote a song about unrequited love I felt for someone in my life and it inadvertently ended up causing the end of that friendship. That experience was pretty painful and profound. I think it’s probably better this way, though.
Do you have any important events coming up we should know about?
Not yet! I do have gigs in line, but there are pick-up gigs. I’m trying to plan some summer shows.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write songs?
One of my guitar teachers, Dave Allen (definitely check him out), gave me some advice he got from a poet he really likes. I’m paraphrasing and probably misremembering but basically, the gist of the advice was that we can’t judge the art that we are creating. It’s not our place to question the raw creative forces behind our art. Rather, it’s our job to be the conduit for those forces to create through us. It’s a great way to take yourself—by this I mean ego—out of the equation. I guess that’s my advice.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I’m proud, but I’m also hungry for more and ready for the next step—whatever that is.
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