LA-based singer-songwriter Gabe James jumped on Zoom with us! He is a 20 year old indie-pop artist that recently relocated from Colorado to Los Angeles, most well-known for “In the Moment” and his cover of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U.”He released his most recent EP, “City of Lost Angels” on December 1st, but his music career began with his first single, “In the Moment,” in 2018.
In our interview with Gabe, we (as always) learn his go-to gas station order. We also discuss how TikTok is changing the music industry, his transition from Colorado to Los Angeles, and the inspiration behind some of his recent work. Additionally, we also get to talk about how he’s grown and advanced as a musician, from getting into the habit of journaling through what he’s learned from his manager, former Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta. Finally, he tells us about an upcoming tour with Ryan Woods, and teases some possible future releases in 2022.
What’s your go-to gas station order?
I love the milk chocolate almonds at 7/11, they’re really good. I love Celsius, gotta have Celsius before I go out every night. I really like those vegan cookies. I think that they’re still terrible for you. But I feel better when I eat those. They’re these big cookies that are supposedly healthy. I love those. And they’re so good.
The visualizer for “LONG TIME” takes us on a joyride around LA through the strings of your guitar. What about the city do you feel most attached to?
A lot of where I went in that video, I was kind of up in on this road called Laurel Canyon, which I like to run usually in the mornings. And so I always run that road up there. And it’s just a nice place to kind of get away from all the craziness of L.A., because it’s much more suburban. So, yeah, a lot of where I’m driving that video are places I like to go.
Your two EPs seem to capture within their titles the two places you’ve called home, Colorado and Los Angeles. How has your transition between both places been? Do you think it’s affected your identity?
I think that alongside me moving from Colorado to LA I was also kind of becoming an adult, you know, graduating high school. I think it was developmental in two different areas. One being, obviously, location. Two, just the fact that I was now living on my own, you know, not going to school, had a much more structured schedule. And the culture is a lot different. People listen to a lot of different kinds of music that I didn’t listen to growing up, coming from a little town in Colorado, which I love. I listened to a lot more alternative pop. I used to listen to just a lot of singer songwriter stuff growing up.
Do you feel the way you write your music has changed in addition to the music that you listen to?
I’m kind of going through a very pivotal moment in my songwriting right now, too. I’m really trying to focus on the details and make sure that people who don’t know me from social media or wherever else can really get a grasp and the full picture and kind of get a taste of maybe like who I am as a person and feel more attached to the music. So I’m working on doing that right now. And yeah, I think overall, I’ve had more life experience living on my own and stuff. Not all my songs are just about like stupid high school relationships anymore.
You shared in a TikTok that your track, “FLICKER,” is about a girl that led you on when you were in high school. Do you want to talk more about the inspiration behind the track and its creation?
That one’s kind of funny. Like this legit happened. I wrote that song and I didn’t really think anything of it while I was writing it. I wasn’t writing it with any preconceived topic, like, “I’m gonna write it about this.” I just kind of wrote it out and didn’t really think much of it. And I was actually still talking to that girl that I wrote it about. Subconsciously, I don’t even know, I was texting her a little bit. And she was the first person that I sent it to. And as soon as I sent it to her, I was like, “Oh, damn, I think the song is actually about her.” I don’t think she ever found out, but that was kind of my realization, once I wrote it and sent it to her. I was like, “Oh, that kind of makes sense to me.”
You’re a pretty popular user on TikTok. One of your videos jokingly pokes fun at the concept, saying you want to be an artist but your label wants you to post TikToks all day. What are your thoughts on Tiktok and how it’s changing the music industry?
I mean, there’s definitely no fighting it. And I think now more than ever, kind of going back to what I was saying about my lyricism, I feel like you have to be twice as vulnerable, or more than you may have in the past as an artist, in a lot of different categories. In regards to your social media, and how you project yourself, you know, with your image, it’s so easy for everybody to just post content now, with your phone on Tiktok, and wherever else, you have to be sharing all the time. And you have to be super personal so that people can have the opportunity to get to know you. It’s definitely a lot of posting, and it takes up a lot of time, but I’m happy to grind on it.
I think it’s all a huge paradox. Like I think it’s all [performative and vulernable] at once. And I think that the best way to go about doing it is just to think as little as possible, and just try and post. I don’t know, it is kind of two things at once. I don’t feel like I’m an expert on it at all. I still feel like I have challenges with it all the time. But I know that it’s important not to think and just do. Like if you have a thought or you want to post something, just post, don’t think too much of it. Just put it out, you know?
So you’re an artist on TAG management, which was founded by Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta. Early on in Cobra Starship’s career, he made “for the boys” covers of girly, power pop anthems such as “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani and “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry.
Currently, your #1 track on Spotify is your “for the boys” cover of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U.” Did this serve as inspiration for the cover?
