Derek James
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Derek James

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
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Perched casually at an outdoor café on Houston St, a beautiful Australian cattle dog named Bailey draws constant attention. Leash tied loosely around her neck, she meanders about the chairs, stopping occasionally to lap a quick drink from her Frisbee-turned-water-bowl and soak up affection from intrigued passer-bys, wanting to know the breed of this lovely animal.


The proud papa happily responds to the questioning strangers, taking time in between light conversation and delicate laughter to pet Bailey and crack jokes on the eternal awkwardness of human nature. Bailey looks up at her owner, a well-known singer-songwriter with a twinkle in his eye, dry wit on his tongue, and effortless charisma, lays back down on the sidewalk, and continues to take in the New York scenery, as Derek James begins his tale of the fascinating journey that brought him to this infamous LES street corner.


The Syracuse University philosophy major struggled as a teenager, always wanting to sing but being embarrassed of his voice. Derek compensated by using his “Adam Sandler” voice to “joke sing,” until finally opting for a few voice lessons in college. The lessons helped James loosen up, although his confidence waned after an impromptu dorm room performance freshman year. “I played for a group of girls on my floor, and when I started to sing they all started laughing. And I wasn’t doing the [joke] voice,” Derek recalls, his smile widening. “I thought ‘Oh crap, that’s not the response I wanted.’”


It wasn’t until his last year of school living abroad in Australia that James finally attended his first open mic, finding comfort in a place far from the US. After the year in Australia, Derek continued his international travels and moved to the South of France, where he worked simply playing music on the streets, earning up to 125 euros a day performing for a few hours with a four piece band. James took time during this bohemian lifestyle to dig deeper into the music and lyrics he started writing in high school and college, making friends, trying out new tunes, and embracing the non-judgmental culture. The singer-songwriter lasted in France for a year, before moving back to the States in 2004, finally ready to perform and share his music with those who spoke the same language.


The story only begins there. Upon returning to NYC, Derek needed to find a way to survive while building his music career, so he lived for a year and a half with a family as their “manny.” There was no pay involved- James lived and ate for free while serving as a surrogate brother and son to the family. The experience was humbling for Derek as he points out the irony: “I was living as a nanny because I couldn’t make the kind of money living in NYC as I made on the streets of France.” Nights were spent hanging out with the family dog in the basement of the house, editing bar mitzvah videos to make extra cash.


In the meantime, James dove into the New York scene, dropping off demos and booking gigs at CBGB’s, The Continental, and Pianos, to name a few. Eventually this persistence paid off, and it wasn’t before long that Derek found himself opening for Blues Traveler at a huge outdoor music festival in Virginia. Family and friends flew in to see his big debut, but weather conditions prohibited the show from happening. “Wind was blowing, rain was jumping in your nose and flying in every directions, and people were standing with water up to their ankles and umbrellas over their heads just waiting for it to clear up,” Derek describes of the unexpected high point of his career, “Even though we never got a chance to play it was still an awesome experience being around this huge tour bus and successful band.”


Now Derek James is a mainstay in the NYC artists scene, playing Rockwood Music Hall, Bowery Ballroom, and joining forces with other artists for concerts like the “Rocks Off!” boat cruise around Manhattan. Citing the community as being “rich and dense” with talent, Derek credits the music scene with greatly helping his career, passing creative ideas back and forth amongst friendships formed with fellow musicians. While choosing to live in NYC specifically for the community, Derek also enjoys time away, traveling and experiencing the great outdoors. “My need for playing and touring is wider than the Lower East Side,” James explains. This fall, James will embark on another lengthy tour booked through NACA (National Association of Campus Activities), as well as producing a brand-new, full length CD, loaded with the satisfying blend of the acoustic power and soulful swing audiences have grown to love.


Derek’s sound, unique in delivery and addictive in nature, is a powerful compromise of classic acoustics, rogue gypsy street music, and clever, catchy lyrics, providing audiences with a thoroughly entertaining and audibly pleasing performance… still humming along well into the following day. Despite hesitations and uncertainties growing up, James was always drawn to the magic of the stage. “Whenever I saw concerts when I was younger I was always mesmerized by these few people on stage moving this whole mass of people. I always wanted to do that,” Derek states with excitement. “I don’t want to be in the crowd, I want to be moving the crowd.” No surprise to anyone who’s witnessed a Derek James performance, rich with passion, humor, and excitement and exuding the natural love this singer-songwriter has for his art.


