INTERVIEW: Shayfer James


PHOTO CREDIT: Acid Test Photography  

Shayfer James


WITH an E.P. out in the world...


I have been speaking with Shayfer James about Hope and a Hand Grenade and the latest track, Mercy Down. James talks about music arriving in his life and which three albums are most important to him – he recommends some rising artists to check out.

I ask what his home of New Jersey is like in terms of music and whether there will be tour dates; whether he feels it is important to put spirit and uplift into his music – the musician picks a great live track to end the interview with.


Hi, Shayfer. How are you? How has your week been?

Been a damn fine week, thank you. In fact, the highest-streaming week on Spotify I’ve ever had, so that’s exciting news!

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Certainly. I’m a singer-songwriter, performer and film composer from New Jersey, U.S.A.

Hope and a Hand Grenade is your new E.P. Can you reveal what sort of themes inspired the songs?

The general theme was that hope really cannot exist without hopelessness; that we can’t expect things to be good or positive all the time. Life is an endless, beautiful; wonderful and perpetually more fascinating cycle of creation and destruction.

Mercy Down is the latest video released. What was the reason for the concept behind the video? Do you get much say regarding direction etc.?

I came up with the concept and directed it myself - though the D.P. Christopher M. Elassad had a huge hand in bringing the shot footage concept to life. I couldn’t have done it without him. The editor, Chris Wronka, was super-patient with me as I found more and more stock footage to help get my point across. I’ll leave the reason for it up to the watcher to decide (smiles).

Even though there are some dark tones in your music, you like to create a sense of uplift. Do you feel it is important to challenge the listener?

I think, even in everyday conversation, we either overthink or don’t think enough about how our ethics inform our social performance. I don’t know if it is important to challenge listeners but I do think it’s important to balance truth and rhetoric to tell a story in a way that is truthful but also entertaining.


PHOTO CREDIT: Luz Maxine Nienow Castelazo

When did music arrive in your life? Did you discover it young?

Indeed. A pretty terrible accident almost took two of my fingers when I was very young. My mother nursed my hand back to health on the piano, so I’d say it discovered me thanks to her.

New Jersey is where you are from. How inspiring is the music around you and the history of Jersey?

New Jersey has an amazing history in every way, including musically. I mean, Frank Sinatra, The Four Seasons; The Misfits, Sugarhill Gang and Bruce Springsteen? It wasn’t just because I was from N.J. that I listened to these artists: they were all iconic and a big part of the music I was raised on.

PHOTO CREDIT: Cyrience Creative Studios

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

I think my favorite memories are always built around letting go a bit more. Trusting the talents and decisions of other artists I work with. Micromanaging is fuc*ing exhausting and it’s amazing to be surrounded by talented people who make it totally unnecessary.

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

Nat King Cole - Nat King Cole at the Piano

My favorite singer of all time in his perfect element.

Sam Cooke - Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963

Raw, unchained genius. His energy is palatable. So amazing.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raising Sand

I love T. Bone Burnett’s production on this album and hearing these two legendary singers take on familiar songs in truly unique way makes me so happy. I love falling asleep to this album.


PHOTO CREDIT: Acid Test Photography/Joe Velez

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

That’s a tough one! I think I’d want to open for Elvis Costello, Fiona Apple or David Byrne - each for different but equally exciting reasons. My rider would be really simple: a bottle of Bluecoat Gin and some chocolate-covered pretzels with sea salt.

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Keep going. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 


PHOTO CREDIT: Acid Test Photography/Joe Velez

Do you think there are going to any tour dates coming up?

I’m trying to be really strategic with touring. I’m watching my Spotify numbers and, as listenership increases, I start looking for good clubs and fans that can help me promote in the area. Right now, I’ve got my eyes on Chicago, Seattle; San Antonio and Los Angeles. It isn’t really necessary to get in the van anymore. I go where I know I can make my fans, the promoters and myself happy.

Might you come to the U.K. and perform at some point?

Would absolutely love to perform in the U.K.! I monitor regional streaming closely and will certainly plan a trip when the demand is there.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Brian Lawlor

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

I have the pleasure of occasionally playing music with a total genius named Brian Lawlor. He’s a level of composer and keyboard player that is just astounding and humbling to me; exists as comfortably inside the box as he does outside of it. He’s playing keys with me at the E.P. release show in N.Y.C. on March 8th (at Rockwood Music Hall).

Really excited about that! I also really dig Coyle Girelli’s Love Kills record. It’s great throwback songwriting with a more polished modern production vibe.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Coyle Girelli

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

I enjoy silence a lot of the time I’m not creating. Silence is where all the good sh*t happens. I’m also really enjoying my NES Classic.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

I’d love if you played Bring It on Home to Me from Sam Cooke - Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963


Follow Shayfer James