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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: James the Seventh

Courtesy of the artist

Our Pittsburgh Artist of the Week is James the Seventh. James the Seventh moved to Pittsburgh to learn ballet but had to cut her training short after suffering a debilitating injury that left her unable to walk for almost a year. She got a guitar and found a new calling — making music. Check out our interview with James the Seventh below and enjoy the song “Centerpiece” on WYEP.

What’s your musical history up to this point?

My parents encouraged me to learn violin which I played for a while when I was younger and stopped when I was 14 because I hated it and wanted to focus on ballet because prior to becoming a musician now, becoming a ballerina was my dream.

But music had always been a huge part of my life and although I wasn't doing anything in music throughout high school, I would watch live performance videos of MARINA, Fiona Apple, Jeff Buckley, Lana del Rey, and was so inspired by their music, lyricism, and performances. In the back of my head I thought, "That looks so much fun and I'd love to be able to do that," but I practically dedicated my entire life to aspiring to become a professional ballet dancer by starting online school when I was 13 so I could train full time and couldn't really imagine myself not "staying in my lane."

After I graduated high school I came to Pittsburgh to attend Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to further my ballet training, but it was cut short after I tore my ACL in ballet class and had to undergo surgery, and I dealt with a slow recovery that stopped me from being able to walk for almost a year. During this time, my dad bought me a guitar in hopes it would help me with the boredom of not being able to walk or dance and identity crisis I was experiencing, and I remember having so much excitement about this thinking, "Now's my chance to see if I can make music," and from there on I completely fell in love with songwriting, producing in Logic, and playing guitar. It's crazy that that was only four years ago, because now I can't imagine doing anything else but music.

How do you describe your sound?

Indie/Alternative pop with rock influences and harmony heavy vocals

Tell us more about the song "Centerpiece." What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you? 

I wrote "Centerpiece" in the studio with my producer, Oren Yoel, and we were talking about things that were going on in my life; I had some friends that recently went through a break up and I was hearing both sides of the story from them, and Oren said "You're kinda the centerpiece," and we were like, "Wait, this could be a song.." And everything just unfolded from there!

This song means a lot to me though because I really pushed my boundaries within the creative process; the chorus melody I improved in the vocal booth with just a metronome because Oren encouraged me to just try it; I was intimidated by the idea of just trusting myself to even try to come up with melodies on the spot without my guitar or when inspiration randomly comes to me, and I hope that my growth really shows in this song!

What was the first album that really changed your life?

Rubber Soul by the Beatles

Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?  

Leandro Bilello, Moontown, and Clay Coast

Any other super interesting things about you we should know? 

Although I am not from Pittsburgh, this place will always feel more like a hometown, honestly more than my actual hometown! The fact that I came here to become a ballet dancer initially, made my best friends, and found myself as a musician has all been inspired and influenced by this city.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.