THEAUSSIEWORD.COM goes one on one with Ontario singer/songwriter James Alphonse.
How and where did it all begin for you? What drew your interest to the music industry?
Well, I suppose it all depends how far back you want to go! When I was about 10, I remember my cousin was getting a lot of attention because she could sing really well. I remember thinking to myself “well I can sing too!”. I would try to sing louder during the national anthem and even write songs with my little cousin (a different one). Shortly after, my mother bought my father a guitar and that inspired me to try it for a while as well. I thought I was bloody awful because I couldn’t learn a single song. That was around the time I also learned that my dad is left handed. That was a revolution though. By the time I hit 13, I wrote a couple love songs after a serious not so serious break-up, which led me to play in a variety of indie bands.
I think my overall interest in taking music seriously came from my amazing community in Hamilton, Canada. I had been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness and began hiding away in my room to deal with things all by myself. The Hamiltonians would invite me out to watch and play shows. They wouldn’t judge me for my “dead in the eyes” stares and difficulty paying attention. They accepted the quirks that came along with my illness and supported me no matter what. The way it brought people together in spite of our differences made music addictive to me.
What motivates or influences you in your quest to make great music?
The community. As stated above, I was so fortunate to have a community around me. I had worked with some really cool individuals who supported me in and out of the hospital like Nick Blagona (Deep Purple, The Beegees, The Police), who would work around my illness and lack of money that resulted from constantly being sick. It allowed me to continue doing what I was doing, and I always wanted to push harder to show them that I was willing to put in the same amount of hard work that they put into me.
What are some of your biggest goals you hope to accomplish?
I actually have a weird dream that I’ve never told anyone except for the Rotary Club members I met at a leadership conference. If I were to ever have some sort of viral success, I’d like to record and dedicate my next song to a charity. I realized that if I could write well enough, I might be able to support some charity for a long time with royalty money and any other success associated with the track. It was an idea I had as a kid, so it may be naïve but I’ve never turned away from it as a possibility. I’d still like to think it’s possible and will still work towards it. Other than that, my other goal was to gain some sort of fame that would allow me to pay back all of the incredible people who have helped me along the way. Many people have given more time and support than I could ever hope for. I’d love to be able to pay them their worth and give them some exposure for their incredibly talented, heartfelt work.
What can we expect from you in the coming months? Any plans to tour?
I had planned to run multi-media art shows with some large acts from southern Ontario, however coronavirus really took that concept out of the books for a while. We’re hoping, in January, to continue with the concept. Essentially, we’ll have local artists and entrepreneurs of all sorts (designers, painters, etc.) on site, presenting work and joining live shows. They’ll have some booths and fans will have something to keep them busy in-between sets. It’s part of my initiative to give back to the awesome community that has supported me along my musical endeavours. If the Hamilton launch goes well, we can expect to see it in other southern cities and even more as well!
Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music?
My latest release is really just a form of catharsis for myself and I hope that others will find some resolve in the song as well. Towards the end of university, I had been looking for a serious relationship but I kept finding girls that just wanted flings. The song is most about one relationship in particular, where I had frequently been left at clubs alone after driving out 45 minutes to see the girl I was dating. She’d head off with her friends, but the next day she’d act like I was the only one in the world. I couldn’t understand what was happening and I found it was a recurring theme in my relationships that followed. I tend to be quite passive, not knowing what to say, so the song often has lines like “but it’s ok” after something that has happened in my relationships. The verses are what happened in real life and the choruses are what I wish I had of said.
My music probably comes off as a man with a confused, bleeding broken heart as far as the lyrics go, but I really do find importance in these phases of dating. It’s how we develop our compass. The good people are great in life, but it’s the heartbreakers that give us direction, so I’ll always appreciate those relations too. As for the actual sound, I’m influence by soul, R&B and pop rock. Many compare my vocals to Shawn Mendes or Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. I love up-tempo, power walking beats and anything you can bop your head too. After that, throw me some smooth choppy vocal lines like Michael Jackson and a synth or two and I’ll be happy as can be!
Give us an insight into your creative process. What gets you writing songs?
It’s actually quite weird, I write about a relationship, but I’m trying to create a metaphorical connection to my relationship with the world as well. I believe that people experience social and political issues as if they were a relationship and that’s why many of my songs aim to tackle relationship problems at the same time as jesting towards things going on around the world. For example, with “What Are We Doing Here” I had been shocked at the state of our world at this time. I feel like the world had come so far, just to take so many steps back. The line “What do you want from me” is supposed to echo the confusion with all the different sources online and conspiracy theories floating around. In the same breath, these lines echo real frustration from my relationships.
Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?
In addition to the above, I actually try to include little relics of relations that I have with friends. In “What Are We Doing Here”, I actually pronounce “here” as “hare” to mimic the Barbadian (Bajan) accent (e.g. beer sounds like bear in the accent). I visited a friend there and met his family. They were absolutely incredible and so were the lovely inhabitants of the country, so I wanted to find a way to immortalize the incredible experience I had there. In the studio, during the recording process, I explicitly re-recorded this part to make sure I had that memory in my song through just a simple difference in pronunciation.
Success, what is the secret to it?
