It’s not often that you hear the story of someone you’ve never heard of before and get captivated to know more, but watching James Vickery’s documentary LOUDER is one such rare event. His story is one of hope, recovery, and best of all, music. When you hear his story, you want to listen to his music. Likewise, when you hear his music, something about it makes you want to know more about the person behind it.
He’s one of those artists that you discover and you figure out that they make the kind of songs you’ve always wanted to hear. With beautiful and often emotionally-heavy lyrics and a voice that knows how to deliver and make listeners connect even more with the song, his loyal fan base keeps growing with every piece of music he releases. This is why I decided to have a chat with him about how his obstacles became his foundation and why he’s motivated to make timeless music that speaks to the heart.
Hello James, it’s so lovely to get to talk with you about your EP Sheet Music – the follow-up to your 2021 album Songs That Made Me Feel. How have your songwriting skills evolved this time around?
Hey guys, thank you for having me. I think I’ve really found my strengths in my songwriting since the last project- and I’ve really tried to develop that on each song. I feel like I had such a clear message from the start about what I wanted this project to be and what I wanted it to represent, so it was a combination of this and all the things I learned along the way that makes me feel so proud of this project.
As an artist, your story is very unique and expertly told through your documentary LOUDER, which I’ll say spreads a very powerful message. I’d love to know more about the inspiration behind it.
Thank you. It’s something I was definitely nervous about doing and needed a bit of a push to be a bit more open about… but I’m so glad I did. I spoke about it here and then before and started including my deaf tattoo in my artworks, I was getting a lot of people reaching out and saying they suffer from hearing impairments in the entertainment industry and wish it was more documented and represented, so I felt it was my duty to get my own personal story out there and spread a bit more awareness about the condition.
When you were going through those tough times with a doctor saying you needed surgery and that your ear needed to be cut out for you to survive, have you already become serious about music?
I loved singing from a young age but a career in music with a hearing impairment didn’t seem viable at all at the time. I was young when I had the surgery and the complications that came from speech therapy happened mostly after the surgery from what I remember,
How did you adjust after the surgery and after the panic of the whole thing died down?
It was definitely hard as I was in school and had to wear bandages so kids weren’t too kind about it but I’m not bitter about it. I think my parents definitely played down the severity of the condition and the implications of it to me at the time to protect me and I’m glad in hindsight that they did because it let me have a relatively normal childhood.
From the get-go, fans have been obsessed with your vocals and lyricism and I have to say you did not disappoint in either of those in Sheet Music. You said the theme behind the record is finding and treasuring true love, how do the songs drive that message?
I always said the theme behind the EP is, “Songs you can play with the love of your life when you finally find them.” I wrote so many songs in contention for this and if that song didn’t fit that brief then it didn’t make the cut, I was really strict in finding different varieties of R&B and Soul that I felt could make people really and truly feel something when they’re listening to it.
You were inspired by a range of topics throughout the five songs that make up the EP. For example, “Only You” came about because you wanted to put a barbershop quartet into an R&B song, “The Reason” was inspired by some of the greatest love songs from notable artists, and “With U” is about the sacrifices we make for success. Why did you think these ideas belonged together in a body of work?
It’s interesting because when you see it on paper, they don’t work. But that’s what’s beautiful about music in that sense. I always like to play with the subgenres of soul music and I think the thing that ties it all together is the vocal. It’s also so true to what was happening in my life at the time, and looking back it’s almost like a timeline of events leading to where we are now, so it has to belong together because it’s literally happening right now.
In general, what’s the main message you want to send with your music?
That real music still exists, music that stops you in your tracks and makes you feel something. Timeless stuff.
Which song on Sheet Music would you say you were the most vulnerable in?
For sure “(I Get So) Emotional.” Which is ironic as it’s the most upbeat of them all. It’s a song about wanting to cry because I can’t believe I’ve landed such a perfect partner. A lot of men in my life are afraid to show emotions like that so I feel it’s important to be open and honest because I can’t stand toxic masculinity.
What’s your most memorable moment making the EP?
Traveling to Toronto, Canada to make tracks 1 and 5 (“Only You” and “Always Knew”). It’s no secret I’ve been the biggest Daniel Caesar fan for years and I traveled all the way there just to work with his team to grab inspiration from the people who work with him. It was so surreal and I can’t believe I actually went and did it all by myself with no one else… and got two amazing songs out of the trip. I’m super proud of that moment too.
What’s the most fulfilling part of getting to make music as a career?
Playing live shows. These are songs mostly that start somewhere in my flat in South London, usually in the shower or in bed or something, and then getting to play them live to hundreds of people across the world and then hearing them sing them back to you is crazy. It’s the most euphoric feeling ever and nothing can compare to that.
In May, you’ll be taking to the road for a string of international shows. How do you prepare for your live performances?
So I love nothing more than playing live shows but I find the build-up to be incredibly anxiety-inducing, mainly because I know I have to sell the tickets and I want people to come, but this time, thankfully, the shows have already started selling out way before we’re even close to starting rehearsals, so it’s an incredible feeling knowing that I can enjoy this one more than anything.