By Kaylee Sugimoto
WHEN Chris James answered the Zoom call, I honestly didn’t really know what to expect. We had to agree on an early time, since there was a major time zone difference between central Illinois and Vienna. At that moment, I really wondered which place I would rather be in.
I immediately apologized for my disheveled appearance, trying to act like I didn’t just roll out of bed. I am a college kid, after all. And landing an interview with RIAA Gold-certified German-American songwriter Chris James, who has over one million monthly listeners on Spotify, was leaving me with a bit of a hungover imposter syndrome.
Then I couldn’t get the Zoom to actually record. So, I just recorded the Zoom audio on the voice memos app on my phone.
“Sounds good enough right now,” I say.
But James was cool with anything and everything.
“Alright, cool!” He replies (with a minor lag).
Maybe his coolness emerged from growing up in Düsseldorf, moving to California, and then back to Germany to eventually settle in Berlin. For now.
Or maybe his coolness comes from visiting his friend and surfing on the coast of France whenever the music industry world becomes too overwhelming.
I’m not really sure. I mean, he was in Vienna visiting his girlfriend when the interview took place. The world is his oyster, literally.
“I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I write a lot of German pop music for other German artists, but I have the American writing background. And then also the European background, which I feel like has affected me in many ways,” James says. “It’s very different, the music that’s made here than in the states.”
And then he also throws in that he likes K-Pop. At this point, I’m wondering if I’ve met anybody with so many different interests, experiences, and styles thrown into a human form.
“Oh yeah,” he adds. “I also like niche video games.”
WHEN Chris James first started at university, he was studying computer science.
“And then I realized, I’m really bad at this,” James laughs. “But I’m really good at making music.”
From there, he started putting as much of his effort into music as he could.
“I was like, ‘I’m only 18 so I can kind of give it a go now’,” James says. “And if it doesn’t work out, I can still go back to something else.”
He never had to go back, despite his only giving it the old college try.
“I played in bands, I wasn’t the front guy. I was singing but we always needed songs, so I ended up writing songs for a singer,” James says. “And it wasn’t like my parents ever made music. There was not that big of an inspiration from home, it was more just my friend group was very musical. So I just ended up learning an instrument and writing songs as well, just like everybody else.”
And then he decided to take matters into his own hands and try the whole YouTube thing.
“I started making cover videos on YouTube, not really having defined what my sound would be like. So it took me really long to find that, and I feel like now I have,” James says, “And the fanbase kind of resonates with it as well. It’s like an interesting kind of feedback loop.”
James’ sound is a mix of lo-fi and indie pop, with a pinch of electric beats. He is usually compared to artists Lauv and Jeremy Zucker, but with his own personal twist of simply being him.
PLAYING LIVE is a completely different experience for James. He recently had his first tour in three years because of COVID. With all of the time gap, he didn’t really know who was going to show up at all.
“It’s been really interesting to see who shows up,” James laughs. “It’s very different from what it used to be, which I really like. It’s really, really, cool. The people are super lovely…it’s more chill.”
Right now, James says that he’s trying to expand his tour next year beyond his home country.
“I live in Germany, so it makes sense. We’re kind of figuring that out right now. I would really love to tour Europe, I would also love to tour Southeast Asia, maybe even the U.S.”
Picking a favorite song is like picking a favorite child—he can’t do it.
“I mean…I have a couple of songs that I really like. It’s just kind of hard to pinpoint,” he says.
He likes that his girlfriend doesn’t do music.
“It’s a very nice kind of balance,” James says. “In a way, she kind of gets me out of that whole thing. Like the whole world is being caught up in you know, ticket sales and whatever.”
You can listen to Chris James’ music here (the thing that does, in fact, have to do with “ticket sales and whatever”).