EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: James Leon

JAMES LEON, the London based singer/songwriter caught up with me for this very special exclusive interview. Having released two singles thus far Purple Heart and Caught Up In Your Vanity, James Leon is fast building on his status within the musical industry.  There is no doubt we will be hearing plenty more of this young chap as the years go by.
A big thank you to James for taking the time out of his busy schedule to catchup with myself in this special interview. 
So tell us, who is  James Leon?
Well I am a London based singer and songwriter; I’ve been playing clubs and festivals, slowly building a following. I’ve released two independent singles ‘Purple Heart’ and ‘Caught Up In Your Vanity’ both of which got quite a lot of attention from music blogs e.t.c. I’ve been recording tracks for some time, so now seemed a good moment to put some of the material I have worked on together and get an album out there.
For me being a songwriter is an integral part of who I am, I write all the time – it really important means of self expression as much as anything. But equally I love performing, when I am on stage it does feel kind of feel like second nature.  I’m huge music fan myself, I love pop – and what I always aim to be is a pop artist but in a way that is hopefully interesting, with some depth and in a way which is unique to me. An American guy described my music as ‘super-fun but real’ which I thought was great, because if I was going to sum it up I couldn’t ask for something better really. 

James Leon – Purple Heart

What first got you interested in music?
Well music was always around at home growing up, my parents used to play all kinds of stuff such as Elton John, The Carpenters, Michael Jackson, lots of 70’s/ 80s music. I was obsessed with ABBA as a kid (and still am!) – which really wasn’t ‘cool’ then, and I actually remember trying to write a song in their style when I was about 8 years old. I was always moved in quite a powerful, overwhelming way by songs even when I was really young. That made me really want to write songs myself, so even from that age I was writing lyrics and coming up with little melodies. Because I was quite shy, and because it didn’t seem like something viable – it took a long time to actually admit to myself that it was something I really wanted to do and to begin pursuing it seriously, that came much later.
What are some of the biggest goals that you hope to accomplish as an artist?
Well obviously in this business you aim high, I would love to have an album that was successful around the world. To do a proper tour and visit different countries would be great, I’ve picked up some fans from different parts of the world via the net and it would be great to be able to build on that. I think if I’m honest, perhaps in the past I would have dreamt of huge stardom but while I guess there is always a part of you that likes the idea of that – I am sure it would actually be a huge amount of pressure in reality and I would be happy to be able to have a more steady, sustainable level of success. To be able to have a lasting career in music, maintain a fan base, and be able to keep making music, developing all the ideas I have and performing would be amazing.

Your album ‘Never Been Cool’ is out now. Can you tell us about it?  
The album is a collection of tracks that I have worked on over quite a long period of time. Being an independent artist this is the only way I have been able to do it, but as a result each song I feel represents a specific moment in my life. I’ve really tried to make them hang together in a coherent way though and hopefully I’ve managed that. I guess the overall style would be classed as electro/pop, but I flirt with different influence and styles – more dance orientated on some tracks such as ‘Purple Heart’, a little more of maybe a rock/new wave influence on the title track, and out and out synth pop on say ‘The One Before me’.. Many of tracks, if not all, are written from a personal perspective, expressing things I’ve been going through in my life, perhaps with a bit of added bit of poetic license here and there. Be that, relationships, struggle for freedom to do what I want to do with my life, be who I am, or simply interesting and fun experiences. On some tracks, there is maybe a certain theme I am writing about e.g. ‘Camera Shy’ which is kind of about the cult of celebrity but on others such as ‘Bad Guy’ it’s totally about something personal I’ve gone through myself. One reviewer described it as feeling like a bit of a journey which is something I hadn’t thought about but which seems quite apt, because effectively it really is that.
I’d like to think the album touches on the different aspects of who I am, the emotional side, the fun loving side, the questioning/thinking part of me etc.

Looking ahead, what plans have you got coming up?
Well the first thing is I have a (belated) album launch party planned – because I am still doing all the management and promotional side of things myself, I wanted just to get the album out there first. Now I’ve had some time at last to plan this, so will be nice to perform a few tracks, celebrate it being out there and generally have a bit of a party.
Beyond this, I would love to be able to maybe do some kind of tour next year – we’ll have to see what happens, and I will of course continue to promote the album. I have been doing a lot of writing again recently so am keen to get back in the studio, so hopefully there will be some new material next year.

Was it difficult starting out, like getting your music out, getting noticed?
To be honest, yes it was really hard. I didn’t go to stage school or anything like that, and I didn’t grow up with people who were into making music, so I had no idea how to follow this path and it is constantly a learning curve. It’s been a case of one step at a time; I became friends with someone who encouraged me to start turning my lyrics into songs, wrote some tracks with them then found a producer to do my first demo with. From there I started gigging. I think social networking and blogs have turned things around in many ways, because before then it was just a case of sending music off to record companies etc and trying to get people to come to your gigs. But with social networking you can get people all around the world to hear your music, blogs have picked up on my music this way and this has given me a platform to work from. I’ve definitely worked very hard and struggled quite a bit – funding my music myself, organising my own gigs, releasing stuff independently etc. But more recently this seems to slowly be starting to pay off with the interest I am getting in my music now, which is really rewarding. It is a really good feeling to put an album out there and know you’ve done it on your terms, of course people have collaborated and helped me with stuff but there is no big machinery behind me and ultimately it is all my own project. There’s definitely a big sense of achievement in that.
Who are your career influences?
Well I often get comparisons with 80’s synth acts like The Human League, The Pet Shop Boys, Erasure etc – all of which I love and no doubt have been influenced by. The Pet Shop Boys especially being an act that I’ve always looked up to, Neil Tennant – great lyricist, and consistently clever, intelligent and above all great pop songs.. But my influences are much broader than that, obviously I’ve already mentioned ABBA who I just think were amazing songwriters, superb singers with the best production ever, so much more than just the cheesy, kitsch band associated with Dancing Queen that they are often seen as. Blondie are another band whose spirit and attitude I totally love, so pop and mainstream yet punk and did it on their own terms. Debbie Harry – amazing, one of my all time idols so cool and unique, love her ‘couldn’t care a less attitude’. Success came later to her as well which made her even more her own person I think. Of course, Madonna has consistently been a great pop artist and performer, and George Michael in my opinion has one of the best voices ever and is such an amazing songwriter. More recently, I love all the stuff Xenomania have done with Girls Aloud – quite envious of some of the songs they have written, so clever.

James Leon – Caught Up In Your Vanity

Do you use social networking such as twitter to promote yourself, and how do you find it?
Absolutely, I think these means are essential for any artist today. I find twitter great really because I’ve been able to make contact with people who have found my music via this medium, it enables you to get your stuff heard by people who might not otherwise have done so. It’s really cool being able to build a relationship with your audience – the people that are supporting you, when people tweet you and tell you they like your music and love particular songs its great– it makes all the work that goes into doing this worthwhile. I think there are music fans out there who really like to be able to discover something for themselves that has not been fed to them through mass marketing, Facebook as well is of course really useful and letting people know what you’re up to, releases, shows e.t.c and for spreading the word.  
The new album ‘Never Been Cool’ is available now to download from iTunes: James Leon: Never Been Cool – Order Now! and for download or CD order via Amazon.
Be sure to follow James Leon via his Website, Sound Cloud, YouTube and Twitter page!

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