James returns to the spotlight with new music and will embark on a world tour with Calum Scott
Image: Connor Pritchard.
New Zealand’s Mitch James is experiencing a come back. Having sprinkled a brief taste of music over the past few years, the beloved artist has pushed through personal trials and tribulations to arrive at a resolute state that re-centred what he believes to be his purpose. Now, he’s ready to share his inner revelations with the world, in the form of a new body of work.
Meeting over zoom, James calls in from his home in Auckland, days after the release of his first taste of his sophomore album with motions. His infectious positivity glows through the screen, albeit across the Tasman. Raised in Auckland, the musician made his own opportunities when it came to his driving passion: music. A self-taught guitarist, he relocated to London shortly after finishing high school and began busking in the streets before travelling across Europe. He soon started recording and uploading covers to YouTube and social media platforms, which found their way to Sony Music New Zealand. His Platinum-selling debut album, MITCH JAMES, featured the hits Bright Blue Skies, Old News and 21, and captured coming of age and the experiences of youth. “My first album was very much like a young drunk idiot [laughs]. I was a little bit of a party boy and it was still real and applicable to what I was going through at the time. But, you know, I'm a man now and I feel like I want to give people that same feeling”. Now, more than six years later, Mitch James is entering a new era.
By 2019, James had a platinum certified album and a string of hit-singles under his belt, supported his idol Ed Sheeran for three sold-out stadium shows in Dunedin, established a devoted fanbase and toured the world alongside Six60. What was next for an artist who had just scratched the surface? The idea of creating a sophomore body of work to follow up the success of MITCH JAMES lured the musician in. He began working on new material that would form a sophomore effort, influenced by a new lifestyle and a new relationship. “It was an interesting period in there as well. I was dating someone who probably wasn't right for me and I was making music at the start of that period where it was probably just a little disingenuous to what my fans would've expected from me.” Those songs however were soon scrapped as James entered a four-year journey that led to a more in-depth understanding of himself.
That path begins with motions, James’ first offering from his sophomore album, patience. If there’s one thing to conclude from his previous releases, it is that Mitch James is a story teller. However, motions hits in a different way. Its breezy sonics conjures imagery of hitting the road, but there’s an openness and vulnerability that drives the song, allowing for a more personal exchange with listeners. I make note of the tracks central theme of self-examination, a thread that is paramount to the entire album, to which he responds, “A hundred percent, that's it. Like you said, I've always prided myself on being a storyteller. But yeah, these last four years for me, it's just been a roller coaster. I've always been such a prolific songwriter. I always wanted to get things out, get things out, but it seems like something bigger than myself just kind of took me on this journey and you're right about the self examination.” Across the four years between albums, James’ personal life presented him with new challenges. He had his own decisions and mistakes to navigate as a young man in his early twenties, whilst also coming to terms with the loss of dear friends due to suicide, and health issues surrounding his family and himself. With new life challenges arrived the space for self-analysis and introspection, one that could only produce honesty.
I ask him about one of the songs most prominent lines, “Some pretty crazy stories in my tattoos. You probably wouldn't get it if I told you”, which is followed by a virtual tour of the ink on his skin, taking me through his own life journey like two old friends catching up for a yarn. It’s that personality that draws you into the man behind the music. He also didn’t disappoint with the statement his tattoos represent some crazy stories. There’s an homage to his debut album and his time busking in London, illustrations of his dogs, a tree to represent his family, the initials of a friend who sadly passed away, a portrait of Irish professional mixed martial artist Conor McGregor, some “drunken bender tattoos on my leg” a symbol that serves as a reminder of “a little story about a guy Nick who took me into his hostel and let me play, and basically saved my ass in Europe” to name a few. One interesting piece of ink is the word “patience” in Sanskrit, which James got prior to landing on a name for his sophomore effort.
“It’s a little bit of a roller coaster in terms of subject matter” he shares of his impending body of work that essentially tells the tale of transitioning from boyhood to manhood. The album is set to explore the tumultuous voyage of finding yourself and figuring out life in your twenties, touching on a number of lived experiences for the musician. He shares with a cheeky grin that armageddon “may be a little bit lustful”, whilst japan documents being dumped just before a couples trip to Japan, and instead seeing your former partner living their best life there without you in posts on social media. Opening himself up to sharing every emotion and pouring out this new found vulnerability also led towards a recognition of authenticity. "There was a song that I released that didn't do as well as I would've liked. And when I assessed why, it was because I don't think people listen to Mitch James music to get [a] Mr. pop star experience from it. I think they, they listen to it because they see themselves in me. I definitely took that on board and tried to make that the main message...I mentioned those other songs because being a normal human being, there's so much range of emotions and so much range of life that I just wanted to put in my genuine experiences."
With four years between albums and a years long social media and touring black out, even the most seasoned of musicians would approach a new era with trepidation. Like anyone sharing their art with the world, James strives to achieve, but he’s leaving behind the industry game of letting numbers dictate his idea of success. “I’d be lying if I said there wasn't anxiety around wanting it to succeed because I do want it to succeed. But I haven't looked at any numbers. I'm just more taking like an altruistic approach, if you will. You know, I really want this music to connect with people and my main fears and anxieties would have been around perceived success. But I think already the messages I've been getting from this song is really special because you know, that mission of wanting to help people has become the central idea around what I'm trying to do and everything else is a bonus.” The sincerity of his words flow through the screen, emphasising just how important his relationship with his audience is.
It won’t be long until he’s reunited with his doting fans, with the fresh announcement that James will be joining British musician Callum Scott on his world tour, with stops in Australia this November. “I have an amazing opportunity coming up with Callum Scott, going around the world with him and I'm super excited about that. I love his music.” Taking to the stage in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane this November, James will be armed with ten new tracks for his engaging live show, and the opportunity to create new shared experiences with audiences across the nation and around the globe. One striking thing about motions is its ability to become an impactful live moment within the musicians set. One could image a packed crowd singing “And now I'm stuck out in the middle of the ocean, going through the motions” and the euphoric aura that would fill the room. James is eager to hit the road again, sharing “I think for me, it's just, you know, the landscape has changed since COVID, and I think in terms of locally and in Australia, I just want to get out playing my own shows and remind people what I can do live. Because I feel like that's my greatest strength, is my passion playing live.”
motions, the new single from Mitch James is available everywhere now! motions is taken from Mitch’s forthcoming album, patience, out November 4th. Pre-order the album now. To catch Mitch live on the Calum Scott tour, head to Frontier Touring for tickets and more information.
CALUM SCOTT 2022 AUSTRALIAN & NEW ZEALAND TOUR
SPECIAL GUEST MITCH JAMES (NZ)*
Presented by Frontier Touring
Tuesday 8 November Corner Hotel | Melbourne, VIC SOLD OUT 18+
Wednesday 9 November Corner Hotel | Melbourne, VIC SELLING FAST 18+ oztix.com.au | Ph: 1300 762 545
Friday 11 November Enmore Theatre | Sydney, NSW Licensed All Ages ticketek.com.au | Ph: 132 849
Saturday 12 November The Tivoli | Brisbane, QLD 18+ ticketmaster.com.au | Ph: 136 100