'Listen to everything, explore, dig. Never stop digging, never stop listening, never stop feeling.'
With a new album out and an upcoming role in Lena Waithe's series 'The Chi,' R&B's softest crooner just wants to be loved.Everyone says that. JAMES: Just finding other ways. I love creating. It’s cliché, but when you love what you do, it’s not work. It’s true. When you’re an artist in totality, it’s your identity. I can’t turn it off, so I work. NECHAMKIN: But then there’s the difference between the creating part of the job and the touring, the press. I’m sure sometimes it can inhibit the creative juices. JAMES: It’s the stress that makes it weird. It’s the pressure of like, I’ve got to do this , when music is more, Do you want to do it? Do you feel it? Artists are artists because they don’t want the regular nine-to-five. I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to meet a quota —that type of pressure doesn’t make a diamond for us. It makes fucking rocks. NECHAMKIN: Which is why there are a lot of rocks among the diamonds. JAMES: There’s a lot of rocks among the diamonds. NECHAMKIN: What do you do in the morning when you wake up? JAMES: I roll my ankles and my feet around. NECHAMKIN: I thought you were going to say something else. JAMES: I roll a doobie. No, no I roll my ankles around. I’m being literal. I’m giving you my first thought. I’m trying to be as honest as possible. I walk a lot and I did hurt myself, and it just made me appreciate my joints and bones and taking care of myself, and I think also that gives me time to breathe instead of just, wake up and go, look at my phone, go, go, go, go. Get my system time to realize, we’re up, ready to go, we’re all there, everything’s working. NECHAMKIN: How much time do you spend on the phone every day? This was written back when people actually spent time on the phone . Now it’s like… JAMES: That’s hilarious. Well, before I had a cell phone—I remember that—I spoke on the phone maybe four hours. NECHAMKIN: JAMES: A day. I mean, my mom was like, “Man, you better get up and go do something.” When you’re a kid, you don’t really think about the phone, but when you’re a teen, the phone is all yours, it’s life. My mom wasn’t having that. But, as an adult with a cell phone… Wow. I could probably look that up right now. [ Pulls out phone. ] Wait, how do I do it? NECHAMKIN: I forgot they track it. I try to ignore it. I think it’s in your settings. JAMES: Yeah? There we go. So far today, sheesh. Two hours 25 minutes. NECHAMKIN: That’s not that much. But that’s so far. JAMES: I’ve had a lot of meetings today. NECHAMKIN: Do you believe in marriage? JAMES: No. I don’t know about believe, but I think I don’t particularly subscribe to the institution. When I think of the initial thought of what marriage is, like in America, and what it’s kind of been pushed to make me feel like, it feels like pressure. It feels like something else rather than what it naturally should be, a union. It feels like a business agreement, and that’s weird. I’m still figuring it out. If we are constantly evolving every day… NECHAMKIN: How can you evolve with someone else over the course of 20, 30 years? JAMES: You know? And what happens is you have this strain, this invisible chain that you both feel like, “Oh, I can’t break it.” It’s invisible, but everyone can see the chain. And we can’t let everyone see that we’re breaking the chain. NECHAMKIN: Have you ever been in love? JAMES: NECHAMKIN: That’s what the album is about, right? JAMES: Yes. I know what that feeling is, and the album is me trying to get to that place that I once felt before. To feel loved, to feel love. That’s what everyone wants. That’s what I want, for sure. I love love. NECHAMKIN: Did you ever hate anybody? JAMES: Yeah, I did. I did hate someone, and that’s ugly. Someone broke my heart and that was how I decided to get through it—to hate them. NECHAMKIN: Sometimes I feel like that’s the only way, unfortunately. JAMES: Yeah, I got angry enough to move to New York. NECHAMKIN: Where were you before? JAMES: L.A. I was like, got to get the fuck out of here. They’re everywhere. They’re tethered to everything. They’re inside of the people you love. Your original tribe now has become something else, and you just got to escape that shit. In L.A., you really got to know somebody. Out here, you could be a loner. And there’s a whole tribe of loners that go hang out where the tribe of loners hang out, and you find it. It’s just endless. The city is alive. You can get lost and found in New York. NECHAMKIN: Do you think Nixon got a raw deal? My editor wrote next to this one, “Update for 2019.” JAMES: That is so funny. A raw deal? Man. Fuck Nixon, fuck all the motherfuckers. Fuck them. Fuck them. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. NECHAMKIN: I guess you could update that for what’s going on right now and it would be not that different. JAMES: No. Fuck him. Bruh, I don’t know. I have a weird feeling. It’s so weird, democracy and all that. What it all just says to me, very loudly, is that there’s one side that is for good, and there is a whole side that is just pure fucking evil and it wants what it wants and only what it wants, and then there’s no in-between. It’s like, fuck that. Let’s just be good and fuck these people. Killing anyone is wrong. Locking up anyone is fucked up and wrong. Kids are kids. The Earth is hurting, okay? Let’s just fuck it, fuck the money, fuck all that shit, and tell motherfuckers what the real deal is, and so motherfuckers get it in their head. We got to find other ways of doing this. And yes, the world will go mad for a moment, but it’s what has to happen for us to survive, to live, if we truly care about life itself. I don’t dive into those things because it just makes me… NECHAMKIN: Read more: Interview Magazine
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