"Nowhere, probably dead." Those are the three words that one of R&B's brightest rising stars, Luke James, uttered when I asked him where he would be if he wasn't fully immersed in music. It's an honest answer from the independent only child from New Orleans that is stealing women's hearts and gaining men's respect one song (and falsetto riff) at a time.
Luke James has been busy putting the finishing touches on his long-awaited debut album "Made To Love," which is slated for a summer release, and getting ready to own the rest of 2012. If becoming one of the newest faces of Diddy's Sean Jean clothing line and scoring a slot at the 2012 Essence Music Festival on July 8 wasn't enough, this weekend may catapult him to the next level. Why? James will be the sole opening act for Beyonce's four-day limited engagement at Revel in Atlantic City.
Luke James is a star that doesn't fit in your typical R&B box. He's the canvas of about 10 tattoos (and counting). He's a soulful performer that leaves every piece of himself onstage despite having a bit of stage fright. He has dreams of working with musical geniuses and legends Prince and Quincy Jones. And he is undoubtedly and shamelessly God-fearing. Now it's time for you to stop asking who R&B's new golden boy is and find out some intimate details about the talented Luke James.
You're an only child, how did that mold the person that you are as far as your determination and a drive that you have to give yourself?
[ Sighs] You know, as an only child, you've got to stand up for yourself. You have to do a lot of things on your own, especially being in a single-parent household and not [having] a father figure, you kind of have to learn-my mother could only do so much. I think that helped me and gave me tough skin because some people fall. My mother didn't baby me and I think that helped me out thus far to keep my drive and my hunger. I don't take "no" for an answer.
As far as your vocal training, is it a natural thing or is it something that you honed in church or outside of church or how did that come about?
It's a natural thing. I honed in on it and became a sponge to the entertainment around me, the people around me, the music I was listening to, folks that sang around me and whatnot and just nurtured it and tried to understand it. I'm still learning it, every day, every performance does something different and I'm learning it.
You were inspired by "Showtime At The Apollo" when you were 11, how old were you when you recognized that you had a gift? When was that "ah ha" moment?
Pretty much every day. Every time I perform or sing, I have an "ah ha" moment. When I look at my blog and people reach out to me anonymously and speak of how I sing and how my music has touched them, it's an "ah ha" moment. I'm constantly getting that and I don't want that to ever stop because it's reassuring me that I'm doing something right.
What's been an obstacle that you've had to overcome since being in the industry and how did you overcome it?
My fear of performing in front of people, I overcome it every night that I have to perform. I have a tattoo on my shoulder and it means "cruising on my fear" and every night, even right now, I'm doing it by being vulnerable and answering questions because I like to think of myself as a very private person, some may say I'm anti-social. But getting up on the stage in front of people and allowing them to judge me and see me in that form, I believe it takes a lot of courage and I commend anybody who can do it. So, yeah, that's something I'm conquering right now.
I'd never be able to detect that. There's a very pure and emotional quality when you perform, where do you get that bravery and inspiration from?
I just think of people who got me this far. My mother, teachers, friends, family, and people that are around me right now that are counting on me and that gives me the extra push and I can't let myself down. I can't let this thing conquer me like that. I fear nothing but God himself, so I push forward and I get up there and allow myself to get honest… I allow myself to get full and really be in that moment, so I might get a little teary-eyed myself, but I try to hold it together. Feeling is everything, so hopefully by pushing myself up there and giving myself, hopefully I inspire someone to be happy in their own skin and conquer their fears.
You mention God a lot, would you ever dip into a little bit of gospel?
What is it like having an industry great like Frank Gatson in your corner?
I feel like that's divine intervention that we met because I met him as a manager. I didn't meet him on a video shoot or directing someone. I met him as a manager and I could have met any other manager, but he had that qualification, that skill of what he does. Even thinking about it right now, I'm just floored by it because he has so much to teach. He's crazy, but he definitely epitomizes what show business is and what makes him great is that he's not afraid to be frank about it. That's what makes him great, and that's why he's still here and why he works with [everybody] we look up to, Michael Jackson, everybody.
My mom called me after seeing you on the BET Honors to let me know that I needed to know who you are. Have you realized that your music transcends generations?
The idea was to do that. I prayed that it would do that, I prayed that my music would inspire love and inspire people to what they want to do, be who they want to be, and bring people together-love. I make sure that my mother can feel this and relate to this. I think that our parents love the honesty and the honesty of the old cats and we like it, too. The idea right now that we can go to any club and they can play the most techno or raunchy hip-hop or whatever, but the moment they put on "Rock With You" by Michael Jackson, we go in. And if the DJ stops it short, it's going down and he's getting out of here. There was a party there, it's a real feeling. I like to keep that in my music and I hope that I widen the door for more artists like myself who do music like that because there are billions of us, trillions of us. But the industry the way it is sometimes shuns the true artists from getting out because there's so much politicking around it. But, with Adele, acts like Miguel and myself, hopefully we can widen the door for that kind of stuff.
You seem like a ladies' man, so what qualities do you look for in a significant other?
Definitely confidence and someone who is honest-It's alright to be afraid. That helps me be honest with them and if we're going to be friends, that's the way it happens. I truly want to be in love with you. Beauty, not this stereotypical type of beauty, I'm talking about that real divine beauty. I like a little craziness, I do. [Laughs] I like a person that's a little crazy and demanding, but I also like a woman that knows how to let me drive and then knows when to take the wheel. I may have a down day and I need someone to be there for me as I would be there for them. They need to be very understanding and adventurous in all aspects, clothes, places, food, recreational things-very open-minded.
If you weren't doing music right now in any capacity, where would you be, and what would you be doing?
My first answer would be nowhere. Nowhere, probably dead. If I really think about it, if I wasn't doing music in any way, shape or form… I never would have gotten that far.