After being taken on a journey with Stephen James’ album Optimum (you can read our review here), Us For Once got a chance at an exclusive interview with them. We want to tell you all about the members and the riveting music they create.
When it comes to their origins, the members of Stephen James go way back. The band is comprised of three longtime friends. Songwriter/vocalist/guitar player Stephen James, drummer Zach Meyer, and bassist/guitarist Josh Trimble. Stephen recalls that himself and Zach met at a Bat Mitzvah in 7th grade and Josh moved into his middle school a year later. From playing music to just being teenage boys, Stephen said “We were alongside each other through really pivotal moments of our lives.” He had been wanting to make music for quite some time, but never got beyond singing the songs he wrote to no one but himself in his bedroom. When he started playing those songs with Zach and Josh freshman year of high school, he says he realized “what magic these guys can bring to the table.” Each was able to provide a new aspect to the music, which is when they realized they had something special. With this collaboration of their talents, they recorded the Eyelids EP.
Something that really stood out to us about this band was the physical distance between them. In high school, Zach moved around a lot and ended up in Utah rather than Milwaukee. Stephen was always showing him new songs but they were really only able to play together about 3 times a year when they went on breaks from school. On top of that, Josh was only around occasionally to play small house shows with Stephen. It’s safe to say not much happened for the group during their high school years, but they were determined to stick it out. After his junior year, Stephen recorded Roman Buildings and released it on his 18th birthday. He says about it, “All in all, it was basically a solo project with drum tracks, a producer, and lots of track takes.”
As far as musical inspirations go, the band really comes from a plethora of different music backgrounds. Through this, they are able to incorporate different sounds and genres into their songs. Stephen was brought up on pop and punk rock. Specifically, he found internet in bands such as My Chemical Romance, Weezer, Green Day, and so on. He also played in jazz groups which caused him to listen to artists like John Mayer and Bleachers. “I like to play in as many different styles and genres as possible,” he says. “But I definitely feel like a lot of our songs are the mix of good-vibe, groovy pop and those harder elements of what got me into music.” Zach, the drummer, takes inspiration from artists like Radiohead and Avid Dancer. Josh is a jazz guitar player who plays standards as well as unique and colorful sounds. His influences are artists such as Amy Winehouse and Stevie Wonder. Location can have a lot to do with the way music sounds. The members of Stephen James can be closely tied to two cities. Having grown up in Milwaukee, that’ll always be their home. But now that they are attending college in different locations, they consider themselves based in Chicago, seeing as that’s where much of their music comes to life. Stephen is not quick to give up his home in Milwaukee, saying “We’ll definitely be playing shows in Milwaukee this summer and forever honestly.”
The sound of Stephen James definitely varies from album to album, maybe even from song to song. But the true intent of the band is to have the spirit live on. Not everyone is going to like every song, but Stephen enjoys the idea that he is keeping the options open for listeners. He says, “I write in a lot of different head spaces and so I’ve always hoped that every single person can at least find a track or two they really connect with.” This band finds no need to have one album contain songs all uniform to each other. Unique, strange sounds are what they strive for, hoping to keep pop music on its feet. Having said this, there is sometimes a bit of a Broadway feel to Stephen’s voice. When asked about this, he revealed that he’s always been a broadway geek and is currently pursuing an acting degree. Theater and broadway are like his two loves, so why not mix them? Always looking to play with different voices for the sake of a song’s mood, his broadway side comes out to play on occasion.
Going back to the band’s most recent album, Optimum, Stephen says it can be a continuation of the coming of age story he told in Roman Buildings. “There was this one terrible night I was having one time, where I was up at 3 AM alone in my apartment,” he remembers. “and it felt like the walls were just about to fall. Then something distinctly clicked and I just felt this strong reassurance that no matter what happened, everything was gonna be ok. I found hope in one of my darkest nights. Similarly, I believe wholeheartedly in the power of our past mistakes, demons, and traumas.” This was the feeling he wanted to transfer into the album; accepting all of the bad things in life and breathing them in, realizing you and everything around you are magnificent. He believes in dedicating ourselves to our dreams and doing something right not only by the world, but by ourselves as well.
On May 10th, the band kicks off a tour in Chicago and finishes off the rest of that month on the west coast. In early June, they’ll be back home for some shows in Milwaukee. They are super excited for everything the tour will bring, especially playing music and doing what they love every night. As of now, small venues are good enough for them and they’d love to play House of Blues Chicago, Turner Hall in Milwaukee, the Wilma in Missoula. They don’t hinder their dreams however, and would love to play Madison Square Garden, the main stage at Lollapalooza, and Wrigley Field some day. As Stephen told us, “Shoot for the stars, ya know?”
We want to wish Stephen James the best on their upcoming tour and in their everyday journey of creating music true to them! It’s been a pleasure interacting with them and we can’t wait to see where their creativity takes them next.
Optimum is available for streaming and purchase now on Spotify, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud!
Stephen James is currently about to set off on their first tour, featuring select US cities! A complete list of dates and links to purchase tickets can be found on their website. If you would like to learn more or connect with the band, they can also be found on Facebook and Instagram!