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Artists You Should Know: Clarence James

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Texas-born Clarence James communicates the chaos and budding beauty of being alive with his deeply jazz-influenced introspections. After gaining prominence online with a string of singles he released his debut album in the midst of the pandemic — as he gears up for the arrival of his sophomore project now is the perfect time to plunge into his emotionally charged catalog of genre-blending tracks.

Now 23 years old James owes his foray into music to an early act of kindness: growing up in Columbus, TX he took classical piano lessons that eventually ended due to financial limitations — leading a musical instructor to sell a discount keyboard to his mother so he could continue learning. From that moment on his creative endeavors became a place of solace that existed outside beyond the reach of the difficult realities of adolescence.

By the time he was in his mid-teens, he’d started to do more than just use music as an outlet, expanding his self-taught knowledge to include the guitar. Here he started a process he called “recontextualizing,” which involved the use of chord progressions commonly used by old jazz musicians. After purchasing an old Macbook with a pirated audio workstation he started recording his creations and posting them online — with debut single “Ronson Princess” an entrancing introduction to his fingerpicking guitar work and raw lyrical confessionalism.

His debut album F****d Me Up emerged in 2020 as a blurred interplay of the sounds, rhythms, and inflection of everything from earnest indie rock to free-wheeling jazz and hip-hop. Yet another indelible piece of those melodies is his stunning vocals — the timbre of which is dutifully spellbinding in its own right — capable of slipping to grating depths and sublime highs. Standout tracks on the record include “Not Just Anyone,” a loving meander through glimmering tones, and the cavernous echoes of scintillating riffs that resound from its heartache-laden title track “F****d Me Up.”

Since then James has been slowly rolling out singles that continue to hone his idiosyncratic sound. With releases like “Freedom Comes” — an uplifting effervescence of funk instrumentals — and “I’m Melting” revealing the growing potency of his frantically ebullient music. He has also made appearances on the tour circuit opening for the likes of Joy Again and Luna Luna.

For his most recent single “FLAKE” he takes a stab at uncovering and confronting the coarser parts of himself via an angst-ridden reflection. Here, self-destructive tendencies and a fiercely introverted personality appear as hurdles, becoming barriers to entry for others and himself. Led by the buzzing grit of a frayed guitar and a steady tremble of percussion James outlines apologies and explanations for an internalized retreat — wrestling with an anxiety that not only inhibits relationships with those closest to him but also himself.

“I feel like the sentiment of the song is a popular one among my fellow neurotics,” James said of the single. “I’ve been struggling to navigate the mental systems that are keeping me from staying in touch with my loved ones. Personally and societally, strong community units are somewhat of a commodity. I personally tend to dwell on it and form bad habits centered around anxiety. These habits far too often lead to self destruction, and it’s important to understand the positive significance of relying on people.”

The single serves as an opportune unveiling of his next project WHY WOULD I MAKE PEACE WITH THIS DEMON? which will see James diving headfirst into the monumental task of finding harmony or at least understanding with the dissonance found within and without.

most anticipated tours of 2024 concerts

Words: Steven Ward

Visit Clarence James on his Bandcamp and Instagram to stay updated on new releases and tour announcements.

Listen to “Flake” the new single from Clarence James below!


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