James Smith’s public life as a musician began many years ago when he appeared as a contestant on a well-known reality singing show, Britain’s Got Talent. Through performances of classic soul tracks like “Try A Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding and “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone, the world was introduced to a young singer-songwriter with technical skill and commendable knowledge of, and respect for, some of the all-time greats.
Despite the vocal and musical proficiency of his performances, Smith had not yet tapped into the mature and complicated emotions behind these songs. Now, nearing his mid-20s, Smith is a different artist. He is seasoned, in his element, and proudly shares the crowded UK singer-songwriter scene with a plethora of other musicians like Billy Lockett, Dean Lewis, and James Bay.
His original material, penned and crafted from the heart, honors the sounds of the artists he idolizes but sees him fully and completely able to absorb and articulate broad topics and experiences. New songs “Common People” and “Introverted” are out now.
Honing His Artistry
“The thing I am always the most attracted to are musicians that invite you into their world,” said Smith who grew up playing with and learning from older musicians in casual yet supportive environments. “Some of the best shows I’ve seen are when people play and they could be in their bedroom but they’re actually on this big stage. They’re so in their own world that they can be anywhere.” Smith’s tunes like “When You Love Somebody” and “I Don’t Wanna Know” reflect that kind of warm, inviting sense of musicianship. He is insular, but not in a way that separates him from his audience. His body, voice, and facial expressions all convey emotion.
With support gigs for the likes of Picture This, Eloise, and New Hope Club under his belt, as well as successful headline shows, Smith is in his bag. “Really, if I get in front of people, I can sort of win them over,” he said confidently. “That sounds really cocky, but I do believe that I can do that. When I’m doing my own shows, I’ve already won them over and they’re here to just listen to my artistry. I’m really keen on showing people the real me.”
Smith’s artistry goes hand in hand with his relationship with music. “If I spoke with a guitar in my lap I’d probably be alright,” he said, citing “chatting” and other non-performance aspects of the industry to be daunting. “I’ve had a guitar with me since I was 10 so that really is like my safety blanket.”
Smith’s performance on a song like “Crescent Moon,” a slow-burn blues-style collaboration with fellow guitarist Conor Albert, displays how intimately he feels the music around him and feeds off the energy of those in the room. The tune features some of his boldest and most technically proficient singing to date, and, playing wise, sees him expertly sitting straight in the pocket: “I’m counting my blessings / You brought me heaven / Sittin in the sky looking back at adolescence / Without you by my side.” “I was signed at a major record label when I was 16,” he said. “I got out of that deal in the last couple of years and since then, I’ve been able to do music that I really love… ‘Crescent Moon’ is one of those songs. When I was younger I just wanted to impress… rather than just do stuff that makes me feel good.”
Hesitant to put the song out at first, Smith thought the tune may have been “too funky” and too outside of his sound. Realizing how prolific it was for Smith musically, Albert encouraged him to go with it. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the song sits at over 6.5 million streams. “It sort of made me think, ‘I should do more things that I want to do from now on,’” he said. “All of this new music that I’ve got is definitely more fun and not ticking any boxes.”
“Introverted” and “Common People”
His newest releases “Introverted” and “Common People” show no sign of any agenda. The former, a midtempo James Arthur-type power ballad led by stirring acoustics, is lyrically dense but, musically, vibrantly colorful and lush: “Boy, don’t be bad / Come on, take a step back from the window / You know, you don’t have to get high to get by / You’re good as you are.”
“That’s sort of a song to myself and my group of mates at home,” he said. “We used to mess about with smoking and drinking. We’d be so reliant on doing this stuff that it changed the way we were.” Having fully admitted to being “a bit of a nutter” during his school days, this song, even if it wasn’t there at the time it was needed, is almost a love letter to himself and his friends from himself, years down the line.
“Common People” sounds simply universal. Musically, Smith shoots for a steady build leading to a massive arena-ready crescendo, but with a simple and instantly endearing “La-la-la” hook. Like “Daydreamin” and “Cinema” by Harry Styles, “Common People” doesn’t have to try hard to be anthemic, it just kind of is. His range, at points, nears that of Shawn Mendes and John Newman: “Common people on common ground / Still I fear evil is gonna drag me down.”
“I basically wrote that song because I feel like a bit of a commoner,” he said with pride. “I’m quite busy… I’m a bit of a local. I know all the landlords. I’m down at the pub. I know all the market traders. When lockdown happened, all of that got taken away from me. This song came out of that experience and how I wasn’t around the people that keep me grounded. That can work in loads of different forms. When you’re away from home, or you’re out of love. I think it’s super relevant.”