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Interview: Greylan James talks new EP ‘I Hope She Hears These’ & the mechanics of writing

Greylan James is very much a writer and artist on the up. Having been signed to his first publishing deal by Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame inductee Bob DiPiero at the age of 18, James appeared on Season Four of NBC’s ‘The Voice’. He was also featured in Guitar Center Magazine’s Brotherhood of the Guitar Top 100, which ranks the top guitarists in the world under the age of 21.

Hits for other artists include “Happy Does” by Kenny Chesney, ‘If That Ain’t God’ by Chris Young, and ‘Real Friends’ by Chris Janson featuring Blake Shelton. Mostly recently James had the song ‘How Is She’ cut by Cole Swindell on his ‘Stereotype’ release.

2022 has seen James step out into the light as an artist in his own right too. He released ‘Anything Cold’, ‘Make Best Memories’ and ‘Walls’ earlier in the year and is now rounding off those songs with a couple of new ones on his EP ‘I Hope She Hears These’, which will be released on Friday 12th August.

Greylan James EP
Credit: Connor Moors

We grabbed twenty minutes with him to talk all about it.

Great to speak to you again, Greylan. Let’s dive right in – how was your CMAFest in June?

Oh man, it was great. I got to perform some songs I’d written for other artists for the first time and got to play some of my own too. I’ve been coming to CMAFest since I was a kid of about 8 years old, my family would always come so to get to come and perform this year was special.

I’m still pinching myself and keep re-living it over in my mind! (laughing) I’ve never done an acoustic full band show like we did on the Spotlight stage, that was such fun. I also got to play the Hard Rock stage and had a couple of people run up and be, like, ‘I love this song’ and that was the first time I got to see people loving the songs that I’ve released under my own name.

You’ve released three songs this year. Have you been pleased with the reaction to them?

Absolutely! It’s been awesome to see. I’ve always wanted to be the guy that tells stories in songs and people’s reactions have proved to me that they still want that too. I’m excited to keep releasing music – every song that I release is my favourite one at the time! (laughing)

‘Walls’ is still my favourite song of yours. Tell me the idea behind that song.

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas 2021. Myself and my writers were all really burnt out at that point and just wanting a break for the holidays, you know? We’d probably written about 300 songs over the course of the year. At that point we were literally banging our head against the (no pun intended) wall! (laughing)

Me, Josh Miller and Jacob Davis were just sitting there talking, going through song titles and then I remembered the story of how Dean Dillon wrote ‘The Chair’ and how somebody that was around him challenged him to just write a song about anything and it went on to be one of the greatest songs of all time.

So we decided to do something like that. We looked around the room and I suggested ‘walls’. You hang your posters on ’em, we talk about how girls break them down and make us better dudes – there seemed to be lots of different meanings and ideas around that one word – and it just kinda evolved from there. That was one of the first songs I’d written that I knew I wanted to release rather than try to place with another artist. I took a chance on myself with that one.

The EP is out 12th August and it’s called ‘I Hope She Hears These’. Is that title aimed at just one particular girl?

You know what, it is! (laughing) She knows who she is. These songs have been written in a 3-4 year span and they are all largely about the same girl. When I was writing the songs I had her in mind, which made them really personal.

I hope she hears this but then I also hope a lot of people hear this too! (laughing)

The EP features your three already released songs and rounded off by two new songs, ‘Damaged’ and ‘Where You Got it From’. Tell me a little about those songs.

I wrote ‘Where You Got it From’ with Rodney Clawson and Brock Berryhill. Rodney’s had about 30+ number one songs and I sat down with him and said that I thought I wanted to start releasing my own songs and start writing for myself and Rodney was like, ‘Let’s do it, lets get together and see what that looks like.’ So, it was one of the first songs that I wrote with just me in mind.

We locked that one in early on – a lot of people have tried to record it but we’ve fought them off and saved it for me!

‘Damaged’ was written with Jacob Davis and Josh Miller again. I’d been dating this girl who had been through a rough relationship and wasn’t sure she wanted to do it again. Sometimes where words fail you, music speaks, so I wrote that one for her. I think people will relate to the lyrics and the ideas in ‘Damaged’, both guys and girls.

I like how different sounding ‘Damaged’ is, with that heavy bass sound, it reminds me a little of fellow Knoxville native Morgan Wallen’s ‘Wasted on You’.

I want to be able to do that. Morgan’s a buddy and he’s done that very well, mixing up his sound a little and not always sounding the same. ‘Anything Cold’ has been such a big song for me and it has the same tendencies in terms of the bass. ”Walls’ is a little more Country and ‘Make Best Memories’ a little more stripped back so we wanted to keep mixing it up a little in terms of what people expect.

