'Mixtape: Side A' EP Showcases Style of Newcomer Coby James
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Singer, songwriter, and musician Coby James may not have described himself as a “happy” person in the past, but it has become a goal he is determined to infuse into his days and music. This 19-year-old spent the first two decades of his life growing through potential obstacles that could have derailed his path. Treatments for Lyme disease, associated illnesses, and ADHD in his early years shape the lyrics on Coby's new EP "Mixtape: Side A."
“I think it’s helped me in ways I could never imagine,” he continues. “I thank God for the fact that I went through those things. In the moment, I didn’t quite know why, but I now think it’s because it gave me something to say.”
This talented young man is stretching his creative wings and he invites us all along for the ride. While his presence on social media may not mirror the saturation level of others nourishing their careers, what Coby does share reflects a genuinely thoughtful, faith-centered life.
His mix of musical style is both familiar and refreshing. What was once forgotten by new generations (as trends go), Coby has embraced. The new wave elements of the 80s and 90s combined with Coby’s style create a new sound which original listeners of those eras will find nostalgic and new listeners will crave. “Golden” begins with synth beats, while “Simple” echoes the mellifluous vocals of 90’s boy bands. A gospel-flavored standout which was released after Mixtape is “Brand New.”
It will be impossible to ignore Coby’s career as he continues to engage listeners with authentic stories set to a soulful and varied musical soundscape.
I spoke with Coby about "Mixtape: Side A.", his musical influences, and what makes him happy.
Your song, “New Roots,” has been on repeat the last few days on my Spotify. It’s a perfect graduation song.
Yeah, no kidding. Literally it's kinda that vibe for sure. It's one of my favorite songs, probably the most near and dear to my heart.
So you're in Nashville now, but in “New Roots,” you refer to your family, wide open skies, and how you miss your mom and dad.
I grew up outside of Raleigh, North Carolina and we lived on a farm – on a plot of land with our house and a shop and barns, but we were around surrounded by woods. But if you walk through the woods, there's a gate and you open the gate and there's a huge field with soybean or tobacco or whatever. I would like run all the way out to the barn at sunset. And I watched the sunset out there with my guitar, and it was a really peaceful, like cathartic place to be. It was just so cool. So I miss that a lot. And when I go home, I try to go out there and just look at the sky.
You’ve shared pics of you and your family at a lake, Disneyworld – looks like you’re close with them.
I have a little sister who is 13 and I have a younger brother who is turning 17 this year. They're amazing. I'm going back home in a few weeks to see them. I'm super excited about that. We have a great relationship. I have a song about my brother coming out on my next mixtape that I've been playing live like every night on tour and people are just like, ‘When's it coming out!?’ So I'm excited about that.
Were you exposed to music from an early age or is this something that you've kind of dug out on your own?
Music is super important to my family. My, my dad doesn't play anything but he has such an ear for music and he loved music growing up. I mean, I grew up on Michael Jackson, John Mayer, Prince. I grew up on Dave Matthews – just all kinds of different, like even 90s country. We just listened to tons of stuff, blues. We listened to listen to Jack Johnson, John Mayer, really cool artists like that at the farm. We listened to Christian music or pop music.
I'm so thankful of that because that's where my love of music truly came from. My mom sang on the worship team growing up and I was around music my whole life and church. I sang on the youth band and grew up into the youth band leader. But I really came into my own with music around 15. We had guitar lessons and piano lessons and stuff, but music wasn't really heavily pushed. I definitely got a fire for it when I was 15. And then there were like, cause my parents are super invested in us. Their big thing was, ‘What are our kids' gifts? Let's pour into those gifts however we can.’ They saw that I was giving all my time to music and being very diligent and they wanted to help me go deeper in that.
So how were they during this whole process of you moving and getting into the recording industry?
Oh, I mean, it would be impossible to do without them. They have been so supportive, so ready. It wasn't ever, ‘You shouldn't do this.’ It was ‘How are we going to get you there? What's the plan? Are we getting signed yet?’ My dad is very hands on with my career. He's almost part of my management in a way, which is super cool and so supportive. They just want me to do what I love for a living. It has been just the most easy experience with them. And I know a lot of kids can’t say that when it comes to following their dreams.
