James Duffer is a pop/rock singer from Dallas, who, much like last week’s artist, Claire Morales, has pretty much grew up wanting to be a musician. He started at a young age, and has progressed to a pretty polished sound. The piano pop tracks that I’ve listened to reflect on inspirations like Elton John, Billy Joel, or more modern artists like Ben Folds or Tobias Jesso Jr, although his voice is a little more gruff than you might think of those other artists. All in all, I think James is a pretty intriguing package of tools that we could be hearing big things from soon. James took the time to submit to our little game unsolicited, so I’m paying it forward for him. Here we go.
Me: For starters, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get into music? And when did you know this is what you want to do for a living (money be damned)?
JD: My name is James Duffer and I’m a singer/songwriter from Dallas, TX. I write and perform my songs on piano and guitar and released my first album “Midtown Odyssey” in 2014. I first got into music at the age of 7 when I started taking piano lessons but got much deeper into music at age 11 when I started to discover rock music and my father got me my first electric guitar. From that time on, I knew all I wanted to be was a musician. Later on, I started playing percussion in school bands and began taking drum lessons and then formed my first band in high school with some friends after I gradually learned to sing. After high school, I studied music at Collin County Community College in Plano, TX. This is where I really learned and practiced a lot of my songwriting and live performance skills as well as studying recording techniques and music business. I finally released my 1st album, “Midtown Odyssey” in 2014 and graduated from Collin County Community College in 2015 with an Associate’s degree in Commercial Music, a Certificate of Music Business and an Audio Engineering Certificate. I’m currently performing regularly in DFW and Denton with my band and as a solo-acoustic act and I’ve also been performing in a heavier styled rock band called Space Ape in which I play drums and sing.
Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
JD: I would describe my music as Pop/Rock. I try to write with varying styles and influences in mind to differentiate my songs from each other. I write up-tempo songs and guitar riff based rock songs, but I also write a lot of ballads and occasionally try to incorporate jazz or other influences into my writing and playing.
Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?
JD: I have a very wide scope of influences and musicians I’ve followed. Most of my biggest influences are from a songwriting standpoint. As a keyboard based songwriter, my biggest influences have always been Billy Joel and Elton John. I later discovered other piano based artists like Warren Zevon and Tom Waits, who influenced me greatly. Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan…the list goes on forever with me but these are some artists who left a major impression on me for their artistry and songwriting. I also obviously grew up on classic rock and all the great bands like Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Who, Rush, Pink Floyd, etc.
Me: Which of your songs means the most ot you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?
JD: The opening track on Midtown Odyssey, “Without Telling You Why” is one I’ve always been very proud of and never get tired of playing. “Only the Night” and “Death and Romance” I feel were both personal breakthroughs for me as a songwriter. There’s a song of mine called “Never Any Reason” which now holds a special place for me due to my sister passing away last year and the dedication of that song to her. The song that closes the album Midtown Odyssey, “This Strange Farewell” is one of my favorites because it’s also what I close my shows with most of the time and again I remember what a struggle it was to finish that song and how proud of it I was when it was done.
Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?
JD: That’s a tough one. I’d say either the Rolling Stones or U2 because they always have the most amazing tours and stage set-ups. It seems like it would be the thrill of a lifetime every single night to open for a band like that and you could experience things very few people get to being on the road with those bands and that scale of production. There’s so many other I’d love to open for in more realistic terms though.
Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?
JD: As far as local people, I’m a big fan of Charley Crockett, whom I’ve played with a couple of times around town and I read the interview you did with him. I opened for the Hey Hey’s at the Boiler Room one time and they’re awesome. Obviously, Leon Bridges is undeniably great and a major credit to DFW music.
Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?
JD: Another tough one, there are so many I don’t know if I can narrow it down to just one album.
Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?
JD: My favorite things about the DFW music scene are the indie record stores and live venues we have which support local artists such as myself as well as the vast amount of talented people performing in the area. My least favorite things about the scene (at least in Dallas) is a lack of community and support between artists and people who work within the music scene. It’s been very unorganized and chaotic and I’ve found the mentality of certain people working in the Dallas/Deep Ellum scene to be much more cut-throat and competitive than communal and supportive most of the time. Also, the support between artists, promotors, venues and publications can be very genre specific, territorial and closed off. I know this isn’t specific to just Dallas either and don’t get me wrong, I know some really great people in the Dallas music scene. I’ve obviously came into contact with both good people and bad people in my time and have been treated both very well and very badly. I just wish there was more general structure and more of a music industry presence in DFW to give artists like myself more oppurtunities to thrive and connect to create clearer objectives to reach larger scale and more diverse audiences. However, having seen some big developments in the scene since I’ve been involved, I’m hoping it’s moving that direction. I thought the 2015 Dallas Observer Music Awards was a great event for showcasing local music.
Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?
JD: Unfortunately, one of my favorite places, the Boiler Room, is gone, but for full band shows I love RBC in Deep Ellum. They’ve always been great to me with whatever shows I’ve done there and Geoff is one of the best FOH sound-men in Dallas. For solo acoustic shows, Opening Bell Coffee has consistently been the most supportive venue in DFW for singer/songwriters such as myself.
Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?
JD: My friend, Mikey Gattus’ new band, Jake Dexter and the Main Street Sound. It’s a great band with a unique blend of Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop and R&B.
Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
JD: I’ve luckily somehow never broken a bone. (Editor’s note: he forgot to add “Knock on wood”, so uhh, watch out, James, karma’s coming for you)
A big thanks to James Duffer for shooting me these responses. I look forward to hearing more from this cat. He’s got some serious tools in his shed. You can catch James on Jan 26 at Opening Bell Coffee in Dallas. You can also check out his debut record, Midtown Odyssey, below.