Casey James Interview: ‘American Idol’ Alum Exudes Country Soul on Debut Album
Casey James is like a kid waiting for Christmas when he talks about his anticipation of fans finally hearing his debut album. "I absolutely love it and am so proud," the 29-year-old musician tells The Boot on a rainy March day at the Sony Music Nashville offices, adding humbly, "but there are a lot of albums out there I can't stand, and I'm sure their artists love them, too!"
It's been almost two years since the Texas native placed third on the ninth season of 'American Idol' -- a show he'd never watched. Instead of striking while the iron was hot and rushing to record and release new music, as many 'Idol' alums do, Casey took his time putting together his eponymous debut album, which hit stores this week. The result is certainly worth the wait. Complimenting the project's sexy and soulful first single, 'Let's Don't Call It a Night,' is a mix of country-rockin' uptempos that showcase Casey's seriously impressive guitar skills, along with ballads that reflect his softer side. The singer-songwriter co-penned all but two tracks on the album, wearing his heart on his musical sleeve as he opens up about failed relationships (one that clearly still stings) and about the most important thing in his life -- family -- through his lyrics.
The Boot talked to the charismatic Casey about his new music, the personal inspiration behind some of the standout tracks and why his 'Idol' past often has him playing defense.
'American Idol' alums are constantly being criticized for their instant fame, but you paid your dues, playing in Texas clubs for years before you tried out for the show. Are you constantly having to defend yourself?
That's something I try to always let people know about. I wasn't selling newspapers and then decided to go try out for 'American Idol.' I tried for 11 years to make my way. I was happy doing what I was doing, and I've still never seen 'American Idol.' No offense, it's a wonderful platform. Everyone on the show knows I love them and am happy for them. That being said, I'd never seen the show. My mother asked me to go, and I said no. But she said, "Look at all the people you play with, and look at yourself. Do you want to have a family? Do you want to be able to support these people? This is a free chance for something you don't have!" And she was right.
But I really do try to keep that in people's minds, that I worked so hard ... It's a bit of an issue with me. Two and a half years ago, I'd wake up, make business calls and get my gear. I'd load it up myself, set it up myself, play for four or five hours, then load it all back up myself. Then I'd count up my tips, divide up the money, unload all the stuff and go to bed. That was my day to day. When I went on ['American Idol'], I lost that. I lost who I was -- not for me, but for other people who didn't know the hard work I put into it. That makes me want to work a million times harder to let people know that, even now ... yes, I have been given opportunities, but I want to still work hard so that they feel like I deserve it. And I don't feel like I deserve it, but I have to realize it's not about me and what I want. It's about what God wants for my life, and I have to give that the respect it deserves. Then no one can say I didn't work for it.
Has fame affected you?
No, but it is weird when people look at you differently. I get people asking me about other famous people all the time, and I'm like, "Yep, they're a normal person with a good job. They get up every morning and eat their breakfast -- same life as you have!" But I love that I've been blessed to be able to buy other people food, instead of having them buy me food. Little things like that, that I didn't have before, I appreciate. I have a lot more to be thankful for now.
You co-wrote every song but two on your album, reflecting a lot of your own life through your lyrics. What is the most personal track?
They are all personal and mean a lot to me, but 'Miss Your Fire' is the most emotional for me. It's a longing and remorseful type thing. I immediately go to that place when I listen to that song. It wasn't going to be on the album. I already had ten songs, and it doesn't really fit ... it stands out. So now I have eleven, and it's the last track. It's different in that I sing in a throaty voice, and it's a piece of me that wasn't captured anywhere else on the album.
Given that 'Miss Your Fire' came from a personal experience, does the female inspiration for that track -- or for any of your love songs, for that matter -- know about it yet?
Some songs, maybe multiple people will be thinking it's about them! [laughs] But other songs, the person the song is written for will know ... Some already do! 'Undone,' 'Love the Way You Miss Me,' 'She's Money,' 'Tough Love' -- those songs were all written about the same girl. 'Miss Your Fire' and 'Get It Right,' which didn't make the album but might come out later, were written about [another] girl, an ex-girlfriend. I'm sure she'll probably never listen to it. She's still mad, hurt ... It's one of those situations where things just changed in our lives. You have to be able to move on.
Moving on to a happier song, 'Drive' shows your mad guitar skills and love for cars. When this album brings you a hefty paycheck, is there a dream car you might go buy?
I am a big car enthusiast. I totally understand guys like Jay Leno who have a thousand cars. But asking me my favorite car would be like asking my favorite song or favorite food -- it changes everyday. I can go all the way from the '40s to a '67 Camaro to a '74 Charger and everything in between.
What inspired the first single, 'Let's Don't Call It a Night'?
It was the first time I'd written with Terry McBride (who co-wrote the song with Casey and Brice Long). I walked in, and they already had a lick on the guitar. I said, "That sounds like a sexy groove!" You can easily move to that song, and we wrote the song accordingly. It's the most simple way of saying something everyone has experienced. Who hasn't been in a moment where you say, "Let's keep things rolling!"? I loved the song so much, I started playing it live the very next day after we wrote it.
'Let's Don't Call It a Night' is such a sexy song. Do you see a lot of PDA out in the audience when you're singing it?
Yes, I do! [laughs] But the coolest thing is people singing the song right along with me. I wish there was a word I could use to describe that experience, but there really is no word. You know in 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' when his heart grows? That's what it feels like when people are singing along.
Watch Casey James' 'Let's Don't Call It a Night' Video