Daniel James Music promotions Interview

Ex-Yell! vocalist and actor Daniel James is back with a self-penned single ‘Set Your Spirit Free’, a song filled with emotions about coming out of lockdown that sends a message of hope that come June 21st we will be free to live fully again.  .

Daniel Spoke to Music Promotions about his career in music, from band life to solo artist, acting career, releasing new music, working with Simon Cowell and much more.

What is the story behind your single ‘Set Your Spirit Free’?

During the first lockdown the whole world were having to come to terms with huge dramatic changes. Every day I would watch the UK 5pm Govt news bulletins. I would often also watch the New York press conferences too. I looked at news stories about how families were struggling. Often not being able to see elderly parents in care homes. Dementia sufferers regressing after not being allowed to see family and friends. Children not being able to play with friends. People losing small businesses. People’s mental and emotional well-being was suffering. I was away from my family so to try and keep on an even keel emotionally I would go for very long walks at night. A solitary person walking alone. Processing the thoughts of everything I had seen and read during the day. The streets were deserted, and my emotions were concentrated. As I walked the words flowed…

‘ As the world turns its head there are people around me with their hearts in their mouths , not knowing the right way they should turn.

Watching hair turning grey, seeing children turn into adults, days running away, falling apart at the seems’.

That first verse came to me. I rushed home to record it. The next night on my walk the second verse came and the third night the chorus. The verses are emotionally reflective, but the chorus is much more optimistic and uplifting. All about our hopes for fully coming out of lockdown. As we ease out of lockdown people seem to be relating to the lyrics and enjoying the uplifting message.

Would you say this single is a good indication of your music sound right now?

This first single is refection of where I was during the first lockdown. My emotions are changing as lockdown eases and with it my lyrics and my writing.

The follow up single is a song about a couple. The guy feels he is losing his girlfriend, doesn’t quite know what to do about it and is going through his feelings in his mind. Although it’s called ‘Don’t Wanna Lose That Girl’. It’s a song that reflects the universal feelings and emotions that one half or both haves of a couple can feel when they care about somebody and they feel that it’s a little shaky and they are wondering what they can do to keep the relationship and not lose the person they care for. The song could be about any couple any age. It’s a universal dilemma with universal feelings and emotions.

How long did you spend writing and recording ‘Set Your Spirit Free’?

‘Set Your Spirit Free’ came together quite quickly. Usually when an idea comes to me, I like to try and get it recorded as soon as possible. I mostly write about my feelings or the feelings of people I see around me Although If I am writing for a specific act, I can write exactly in the style of the artist.

So, for ‘Set your Spirit Free’ a couple of night walks to write the outline then a couple of studio days. When it comes to song-writing and recording what is your process? I usually get a melody and a lyric in my head when I am out and about. I try and record whatever it is on my phone. Sometimes I come up with a hook, a chorus with some lyrics. The basis of a story. Then I have to build a verse or verse and bridge to it. If I come up with a verse then I have to take it on a journey into the chorus and onwards. My songs are usually stories about something that’s happened to me or someone else. I get a rough outline then work on it later. Building and expanding the story as I go along. Although recently I have also been writing with a friend and If it’s an idea for another artist, or band, I will start with a beat then come up with a melody and lyric and build it from there. It’s different writing for someone else. Often more fun as I can be less emotionally involved if it’s not a song for me.

Are you happier as a solo artist than in a band environment?

I love what I am doing now. It’s a wonderful feeling of freedom.

You were once signed by Simon Cowell, What was that like signed to his label? How would you describe that era of your music career?

It was fun working with Simon Cowell. He wanted success and had what was a proven formula that he had used with Sinitta. Simon was a very driven businessman, but he would listen to my opinion and we had many a conversation. I saw myself as a singer/songwriter and had written lots of tracks for the album Lets Go. Simon and I often had discussions about what would be the next single. PWL were very big at the time and Simon had ‘previous’ with them so it was natural for him to think that that was the right route for us. I didn’t, to be honest. After finishing our own tour, I didn’t want to join the PWL roadshow as we were not a PWL act. We wrote and produced our own material, so naturally felt differently about promotion. However sometimes in this industry your circumstances mean that you have to make compromises.

Simon naturally based on his past experience with Sinitta wanted to wait for the follow up single to be written and produced by PWL. PWL had a long waiting list therefore we were left waiting months for availablity. Sadly, this left a huge gap time-wise for the follow up. All the hard work breaking the band seemed to slip away. Usually when you break a band you get the follow up out as the first single is coming down the chart. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for us and too much time was lost waiting for the follow up to be written. We had other tracks ready to be released but sadly I didn’t have the power to make that happen at the time.

How much have you changed musically since then?

I always wrote tracks about my life and my experiences or experiences I witnessed others having.

I don’t think my sound has changed much it has developed as I have. I still have the same influences. I like to think my tracks are a little more polished now. I tell stories, thats my way.

With The Voice, BGT and X factor etc, would you have ever gone down that route?

Those shows have been a phenomenon that took over the music industry to a large extent for a while. A lot of people got caught up with the power of the shows. They certainly seemed to be an amazing money/career making opportunity for the people running the shows and the labels and the producers. They were certainly great entertainment programmes and in essence that’s what they were. I know some artists have managed to maintain some longevity, which is great. However, I think some may have found themselves without much needed emotional support. I don’t know what kind of deals the artists had or what creative freedoms they had. I just hope that they had decent contracts and also wrote some tracks and managed to make a little money for themselves along the way.

