His name is Sam James.
And technically he's not a new artist. But based on "the academy's" guidelines he is -
First of all, eligible artists must have achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness and impacted the musical landscape during the year's eligibility period. This speaks to the essence of why Best New Artist is one of the most-anticipated categories each year, honoring exciting new talent in the music world. But sometimes rising stars take a while to reach this point, so numerical limits also help define the criteria for being "new" in this category.
The first numerical rule boils eligibility down to the number of an artist's releases. The minimum required is five singles or tracks or a complete album. The maximum is either three albums or a total of 30 singles or tracks previously released. Having more than this number of releases results in being ineligible even when an artist breaks through into public consciousness and impacts the musical landscape in a given eligibility period.
This is good news because although Sam isn't some newly discovered teenage youtube sensation, he hasn't put out anything label wise just yet. That's all about to change this year though as he's about to sign a major label deal and begin showing up on more people's radars than he already is.
Sam is also a central Mass kid. We actually know each other from high-school- St. John's. We were both best friends with the Tierney brothers from Westboro so we crossed paths all the time. He used to ask us to buy beer for him and his friends. I had no idea the kid could play guitar or sing until I was home for Thanksgiving one year and met some friends out in Worcester for Black Wednesday. Walked into a packed bar on Green St and there was Sam on stage solo, with an acoustic guitar in his hands, absolutely killing it.
Since then I've closely followed his career closely and stayed in touch.
Turns out that he was a self-taught guitar and strings player.
“Dave Matthews really resonated with me growing up. His lyrics, his guitar style,” James explained. “I learned how to play guitar by locking myself in my room and playing along to his albums. I never had any formal lessons, and I did everything by ear. Some of his early work really shaped the way that I hear and feel music.” James also cites folk-rock icons like Neil Young and James Taylor as major influences.
“Their artistry impacts me daily to live with that intent of taking my playing, whether it be on guitar, piano, banjo, bass or mandolin, and not a waste a word or note in expressing something real that I hope with sincerity resonated with those that come across my music,” he said. “The music was pure, it was real. It wasn’t some contrived thing made to sell units or to be on the Billboard 100. The people coming out of that stereo really meant what they said, and wrote songs for the love of music.”
He was a contestant on The Voice in 2012. Adam Levine selected him to his team and he made a pretty good run. He was a contestant on the season before as well but was knocked out early. Sam later returned for The Voice season 3, in 2012, where he made it all the way to the knockout round.
He attracted so much attention while on the show that he was commissioned to write for several artists including Bebe Rexha and The Diplomats including Cam'ron and Juelz Santana (no seriously). He did such a great job at that, and while on the voice, that he landed one of four spots on NBC's newest talent show "Songland", which was produced by Adam Levine.
He got to debut a song he wrote that really impressed John Legend and then went on to make some big noise on the country charts, "Shinedown".
James says he felt that support pushing the success of his single “Shinedown,” which he performed on “Songland” for John Legend. The single broke the top 50 country charts.
″’I didn’t know that it would be John Legend,” says James. “They didn’t tell me that. I didn’t win … it’s not a winning thing, but it would have made a difference to me, because I would not pitch that song to him, I would have pitched something else.”
James says the chance to discuss songwriting with Legend was worth the whole experience, all on its own. “Honestly, it’s such a true insight into what goes down.”
He also wrote two bangers in the meantime after "Songland", one of which was the closing song in the Disney/Pixar movie "Abominable", the song "Beautiful Life" by Bebe Rexha -
and the Billboard #1 hit by Galantis and Dolly Parton - Faith
James says the song began by taking John Hiatt’s song, “Have a Little Faith in Me,” and rewriting the verse, lyrics and melody.
“Almost all the credit on this record goes to David Saint Fleur,” says James. “David has this crazy idea, what did we took this song, and flipped it and made a dance track.” James says Saint Fleur showed it to the members of Galantis, who loved it and wanted to record it. According to James, Saint Fleur also had the wild idea to approach Parton … a plan no one thought would work, but Saint Fleur persisted, and finally was able to play it for her.
“She fell in love with it,” says James. “It’s so unbelievable. That’s the fun thing about music, you know, Sometimes that can happen.”
James says the song has evolved greatly from the original recorded version, and that while he was once singing on it, his only vocal presence on the final product is that he’s singing uncredited on the chorus, and that his voice is unrecognizable.
After the success of "Faith" Sam went on a bit of a tear on the viral cover scene. Thanks to Drake, DJ Khaled and the Barstool social channels to name a few.
It's been impressive watching Sam pivot during Covid lockdowns and takeoff with these hip hop covers. He's opened himself up to a whole new crowd.
I initially reached out to him about working on a track together back in January. I had a track that I knew I needed his vocals on. I nervously sent it to him to see what he thought and lucky for me he loved it. We planned on working on it but then Covid hit and with studios shut down and travel not so easy it's been a bear working on it long distance.
We managed to make it work though and I couldn't be happier with how it came out.
Stream it on Spotify and Apple Music below -
Check out Sam James on