Chelsey James didn’t know she could sing until her friends in college heard her singing along to the radio and knew she deserved to be listened to. “They decided that I needed to be heard and started driving me to karaoke bars all around town,” she tells us. Because of her promising vocal talent, she joined a cover band. “When I started performing live, I realized this is what I was meant to do and I never looked back since that very first show I did.”
James is from southern Missouri just north of Branson. She grew up on a farm and still lives on a farm in her home state. Because she grew up in the country and describes herself as “a country girl at heart,” James never pictured herself becoming a singer or being involved with the music industry. “I never knew I could actually sing well. I just thought everyone could sing on key,” she says.
She grew up listening to country music on the radio; her parents played all of the ‘90s hits. James remembers loving Faith Hill, Reba McEntire, and Martina McBride. She was a young adolescent when Carrie Underwood competed in the fourth season of American Idol. “I was obsessed with her. I loved singing to her songs,” she exclaims. She’d find herself putting on Underwood’s CDs in the car and challenging herself to sing along and would try to hit new notes. “I was like training myself how to sing by listening to Carrie Underwood. I give her all the credit,” she says through a small laugh. When listening to James’ original music, it feels reminiscent of Underwood’s strong and powerful vocals that showcase the wide range they both possess.
The first time James ever went to Nashville was with her cover band while she was still honing in on her performance skills. In 2018, she started writing original music and experimenting on her own. She remembers questioning herself, wondering if she was meant to solely perform covers or if she had it in her to be her own artist. “I eventually decided hey, I think I know what I want to sound like,” she tells us. “I took pieces of covers that I liked singing and that got the best reaction, got inspiration from those and kind of morphed my own sound with the help of producers and co-writers.”
Someone once told James her original tracks sound like a mix of Jason Aldean and Pat Benatar. “I love classic rock. I love big guitars, really rockin’ guitar solos, big vocals,” she says. She recalls a Journey concert she went to during her early college days where every song felt like a punch to the gut; that’s what she aims to do. James wants big moments that pierce the listener in every song she creates.
Her debut single, “Hands on the Bible,” came out in the summer of 2020. “That song will forever hold a special place in my heart. I know that sounds so cheesy,” she explains. “At the time when I put it out, we were kind of in the thick of the pandemic and I think it was a message that a lot of people needed to hear at that time.” James got a great response from the public and was able to film the music video in her hometown and it continues to be one of her favorite songs to perform live. It has a timely message that reminds people to focus on the small yet important things in life.
Her latest single, “Steady,” is about her husband. “I don’t tend to write a lot of love songs,” she exclaims. “I, a lot of times, lean towards the sassier ones but I knew a song was going to come out about him eventually. I wanted it to be perfect.” She wanted to avoid cheesy and stereotypical tropes often found in love songs.
The chorus to the song was stuck in her head for over six months. She would often pitch it in writes and typically new ideas would arise pushing the beginnings of “Steady” to the side. Eventually, she brought the idea to a session with Kenny Lamb and Danny Orton. “Danny started playing along on the piano with it and I don’t know, some magic happened in the room that day when he started playing,” she says. “That song, the rest of it, poured out of me.”
She feels the song perfectly states everything she wanted to express about her relationship. The word “steady” encompasses how she describes her husband and his persona. He’s laid back, doesn’t get worked up about much and she falls on the flip side of the spectrum: filled with anxiety. “We’re two opposites personality-wise. The song’s talks about how he balances me out,” she tells us. “I love how it turned out because I think everyone has that person in their life. It may not be their spouse but I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, this song makes me think of my dad or my best friend.’ I love that everyone has been able to experience it in a different way.”
She has a new single titled “Takedown” set to be released later this fall which she describes as the opposite of “Steady.” “It’s a really empowering song. It’s got a really cool rock edge to it.” She also plans on doing Christmas-related ventures during the holiday season to finish out the year.
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