Why he’s worth checking out: James is part of a circle of notable Nashville artists—including Matthew Ryan, Trent Dabbs, Kate York and Neilson Hubbard—who play at each other’s shows and on each other’s records.
Fun Fact: Tyler James doesn’t own a piano, so he sneaks into a local university’s practice room to play.
For fans of: Josh Rouse, The Beatles
Tyler James won the high-school talent show. In a moment of teenaged glory, he performed a song about his future wife. “The mentality was that you go to college and you meet this girl and you get married when you turn 22,” he says of his Dutch Reform background. “So I was like, ‘This is already taken care of. I wrote a song for this person, and it can be my inspiration.’”
And that was the first song James ever performed. “It was probably the biggest crowd I’ve had up until now,” he jokes. (Granted, as a member of the talent-show committee, he did plan, promote and host the event.)
James recently released a six-song EP with Nashville producer Jason Lehning (Guster, David Mead) and is now readying his debut full-length. Like many Nashville artists, James attributes his recent success and inspiration to Music City. “Coming to Nashville was the best thing that could have happened to me,” he says. “Musically and spiritually, I’m supposed to be here.”
The 23-year-old James’ vulnerable lyrics, uncontrived vocals and memorable piano and guitar arrangements make for a sound as accessible as it is meaningful. The songwriter says he feels a kinship when listening to music his favorite artists made when they first started out. “I get so inspired listening to people playing the songs they wrote when they were my age,” he says. It’s like they didn’t know where the music was going to take them.”
While James revels in the same feeling of unlimited musical possibility, he still doesn’t plan to release that song about his future wife. But who knows? Twenty-five years from now, his high-school prize winner could be the lead track on Tyler James: The Early Years.