You have probably heard one (or seventeen) of Brett James’ Number One songs. That’s right. Seventeen NUMBER ONE songs. In all, James has written in upwards of two thousand songs … that’s a two with three zeroes after it. To simply say that James is talented would be a vast understatement, as there is much more to this chart-topping, songwriting extraordinaire than meets the eye and ear.
James grew up in Oklahoma and never considered music as a career. In fact, he didn’t even know that someone could build a career around singing/songwriting. James casually picked up a guitar for the first time at the age of nineteen when he was in college in Texas and taught himself to play John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow.” A few chords later, James got the distinct feeling that songwriting was the natural progression.
James worked on his songwriting and, after he graduated from undergrad and entered medical school, he attended a Steve Wariner show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was that night when James thought to himself “you know, I think I can do that.” At that point, he began taking songwriting more seriously, while simultaneously working toward a professional doctorate degree in medicine. James determined that country music was the right fit for him, as he was inspired by Wariner, Garth Brooks, and Clint Black at a time when country was “really hot.” Knowing that country music was where he belonged, James visited Nashville during Spring Break of his sophomore year of medical school. In a twist of fate, James was offered a record deal three days later. After sitting for his sophomore medical school boards, James packed his life up and made the move to Nashville, leaving his white coat and stethoscope behind.
James’ first song to hit radio was “Female Bonding,” which he describes as a “horrible, horrible song.” Despite this slight blunder in his catalog, James’ decision to put down his textbooks in exchange for picking up his guitar was exactly what the doctor ordered. As mentioned briefly above, he now has seventeen Number One hit songs under his belt (two of which are in the Pop/Hot AC genre), including the song topping the charts this week, Brantley Gilbert’s “Bottoms Up.” James considers himself blessed that he has the opportunity to write for the talented artists who have helped his work climb to the top, and he enjoys the fact that no two days at work are the same. He explained that while he admires the role of the artist in the industry because the artist receives an immediate response to the songs every night, he embraces the songwriter position, as songwriters can swing from one song to the next daily with the two tracks bearing no similarities. “When you’re an artist, you’re kind of typically writing just your style. Artists have to kind of define themselves and then they have to keep it within certain parameters. And I love that about being a songwriter, that every day can be completely different.”
As the ins and outs of the days vary for songwriters, so does the inspiration that drives the songwriting process.
Songwriting is a lot like art. You know the old saying, “it’s about ninety percent perspiration, about ten percent inspiration?” Sometimes when you’re not inspired, you have to find a way to get inspired. That’s what we co-write for. . . . A lot of times, if I’m not inspired that day to write something, a co-writer walks in with a great idea, or great theme, or something. “I Hold On” is a perfect example of that. It was Dierks’ concept, we get to celebrate that at the Number One party tomorrow, but Dierks Bentley walked in with that whole kind of concept in his head and a lot of the first two verses already written. Sometimes you kind of dig deep in your life for inspiration; sometimes it’s kind of what the day brings.
Even though inspiration is occasionally hard to find, a wall here or there hasn’t slowed James down. He has written over two thousand songs in his career by approaching projects differently. “They can’t all start the same way or they would all end up the same way too. You try to keep that as fresh as you can make it.” James explained that sometimes his songwriting process begins with a guitar riff, whereas other times he elaborates on a title. James actually has a list that contains over three hundred song titles and, if he ever has difficulty getting started, he defers to the list, makes a selection, and builds from there.
James expressed that he, similar to much of Nashville, is very much into collaboration with his fellow songwriters. As he put it, “would you rather be sitting around yourself all day, or would you rather have one of your best friends come over, shoot the bull, and have coffee?” As such, James, along with Charles Dixon (creator/founder), Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges, Gordie Sampson, and Jessi Alexander, formed “Music City Hit-Makers,” an exclusive group of Nashville songwriters who have joined forces to create “the Bluebird Cafe . . . with a symphony orchestra and incredible arrangements.” The interesting thing about each of these phenomenal, award-nominated and award-winning artists is that they are all singers as well and have had record deals at one time or another. When Dixon heard James, Sampson, and Lindsey at a songwriters’ night in Nashville, he knew he needed to have them combine forces for the greater good of music.
We’re all songwriters, but we’re all singers as well . . . so there was kind of an idea to put a symphony behind us and it’s become a beautiful thing. The shows have been amazing. We got to play for like 50,000 in Nashville two Fourth of July’s ago, and three shows at Boston Pops last summer and everything like that. It’s been a really fun fun adventure. And, for me, that’s what it is, it’s just an adventure. It’s not like we’re trying to, you know, none of us are trying to make any money at it, none of us are trying to become symphony stars or whatever, but, you know, it’s about the music. For me, it’s totally about getting to play with a symphony orchestra and hearing your songs kind of with these arrangements that Charlie Judge has done. They take the songs to the next level, and just to be on stage with a sixty piece orchestra and a live band is a powerful thing. I really enjoy it.
James hopes to start playing more shows in the near future and is looking forward to hitting the stage, flexing different muscles, and “rocking out” a bit. He also intends to continue writing and shared how very blessed he feels to be able to do what he does and that he doesn’t take any of his successes or experiences for granted.
I have so much fun doing what I do. I was out last weekend, on the road, with Thomas Rhett and Brantley Gilbert. The weekend before that with Kip Moore and Lady Antebellum, and I was out the weekend before that with Darius Rucker. I don’t do that that often, to be honest with you . . . but to be able to go out with my friends . . . it’s a pretty cool job.
With the realization that Nashville is swimming with aspiring songwriters, James offered some words of wisdom to those who are hoping to achieve even some of what this Number One songwriting sensation has in his career: “Do it a lot.” While James admitted that it is extremely exciting to write your first song, or even your first five or ten songs, improvement comes with repetition. “Certainly the more you do it, the better you are at it.” James also urged those with a passion for songwriting to have fun with it and recognize that it doesn’t always have to be a serious process. “Write what you feel, write what you love. Write songs that you love and usually someone else will love it too.”
Brett James’ #1 Songs Include:
Bottoms Up – Brantley Gilbert
I Hold On – Dierks Bentley
When The Sun Goes Down – Kenny Chesney
Out Last Night – Kenny Chesney
You Save Me – Kenny Chesney
Reality – Kenny Chesney
The Truth – Jason Aldean
Summer Nights – Rascal Flatts
Cowboy Casanova – Carrie Underwood
Jesus Take The Wheel – Carrie Underwood
The Man I Want To Be – Chris Young
Mr. Know It All – Kelly Clarkson
Who I Am – Jessica Andrews
Blessed – Martina McBride
It’s America – Rodney Atkins
And join Brett for a #CMchat Twitterview Sunday May 4th 5pPT/8pET