He’s written huge hits for other acts, but for his most recent solo album American singer-songwriter James House fulfilled a lifelong dream.
James decamped from his home in Nashville to rent a place in Berwick Street, London, and record at the renowned Abbey Road Studios.
With the album titled simply Berwick St due for release a week today, he’s back in the UK for a short series of dates.
When The Guide caught up with him, he was still enthused from the recent songwriting retreat he’d taken part in with former Squeeze singer and guitarist Chris Difford.
Berwick St is James’s fifth solo album, but is the first time he’s recorded outside the US.
‘I’ve put together a band in the last couple of years, and they’re the band I’ve been touring with. The last run we made – they’re all from Liverpool – we played a couple of shows, and the band was really sounding great. That made me think, if ever there’s a time, let’s go for it. Plus it’s a bucket list thing recording there for a kid who grew up on all of the great music made there.
I grew up with so much music in my life, all of that music gets in your DNA as a musician, so it’s fun to let that outJames House
‘I had visited the studios before. But you’re singing on the same microphones The Beatles sang on, and the space, there’s the great old gear, that’s what you go there for – it’s the vibe. It was really a dream come true, to be standing in the same place as Paul McCartney cut Blackbird or whatever.
‘I purposely cut with a small band because I wanted the room to be part of the sessions so you could hear Abbey Road – it’s got that beautiful live sound to it.’
James, originally from Sacramento in California, was keen to immerse himself in London life for the project and see what emerged.
‘I rented an apartment down on Berwick Street, above a coffee house and when it came to about 10 o’clock it would turn into the disco until about 4am.
‘So that was the end of my quiet little apartment,’ he laughs, ‘but I ended up just hanging and writing songs at night and looking at the street go by and I was taking it all in. I know that’s a famous area for record shops in times gone by, I just kind of let my imagination run away and fell in love with it.’
Since releasing his self-titled debut album in 1989, James’s solo career has been sporadic, as he’s written with others and worked on numerous film soundtracks.
But of his big hits for others, he has no regrets in not keeping them for himself.
‘With Ain’t That Lonely Yet, I didn’t have a record deal then. I went and played it for this record company in Nashville and they didn’t think it was a hit, so Kostas, who I co-wrote it with, took it to Dwight Yoakam, and he really made it the great record it was.
‘Then with In a Week or Two, I did do a demo on that and I could have had a hit with that, but Diamond Rio was hotter than heck and I got a number one out of that.
‘Also, A Broken Wing, the minute it was done, I knew that would be more powerful with a woman singing it. I felt real strong about that. If a woman sang it, she would be a stronger advocate for it then any guy could – and to this day no-one’s outsung Martina McBride on that song.
‘In hindsight, no, I’ve no regrets in letting others cut those songs. I’m really grateful, and it’s given me a really wonderful career. I’m very happy to be a songwriter too. At this stage of the game I’m very grateful for that.
‘I grew up with so much music in my life, all the music my dad listened to in the house, and all the music my brother brought home – all of that music gets in your DNA as a musician, so it’s fun to let that out.’
While he’ll be promoting Berwick St for the moment, he’ll carry on writing with and for others too.
‘I kind of always mix it up. I’ll take any of it – I’m just really grateful I get to make music.
I’ll see where it all falls’.
Wickham Centre, Wickham
Saturday, June 24