By Zach Collier
James Junius is a budding singer/songwriter out of Ephraim, Utah. A graduate of Snow College, he recently relocated to Salt Lake City to grow his career in music. Junius won the Muse Music Songwriter Showdown competition last March, and we wrote about him extensively in our coverage of the event. His brand of straightforward, philosophical Heartland Shoegaze recently garnered him some attention in Austin, Texas. Terry Lickona, the executive producer of Austin City Limits, said this about him: “There aren’t many young singer-songwriters whose words transcend generations and geography. At twenty one, James Junius writes songs that come from the heartland but resonate with all of us. Songs about love, home, hope and hopelessness… He deserves to be seen and heard!” Reach Provo decided it was time to check in on him and see what he’s up to. See where his music is headed and when we can expect an official album release in our interview with him below.
We first saw you perform at the Muse Music Songwriter Showdown in March. Tell us a little bit about that experience. Were you nervous during preliminaries? How did it feel to win the whole thing?
First off, I wanna thank you guys for taking the time to do this. It was wonderful to get to know Muse better as well as be able to play with some great songwriters like Andrew Wiscombe and Paul Travis. I was nervous but only because I wanted to do my best and connect with the audience. I’ve found if you just try and focus on that element of your performance and are well prepped then the rest will take care of itself. It was also great to be introduced to so many people, like yourself, there too. So many new friends!
[Laughter] You’re too kind, man. Too kind. So what have you been doing since that time? We know you recently relocated from Ephraim to Salt Lake City. What was the reason for the move, and how has it affected your music career?
I graduated from Snow College with the support of so many and wanted to explore some new opportunities musically. I spent June helping out my friends in VanLadyLove who just released their new EP and have been so kind. Other than that there has been a lot of traveling with friends and family in between San Francisco, Santa Monica, Denver, Austin, and Yellowstone. I have been so lucky to have so many opportunities. It’s been great. Really, as long as you show up with a good amount of positivity, a student mentality, and a desire to improve you can learn so much and become connected with so many different people that you never thought possible.
Your music has been labeled “Heartland Rock.” How would you define that genre?
That genre of music often includes Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Seeger. It deals with themes like rural decline, limited opportunity, isolation, and life in forgotten places. I take a lot lyrically from those artists but you still see hints of it today in the likes of The War On Drug’s Lost In The Dream and Ryan Adam’s new self titled release being some of my favorites. I also love expansive elements of 80s and 90s bands like Cocteau Twins, Ride, and The Jesus and Mary Chain and combining them into what I call Heartland Shoegaze. Some other favorites are Bill Fay and Cloud Cult. I love it because it realistically looks at how hard life can be and is for most people. It has the power to be inclusive of marginalized viewpoints and has elements of Folk Rock and Country music that can help to change or examine certain issues within our society. It can definitely be hokey sometimes but sometimes that lack of pretension is refreshing. Whoot! Dad rock!
When you combine that with the Ethereal element of Shoegaze music it becomes something else that I really like.
Do you feel like it fits what you’re after?
Yes I do. In the words of Little Richard. “Country is just the White Man’s Blues” and that being who I am it’s the genre of music I feel like is authentic to my cultural, ethnic, and economic background. I’ve lived in Utah most of my life and it’s a fairly rural place. Especially being ex-Mormon, there have been some rough patches. I want to be able to take the stories I’ve seen here in Utah and contextualize them for a broader audience.
You recently took a trip to Austin and got some praise from the executive producer of Austin City Limits, Terry Lickona. How did you get involved with Terry? How did that all come about?
Terry and I met in the winter of 2015 over a Facebook post about about a canteen. We just started a friendship and ended up talking on a regular basis. He was kind enough to show an interest in what I was recording and the message that I wanted to put out. More than that we’ve become best friends and he is one of the best mentors and people I ever could have asked for in my life and we’ve been able to share a lot of memories. I’ve been down there several times to visit and have been very lucky to meet so many other good friends down there. I also just had my first performance down there as well and look forward to being able to visit all of them again.
What was your experience like overall with Austin City Limits?
It’s been unreal. I never thought in a million years that I would be able to do some of the things I’ve done. The first time I was down there, I was able to meet and talk with James Taylor and be backstage at ACL Fest seeing everyone from Disclosure, Asleep At The Wheel, Kurt Vile, and Tame Impala. I also got to see Willie Nelson on New Year’s Eve in the Moody Theater and spend some time hiking around Austin. Everyone has been so kind and supportive to me on the ACL staff and I look forward to working with them more so. Also the food there is amazing. Lick’s has the best Ice Cream.
I’ll have to pick some up if I’m ever stopping through Austin. [Laughter] You’re playing at The Acoustic Space in Salt Lake City this Friday. Have you played there before?
No, I haven’t played there yet. From everything I’ve heard it’s a great place to see really close and intimate shows which is exactly the type of concert I love to attend and hope that people come and see.
What’s it like to show up to a venue you’ve never played at before and play there for the first time? How does it feel? How do you hope people feel when they are at one of your shows?
At this point I’ve played some pretty bizarre or random venues and the best that you can do is have your material prepped, and even if it’s an audience of one person, play your best. I just hope that people are able to come away from a gig feeling a little bit more connected to those around them and knowing that they are not alone in their struggles and that we all could be a bit kinder to each other. Andrew [Goldring] and Anthony [Pena] are going to be amazing so that’s what I am going to be there for.
What are your plans for the future? Is there a possibility of a full length studio album?
Terry and I are planning on recording an EP down in Austin this September and seeing where exactly that takes us and what the next step would be. I would like to release a small mixtape of songs produced here locally but we shall see what exactly happens timeline wise and whatnot. We are also in the process of getting a few guest artists on the record.
What do you hope to accomplish by the end of the year?
I want to get that EP recorded and start getting a lot of the infrastructure in place to start distributing my music to a larger audience. I’d love to be able to flesh out the sound a bit more with more musicians and get a mug or lighter with my face on it [Laughter].
We’ve run into you a few times at Rooftop Concert Series and at a few other concerts in Downtown Provo. What is your impression of Provo and its music scene? What do you appreciate about it? Where would you like to see it go in the future?
There are a lot of very talented and kind hearted people within the Provo music scene who want to see it flourish and develop more and are willing to give those just starting out a chance. That being said, I do think there needs to be more space creating a supportive environment for people to experiment with different genres and mediums of musical expression that are not traditionally accepted in Utah Valley. I see Muse Music being the venue to hold that torch. I’d like to thank them for that.
Is there anything you wish to tell fans before we conclude? New listeners?
The world always seems to have a shortage of kind, loving people, and if you can be that within your social group or community then you are making difference. There will always be scary things going on, but just look for the joy you can cause others and the service you can give because overall there is so much more good in the world if you will only look for it. I am a “Solo Artist,” but that doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten to where I am alone. There have been countless others who have given me a helping hand when I didn’t deserve it. Just be nice, work hard, and you’ll be amazed at how many people come out of the woodwork to help you serve other people. Because I have been given much, I too must give.
Make sure to like James Junius on Facebook and check out his song, “Make America Kind Again” below. James Junius is playing at The Acoustic Space in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 22nd at 7PM with Andrew Goldring and Anthony Pena.