Whether a street performer in France, a manny in a suburban New York basement, or a reigning rocker lighting up the stage, Derek James is an act the needs to be seen. One listen to his current CD, “Stray,” leaves you hungry for the next line-up of brilliantly constructed, musically captivating songs that resonate of a time when music was for dancing, swinging, and singing along. James’ energy is memorable; a true boy-next-door embracing life’s simple pleasures and loving a quality laugh, time with family, friends and his dog, and the occasional practical joke. Hooking you instantly and plastering a perma-grin on your face that’s hard to shake off long after the last note has subsided, Derek embodies the spirit that so many New Yorker’s crave during stressful, difficult times… live, laugh, and love. - Christina Morelli - NYC Art Scene


"I worked with the British Svengali Simon Fuller (creator of American Idol) and was told by Simon himself that I have an ear for successful artists and songs. When I first heard Derek James single, 'Ain't no thing is perfect,'? I paused knowing I was listening to something that would shine across the airwaves. This was a song that you turn up in your car and hear coming out of radios on beaches and in cafes."
-Samantha James
Angrypop Music
- Samantha James - Angrypop Music


Another Yorkie visits Toledo this week as acclaimed musician Derek James comes to town. From Australia to Europe to all across the States, James has carried his singer/songwriter vibe all over the globe and never let a fan down. With a melodic, sort-of-old timey country folk vibe, James' bouncy tunes could have been as popular in '65 as they're destined to become now. Some music makes you feel relaxed in that fact that at least someone understands, Derek James has that. - Toledo City Paper


"Derek was great; along with his band, he entertained over 5,000 students at our college with his
unique sound. I definitely want him to come back and perform again next
year." - Patrick Craig, Vice President for University Programming


Derek James
Stray
2005 Howling Clue Records
By Arien Rozelle

Move over, Mraz. Take a seat, Mr. Mayer. There’s a new kid in town and he’s poised to take over the pop-rock, singer-songwriter throne. And he’s no Jason or John or even Dave. Derek James is his name, and his debut disc, Stray, is full of eleven perfectly poppy songs that are succinct, snappy, and damn sexy.

The disc starts out hot with the song “Free Love,” in which James sings about a temptress who’ll “Melt you down to a puddle of a man/ just looking for his pride.” After repeated listens to this album, however, it’s hard to imagine James loosing his cool. For a freshman release, this album is surprisingly confident. James never waivers, but he’s also never cocky.

This confidence is evident in the hit “Summer," which is ready for relentless radio rotation. It’ll make you want to sing the line “she doesn’t know who I am” over and over with your car windows down and your shades on. “Ain't No Thing Is Perfect,” another ready-for-radio ditty, about a girl in search of the perfect man, will make you bop your head and shake your booty while repeating that great mantra.

James has a knack for writing love songs that are intelligent and heartfelt, and will surely make the ladies swoon. “Skye” is a sweet coming-of-age love song about a young woman searching for her identity. “It’s time to be me said she/ then she shed her skin and out there came original life through every vein,” sings James. He continues saying, “She was life/ felt her through me/ like warm showers from the sun/ let it rain.”

“Pretty Lady” is a standout love song. It’s so soft, slow, and sweet that you can almost see that look of love in his eyes as he whispers to his woman, “Pretty lady I don’t want to ever say goodnight/we’re burning strong let’s keep the flame alive/ pretty lady you feel me/ pretty lady go on and breathe me all night.”

Every song on Stray is an absolute gem, each with its own flair, but not so different that it’s alarming. There’s a ragtime feel to the song “Smoky Light,” and "Dust in the Wind" features a great cello intro. There’s even the political and poppy “There is the Sun,” in which James expresses frustration about anti-American sentiment and the state of current U.S. politics. Regardless of your opinion, he says it’s important to be heard. James even adds the French phrase “Ca donnez moi l'espoir,” which means “that gives me hope.”

And while his catchy pop-rock licks certainly have a major Beatles influence, James is fresh enough to retain his own distinctive sound, possibly due to the help of his Williamsburg production team Assaf Spector and Eytan Oren.