What advice would you give to newer artists making it into the industry?

I would never push my advice to another artist. Each person’s journey is their own. You have to be very tenacious and driven to ride the waves of the industry. The only little piece of advice I would give would be to get a lawyer to look at every contract. Do not sign anything before a music industry lawyer has looked at it. Doing that is an investment in yourself and your future. Also try and write some material as that is where the financial security and longevity is.

After your initial music career ended, how much did you miss recording etc?

Yell! Took me on a wonderful journey. I was very wounded after Yell! ended so abruptly, some would say brutally. I was quite broken. I really didn’t feel that I could record again. I was emotionally wounded It took me a long time doing other things before I felt emotionally strong again. I avoided all things music industry. I had lost something that I and given everything to for several years. One day flying in from LA after recording tracks for the album. Flying to a London studio to finish production on another album track then waking up the next day and opening the paper to see that your band were over. A very shocking and painful experience. I felt helpless. I didn’t have an HR manager to go to, to try and sort it out. I was cast aside. That is not easy for anybody in any profession. My wounds have healed. I am much wiser and much stronger now and enjoying the wonderful response to ‘Set your Spirit Free’.

What was it like working with Mike Stock and Matt Aitkin?

I worked with Mike and Matt before they teamed up with Pete. Two very ambitious driven guys.

Easy to work with. But very focussed and driven, much like myself. We recorded in Mike’s home studio and played football in his big garden during and after laying tracks down. It was a lot of fun.

Your also an actor, do you still act? What would be your dream role?

I threw myself into acting after Yell! I moved to New York and just breathed. I ended up acting in a workshop production of an off-Broadway play. We rehearsed right through the summer in NY and it was a very refreshing rejuvenating experience. I walked the Avenues of Manhattan every day. It was a joy. I didn’t realise at the time but the whole experience was helping me heal and rebuild my creative confidence.

You’ve also had roles in varies UK soaps, How did you find working on Soaps?

After acting in NY I returned to England and was lucky enough to get some great TV roles. Edgy parts including-

  • I played an ex drug dealer fighting to regain custody of his daughter in Casualty.
  • A cancer ridden rugby player in Doctors.
  • A suspicious Detective in Coronation Street.
  • A calm poetic Vicar in The Last Tango In Halifax and an edgy guy having a ‘ruck’ with Ben Mitchell in Eastenders…ending with me running over his daughter.
  • All great parts and fantastic experiences.

I was a guest actor in all of these dramas. The main cast work so hard learning pages of dialogue every night. Especially in the soaps. They are amazing and are to be admired and envied as they are all so versatile and hard working. What looks easy and smooth on tv takes a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make it look and run so smoothly.

What was it like moving to New York? 

Yell! Recorded in LA which I loved but I had not been to NY when moved there. It’s like being on a film set.I love Manhattan and all the boroughs. The energy there is amazing. A very fast paced life, but equally a very exciting life too. I love walking and walked across Manhattan so I know it very, very well. I made some great friends and had some wonderful experiences.

Rehearsing in a space that had been used by generations of legendary Broadway performers was a thrill. The floorboards held some amazing history and stories. Rehearsing all summer, spending weekends on Long island ..who would not love that? It gave me an opportunity to lose myself.

What have been some of your career highlights so far?

Appearing on Top Of the Pops will always be a special memory. Hearing your record is in the charts is another. Appearing on stage in front of thousands is such a buzz. I love performing live and that was thrilling The Yell! fans were and are so dedicated. I’ve been fortunate to have many stay in touch which is amazing. Acting on screen is another thrill. A totally different feeling than being in concert. They are like 2 sides of the same coin. Both are things I aspired to as a youngster and to continue being able to fulfil those dreams is a great feeling.

Is there anything that you would have changed if you could?

To have more control in my music career when Yell! took off.

When live music is fully back, will there be any live shows in the works?

I would love to be back playing live. The summer is coming and I would love to appear on some of the roadshows that are going to be going around the country. To re-connect with a live audience would be incredible. The feeling of being onstage singing and carrying a crowd with you, is incredible. It is like no other.

What is a live show of yours like?

Wait and see!

Plans for the rest of the year?

I am hoping to release a follow up single in July and I have a couple more singles lined up between now and Christmas. It would be brilliant if I could continue this journey. I hope people like the follow up!

Final Messages?

I would like to thank everybody who has taken time to listen to ‘Set your spirit Free’.Thank everyone who has voted for it on The Heritage chart. It is currently in the top 20 and people can vote for it still. I want to thank everyone who has played the record. The response from local and internet radio DJ’s has been wonderful and very heart-warming. DJ’s on local and internet stations have been incredibly kind. I will always be very grateful to them for their support. After Yell! I truly didn’t think that I would sing again. Over the last few months I have recorded and released a new single that people have responded well to. It has been the most pleasant uplifting surprise. I am very grateful for ‘another 5 minutes’ as a recording artist.

Anything you would like to add that I haven’t within this interview please add a note at the end of your replies. 

‘Set your Spirit Free’ is about our emotions especially during that shocking first long lockdown.

The chorus is about our hopes for fully coming out of lockdown and living our lives to the full again. I hope people can relate to the words and feel uplifted by the music. I hope everyone can come out of lockdown and enjoy every second of their lives again. It’s been tough for so many people. Watching as lockdown starts to ease, it is a joy to see how happy people are gradually returning to normal life. Long may it continue.

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