We all know the feeling of sitting on the tube, unleashing our main character. The East End native, a singer/songwriter James Smith, had dedicated his entire EP ‘The District Line’ to pay tribute to a journey he’s done way too many times. The project will also feature the newest single, ‘My Oh My.’
Since the release of ‘Tell Me That You Love Me,’ James Smith’s life, who used to perform as a kid at local pubs around the East End, has changed. This breakout single was getting a million views a week. Despite the song’s success, James stays humble and plans on ‘grafting’ – being his favorite word we found out while getting to know him.
“It’s always a weird time releasing music; it feels like I’ve listened to the song 1000 times already in the mixing stages, so by the time it comes to releasing it, I’m desperate for it to come out so that I can crack on with more music haha. Also, a little anxious before release because you never know if people are gonna like it! But reactions so far have been super positive”, tells James as we begin our chat about the release of his newest record, ‘My Oh My’.
As his first release of the year, we wondered what else has James been up to. Right from the start, he stresses the longing for normality as we do not seem to locate the light at the end of the tunnel. For James, he seems to find comfort in writing songs for other artists: “I’ve been okay, but I’m really missing normality! I can’t wait for this nightmare to end! However, I’m lucky to have all my family healthy, and I’m in a place where I can still be creative. I’ve been working on a lot of other artists’ projects this year, which has been exciting. I find that a lot of the pressure is taken off when I’m writing or producing for other people. It seems to be a lot more chilled! I’m a huge stress-head when it comes to my own music”.
A little background to the 21-year-old singer/songwriter, after getting expelled from a high school in Essex, he ended up joining his father out on the market stalls, selling soap and waking up at 4 am. At this point, music became even more important to him, offering a vital escape. Early mornings in the van meant time to get a proper musical education. He elaborates how this situation was a blessing in disguise: “Massively, that was probably the biggest turning point in my life. It made me realise that I gotta take things more seriously and GRAFT! Graft is my favourite word; my parents would really try and drill it into me after that all went down. They have been my rock. They kept me focused and balanced and made sure that I learned my lesson. Everything happens for a reason, right.”
Counting his blessings, James shows gratitude for his parents: “They are my biggest fans, surprisingly. It’s crazy because when I think about it, they are both very work-driven and hugely unartistic”, he laughs. “So you’d think they would want me to be in a secure profession that would benefit me financially etc. But they have no doubts that I am gonna crack it one day, and neither do I; we’re shooting for the sky, baby”, as he should.
At the age of 14, the name James Smith became a regular in the local pubs and clubs scene. Every week, he used to play two sets or more all around the East End. As supportive parents do, his mum and dad smuggled young James into venues he was far too young to be allowed inside. He shares how he found performing: “I used to find it hilarious. No one really took notice of me until they were really drunk; that’s sort of the way it goes in that scene, so I used to save all my best songs for last!!!!”, he was already thinking like a pro artist.
At the same age, inspired by the legends like Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, James started writing songs: “I learned the art of songwriting and how sometimes the most simple lyrics can be the most effective. I dove into the more niche side of Stevie when I got older and discovered more of a love for harmony and nerdy stuff. It was when I was out of school that I started writing for the first time. It was Dylan and the Beatles that got me into it. It was sort of an escape for me, even though I was writing the cringiest love songs known to man!!!”.
Today James Smith’s songwriting is getting worldwide recognition. His 2019 release, ‘Tell Me That You Love Me,’ may have jump-started something exceptional: “Well, I wouldn’t say that we’ve blown up yet, but I’m on my way. I’d say that Tell Me That You Love Me was a big moment for me. It had big TV sync, and it was also getting around 1 million views a week! It was totally out of the blue and unexpected, really wasn’t prepared for it, but what an amazing time!”.
James talks about how the track was born: “It was a song that was written within 20 minutes or so. It came so naturally and weirdly quick. Almost as if I had already known the song I was about to write before I started. I really wanted something classic and sweet, and I felt this was the best combo. The song is a classic break up song inspired by an early break up that I went through. But yeah, mental, really. I really have a lot of love for that record, even though it seems so old to me”.
From there, James Smith keeps the streak going. He puts out one hit after another, including personal favorites ‘Say You’ll Stay,’ ‘Call Me When It’s Over,’ and the first installment of his upcoming EP in the form of ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’. The second offering is ‘My Oh My’, released only a week ago. James expands on the message behind the song: “I wanted to write something which was simple but super powerful – it’s also why I built a big choir vibe. It’s really a song about loss but broad enough, I think, for people to connect to it with any type of loss they’ve experienced. I wanted the video to show this, too – the loneliness that many people feel after a breakup. Even though it’s a breakup song and maybe a bit depressing (lol!), musically, I think it still feels a bit hopeful, and hopefully, people maybe realise they aren’t alone in going through it!”
As we touched upon in the beginning, James Smith pays a special tribute to the district tube line in the form of an EP title. As more than one of us know, sitting on the tube, in a carriage full of strangers, our minds go on a spiral. James’ way of dealing with it was writing it down and recording voice memos: “The EP is called ‘The District Line EP’. It’s four tracks (including My Oh My and I Don’t Wanna Know) and the songs were all written on my journeys on the ‘District Line.’ They all started off as little voice memos on my phone when I was commuting. I really have an affinity with that tube line because I have spent so much time on it! I’ve lived at four different stations on there. And I used to sit on the tube for an hour and a half every day to get to college. So this is an EP summing up my childhood in London really”.
Keep an eye out, ‘The District Line Ep’ comes out this Spring.
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Words: Karolina Kramplova