James Robinson is adding some soul to the gumbo that is Austin’s music scene.
He is the resurgence of soul, R&B and jazz–bringing together artists from all genres to collaborate on his newest project, Rivers of My Father.
We interviewed James for Issue 23 to dig into his musical background.
So you’re from Memphis, right, when did you come to Austin?
I came to Austin around 2011. I thought Austin was a great place to live. I had opportunity to play here through SXSW and I loved it.
Have you been making music your whole life?
I have. I started professionally in college, in the early-mid 2000s and just stuck there. I started off as a singer.
Is the music scene different here than in Memphis?
In Memphis, everything is very communal. A lot of musicians grew up with each other. They have the whole church element–everyone’s dad or grandad is a preacher or a pastor. We all grew up playing with each other and cats like to play instruments.
Do you feel the communal vibe in Austin?
Where we’re at right now, we’re getting there. There’s a resurgence of soul, RnB and jazz. All of the artists that perform in those genres have gravitated towards each other.
Austin is a gumbo of different sounds and vibes. Everybody brings what they bring from where they’re from.
“I’m really simple, I like to make music, make records and travel.”
You’re a singer, songwriter and producer. What’s the benefit of playing every role?
I get to be in different headspaces. Like when I’m working on my stuff, I get to be the artist. When I’m writing or producing for someone else, I get to dig into their sound and what they’re trying to accomplish with their music.
Recently, I’ve been doing producing on the side. During the pandemic, I got to write with my dear friend JaRon Marshall who works with the Black Pumas.
How do you describe your music?
Alternative soul. I like to mix all of the elements that inspired me when I was growing up. I take, soul, jazz, alternative roc, hip-hop, blues, funk and mix it all together.
Our theme for Issue 23 is “ULTRA SUPER PLUS” so we wanted to focus on artists that are making bold, impactful work. How do you think your songs are powerful?
My songs are powerful because they are true to my roots, my family, how I was brought up and what I was able to experience and witness growing up in Memphis. I take all of that and tell my story, the story of my family, friends and where I grew up.
So I saw you’re a Black Fret artist, congrats. How did that come about?
During the pandemic, towards the end of 2020, Greg Carter reached out to me and I started doing a bunch of happy hour shows. I went through the whole process and they reached out to me for other shows when we could get back to in person events.
It’s amazing, they’re a great organization. I believe that they really solved a huge problem for artists because it really comes down to money. Artists, we just need the cash to make the albums, go on tour and promote these records properly.
You’re an independent musician. Do you want to stay that way?
Yes because I like being in control of what I’m able to do creatively. A lot of the production I do is inhouse between myself and the musicians in my band so I like being able to make records on my own terms and get out and perform them live and travel. Even if I have to spend my own money out of my own pocket I feel like it’s worth it.
What can you tell us about your new project, Rivers of My Father?
I lost my Dad at the end of 2019 and after he passed, I got an opportunity to travel to Mumbai, India and perform. While being there I got a chance to grieve and reflect on my Dad’s life and it inspired me to write songs about him and what it’s like being a black man in America.
I live in Smithville and one of my mentors is Hannibal Lokumbe. When I met him, he talked about when you write or perform, all you have to do is tell your family’s story. That was so amazing to me because that did away with any writer’s block. Like, you’ll never have writer’s block when you write from that perspective.
When my Dad passed, I just wanted to write songs built around the concept of family and I came up with Rivers of My Father.
Who else is featured on the project?
I collaborated with a bunch of great artists in Austin. I reach out to all of the artists I had not written or recorded with. We all got together at 512 and recorded bunch of songs, some for this project and some for a future project. I got a chance to work with Black Odyssey, Harry Edohoukwa, Mike Melinoe, Moody Banks, Grace Serino, Megs from Magna Carta, JaRon Marshall and Kelsey from Sir Woman.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a tour scheduled for June. In the meantime, I’m going to write and record. Basically, I’m just in the studio every day. I’m really simple, I like to make music, make records and travel. Wherever people want to hear the music, that’s where we play.
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