Opening for indie-folk quintet Patch and the Giant, James Riley returns to the Dulwich Festival, fresh from Tennessee.
Now based in Brixton, the musician has spent the last couple of years in Nashville writing his first album. His new single Lightning Strikes is out later this year, while his full album is due out next year.
James made an impulsive decision to move to the US, in 2015. “I had a really nice life here in London, everything was groovy, but I wasn’t feeling very challenged artistically,” he told the Weekender. “I thought what would challenge me the most as a singer songwriter?”
While “LA and New York are great,” it was Nashville’s reputation as a “songwriting mecca” that appealed most to the artist.
“Nashville has this status for people who are into the craft of songwriting,” he explained. “I was getting slightly worried that I was drying up creatively. I figured I’d just move there, get a day job, and work it out. I didn’t even have a car; I had a bicycle!”
After six months navigating foreign roads and working as a cycle courier, James decided it was time to make an album.
“I worked with one producer but then it started sounding very commercial so sadly I had to can it, started again with another friend then he had a crisis and had to go back to New Zealand. I was at a bit of a loss, then I met Matthew Odmark, who was the guitarist for Jars of Clay, and he ended up being an awesome dude and we had this creative chemistry. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the third time lucky theory.”
“Nashville is great for making records,” James said. “There’s so much expertise, incredible players, and so much knowledge; it borders on ancient knowledge. It’s a much more old school thing.”
Nashville is also having a bit of a moment.
“It’s such a hot city right now –it’s the most moved to city,” James said. “There’s such a great, big musical history and integrity behind it. It’s a bit like Brighton without the sea.”
At his performance in Bel Air House, James said “a lot is just me and a guitar playing songs I’ve been writing over the past couple of years.”
James is playing at Glastonbury this summer, followed by a UK tour to launch his album.