In the world of music, bigger rarely means better. Often, the most magnificent music appears in the simplest of clothing.
In the case of Californian folk artist James Spaite, a cello, a guitar, and a pair of voices are all it takes to craft a record that is breathtakingly beautiful and immensely satisfying.
James was one of the reasons we started The Cellary—we fell in love with his music and wanted to learn more about where it comes from. So we were nothing short of thrilled to get the chance to chat with James. Check out our conversation below, and then check out his music. You won’t be disappointed.
Ethan Weitz: James, how did you get started with writing music?
James Spaite: That’s a good question. I’m going to split it into two categories, actually: music and lyrics.
When I first started writing music I actually would only write instrumental guitar pieces. I hated my voice. I thought I was a horrible singer. And I even reference that in some of my music in different places. And so I would just write instrumental pieces and that’s how I actually got into percussive finger-style guitar. I was like, “You know what? I can’t sing, so I might as well do something cool with the guitar.” And so around 8th grade I got creative, thought I was the first ever and then sort of figured out that people have been playing percussive finger-style guitar for a really long time. You can imagine how let down I was because I thought I was really original.
I think something that kind of kept me running with music was that I have ADHD and interestingly enough there is like this hyper-focused portion of ADHD. A lot of times people just think, “Oh you can’t focus on anything,” whereas the actual truth is that people with ADHD are able to focus really, really well on things that they are interested in. For me, that was music. I would think about my guitar all day during school, and then when I’d get home I’d just go and lock myself in my room for six hours and play.
I started writing lyrics in a gap year between high school and university. Out of that time came a lot of songs that I kind of threw away. But there were a few that I held on to, like “Effort,” which ended up on the album “A Woman Gave Me Music.”
Ethan: Has getting a degree in psychology influenced your music at all?
James: Absolutely, especially in a lot of the music I’m currently writing. There are a lot of themes that stem from sociology and psychology. I also grew up in the central valley of California—I’m from Visalia. It’s a very diverse area and my mom studied sociology in college, so I grew up with a distinct sociological lens on the world. So that is something that has significantly influenced not only my music, but my entire life, as far as being curious about questions of how human beings interact. It all fascinates me.
Ethan: Musically speaking, do you have any artists or styles that really inspire you?
James: Top five, I feel comfortable saying: James Taylor, Kool & the Gang, John Donne (he’s a Celtic artist), Antione Defour (he’s a percussive finger-style guitarist), and I would have to say the last spot is split between anything Justin Vernon or Michael Gungor.
Emily Cardé: Could you tell us a little bit about the first song you ever wrote?
James: The first lyrical song I wrote, I wrote for a girl I had a thing with in high school. At the time I thought the song was really sweet, but looking back now I realize that it was plain terrible. I played it for her at a bonfire over at a friend’s house one time. Literally zero response. Then, I was so sad, but looking back, it’s really funny.