After coming 8th in 2014’s X-Factor finals, Jay James’ life could be described as a genuine inspiration, having had his life turned upside down when he went from living a life in the Navy to becoming a successful pop star. We caught up with the man himself before his new tour to discuss drunken tattoos, performing with legends and erm…aliens.
How did you go from being in the navy to becoming a musician?
It’s pretty nuts because I signed up to the Navy when I was 16 for 22 years and it was really all I wanted to do. When all of a sudden when I get drunk, buy a guitar then three months later get injured then start learning how to play it then find myself in music. It’s so random. But it’s been amazing.
What crazy stuff did you get up to in the Navy?
Other than getting pissed up and getting random tattoos? It’s amazing stuff, really, in the Navy. You're very much in and around a community of just going out with the lads all the time, lots of banter. I’m more of a mischievous type character to be honest with you, so I’m always causing trouble, sort of like to see the funny and lighter things in life.
What are the wildest things you have done since X Factor?
I suppose the wildest thing I’ve done is a combination between singing in front of 91,000 people at Twickenham stadium for the Army-Navy Rugby Match and also performing on American TV in front of Bill Withers, and then meeting Bill withers because I’m such a massive fan of his.
Was there anyone on the X-factor that you just did not like at all?
Honestly, we all got on so well, I had a really great experience. I was a little bit older than the majority of the people there, so I had a bit of a brother type relationship with the majority of people there. I heard loads of stories about lots of other years, but no-one that specific year was actually a pain in the arse.
What about the judges, where any of them just huge twats?
No, they were all really nice. Louis Walsh was a lot funnier than I thought he would be. Simon Cowell is genuinely a lot nicer and has an incredible instinct for what he does. Cheryle Cole and Mel B are lovely. One day Mel B might be a bit angry with you and not talk to you, the next day she’ll be hugging you and all that sort of stuff. But with Cheryl, she was really lovely, which was maybe quite contrary to the things she was saying to me after a performance. But everyone’s really, really lovely.
Do you have any weird fans?
Yeah, I did a gig and I was signing autographs after and you get the odd person who asks you to sign (their) forehead or sign (their) breasts, and this girl asked me to sign her arm and I was like, “are you sure?”, and she was like, “yeah, do it in permanent marker”. And so, I signed her arm in permanent marker and she was like, “I’m going to get this tattooed tomorrow”. And sure enough, as it happened the next day, I got her notifications and people commenting on twitter and this girl had literally had my signature tattoed onto her. It’s quite sweet. Utterly bonkers, but quite sweet.
Why did you decide to follow the path of soul music?
I think soul music is about what’s expressing what’s honest to you. I think in the music industry, you’re sort of pigeonholed towards what you want to do and if what you do is honest towards what you are feeling, that’s soul music. I try and be as honest as I can really, and I try and sing and write about what I see every day on a deeper level. That’s probably where I align to people like Bill Withers and Otis Reading and the Old Skool cats.
So, you are going on tour, how did Alexander O’Neal get in contact with you and why do you think he chose you?
I met Alex about two years ago with the idea of writing and producing some music for him. He was such a huge supporter of my music, that last year, I got in touch and asked if he wanted to do a couple of shows. Obviously, I’m a massive supporter and fan of what he’s done, and his music is similar to what I’m trying to do. And then he said, 'look why don’t you come out with me in the UK in April' and I was like, 'yeah!'
And what are you most looking forward to for this upcoming tour?
Probably performing lots of music that people haven’t heard before. And meeting lots and lots of different people. This is the dream really, you know, write my own music, create music, perform music. That’s all I ever want to do. It’s a real privilege.
Do you get up to any rockstar stuff when you are on tour?
I mean, I’m not the type to be throwing TV’s out the window, especially the TV’s nowadays, they’re massive! But really to be honest, the buzz is in the performing. I’m only 33 but I still want to go out and have a laugh and have a few beers and stuff. But I’m excited to perform all this new stuff that people haven’t heard. It’s been in the system quite a while now and I’m wondering what people will think.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to people hoping to make their way into the music industry?
I would say that remember it’s the music business, it’s called the music business for a reason. It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. We’re so encompassed about trying to make music and then trying to make money from it and trying to build that fanbase and trying to get those likes and trying to get those Spotify listens, that it becomes so much of a business that you kind of forget what you’re in it for. And that is to enjoy yourself making and performing music and so if you’re trying to make it in music, don’t get lost in the trying to, just enjoy what you’re doing.
Whether you're performing to 2 people or to 2 or 3 thousand. You should be enjoying it as much as you can. Ultimately, if you don’t enjoy what you do, you shouldn’t do it.
Finally, are aliens real?
Absolutely! I’m sure I just saw one. It could have been an alien or it could have been Boris Johnson.
You can pre-order Jay James’ new album here, where there is also the opportunity to get signed lyric sheets, access to exclusive monthly downloads and even have the chance to be there when Jay is recording in the studio!. Jay will be touring the UK this April. Tickets are available now.