Folk singer-songwriter Joshua James remembers exactly when his career goal of becoming a registered nurse gave way to his desire to make music. He got up and left his anatomy class when he was first offered a U.S. tour, a month-long commitment making $50 a show. He wouldn’t be able to continue his studies after a month away, and decided then that he could always be a student, but opportunities to tour weren’t so constant.
From there he began a demanding pace of touring, often leaving home for six or seven months out of the year, ending late nights by sleeping on people’s floors and eating about as well as he slept. When he’d return from touring, he’d busy himself with recording, be it his own music or the work of others. He released his debut, The Sun Is Always Brighter, in 2007, and followed up with Build Me This in 2009. Both albums landed on Best of iTunes lists and earned critical praise for the ache and glory in the stories he tells with a voice that’s been compared to Bob Dylan and Damien Rice.
He’s touring now, and will be appearing at Jammin’ Java next Friday in support of his latest album. But there was a time not long ago that he took a hiatus from life on the road.
“It takes a toll on your body, and on your spirit,” James said. “I think it was a good thing to do, to take that break.”
James spent the time in his wife’s native Utah, where the pair has made a home – “Love has its ways with the heart, and your feet, apparently; it planted me there, and that’s where I’ve been ever since,” he says. They bought a house, some chickens and goats, and started gardening. He likes being outdoors and seeing the work of his hands yield the fruit of his labors, but it satisfied him on a more profound level.
“It’s like a microcosm of our existence as humans,” James said. The plants grow and thrive before the winter frost destroys them, he explained, the goats live, give their milk, and die. It was during that season in 2011 that he was writing what would become his most recent album, From The Top of Willamette Mountain, which came out last fall.
Recorded over two weeks in the home studio of producer Richard Swift, much of the album was recorded live. It’s a technique James uses when he records musicians in his own studio. He has them sing and play at the same time and it feels more organic, he says.
The album marks a departure from the folk James has made in the past. He says that he started out imitating what he liked in other artists. He has his influences, but the intentionality is gone.
“It’s changed because I have, for lack of a better phrase, found my own voice,” James said.
At his CD release show at Jammin’ Java, James and his band will bring songs from the album to the stage.
“I think we harness a light of sorts, and the hope is to portray an emotion via the stage, and that experience can be related to a feeling of supreme calmness or celestial visitation,” James said.