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August James on navigating your twenties, his love for Lorde, and the making of his EP "Warm Air"

August James

Warm Air

Release: July 20, 2023

Interview by Alicia Urrea


Last week, I was thrilled to meet the lovely August James and discuss elements of his brand new EP, Warm Air, while getting to know details about his upbringing and musicianship. James is a Los Angeles-based independent artist who aims to portray his introspection and free spirit through his creative outlet: making music.


PHOTO BY SOPHIE WEIL


So, first question is I want to start out with your name because I feel like it's so Taylor Swift-esque, you know, like the love triangle in Folklore. So was that intentional or is there a meaning behind it?


August: "Well my name is Gus, and I went by Gus for most of my life, but my real name is August and August James is my real given name. So it wasn't intentionally like a reference to Folklore, but Folklore is definitely one of my favorite albums ever. I love that it is connected to that and I love that other Taylor Swift fans [are] always commenting that stuff, which is awesome. But yeah, it's my real name. I know people always think that it's a stage name – I mean, it is a stage name – but it's also my actual name. There's this photo of when I was born, where it says 'August James' super big on a white board in the hospital."


So, next question is, what made you want to be a musician?


August: "I grew up not only listening to music, but watching music being made and watching little gigs around town at farmers markets and stuff like that. And then when I was in middle school, we got iPads issued by the school and they had GarageBand loaded on them and I just messed around in class playing with synth presets and stuff. That's what got me into production. And I started just producing instrumentals and going from there. I didn't start it as like, 'I'm going to do this, I want to pursue this' or something. It was just a fun activity for me and it just evolved pretty naturally to what it is now."


What's your creative process like? Because you do so much; songwriting, singing, production. So like where does it all begin and what comes first when you're making a song?


August: "Yeah, for sure. I definitely consider myself a producer more than like a singer or a writer, and I think that it mostly stems from the fact that all my writing starts with production for the most part. Like I personally never sit down with a guitar [and say], 'I'm gonna write this on guitar.' Like it almost always starts with an instrumental that I produced, like pretty fully fleshed, [and] I'll have a whole song structure that. The instrumental won't change too much from that point to the release usually, and then I'll write lyrics on top of that. And when I make an instrumental, it'll definitely be in my head like, 'Okay, what do I think it could be about, or what am I gonna write on top of this?' But I would say that process and the lyric process kind of exists pretty separately for me. And then I usually kind of record as I write. It's sort of all-in-one, but production is definitely what I enjoy the most about making music. And I feel like in some ways, this whole project is sort of just like an excuse for me to produce music."


Who are some of your inspirations, whether it's musically or just generally?


August: "Okay, this is such a boring answer but I just have to say it: Lorde. She's like my favorite artist of all time and she's just the best writer. Producers as well, like lately it's been Danny L Harle. He's produced so much, but most recently he's produced Caroline Polachek's most recent album, which is masterful. And like, that duo of Caroline and Danny has been super inspiring to me recently, especially because of that album.


Outside of music – this is kind of a tangent – but I grew up training in a circus and stuff. And like, I would say my coaches in that environment have actually really impacted me in the long run. Because it was encouraging, but also kind of like, there was a certain... you know, pressure. Like a positive pressure, but this pressure to keep excelling and striving for this next creative goal. And so, I always think of my coaches in the back of my head. Like whenever I'm feeling down about my music, I'm like, 'No, my coaches would want me to keep going.' So, in a weird way, I feel like they've been [an inspiration]."


So what's your favorite song you've ever written?


August: "My favorite song I've ever written... honestly, it's so hard. I honestly think it's the song Fever, which is the third track on the EP. Just because I feel like nobody else likes that song. It's like the least streamed of the singles, which is fine, but like people should like that song more. But I really like the lyrics on that song, personally. They feel like they're really personal and they come from really real moments. And I also just really like the production and the chorus. For me, in my writing, hooks and choruses are really important to me. I hope that listeners can at least sing back the melody, like after listening to it one time. And I really like the hook on Fever. I feel like when I wrote it, it was stuck in my head forever, which to me is a really good sign. So I think that's the song that I go back and listen to the most that I wrote."



What can you say about the difference between the first song you've ever released, up to the release of Warm Air? Do you feel like you've matured in your craft, or that anything has changed within you artistically or even just in general?