The only thing wrong with Stray is that after 37 minutes, it comes to an end. - FEELINGANXIOUS.COM


Derek James - Stray - Album Review

The debut album STRAY from New York's newest musical firecracker, Derek James, is pleasantly ironic and stuffed to the max with artistic spunk. Why ironic? Well, the ultimate reason lies in his super-infectious, barnstorming mega-TOP 40-hit-in-waiting, Ain't No Thing Is Perfect. Despite it's highly respectable life perspective, the song actually turns out to be a hullabaloo of melodic and lyrical pop music perfection without coming across contrived or dumbed down one bit. In fact, I would dare say that you will be hard pressed to find a tighter, more perfectly crafted hit song anywhere in the indie market this year that demands such immediate heavy rotation at Clear Channel Stations across the country.

Secondly, for a "stray", Derek James exudes a welcome confidence in this, his freshman introduction. As a result, STRAY ends up feeling less like a stranger or mutt we are letting in and more like a favorite cousin that decided to drop in for a surprise visit. Derek's musical canvas is at once a streak of vintage icons, at other times shades of contemporary flavor, but primarily, a whole lotta fresh charisma.

Throughout the album, James displays a masterful range of artistic versatility with the quality tunes popping out one after the other. James excels at proving he can "bring the party" with tunes like the modern day Elvis swagga' of What's That Sound, or the ragtime "HoneyPie" (McCartney) sibling jive, Smoky Light. Additionally, he is capable of bringing out the lighters and melting female hearts everywhere with the bittersweet beauty of the title track, the glorious "Coldplay/Train"-wreck of "Summer", and the cello-laced misery of "Dust in the Wind". As if that isn't enough, the guy even brings a sense of optimistic balance to the whole political angst of the last year or so with the sunny whippersnapper, "There is the Sun".

Derek James is a hit making machine, but less Jason Mraz and more Josh Rouse...that's a GREAT thing. With the latter still fighting to become a household name after countless classic albums, will the general public be more willing to invite this new torchbearer of mature pop into their finicky home stereos? Let's hope so, Fido, let's hope so. - Jeremy Owens


Anyone remember when Jack Johnson started out? He had so much to say musically that it was really inspiring. Hey, speaking of which; do you remember Dave Matthew's first couple albums? Now those were some great tunes. So what have Jack and Dave been up to lately? Oh, that's right. They've been pandering to the MTV crowd of frat boys and girls too lazy to form their own musical tastes. Well, if you dig early Dave Matthews and just about any Jack Johnson, then I think I might have a special treat for you - a young man named Derek James.

With Derek James's deubut album, we have a musician at an interesting point in his career. He's got the fire and intensity that most musicians do as they step into the wonderful world of recording. But thankfully, there's also some great talent present. Some of his songs are almost impossible to classify because of their vast amount of influences. I suppose out of all the songs on this album, I'm the most smitten with One More Day. The only bad thing that I can say about the track is that with the right promotion...it could wind up being played repeatedly on MTV. It's not only a good song, but it really does have mass appeal.

At times it seems that Derek really wants to join the ranks of Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews by being a folky, grooving type of songwriter. But just when you think you've easily got him pegged as a one trick act, he goes and does a complete musical 180. I'm really impressed with the versatility shown on this album, and it's making me wonder where he'll go from here. - Matt Jordan


Discography

Untitled LP - Howling Clue Records
produced by Assaf Spector, Roy Gurel & Derek James
(release date 1/2011)

Stray LP - 2005 Howling Clue Records
produced by Assaf Spector, Derek James & Eytan Oren

Firefly EP - 2004 Howling Clue Records
produced by Derek James

Photos

Bio

Derek James wears a fedora. A Frank Sinatra, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash sing-a-long, his boots can be heard stomping to his old-time rhythms. Having worked with producers Roger Greenawalt (Crosby/Nash, Rufus Wainwright) and Godfrey Diamond (Frank Sinatra, Kool and the Gang), Derek's retro pop sound, hummable melodies and jug-band spirit will have you swinging in your skivvies.

His song "Smoky Light," an upbeat ragtime toe-tapper, was recently featured on the Travel Channel. Derek's songs have also been featured on MTV, Lifetime, A&E, and the upcoming "Nude America the Movie." He has performed with Blues Traveler, Eric Hutchinson, Ben Kweller, Sugar Ray, OK Go, Gin Blossoms and many more. Touring both as a solo troubadour with his guitar, kazoo and ukulele in tow, as well as with his band the Lovely Fools, Derek James spends a good portion of his life rolling over gravel.