On November 14th, San Francisco jazz club Yoshi’s welcomed San Francisco native Kelley James to its stage. The singer-rapper-guitarist opened for soul singer Marc Broussard, who also gave an amazing show. Kelley James really brought the audience to its feet with his engaged, enthusiastic attitude, and freestyle rap on topics of the audience’s choice (in this case surfboards and payroll). He played with a small, three-man band consisting of himself, a second guitarist, and a saxophone player, and played a great set. The Daily Beat got the chance to sit down with him after the show to discuss his career, the Bay Area, and his unique musical style.
Daily Beat: So, we just saw your show, which was great by the way, but for people who might be reading the blog and not be as familiar with it, how would you describe your musical style?
Kelley James: Super gangster sexiness.
DB: Ha, great, good answer.
KJ: No, but for real, I grew up in the Bay. Hip-hop is here, there’s that culture that has always been here. I grew up in the Nineties, so there was just this West Coast influence: grunge from Seattle was what made me want to play the guitar, and rap music was just always on the radio. A combination of those two genres made me want to figure out how they all did it. My style is just a little bit of all of them. And I can do an acoustic show, like tonight, or even just with a guitar player, but I play with a full band usually. My style is about giving the audience what they want. In my mind, if you don’t do that, you’re not doing your job.
DB: So, you just went into this a little bit, but was there any specific moment, or influence that made you want to be a musician?
KJ: Yeah, it was at the Fillmore, right down the street. I used to go to concerts in high school, and I just knew, right then. I went to the show of my favorite band, Stroke Nine, my senior year. They did this national tour, and then they came back to the Bay Area, and sold out the Fillmore. And I was one of the first ones there; I stood right in the front row. I put my elbows on the stage and looked up at them and just said, “I want to do that. I don’t care what I have to do, I just want to do that.”
DB: How has growing up in the Bay Area influenced you?
KJ: Growing up in the Bay Area exposes you to so much, it’s so diverse and open-minded. And growing up here, I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I was so lucky. The Bay Area especially is just so laid-back. I think I wasn’t pigeonholed into a certain genre, there isn’t a specific Bay Area sound. I’ve been able to do what I want, which has been great.
DB: Yeah, definitely. Do you have any upcoming projects you want to tell fans about?
KJ: I’m working on a whole batch of new music. As a performer and a musician, I’ve found certain styles that work for me. If I could be the guy on the acoustic guitar that can rap legitimate verses, with interesting beats, that would be awesome. You have people that swim around that genre, like Jason Mraz or Andy Grammar, but that’s something I want to hit. Also, there’s bands like Sublime, that have messed with that reggae feel, but that’s something I want to do in a different way. I think Bruno Mars killed it on ‘Billionaire,’ he really showed that reggae can be done a different way, a pop way. So I’m trying to do that as well, like the first song I played tonight “On A Rooftop” with the reggae feel. But I’m also trying to integrate some rap into that. I’m focusing on a batch of songs that combine those two styles, as well as just lining up shows for 2013.
DB: Great, I think that’s pretty much everything, is there anything else you want to discuss?
KJ: I’m just so happy to be able to do this. It’s just crazy to be able to tour around and meet all these people. It’s so crazy to go from being this sixteen-year-old kid at the Fillmore, to be able to really do it. The lifestyle and the experiences are incredible. That’s the path I’m trying to keep taking.
DB: Oh, final point, have you always been able to freestyle rap?
KJ: Yeah, in high school I used to just make up songs about people at parties, it was a great party trick. I don’t know why or how I do it, I love it though.
DB: It’s very impressive. Anyway, where can readers of The Daily Beat find you online?
KJ: At www.kelleyjames.com. Or at Twitter too, @YourBoyKJ.
Thank you to Kelley James for a great show!