James Lee Baker, award winning songwriter, joins SPC host David Delmar to share how he uses a quality conscious approach to his songwriting style. In this episode, James Lee also shares his belief that music is the gateway drug to our life stories. And he uses a unique muse-method that allows him to write vivid stories for his songs that really pull the listener in. James talks about the importance of not to compromising artistic integrity to the pressures of social media. Tune in to hear how you can experience quality conscious music creation.
Hello. This is David Delmar, your host of SuperPower Creatives, and you’re listening to our episode, Quality Conscious Music Creation.
I believe everyone is a creator, and it’s this inherent birthright that’s the source of our super powers. Stepping into this personal authority is scary, though. This show celebrates creatives that stay true to who they really are, making a living using their creative super powers. The stories they share will excite and inspire listeners to do the same, making positive change in the world.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome our guest for today’s show. His level of commitment to his craft is top, top, top level. His talents, knowledge, and commitment to sound creation is unique to him and the sound you hear is proof of this. He’s a classically-trained musician, and how James Lee Baker uses this training is by fusing influences from acoustic singer-songwriters like David Mead, Ellis Paul, John Gorka, Gregory Alan Isakov, Bob Dylan, and Slaid Cleaves. He embraces open tunings to create an unconventional but welcoming sound and timbre to his playing. Trained briefly by Richard Gilewitz, a renowned finger-style guitar player, James Lee’s finger-style guitar playing is rich and melodic, pulling listeners into memorable motifs and atmospheres.
In 2017, he released a Texas-inspired full-length project called Home Again, harnessing his experience in technology. He recruited talented studio session musicians, accessing performers from Los Angeles to Canada to the United Kingdom and Denver. Home Again is a country-flavored Americana album, rich with instrumentation like use of the dobro, the lap-steel, the fiddle, and harmonica. That’s cool.
His current single, Disappear for the Weekend, is receiving airplay and charting on the New Music Weekly and Airplay Today country charts. The same is also true for his previous single, Cowtown Blues. In March 2018, he released an EP of folk-Americana songs called The Canadian River. The single of the same title placed number 23 on the folk DJ radio charts in April 2018, and the song, Two Cageless Birds, went on to be selected for the John O’Hara Songwriting Performance Grant. James has played at several prominent venues including the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles, The Fox Theater in Boulder, and Swallow Hill and The Walnut Room in Denver.
James Lee, hello. Such cool words to describe your sound. Welcome. Thanks for being here.
Thanks, David. It’s great to be here. Thanks for the opportunity.
Oh, of course. You’re welcome. Well, I’m going to also just thank you for taking something you were gifted in, and creating music and in turn gifting everyone who has the joy to listen to your art in song craft. That is really what it’s all about. Today, we’re talking about our episode. Our show is Quality Conscious Music Creation, and more specifically, how James Lee experiences creativity that develops the sound he hears in his mind, and what performing his songs is like compared to recording the songs.
So, James Lee, how we open up our show is the same question for everybody. What is your creative super power?
Well, I learned my creative super power from my mentor, one of my mentors, his name’s Ellis Paul, and that is, trying to write a vivid story. I think that learning from him, I’ve learned to paint a crisp story that allows the listener to get pulled into the narrative. But I’ve made that super power my own when I realized what I wanted to talk about. And I think that’s something that’s more unique in that the things that I find most relevant and most important for writing is really talking about the things that people aren’t talking about, like how humanity’s relationship with religion has changed, or how we grow older and become old-world men. These are the sort of soft topics that I want to talk about in my songwriting, and I find that to be a fountain of opportunity.
Well, I find that so fascinating, and I mean, what to write about? That’s the proverbial muse thing. Those soft topics, what is it like to create your song around something that isn’t necessarily what gets heard about a lot, but should probably be heard about more? What’s the song creation process like for you when you’re kind of bridging those two, sort of the way the world is and the way the world would be better understanding the way it is? How is it that you enjoy bridging those two through your songwriting?
Well, it’s sort of like method acting. You become the character, whether you’re talking about something in your life or talking about what other people are going through. I think it requires a lot of empathy, it requires patience, it requires taking the time to understand what other people are going through, and in some ways, imagining yourself in that situation. That for me is where the creativity comes from.
I wrote a song that hasn’t been released yet called The Last Cowboy in Hutchinson County. I’ll be releasing that this year. It’s a story about a cowboy and his son, who is a CNC machinist, and how the world around them is changing, and how the cowboy is becoming a dying breed. In order for me to really write that story in a way that was convincing, I had to imagine myself as being a cowboy, and walk myself through it and ask all these questions, like, “What would I be feeling?” and “What kind of problems would I be having?”
So I think that that is the fuel for the beginning of the creative process for me, for songs.
I find that so fascinating because, I mean, to me, what I hear is that’s really the ultimate creativity channel to be able to paint this crisp picture for your songs, but by doing so, it’s like, you mentioned method acting. You’re putting yourself into that mental scene and walking, like physically, though it’s in your mind, walking through what that character would possibly be going through.
How, in your life experience, do you find that interjects its way into the scene that you’re walking into within that creative mental space that you use to produce your songs? Your experiences in life, do they find their way into that process?
Oh, absolutely. Maybe not as whole truths, but portions of truth. There’s another song I’ve written recently called Returning to Paris. That’ll be released shortly.
I like that.
The song is about a couple who’s been married for 10 years and they made a promise when they got engaged in Paris that if the relationship didn’t work out, they would come back to Paris and break up in a mutual way. It’s sort of a twist on Eros, and I kind of turn it on its head, because normally it’s a place about love.
In that story, there’s elements of the song where I’m talking about things like laying on the grass on the Champ de Mars at night and underneath the Eiffel Tower, and walking the bridges across the Seine River. All that stuff, my wife and I did on vacation a few years ago. Granted, my wife and I are still together, so there’s not any truth in there, but I used those elements to paint a realistic picture and to talk about those landmarks and things like that.
The same thing with Disappear for the Weekend. I lived in California for three years and one of our favorite things to do was to get out for the weekend and go to Napa or go to Monterey or Santa Cruz, or something like that.
So, the song talks about elements about driving down Highway 1, and things like that. Again, that’s just me gleaning from my experiences in life. So yeah, I think life is sort of this field trip, a constant field trip, and if you’ve got your eyes open, you can see things that you can use.
Well, I mean, everyone has their own song process of, their own song craft process, but that, what you describe sounds like a really fun one. I just think that’s probably got to be a fun thing to write in that sort of style. Well, this is definitely very awesome, and I want to hear a little bit more about that, but we’re going to take a quick break. We’re going to just kind of stay with James Lee, and hear a little bit about how he got started in music, and just a little bit of that back story.
But before we jump into a break, let’s tell people where they can go to find out more about you.
Yeah. Anywhere where you can stream music, you’ll find my music, and also available for purchase as well. I have a website, jamesleebaker.com, and of course I’m on Facebook and Instagram. That’s primarily my social media focus. I have a Twitter account, but I don’t really use it as much as others do.
Yeah. Twitter, an acquired taste.
That’s for sure.
Well, that’s very cool. All right. We’ve been talking with James Lee Baker today about our episode, Quality Conscious Music Creation. We’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we’re going to stay with James Lee and learn from him what it takes to make it in the music industry, and to get your music out there. But we’re going to first hear how it all started for him when we get back.