Artist Interview: James TW

An addictive guitar riff, strong drum rhythm and lyrics addressing a past lover, “Butterflies” touches on the yearning for a past lover though things have already ended.

James TW began his music career at the ripe age of 10 years old, moonlighting as a drummer in his father’s wedding band. At the age of 12, he started his own YouTube channel posting covers and gaining the attention of Shawn Mendes and record label Island Records in 2015. His song “When You Love Someone” has over 500 million streams with platinum certification in the UK and gold in the US. Following his album Chapters in 2019, James was on hiatus for two years until his latest release “Butterflies”. We had the pleasure of getting an interview with James and being able to talk about his work and plans for the future. 

CROWDSURFER MAGAZINE: Tell us a bit about the song.

JAMES TW: “Butterflies” was an interesting song for me because it took me the longest to write out of any song I’ve ever written. It took me two years to finish the song, usually I finish songs in two to three hours. 

I wrote the song backwards. Usually, I start by coming up with a concept or lyric. Something to write about and I use that as the end goal to move towards. This time I sat down and came up with a guitar riff and it was infectious. I started writing melodies and the last thing I had to do was come up with the lyrics. 

I tried writing it one time with these two writers called Red Triangle. We wrote a song called “X-Ray” which was a completely different thing. With “Butterflies”, it felt like the energy’s there, the dynamic of the track, but it’s not saying anything. There’s no story behind this. We went back in and this was the first time I’d written a song over zoom. We knocked out butterflies.

CSM: Since you’re releasing more music this year, what can we look forward to? 

JAMES TW: “Butterflies” is the first of a couple of singles that will come before a bigger body of work and that’s all I’m allowed to say right now.

CSM: So you sometimes write songs based on comments on TikTok or with your fans with the Song in 30 minutes challenge. How did this concept come about?

JAMES TW: I think that was a lock down thing. I think as soon as artists couldn’t perform live anymore. We have this desire to connect with the people who listen to our music and see what it means to them in person rather than over the internet. I wanted to jump onto that wagon, perform live, and do something that was different than songs that were already released. I liked the idea of a challenge and the inclusiveness of writing a song with your fans. The Song in 30 was the first thing we did and the first song we wrote was actually a really good song. They were as involved as I was and that was the way I wanted it to be. 

On TikTok, it’s just the same kind of thing but in a smaller setting. You only have a minute instead of an hour. People send funny, stupid ideas and it just lets you exercise that song writing muscle in a completely informal and unprofessional way, which is fun.

CSM: Will we ever hear any of those songs in the future, possibly as a single?

JAMES TW: Maybe. I’ve definitely thought of playing them live. Talking about the story behind it and who knows maybe some of the fans in the audience might have been involved in writing it but I don’t know if I’m going to record them or not. I’m not sure.

Was there one in particular that you liked?

CSM: I like “1975”.

JAMES TW: That’s my favorite one too. I don’t know, maybe. We’d have to figure out how to split royalties.

CSM: With your fans?

JAMES TW: Yeah, there were a lot of people in that livestream.

CSM: How has your creative process changed due to the pandemic?

JAMES TW: The distance you get over technology and online, it’s apparent. Some people hate it, some people can get past it. I think I don’t hate it but I don’t love it. 

Sometimes when you’re in a songwriting session and you’re in a room with people who are all trying to deliver melodies, lyrics, and ideas at the same time. You can fall into this head space where it’s like ‘I have to do something I’m under pressure’. That’s not how to get the best out of me. I don’t do well under pressure in those situations. 

So what’s been quite nice over Zoom is when I’m not quite feeling it and need some introvert alone time. We can just press the red button and have just like 30 minutes for me to be in my own room with no one else. Which doesn’t usually happen and would be weird to ask for in-person. So that has allowed me to reset during sessions where, maybe for the rest of the day, I would have been thrown off due to this pressure. I can kind of take the time for myself to come back in with ideas that I’ve manifested and developed on my own so I think it’s changed in that respect. Also I don’t have to travel to a studio anymore and can just kind of roll out of bed with my pajamas on the bottom half and write songs like that which is fun.

I think sometimes I might consider doing Zoom sessions now. Not the whole time but may be like 80/20, if it’s a long distance travel or even if it’s in another country. 

CSM: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

JAMES TW: That’s really tough. I think my favorite piece of advice is from my granddad, my dad’s dad. He always tells me before I say goodbye to him, ‘Just be James.’ I love that because he’s just saying to be natural, be you. That’s who you should believe in, that’s who should be and you shouldn’t try to be anyone else.

In an industry, when sometimes you think that you have to be like someone else or you look at other people that are doing well and then you look at yourself. It’s easy to fall into traps like that, so maybe it’s a boring quote but it means a lot to me.

CSM: What are some hobbies you’ve picked up during the pandemic?

JAMES TW: I really love video games. I play with a bunch of friends most evenings and that’s been really nice because it’s been a way of socializing without being in person. That’s been really fun. 

I’ve got into looking after myself even since the break up that happened last year and that’s what all of these songs are gonna be about.

I kind of got out of that and really wanted to change my body. I was quite underweight and had been a lot of my adult life. I got in the gym then the pandemic hit and then I was like “damn, I can’t lift weights or anything”. But I discovered this whole world of calisthenics which is like body weight training and there are some really difficult skills you can learn like handstand push ups, crazy pull ups and stuff. So I’ve been going to public parks and working out there and that’s been a whole new discovery purely because of the pandemic. I would have just stayed in a gym and lifted weights otherwise, so that’s been amazing. 

I’ve also started reading a little bit, still prefer to watch video and take in information that way though. I’ve also been journaling and checking in with myself and just doing things that make me feel good. 

CSM: Lastly, what would you like to tell your fans?

JAMES TW: Firstly, I would like to say thank you for your patience. It’s been two years since anything has happened and I know a lot of them have stuck by me and rinsed and repeated tracks from my first album, which is amazing of them. I just want to tell them that I’m really proud of this new music. I think it’s a development of my sound and of my writing. I am more mature than I was when I released my last album and I think I want to be more present so I can enjoy it more with them than I was with any music before.

A big thank you to the team at Island Records for setting up this interview!

And an even bigger thank you to James for taking the time out of his day to speak with us! We can’t wait to hear how his sound changes and develops further!

Stream Butterflies here!

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