People. Behind every computer, there’s a real person. Finding them in real life and treating them like real people, making communities of caring people, celebrating each other’s successes, it’s all part of the process. Electronics somehow erode connections and make them stronger at the same time. As users of these interfaces, it’s our job to make them “social” devices. When we see the humanity in each other, we connect through our music, our profession, and our passions. As an extra perk, it makes life much more enjoyable too . A simple way that I’ve applied it in life is by smiling at people. It makes everyone’s day better, including the “smiler” .
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
Opening up for the Trews! I remember that I used to put on their CD and play the air guitar. “Tired of Waiting” was one of the first songs I taught myself and I played it all through the house. When I was actually able to share the stage with them, I couldn’t believe it.
(A close 2nd and 3rd include the following) I once opened for Flock of Seagulls when I was in an indie band. They demanded to have a grand piano on stage and I remember watching it fly up as it was lifted up by a crane. I was also contacted by Scott Anderson of Finger 11 around the beginning of my career, who gave me some advice and encouragement).
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
Childish Gambino is incredible in the way that he can take a song and make it literally breathe social messages. His track “This is America” was chilling. Also, Shawn Mendes! Some might roll their eyes at this, but I’m impressed by his ability to represent Canada, to fight stage fright and write a mixture of pop/rock/soul music true to Canadian roots.
Are there any new projects in the pipeline?
In this month there will be a collaborative song with some famous Canadians who will be featured on a cover of the Guess Who song “Share the Land”. Some band members come from bands like Blue Rodeo and Teenage Head. I don’t have an exact date yet, but it’s confirmed to be released in August.
As stated earlier, I will also be aiming to have a variety of artists come together to play at shows once it’s safe to do so.
The music industry is constantly changing, where do you see yourself a few years?
I’m hoping to be touring by then! I’ve got my live set ready to go and was supposed to already be out playing shows already. Unfortunately, the circumstances have made this rather difficult to do so. Until things progress a little, I’m quite unsure what the future holds, but I’m hoping for more touring .
What is your favourite and least favourite part about this line of work and why?
Oddly enough they’re the same thing – having to be a jack-of-all-trades. I love learning new things but it is incredibly time consuming and sometimes I know there is someone who can do it better and is specialized at it. Regardless, it’s necessary to understand how to do a variety of things in music such as social media marketing, show booking, recording (video and audio), song-writing, and digital design.It’s a lot of fun, but it certainly leads to a busy schedule (e.g. I currently have 25 windows open and they’re not for Netflix). I do have some people who take care of these things, but I’m a hands on kind of guy, so I’m usually torn between doing it myself and sharing the work.
Name a few of your favourite Australian artists.
Kylie Minogue, 5 Seconds of Summer, Last Dinosaurs, Vance Joy, Matt Corby
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
It’s wildly confusing to be honest. I started playing shows when CDs were still a thing. I was able to make some money off those to fund another album before, but I’ve had to completely relearn the process. It feels like you have to constantly be on to the next new thing and to be a social media marketer in addition to a musician. As I said above, I love learning new things, but it can get very tiring when a social media platform has some glitch and you have to dig through 20 threads to find out how to solve it. I’ve had many late nights navigating the net. Finally, to get my work in the public’s eye also means I have to be able to trace where I’m getting the eyes on my work. It requires a solid understanding of how the web works and audience insights. I love that I can know who visited my page and enjoyed my work, but I sure do miss physical CDs as opposed to digital links.
How will you continue appealing to the international market?
I think it’s important to target international social and political issues, in addition to universal experiences. Music is meant to bring people together in person and in mind. By touching on topics that many people can relate to, and making sure not to make it too narrow, a musician can help others to recognize a situation and cope with it. Moreover, with increased globalization, we’re becoming closer and closer around the world. It’s allowing us to share more in common whether it be through tweeting about televised social events together or simply watching a TV show that everyone else is watching too. We share moments and experiences and it’s important to find ways to allow this to seep into song writing.
Do you collaborate with others? Who is on your wish-list?
I definitely do! On this song in particular, I had Tal Vaisman and Andre Kaden Black write the song with me. On a previous song called “I’ll Be Your Wall” I actually had a famous Canadian writer named Duncan Coutts from Our Lady Peace help with the writing in addition to Steve Dall. As for wish lists, I would say that I’d like to write with someone local called “Tabuu”. He has always been persistent and unique. He constantly spreads himself into different territories and shocks his listeners (in a good way). If I were to return to rock, I’d have to say that I’d like to write with the Dirty Nil 200%.
What advice do you give for other artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I would tell them to love the community around you. Celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. Cheer them on. Help them when you can. Growing together is the most gratifying part of this experience and surrounding yourself with other ambitious people and achieving things together is like a natural drug that pushes you to the next step every time. I’ve been truly fortunate to be surrounded by such motivating people and I constantly look for more of them to celebrate accomplishments with.
A message for your fans. How do you best interact and respond with your followers and fans?
I usually post to Facebook and Instagram and it’s easier to reach me there as well. If anyone wants to see the newest releases and material from me, my website is a great location for that (www.jamesalphonse.com).
Any last words?
Sure, love you to my family, friends and communities that support me!