Irish singer-songwriter Gavin James has just released his new single “Sober,” the first from his upcoming third studio album. A heart-wrenching ballad, James croons about a lover who won’t show him the same affection when they’re sober as they do when they’re out drinking and having fun. It’s raw, honest, and vulnerable, similar to James’s previous singles like “Nervous” and “For You.”
“I wrote this song a year and a half ago, and I totally forgot that it even existed,” he explains. “And then I came back to it two to three months ago. It’s really about just being madly in love with somebody and then thinking that they are in love with you and then waking up in the morning and they don’t you love you anymore. It’s the sad reality that they don’t love you anymore when they’re sober.”
While the track isn’t inspired by a personal experience, James does admit that he gets his inspiration from everywhere. “I usually kind of sound out the words,” he says. “I always put my phone on and record a voice memo for 10 minutes, and then I’ll just sing something random that makes no sense whatsoever. And then I’ll pick a part that sounds nice to hear, whatever feels nice and natural to say. The words either come first or second, with that one it came second.”
Gavin compares the story of the single to the film 500 Days of Summer, saying, “You know how there’s a split-screen with expectations versus reality that shows what the guy thought would happen and you see what actually happened because the girl’s not all that into it, but he had a whole thing going on in his head. It’s kind of like that. I didn’t get the concept from that, but that explains what the whole thing was really about.”
“I sing it really sad,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a lot of metaphors about alcohol and whatnot. It was a very quick song. I wrote it in London and it came about in 30 minutes. I wrote another three songs for the record that week. It was a good week of songs and I’m excited.”
His third album isn’t fully finished nor does it have a release date yet, however, it’s something he has been working on for the better part of the lockdown. He jokes, “I’ll have about 75 albums after this lockdown. All I’ve done is write songs and play with my dog. I have a few songs coming out after ‘Sober’ and then we’ll follow with the album. At the moment, there are so many new songs and I just have to figure out what to do with them. Everything keeps moving. I’m going with whatever works. ‘Sober’ will be a taste of the album and it’s going to go to some weird places. It’s going to sound very different. I’ve gotten inspiration from all over, like Daft Punk.”
What many might not know about James is that he comes from a very musical family. All of his siblings are well-versed in music. His sister is a gospel singer who taught him how to sing, and his parents sing too. Growing up, they listened to everything from Led Zeppelin to Irish folk music. His sister actually co-wrote one of his new songs with him, which they hadn’t done before.
“I love when my sister sings,” he praises. “She’s amazing. She’s got very similar tones to Patti LaBelle. She taught me everything. My friend Mark, who’s in a band called Kodaline, we were in San Francisco and we came up with some ideas. And then my sister and I sat down and wrote this whole song together. It’s really cool. Keeping it in the family.”
His debut album, Bitter Pill, was released in March 2016, and James followed it up with Only Ticket Home in 2018. Last year right before the second lockdown, he dropped an EP titled Boxes. Thinking back, he says, “To be fair, it is the weirdest thing when you do your first album. You have so much time leading up to it because nothing happens before you do your first album. You just have, like, 100 songs that you’ve written in your lifetime, and 10 or 15 end up getting chosen. And then with your second album, it happens so quickly. With this third one, it feels like my first because it feels like I’ve had so much time to think about it over the last year and a half.”
The Dublin native admits that his lockdown has been a bit boring and never-ending. He spent the first one in Ireland before visiting London for a month when things settled down and then went straight back when things got bad again.
“It feels special with this third album,” he admits. “I could have released it last year and had a full-length album, but I took my time and weeded out the right songs. I’m excited as it’s going to be very different. Nothing like the first or second.”
As for how things are going with the lockdown now, he says, “I live next to a club and the club has a nice deal with me. They give me drinks and I just bring them home. There’s nothing to do. Literally. It is grand, though, and everything will start opening up soon. I can’t wait for Ireland to open. I can’t wait to hug people. It’s going to be fucking great.”
James’s post-lockdown plans include turning out this album and continuing writing and making more music. His goals beyond that extend to tours, which he misses quite a lot. “I’d love to go and do my own shows, especially around the States and do more there,” he says. “I’ve done shows in places like Beacon Theater and Red Rocks. I’d love to play those again. With Red Rocks, it was just me and my guitar. Imagine doing it with a whole band and two hours of it. I’d love to do that whenever everything opens up again.”