“Writing is the foundation. I'm just trying to juggle it.”
James Neary is a singer and guitarist who, at the age of 25, is working toward his second EP and his second album. He's performed for years at open mics and local venues, and gained esteem in 2013 as the winner of the first Acorn Theater Singer Songwriter competition. That award, along with a successful crowdfunding campaign, helped to launch his first album, fittingly titled 2013. James met with me recently just around the corner from the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks to discuss his upcoming projects and how he navigates the world as an artist.
Neary is currently writing his second album, but fans will be able to enjoy new music from him before that release. He has an EP written and in the demo stage, with hopes for recording and release early next year. He describes the music as introspective and therapeutic, songs that didn't previously have a home or fit into the theme of 2013. It's his hope that the music of the EP will help listeners cope with dark times in their own lives.
“This is just about a hard copy of the last few hard chapters of my life,” he said. “I like the idea of putting something out there that is kind of true to form, here's a piece of me. Good music has the power to help people get through a lot of stuff.”
Neary described the art of creating an album and finding a way to weave those themes together into an overall arc. 2013 was his first experience at arranging a full album and drew from a collection of different pieces from over the years that he wanted to get out to an audience. He labored and found a story arc within the varied works of creativity, but hadn't planned each song that way when writing them. He described his current goal as making something deeper that “makes people rethink, reevaluate priorities, and takes them on a journey.” He told me about his excitement at writing to a particular theme in his new works and discussed the evolution of successful musicians, such as Muse, who created follow-up albums with intentional focus and topic.
“On [the second Muse album], every song felt like it fit,” he said, laying out the cohesive story arcs in their subsequent albums. “I strive to do something that sophisticated.”
We discussed the balance of being an artist in the age of social media, when both creation and marketing become responsibilities of the musician. Neary uses Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote shows and keep his fans up to date on news regarding his music. He explains himself as “still a little foreign to the effective marketing,” trying to figure out the techniques of getting his music to new fans while remaining authentic.
“It's starting to happen,” he said, describing a noticeable response his postings online and audience members who reference following his social media. “I'm trying to attack it on all fronts. I don't know how to snowball it. But I'm trying my best to just keep my nose to the music.”
Marketing is a required part of being an artist in the modern world, according to him, but it is not the focus. Instead, the purpose is the art and the promotion is simply meant to maintain and grow his presence. He recounts his own experiences as a fan, finding new music in openers at live performances and from suggestions from fellow music lovers. His goal is to put out material that is catchy, relatable, and memorable people and trust that people who like it will share it.
“I have faith in the idea that if you build it, they will come,” he said, going on to describe a fan in Saudi Arabia who travels the world and often shares Neary's music with others. “I just tried to put out good music. He shared it because he liked it.”
In describing success, James Neary finds it difficult to define the line of “I did it, I made it.” In some ways, such as connecting with fans here and in the far reaches of other countries, he's living it. He hopes to continue writing music that is cathartic both for him and fans. He has the larger goals of “being able to live comfortably off my music” and to tour, both nationally and internationally, but he keeps focused on a small number of measurable, immediate goals. He would like to achieve a particular number of connections with fans on social media. He has a list of certain venues where he'd like to perform and certain regions where he'd like to tour. Most importantly, he wants his music to connect with people, current fans and new.