You know, we’ve never actually talked about that. I didn’t know that. That’s really fun, I’ll have to bring that up to him. That just sort of came about, I recorded the hook for that song. And again, you know, it’s just one of those things, I didn’t think anything of and I just wrote it really fast and just put it out and it got some traction. And then I just went back and just ran through the whole song, because that’s how it is. It’s like, if you have something that blows up, you have to jump on it immediately and just nurse the shit out of it until it is completely dead. Because, you know, that’s just how they like it. So. Yeah, so no, I didn’t know that he had songs that were like premises like for the boys. That’s funny.
Was there a specific situation that inspired your “Good 4 U” cover?
Dude, sadly no. And I had so many dudes reach out to me. There’s a lot of people that are really touched by that song and love it, which was amazing. And I was like, “Damn, I’m glad I painted the picture right for you.” Because I didn’t have a specific situation that I based it off of. I was just like, “Okay, from the boys perspective of Olivia Rodrigo.” I just took her chorus and was like, “Okay, what would the guy have to say?”.
What’s working with Gabe Saporta like?
Let me reflect back to the meeting I just had with him thirty minutes ago. It’s quite intense all the time. He has an immensely big energy. He’s just, you just feel it when he comes in the room. He’s very intense and passionate. His facial expressions, the way he talks, it’s like, whoa. It’s always very inspiring, though. I’m very inspired by him. He’s an extremely intelligent, bright person, and I think he knows what he’s doing. I feel really lucky to be working with him. He’s intense as fuck.
You recently shared on social media your thoughts on seeking your purpose as an artist and journaling as a way of learning more about this process. Have you reached any epiphanies that brought you clarity? What exactly do you feel your purpose as an artist is?
What I found to be my purpose as an artist, especially like, through journaling, and I think one of the reasons that I that I really tried to journal every day, is so that I can, become as connected and aware emotionally of my own feelings and myself. Because I think it’s sometimes hard to do. And it’s hard to identify why you’re feeling a certain way. So I journal, I try to journal, I think as a means to discover more about my emotions in hopes that I can then write about those things, and then highlight those feelings for other people to recognize them themselves. So that they can connect with each other and connect to me through my music.
It’s just a good way of reflecting. I’m still trying to find… maybe I’m just not searching well enough. But just earlier, over break, I went through and read through some of my journal entries. I’m still trying to find something really spectacular.
If you could go back two years, to before you took the leap of faith to pursue music wholeheartedly, what would you tell yourself?
I would definitely say that it doesn’t matter at all what anybody else thinks, especially when you’re in high school. And just not to care. I think that it held me back a lot in high school because I secretly worked on music and wrote songs. My parents didn’t even know that I sang until junior year. And I’ve been singing since seventh or eighth grade. So I was super nervous and scared to do it. And I think it held me back because I could have been putting on music way back then, or performing in front of people. And I just would’ve told myself not to care and not to try so hard.
From “In the Moment” in 2018, to City of Lost Angels in 2021, how do you feel you’ve grown sonically and as a musician?
I would say definitely just…if we’re reflecting back on that, I think a lot in the musicality. Like my singing ability and everything else. The first song I ever recorded was the “In the Moment” song. I listened to my voice back then and it’s just so much different and less polished, at least to my ear. I think I learned a lot about the actual process of creating a body of work. I didn’t have any idea of really what it meant, I don’t think, to refine music to the point of redoing and re-recording songs and rewriting and tweaking parts and different things. Like when I wrote and recorded that song, it was a one edit through type of thing. I might have redone a couple vocals, but there wasn’t any refinement going on. So I learned about that.
Do you feel that now, when you’re putting out an EP or an album, you try to make it a cohesive body of work instead of individual songs stitched together?
Yeah, I think that Gabe [Saporta]’s actually brought this to my attention at lot. He’s kind of shown me the importance of telling a story, of having a definite story. When we put together these two past EPs, both Colorado and City of Lost Angels, each body of work was meant to tell a story of me having just moved to LA coming from Colorado, and just growing as an artist alongside doing that. I think it’s important to tell a story in your work so that people have some other thing to connect to outside of just the music itself, maybe.
What are your upcoming plans for 2022?
So much. I have a show in Chicago. I’m going on tour with Ryan Woods, a friend of mine, and that starts in February. On February 15th. We’re playing New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, and L.A. That’ll be going on all of February into March. And then I have a college show at ASU that I’m headlining, on April 8, which I’m really excited about. So that’ll be really fun. I’ve got lots of new music coming that I’m definitely aiming to release this year. Right now, I’m into a lot of reflection and refinement and as I said before, I’m just kind of rediscovering how I can become a better songwriter, and write more meaningful lyrics. So that’s what I’m focusing on right now.