I want to be able to do what the song calls for without being worried about what people are expecting from me.

Let’s talk about that Knoxville mafia. Kenny Chesney is obviously the leader, Kelsea in charge of day to day operations. Morgan Wallen and Rodney Atkins are the enforcers – whereabouts do you fit into this organisation and do you meet in secret on a weekly basis?

Oh my god!! Maybe I’m the red headed step child, maybe? (laughing) I guess I’m the little brother or the baby watching these artists do their thing. It wasn’t hard for me to find idols coming from Knoxville – even Payton Manning comes from there. It wasn’t hard to chase your dreams growing up there because so many others lifted themselves out and chased their own dreams so there were plenty of heroes.

I was actually out with Kenny the other day. I’d had a TikTok go viral talking about the song I wrote for him. (‘Happy Does’) We were talking about him being from Knoxville and a lot of people in the comments were like ‘He’s not actually from Knoxville, he’s from north of there.’ I got Kenny on the screen and he was like, ‘stop fighting in the comments, I’m from everywhere, dude!’ (laughing)

Is your most recent cut recorded by another artist ‘How Is She’ by Cole Swindell? That’s a great song.

I’ve got a handful coming out but I’m really proud of ‘How Is She’ and I think they have some special plans for that song. I got to sing that song in Denver about a week or two before it came it, I’m out in Denver again in August and it’s on rotation on radio there already so people know it up there. It comes from the same place that the songs on ‘I Hope She Hears This’ come from, it’s all part of the same story.

What’s the longest you’ve ever had a song on hold with someone for and is it frustrating if then the artist doesn’t actually record it?

Oh, god, absolutely. I still have songs about that were put on hold two years ago! (laughing) In a world where people now just want constant music there are a lot of artists and labels searching for songs who will put them on hold without a really clear plan as to when it will get released, they just want the security of knowing there is a great song waiting.

It’s frustrating but it’s better than the alternative, which is having nothing on hold because people don’t like your songs! (laughing)

When you have a song put on hold do you get any financial reward or do you have to wait till its recorded and on a project?

A song of yours being recorded is kinda like having a baby. You don’t get paid till about nine months after a song is released, and that is the first money you see. So you don’t get paid for having a song on hold. There’s a lot of people pushing for that to start happening but I don’t know what it means or how it would work.

Having a song on hold is such an interesting and, sometimes, crazy process! (laughing) Sometimes an artist hears it first and they want to hold it, sometimes the label hears it first and needs to pitch it to an artist. It’s never the same way twice. I want to be paid on hits and not on songs that people don’t like! (laughing)

You’ve also released ‘You and Jesus’ with Walker County this year – who we saw over in London at the C2C festival in March. How did that collaboration occur?

They are on the same management team as me. I wrote the song and posted it on TikTok and our manager said he thought we should get the girls from Walker County involved. I’ve been a fan of theirs for years so I was, like, ‘Absolutely!’. They were keen, which surprised me because I was, like, ‘Y’all could probably get someone bigger than me to do it with you!’ (laughing)

That song was also the first song ever that I got to produce. I produced and played everything on that song, with a little help from my buddy Jason Massey. It was so fun.

Let’s not forget that you played all the instruments on every song on your ‘I Hope She Hears These’ EP. Do you have a favourite instrument?

I’ve recently got a steel guitar from the head of my management company so I experimented with that a little on a couple of songs. I’ve not had to sit down and learn an instrument like that since I was a kid! (laughing) Steel guitar whipped my butt, man! (laughing) It’s so hard. Every time I see a steel guitar player up on stage I’m, like, ‘Respect, man.’ It’s a hard instrument to play.

I usually sit with an acoustic if I’m trying to write a song but electric is still my primary instrument although I also do love to play mandolin. I actually wrote a song with Josh Osborne the other day on a mandolin!

Speaking of Josh Osborne, when we spoke earlier in the year you said it was your goal to write with Shane McAnally (Osborne’s long time friend and co-writer). Have you managed it yet?

I did!! (laughing) The song has been cut, it’s got recorded! Josh and I have had two cuts together in the past two weeks and Josh was on the song with Shane. Shane is just a rock star so I was a little in awe, you know? He zoomed into the write with Josh and I and to watch them both at work was fantastic although I had to remind myself that I was there to work too and not just to watch them! (laughing) I was proud to be in that write – I got a line in that song that I was really proud of and Shane said, ‘That sounds like something I would come up with,’ and I said that was probably because I’ve been trying to write like you for years now! (laughing)

Check out Greylan James’ ‘I Hope She Hears These’ EP everywhere from 12th August.

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