In the realm of modern music, where algorithms and digital production often dominate the airwaves, James Hersey stands as a beacon of authenticity, crafting a sonic tapestry that seamlessly blends traditional songwriting with contemporary flair.
With the release of his latest album, Hersey delves into the raw emotions of human experiences, offering a refreshing departure from the digital landscape. In this exclusive interview, we dive into the depths of his creative journey, exploring the personal stories that fueled his music, his distinctive blend of traditional and modern songwriting, and his dreams of performing in iconic venues.
Hersey’s approach to songwriting is a harmonious fusion of tradition and modernity. Rooted in Blues and Rock’n’Roll, there’s also a clear embracing of “fun” in his music. Totally unpretentious and unafraid to be a little bit cheesy in places. Hersey embraces the clear guidelines of traditional songcraft while infusing his work with contemporary freedom and exploration. His music mirrors his life in Berlin, a city where vibrant subcultures thrive within a robust infrastructure, celebrating the coexistence of different worlds.
Reflecting on his journey, Hersey shares his breakthrough moment when he wrote Fake Love in LA, a song that set him on an independent path, free from the constraints of a traditional record label. He acknowledges the challenges but emphasizes the unparalleled satisfaction of owning his music.
Looking ahead, Hersey dreams of gracing the Coachella stage, and he discusses his songwriting process, influences, and aspirations in this intimate conversation. He even shares his desire to collaborate with some of the biggest names in modern music history. As he embarks on a tour across Germany, he carries with him the stories, emotions, and melodies that make his music resonate deeply with audiences worldwide. We spoke to the prolific and talented songwriter about his new album and what fans can expect in the future.
Let’s get personal, I know your track prior to the album was about Can’t Say No was based around empowerment and confronting toxic behaviour in relationships. What heartbreaking experiences did you go through to influence the track’s narrative?
What sparked the idea for the song was a friend of mine who couldn’t break up with her jealous boyfriend. It got to the point we couldn’t hang out anymore because he was so afraid we were having an affair. I’d been in a similar situation myself, and there’s two things that made it really difficult. First of all I was still in love, and believed that if I changed my behaviors her jealousy would go away. Secondly, it got contagious, so pretty soon I started having my own fears and doubts, and nobody wants to be that kind of person.
You tell you like to blend “modern and traditional songwriting and production”. Could you elaborate a little on these two styles you fuse?
Traditional songwriting is rooted in Blues and Rock’n’Roll, which have relatively clear guidelines for structure, melodic content, and rhyme schemes. “Modern” music (most of what’s been released since the 60s) is way less strict, with space for exploration and creative freedom. Personally I like mixing clear structures with a more carefree approach to rhythm, rhyme, and melody within those boundaries. In that way it mirrors my approach to life – I live in Berlin, a city famous for it’s vibrant subcultures co-existing within a safe and thriving infrastructure.
I like that you emphasise your music is written to be performed without the need for computers on stage. Do you feel music nowadays lacks organic instrumentation and how do you look to make your audience feel, watching you live?
I prefer watching people do things by hand rather than operate computers, especially when it comes to music. Computers can make some really epic sci-fi sounds that are cool too, but when a person who’s devoted their life to mastering a mechanical instrument plays a song for you it’s mesmerizing in an organic and human way that just feels more real and important to me. A big part of why I made the album like this is to consciously preserve and cherish that energy.
Tell us your breakthrough moment, what do you feel was the turning point – milestones or even mentally?
The first breakthrough came very early in the process. I wrote the song Fake Love in LA at the end of 2021, and it immediately felt like a compass that could take me somewhere I’d long wanted to go. I sent it to my A&R who told me they don’t understand the direction, but I believed so strongly in it that we ended up parting ways and I’ve now released this entire album independently – without the pressure, guidance, or distractions from a traditional record label team. Of course that comes with it’s own set of challenges, but after all’s said and done the feeling of owning my own music stands above it.
What was your most memorable venue to perform in so far? Could be small and intimate or crazy mosh pit style.
I sold out my first show in a beautiful town called Salzburg before the pandemic, and the vibe in the room was on another level. There’s something unique about seeing an artist when there’s literally no more tickets at the door. It makes it feel like, as a fan, you’re part of a very cool exclusive club, and as an artist you can sense that excitement even before you get on stage.
Dream venue to perform in and why? Can be as wild and imaginative as you like!
Honestly this might sound kind of basic, but it’s always been a dream of mine to have my name on the poster for Coachella. That’s something I’m still working towards thirteen years into my career.
Tell us the process of writing a track. Do you write alone or in a team? What’s your favourite spot to write?
For over a decade I did all my writing alone, but since the pandemic I’ve started writing with others and it’s been really fun. I prefer to write in informal settings that have been “augmented” with good gear. There’s nothing like recording a vintage guitar through a masterbuilt amplifier and rare microphones on someone’s living room couch.
Who would you love to write with? Dead or alive.
I’d love to write a song with Freddie Mercury, he was an absolute genius and childhood hero of mine.
Is there a song from the album that you feel connects with you most and why?
I think Best Of Everything and Let It Shine really encapsulate my intentions for this album. I’m trying to break away from my previous misconceptions about life, the music industry, and being an artist. These songs are about creating the emotional and creative space to be my best self – or at least, the one I love the most.
You’re heading on tour across Germany next month but I know you’ve spent a lot of time in L.A and across the globe. What’s the one thing you miss about being in Germany when you’re touring abroad?
When I’m gone I miss my neighborhood in Berlin – there are shops, bars, cafés, and restaurants all up and down every street filled with so many different people, it feels like something between the Star Wars Cantina and Diagon Alley.
Your new album represents a new sound that harks back to the “Band” sound. Do you feel the digital landscape with TikTok as a market driver.. is killing that sort of music?
There are still a lot of awesome bands, it’s just tough to stick out in a format that rewards flash-in the-pan creativity. A part of me is hoping that it’s a phase that will pass, but there’s a good chance it’s simply a reflection of our collective desire for instant gratification, in which case it’s likely to get worse before we see any change. Maybe it’s like Can’t Say No in that way – we’re in this love-hate toxic relationship with Tiktok/Social Media/The Internet right now, but nobody’s quite sure how or when we’ll find the courage to get out.
Let It Shine is out now, follow James via @jameshersey
Interview Saina Penrake
Photography Janos Götze