Don’t Bet Against Newcomer Greylan James [Interview]
Greylan James mines memories of old relationships to inspire new songs, and he hopes the women he dated know about it. Many of these ex-girlfriends are married now, which he says "adds a bit of a complicating factor."
Talking to Taste of Country, he recalls that some of the people closest to him expressed doubt, if not in him, then in the idea that a songwriter could make a living that would support a family.
"I was taking it seriously," he says. "This was my job, even though I was only making like $12,000 on my first publishing deal."
- Greylan James began learning guitar at age 5 and was ranked as one of the best guitarists under 21 by Guitar Center Magazine's Brotherhood of the Guitar Top 100.
- He was featured on NBC's The Voice in 2013.
- At a young age, Kenny Chesney told Greylan to "stay in school and learn how to write songs."
James, a Knoxville, Tenn., native, moved to Nashville at 18 to become an artist and signed a publishing deal soon after arriving, even though he knew little about what that meant. The 9-to-5 schedule was good for him, even if he didn't love the grind, at first. Slowly, his competitive nature took over.
"I didn’t like not being good at it, because I was not good at it for a long time," he says.
It's hard to argue that he's not good at it today. "Happy Does" for Kenny Chesney and "Next Thing You Know" for Jordan Davis are two of his radio singles among the dozens, if not hundreds of songs he's written in the eight years since taking that first job.
"I started to realize, my favorite artists write their own songs," he says, pointing specifically to Old Dominion. "They were songwriters before doing this thing and concerts."
In short, James figured it out, and since that moment he's built a catalog with a group of young writers who are all enjoying success with him. Brock Berryhill (Kane Brown, Brantley Gilbert) was a surveyor when James first met him. Matt Roy (Chris Janson, "Done") and Rocky Block (Morgan Wallen, Breland) are two more that are part of a close-knit circle.
"I'm still doing it. I'm still chasing my dream, and it's not a dream, it's a job," James says. "I'm doing it, and I'm writing songs about y'all, and I bet their friends are talking about it."
"2 Years Back" is James' latest single and a good showcase for his songwriting. The piano-led, pop-country lost love ballad finds nuance in delivering an emotion so many writers have tried to capture since a guitar was first carved from a tree. "My Future" and "Anything Cold" are two more popular songs on Spotify, where he has more than 280,000 monthly listeners.
He's able to flex today, but not long ago James worried that he might forever be known as just a songwriter. His publisher — an industry veteran named Ron Stuve — helped keep his dream from the back burner.
"He always encouraged me," James shares. "He was like, 'Let's go cut some sides. I think this is a 'You' song.' He would always take these songs and be thinking of Greylan James the artist."
Those songs changed the conversation around James, to the point that he's finally playing the arenas he figured he'd be selling out six months after arriving in Music City. This spring, look for James, Frank Ray and Kassi Ashton on Old Dominion's No Bad Vibes Tour. He'll be playing the songs mentioned above, as well as songs from his 2022 EP, which is appropriately titled I Hope She Hears These.