Your lyrics mention your dad's relationship with his father and just some very, very exposed emotions. Are you ever fully comfortable with exposing your emotions like that? Is that something you battle with or is that part of your mission with your music?
Well, I know a lot of people definitely struggle with sharing emotions. I didn't know that that was a thing really. I've always been an insane open book. I'll tell anybody about any dynamic in my family. I'll tell anybody about the struggles. I'm straight up and I'm honest. I know that is a struggle for some people, but I feel like somebody has got to be honest. Somebody has to say it the way it is and own up to things that have come before them and their family or things that have come in their life as an obstacle. Like, I think that's our job as songwriters – to express those feelings and emotions that people feel every day, but don't necessarily know how to say them.
You have been quoted as saying ‘I used to have an issue with writing happy songs.’
Oh yeah. Happy songs. Absolutely. I didn't know how to do a happy song without it coming across cheesy. I didn't ever want to make God cheesy. That was the most important thing to me ‘cause I felt like God, the Creator of everything, deserves to be put in a light that is flattering. I was like, ‘How do I do that?’ It was me just maturing as a writer and coming into my own. I was always like, ‘I have to be edgy. I have to sound a little angsty to make it be like, cool.’ And then I wrote ‘Golden,’ which is on the Mixtape, and it was my first time I ever wrote happy, up tempo, fun Christian pop song.
You know what? We can talk about our praise. We can have an overflow of emotion about God. And that spiraled into this new phase of writing that I'm in right now, where everything basically is a happy song. I actually struggle writing the angsty songs now because I love talking about how excited I am to be a child of God and to be a fire for Him.
One of the things I take from your music is, this is a guy who likes his life. He really enjoys his life, even though he also recognizes and he's telling people, it's not always that easy.
That's a really cool way to think about it. I like that. I definitely do enjoy life. I had a ton of health issues growing up and it was definitely hard in the beginning for me, but I've come out of that. And I'm just so thankful for the life that I have and the life that I'm given. Life isn't something that should it be taken for granted, but life is something that we should be so thankful for and praise God for. I definitely have found myself in the last few years being so thankful for the breath that I've been given and loving every second of what I'm blessed with, because it is a good life, if you really let it be.
Tell me about the music community in Nashville. It sounds like young artists are really embracing and encouraging each other.
We are. It's been hard the last year getting plugged in because of quarantine and all that. And but I got plugged in with Courtney Ramirez in 2019 and we wrote her single ‘Who We Are.’ It was a fantastic time to meet another artist because it was before everything kind of went crazy. So I'm good friends with Courtney and know Cade Thompson pretty well. It's amazing to have this community and this group of people. And, you know, I've also found that I am one of the youngest people in every room that I walk in still. Everybody's 25, 28 married, you know, so it's been interesting. And I think my friends have gotten a lot older. Like I hang out with a lot of older people, but like even still, I think God's been so faithful in this season and just been helping me along with this road of making friends and relationships.
Have you been able to find a local church?
Absolutely. I have found a church that I've been going to and attending pretty regularly. It's an amazing church with lots of young people and me and my girlfriend and my roommate, we go there a good bit and we've been making a community. It’s such a blessing to have found a church that we feel like we can make a home. And all of us kind of went to the same church as our whole lives. So we're used to a community being there and when that's taken away and starts over, it's difficult.
You are at an interesting place in your life where it sounds like you're mentoring others while also seeking out mentorship. And you're talking about artists you're influenced by. So who is your dream collaboration, living or dead?
Oh, goodness. Let's see. The first collaboration I want to say is the ones that are possible. So I would say like Colton Dixon for KING & COUNTRY, Danny Gokey – some of the guys I know them personally. Brad Paisley will be really cool, ‘cause I would love to do like some country stuff at some point. John Mayer, obviously the GOAT who I would want to work with. Daniel Caesar would be amazing, and Michael Jackson would be, but the thing is though, I don't know if I could have collaborated with Michael Jackson because he would out sing me and like outperform everybody! Bruno Mars, like all the greats, I think Justin Bieber would be amazing – I'm a big fan of him. Ed Sheeran. So yeah, basically I'll collab with anybody!
Check out the official audio for Coby's latest single "Brand New" below, and his full EP Mixtape: Side A here!
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