August: "Oh yeah, totally. So Indigo was the first song I released on streaming platforms. It was in July of 2020, so I guess like three years ago. I'd released other songs on SoundCloud before that, and they were so outrageous, like I cannot listen to them. And even Indigo to me – listening to it now – I'm like, 'Oh there's so much that I would change.' But I do still ultimately like that song. And I honestly hate to just keep talking about production but the way I produce songs has changed so much. I was actually just in the project file for Indigo the other day and it's so sparse, like there's literally like four instrument tracks and like five vocal tracks or something. And now, there's some songs on the EP that have like a hundred tracks because I just layer my vocals so deeply and stuff like that. But back then it was just like, I didn't really know what I was doing, for better or for worse. I was kind of just like, instinctively, like 'Oh, this sounds cool. Let me record this.' And the chorus of that song says like, 'I feel like indigo,' and that was kind of like the main line. And I don't even know what that means. I never knew what it meant. I was just talking to talk. And I feel like now I have a lot more intention behind my lyrics."


What do you wish to accomplish within the next year or so? What can we expect in the near future?


August: "Okay so, in the next year or so... ugh, I don't know. I'm always unsure if I should be setting strong goals or not, because like, on one hand I don't feel like it's good to have goals [for myself], but I also am hard on myself and I'm always like, 'What if I don't achieve them?' But, I think I want to do more live stuff in the next year. Like in the next year or two, I would love to open on tour for an artist. That's kind of like, my somewhat near future goal, is to tour with an artist. Also, in terms of creative stuff that's in the pipeline... I'm always writing [music], of course. And, my good friend Sophie and I – she's been awesome this whole process – we're making a little documentary to go along with the EP that we filmed throughout the making as I was producing it and stuff. So I'm really excited for that to come out, it's going to come out just after the EP. So that's sort of on the creative horizon. I also just hope to keep finding people to listen to my music. I feel like you're not really supposed to say this as an artist, but like, I want as many people to hear my music as possible. So that's always the goal."


Security Deposit is one of my favorite songs, it really hit close to home as someone who is just entering their twenties trying to figure their life out. If you could go back in time to give yourself advice on young adulthood, what would you say?


August: "I mean, I think I did a pretty good job at embracing my young life and my teenhood. I mean, I know I'm still young, but I think I did a pretty good job at embracing it. I think I would just remind myself to just suck up every moment. It's the most cliché thing ever, but I would just say don't be so caught up in the future and [caught up in] what's next. Looking back on it, there's so many moments that I would do anything to go back to. So I think I would just remind myself to be present. Again, it's the most boring piece of advice possible, but that's always what rings in my head too when I think about how I want to live right now, going forward. I'm always like, 'How can I be present in my youth?' Because twenties is crazy; twenties is like, old. It doesn't sit right with me yet."


Are there any parts of your identity that you feel are significant or translated in your artistry?


August: "Definitely my queerness, I would say is pretty integral to my craft. I don't know that it so much shows up in the actual way that I write songs, but I feel like in some ways it's kind of why I started writing music, and why I turned to music as a creative outlet. Also, I think it influences the music I listen to, which then influences my music. I feel like I'm queer spaces music is just so important to those communities. Like in middle school [I was] on Tumblr and stuff like that, listening to Marina and the Diamonds... I feel like [it was] a part of my queer journey. And I think that still translates to me now, and my music, and how I write. So, I think that's definitely the identity that's most relevant to my music. Also, I grew up in Minnesota, and I feel like that sort of comes up in my brain a lot when I'm writing. I don't even know what specific elements of it, but just growing up in this quiet, chill area with a tight-knit community [was nice] and I was really fortunate enough to grow up with a lot of really close friends that I had throughout my whole childhood and I’m really inspired by that part of my youth."


This is the last question... what is the meaning behind Warm Air? What do you want people to take away from it when they hear it?


August: "Warm Air was so funny. I mean, not funny, but like... I didn't really know I was making it when I started making [the EP]. I was just making music the last year or so, just being nineteen and then being twenty. [There was] this societal feeling that this is your 'coming-of-age' and there were so many feelings that were swirling in my head, and I had no choice but to write about them. It was just a need to write, and I didn't even know that I was writing the EP, I just thought I was writing music like I always did. I kind of looked back and realized it was thematically and sonically [similar]. And so I hope that translates for people; that whatever their current [situation is], they're able to translate this music into that. That's always a balance I'm trying to strike in my music, is to be really specific to my life and relaying experiences, like story-telling. But at the same time, hopefully [I'm] able to have the listeners apply what I'm talking about to their own lives and relationships. Also, it's called Warm Air because to me it's just a summery vibe, and I hope that it just soundtracks some fun moments for people. Because I feel like that's how music has been really important for me in the past. [Music] is literally the soundtrack of your life. On the late night drives, and the picnics... so I hope that I'm able to be that for some people."



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