Grammy-nominated saxophonist Boney James was messing around in his studio with Pro Tools plug-ins, making sounds inspired by artists like Tinashé, Sam Smith and Ellie Goulding, when he came up with the title and theme for his latest album futuresoul.
“It really just came out of the music I found myself writing. Usually I’m just kind of putting ideas together and at some point I just kind of sit back and listen and figure out what the vibe is and see if I can express that in some way that becomes the title,” James said. “And the music just sounded like modern soul music.”
Like most of his music, what James heard sounded influenced also by ‘60s and ‘70s soul artists, but was being made with modern production tools, hence futuresoul. His latest offering spent 11 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and debuted at #41 on the Billboard Current Albums Chart, which was his highest Pop chart debut ever.
“It’s just been off the charts. It’s been wonderful,” James said. “For it to cross over into the Pop chart is just a wonderful thing.
“And then it’s a challenging time to be in the selling recorded music business, so it’s really gratifying that the record attracted as much attention as it did. It’s just been a blast. People have really been paying attention.”
Because of the heat of the album, James sat in with The Roots on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in August. “It’s surreal,” James said about his first experience on “The Tonight Show.” “It’s so fun and I just love the music on the record and any opportunity I have to let people know that this music is out there is a real blessing for me.”
James, who will be playing at The Birchmere on Monday, Nov. 23, had experience playing with The Roots’ co-leader Questlove in the early 2000s. He played drums on a couple of James’ records, Ride and Pure. “We had worked together in the studio before, but we weren’t like pals or anything,” James said.
“So I was kind of admiring his career from a distance as they got on television and now “The Tonight Show,” which is pretty much the cream of the crop for those types of gigs. And he’s become a celebrity in his own right, which he wasn’t back then, he was just a respected drummer. So it was great to see him again. I played one of the songs he played on way back then and he said ‘Hey I remember this one,’ so it was fun to reconnect with him and hang out.”
The album futuresoul is James’ 15th record in a 23-year solo career, which was preceded by a career playing in bands for artists like Morris Day, The Isley Brothers and Teena Marie. He said that his goal when he started out as a full-time musician after graduation from UCLA was to have a long recording career.
“Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Grover Washington, Jr. – these were acts that were popular when I was a kid that when I grew up were still doing and people were paying attention,” James said.
“So that was always my goal. So here it is my 15th record in my 23rd year in the business and it feels like it’s still going strong. It’s a nice moment to smell the roses and say hey, it’s actually happening for me.”
• For more information about Boney James, visit boneyjames.com.