Like its predecessor, Jason James’ sophomore album Seems Like Tears Ago — out Oct. 4 and premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Sept. 18) — does sound like yesteryear. The traditional country album is akin to anything Ken Burns is featuring in episodes of his PBS Country Music documentary. James even proclaims at one point, over weeping fiddles, that “We’re gonna honky-tonk tonight/ We’re gonna have a ball.”
Just don’t ask James himself, a Texas-bred former punk rocker, to explain how he comes to that sound.
“I don’t know, honestly,” James tells Billboard. “I grew up with traditional country, living in Texas, so I guess it was something that was ingrained in me. Even when I was in rock, I wasn’t that happy with the music I was making. It’s just something that comes naturally to me. I enjoy listening to it and I enjoy playing it, so it’s fun.”
In 2019, making traditional country music proves to be a challenge. James acknowledges that it’s difficult to find players who handle his high ‘n’ lonesome and Texas Swing correctly. For Seems Like Tears Ago, though, he found a good crew through producer John Evans, recording in Dripping Springs, Texas, with a group that included Reckless Kelly fiddler Cody Braun.
“My sound has ended up evolving in some ways, because I don’t want to just be a straight-from-the-path kind of player and play everything like Ernest Tubb would play it,” James explains. “I want to add my own flavor to it.” Any changes James made from his self-titled 2015 debut were on his own terms, and not to please anyone other than himself. This is part of the reason his new album is on his own Melodyville Records after putting out Jason James with New West.
“I had people who were wanting me to get rid of the [pedal] steel, get rid of the fiddle,” James says. “My feeling is, ‘Screw it, I’m just gonna do what I want to.’ It’s being honest to yourself. It’s a feeling that I get when I play these songs — there’s an honesty that’s conveyed. Some people may miss that. I’m just doing what’s in me, and if I go down I’m gonna do down swinging. At least I made the record I want to make.”
Fortunately, James has found “some pretty devout fans” that appreciate what he does, and he’ll be bringing Seems Like Tears Ago to them — primarily in Texas for now, but he’s hoping to expand his tour soon. He will also be adding to his repertoire in the not too distant future.
“I’ve got a lot of songs around,” he acknowledges. “Prolific doesn’t mean great, but I’m writing constantly. It can be quite maddening, but it’s just something I’ve got to get out. There’s no real overnight success with this kind of country, but once someone becomes a fan they’ll follow you to hell and back, and I’m starting to get some of those.”
Listen to Seems Like Tears Ago in its entirety below.