“A welcome return to country music roots and steel guitars”
Whether being torn between ‘wrong’ (devil) and ‘right’ (angel) or having one of those breathtaking gasp moments of feeling the presence of a lost loved one, singer/songwriter Bryan James captures ‘Kodak’ moments in our lives with his album Between the Devil and the Angel.
Can you share a brief overview of your career to date?
I kind of have two sides to the music career so to speak honestly. When I was younger, I played bass in a jam band for a few years and then started up a funk band and played in that for about three years. I wrote the lyrics to most of the songs in both bands, but I was always writing things for myself during my time in both bands. Once the funk band split up, I stopped thinking of music as any kind of career and as far as I was concerned, I was done with it. I kept writing, but I never planned on releasing any of it as actual material for the public to hear.
One night about two years ago, there was a guitar being passed around at a gathering and I played a few songs. A few people asked me where they could get them, but again, I had never planned on releasing them so I just told them they couldn’t. They told me I should get the material out there because people would relate to it, so I started up a Facebook page and put up a video of me playing a song. Surprisingly it got ton of comments, shares and likes so I put out another one. The second one went on to get over a million views and so I just kept going with it. The page grew, the offers to play places started coming in and so to this point I’ve cut two albums, the last one Between the Devil and The Angel debuting at number 8 on the iTunes charts. I’ve opened for David Allan Coe three times, Tyler Farr, Cody Johnson, The Lacs, played festivals with artists like Alan Jackson, Marty Stewart, Tyler Childers, Shooter Jennings, The Steel Woods, and more. We’ll go in and cut the third album sometime later 2018 or early 2019.
What music did you listen to growing up in Killeen, Texas?
I was born in Killeen, but I didn’t live there for very long. My parents split up when I was about two and my mom remarried a man who was in the military. So, we moved all over the place pretty much until I was 18. We were in Indiana, Ohio, Germany, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia. My dad stayed in Texas so I would go back there for a month each year growing up. There was a lot of different music I was exposed to growing up. Merle Haggard was always a constant, Hank Williams Jr, Waylon and George Jones were always playing at my dad’s house while my stepdad was always listening to music by artists like Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, Gordon Lightfoot, The Mamas and The Papas, and the Beatles. So, I was turned onto a lot of good music in a lot of different genres.
Can you remember the first time you wrote a song?
Honestly, no. But I know it had to be something I wrote with my dad. He was a songwriter and so he was always writing something while I was visiting. I know I helped throw some words out a few times.
Where do you draw inspiration from when you write songs?
Everything I’ve ever written has come from some kind of experience that either I’ve had myself, someone I know has had or something I overheard while someone else was having a conversation. I don’t ever sit down to write so to speak. I’ve tried to write that way and I just can’t seem to. I have to have something that has affected me emotionally somehow. That could be happy, sad, pissed off or just in a party mood, but I can’t just sit down and create any of those. Every time I’ve tried to do that it just doesn’t come out right. I truly use writing as my way of getting things off my chest or out of my mind so my favorite part is when I’ve finished a song. It sounds weird, but I really do get this big wave of relief when I know I’m done writing. Before anyone told me, I should release the material, I’d honestly finish a song and just put it away and most likely never play it again.
What are the backstories to the tracks on Between the Devil and the Angel?
