Aussie Joel James, on the benefits of busking and finding your own sound

Australian singer/songwriter Joel James

Australian singer songwriter Joel James is a self-taught musician and producer who earnt his performing stripes busking on the Melbourne streets. James broke through in Australia with his single Still Around which, thanks to plenty of radio airplay, jumped straight to #29 on the iTunes charts a day after its release.

Since then he’s continued to busk and perform on the festival circuit while recording his second EP, Hey Little Lady about a singer’s battle with the uncertain nature of the music industry. James wrote, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered it in his bedroom, proving that you don’t need a big budget, just imagination and determination, to pursue your musical ambitions.

iSing: How did you get your start in music?

Joel James: I loved music from a very young age. I’d make music with my uncle and glue loops together. I picked up my first guitar in high school. The Beatles were a huge inspiration, along with Green Day. I also listened to a lot of Eminem; probably not the best lyrics for an eight-year-old but I could rap all the words to his songs.

iSing: What was the first album you bought?

JJ: American Idiot by Green Day. I still listen to it.

iSing: Why did you start busking?

JJ: I went to Europe and saw lots of buskers over there. It was so much fun to watch. They drew big crowds of people and were having the best time. It clicked in my head that maybe I could do this too. I haven’t stopped since. It’s really helped me overcome my nerves and build my confidence. I used to get nervous and scared nearly every time I had a gig or open mic night. I still get a little nervous but performing has become second nature now. If you can busk, you can perform anywhere.

Australian Singer/Songwriter Joel James
Australian Singer/Songwriter Joel James It’s really helped me overcome my nerves and build my confidence. I used to get nervous and scared nearly every time I had a gig or open mic night. I still get a little nervous but performing has become second nature now. If you can busk, you can perform anywhere.
iSing: What instruments can you play?

JJ: I sing and play guitar. Second to that, I play bass, uke, drums, anything that has keys, and I’m a rookie with woodwinds and orchestral strings. I’d love to learn how to play brass instruments too.

iSing: How do you approach songwriting?

JJ: I usually pick up my guitar or sit at a piano and start playing a few chords and freestyling some melodies and lyrics. If I really like something, I stop and write it down. Then I kind of go from there. I play, then I write, then I play and write and so on.

iSing: How do you prepare for a gig?

JJ: I rehearse beforehand, maybe a little too much! At the venue I’ll introduce myself to the sound engineer and let them know everything they need to know. If friends are there to support me, I’ll spend time with them to take the edge off a little.

iSing: What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?

JJ: Love, study and learn from your idols but don’t try to be exactly like them. Find your sound, your voice and your style of songwriting. I love Ed Sheeran, for example. He inspired me to get a loop pedal. But I took it from there and utilised the loop pedal to my style of music. So many buskers, performers and YouTubers try to sound exactly like him. But if I wanted to listen to Ed Sheeran I would throw his album on. When I was younger I spent too much time trying to be other artists.

iSing: Who is your favourite Aussie musician/artist?

Tash Sultana. I’ve been following her journey from early on. She’s an incredible musician. If ever she’s playing live in your area, you have to go see her.

iSing: Where do you hope to be in five years?

JJ: I hope to be touring the world. It’s kind of the ultimate “un-realistic” dream. But it’s where I hope to be.

Website: joeljameslive.com

Hey Little Lady is out now.

Hey Little Lady, out now
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Bronwyn Bidwell is an Australian journalist and editor based in London. She enjoys writing about music, books, history and popular culture.