Well there’s 19 songs on that album so we could be here awhile, but I can give you a few of my favorites. The title track “Between the Devil and the Angel” is just about the daily struggle that I think we all as humans go through between what’s right and wrong. There’re those two voices that are in constant battle with each other and sometimes the good one wins and sometimes it doesn’t. “If it Ain’t Broke” is my version of why did the powers that be allow country music to be changed so much that they don’t seem to recognize artists that play more of the traditional style of country verses the new “pop” country. It wasn’t broke, so why fix it? “Best of Your Memories” is all about the magic of music and how we all have songs we know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard them first. “Like They Used To” is nod to the fact that they just don’t make things, including people, the way that they used to. Used to be your name meant something, a handshake was worth more than paper and everything wasn’t always about dollar signs. “Miles on My Soul” is about how sometimes you just feel like you’ve seen or been through more than you should have for the amount of time you’ve been alive in this world. “The Gift” was from a friend of mine who lost his father and was given a letter his father had written before he passed that he had no clue about. I thought that was a pretty cool thing to get in a time of sorrow like that. Kind of a way of having those last words so I named it “The Gift”. Finally, “I’m Not Lost” is probably one of the most honest songs I’ve written. It starts with a line that says “There’s a quiet place in my mind, I go to now and then” and I think that’s something we all do if we’re honest. It’s just about it being ok to take a step back and honestly say I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am in my life right now. There’re others that are fun ones that are pretty self-explanatory like “Back to Being Stoned” and “Maybe I Am”, but I’ll let those tell their own backstories.
Which song did you have the most trouble writing?
I can’t say I had trouble writing any of them. Some took longer than others, but that just means they weren’t ready to be finished yet. I’ve tried to force finishing things before and it just doesn’t work. So, if one takes a few hours or one takes a few days, they’re both finished when they were supposed to. I have a few songs that I’ve had half way finished for a year and I go back and visit them at times. Sometimes what I need will hit me and I’ll finish one, but if it doesn’t, I just let it sit until it does.
Which southern-rock/country artists have influenced your sound?
Merle Haggard has always been an influence. Such a great songwriter. Kris Kristofferson, again, great songwriter. Hank Williams Jr., great musician and I’ve always admired his ‘I just don’t care what you think’ attitude. Jamey Johnson, another great songwriter. I’ve always gravitated towards the artists that tell stories in their songs verses the ones who just throw words that rhyme together behind a catchy melody.
What are your top five southern-rock/country songs of all-time?
Wow that’s a hard question. It very well may change depending on the mood I’m in the day that I’m asked. But in no particular order, Johnny Paycheck’s Old Violin, Jamey Johnson’s 40 Years Ago, Merle Haggard’s Are the Good Times Over, Hank Williams Jr.’s All in Alabama, Waylon Jennings’s Rose in Paradise.
For someone who has never heard your music, can you explain your sound in five words?
Probably not, but if I was forced to: A lyrical three-minute memory.
Which song of yours best captures your sound?
I’d have to pick two since I tend to mix slower and up-tempo songs a good bit. New Way’s Getting Old will give you a good idea of my sound when I’m writing something that will make you think. Back to Being Stoned will give you the energy feel when I’ve got something that’s upbeat.
What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen and what was so special about it?
The first concert I ever saw was Charlie Daniels and it was hands down the best because it was the first time I saw and realized just how magical music could be. There were 2000 people in that place and nobody really new each other, but for that two hours, they were all there to enjoy the same thing together for whatever reason they had for being there. If being able to bring 2000 people together like that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.
Where is your dream venue? Who would you most like to open for?
I don’t have a dream venue honestly. I’m just happy I get the opportunity to play places people want to hear my music. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to play Red Rocks or The Ryman, but if I never get to, I’m ok with it. I’d love to open for Willie Nelson. I’m so thankful I was around to get to see him play a few times. He’s a living legend and we don’t have many of those left!
What’s your motto or the advice you live by?
There’s someone out there trying to find something to eat and a place to sleep tonight. Whatever it is you’re dealing with right now, if it’s anything less than that, don’t complain.
How do you balance your music with other obligations?
My wife pretty much keeps me balanced as much as she possibly can. There’re days she probably wants to kill me, but she does a great job in letting me know what I’m up against and what I need to make sure I’ve gotten taken care of.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you aren’t writing or playing?
Binge watching whatever the latest Netflix show was just released, fishing and playing with my kids. I’ve usually always had a guitar within a few feet of me though regardless if I’m not playing.