The soulful sound of Kori James new project Tomorrow will truly remind you that in a time such as today, where tomorrow can seem so bleak— there is hope. I had the chance to chat with the singer/ songwriter, who is a self-taught-player, of multiple instruments about his journey. The Miami native brings a refreshingly-reflective spin on building towards your ambitions in the face of all odds. As we spoke on, in our interview, there is no linear path to quote-on-quote success. There is the ability to own and embody your story with such grace, strength and humility which adds to the beauty of ones talent within. Kori James, is that talent with an inner beauty that shines through his God-blessed voice. Our conversation was a merging of ambitious spirits, waging war against the impossible, because Tomorrow there is hope for something better.
Mm: At the start of our conversation before the interview, we both connected on the reality of doing your passion— what you love and juggling life, real life. I appreciate that you are very open about that. Which, in my experience has not always been the case. There is no linear path to turning your passions into your paid reality. I also enjoyed learned about you, that this is not something you are trying to be trendy with, yet you are busting your butt doing both. What is the drive for you, if its not about being trendy so to speak. What keeps you working so hard to do it all?
KJ: Honestly, its my voice. Not the singing voice, but who Kori James is, as a human being as a person. We all have a voice and its really important that mine is heard for me because I do believe that God blessed me with a talent. I could easily just say, I’m good at this, and do it as a hobby. Yet, I have seen the way people connect to it. They connect to it because of the things that I’ve been through and the stories that I tell through my music— and it resonates with people. I have to get that out there. Sometimes, I feel like its not just about me, its bigger than me. It’s about people.
Mm: Do you feel like this [music] chose you rather than you choosing it?
KJ: Absolutely! I write on tumbler a lot. I originally put up a post late at night when I was thinking about how easy it could have been if I was like no, I’m just going to be regular. No, offense to regular — but saying no, I’m just going to do the bare minimum. I’m just going to get a job, I know I can make money. I am just going to do that and that is what it is going to be. But, there is something inside people like us and regular just doesn’t sit well with us.
Mm: At All— At All!
KJ: It’s just like, no— I know, I am suppose to be doing something else right now. I need to get up, I need to do something. I feel like when its about the people, that urgency is there and it causes you to work because again, its not just about you.
Mm: I can ask that question more so because— I can relate. In regards to interviewing people. I don’t interview for me, I interview because, I feel like I am meant to be a vessel to get other peoples stories out. Why me? I don’t know!
KJ: Wow! That’s a huge responsibility. That’s equally as important as the messenger.
KJ: Without you, nobody is hearing that story.
Mm: I am staring to see a little bit of the why this year. I can relate to your words in describing the urgency that it calls for. I know in 2012 you chose to take the first leap within you using your voice as an artist. What is different about what you did creatively then when you were dipping your toes in the water so to speak. Versus now, where you are now fully immersing yourself within this world?
KJ: Well, in 2010 I moved to Atlanta. I left FAMU. I had a really big opportunity to come here and write full time. I was working on a really big project with Atlantic records and if fell through. I was really discouraged because I left school for that. I thought that, that was my big break. When it fell through, I took it kind of hard, but I kept writing. I started as a writer. I didn’t lead with that. I should have — I hadn’t gotten into my artistry just yet. I was writing and when the Atlantic Records thing fell through, I was still submitting records for possible placement for other artists and A&R’s. The record label kept saying, no we need something like this and something like Chris Brown. There was a lot of Chris Brown because he was all over the radio at the time. So there was a lot of…. we need something like this. It kind of discouraged me because I knew that my sound even then was unique and I wanted to bring that to the table. Yet, I wasn’t given the opportunities because they wanted something like Chris Brown. For a while in 2011, I was not doing much writing at all. I was serving at California Pizza Kitchen. I had gotten into a relationship that I should not have gotten into and my focus was just not on music. In 2012 when things came to a head with that relationship it caused me to get back into writing because that has always been therapeutic for me. When I got back into it I knew these songs are good but I began to think— do I really want to give them away. Do I want to shop these? Am I going to get the same response, “Oh no this is good but we need a this kind of sound”. So… I chose to put it out and people received it. At that time, I was not producing. I was only writing. With this project, what was that— four years ago, since then; I have taught-myself the piano, the guitar and how to produce. I was linking with really talented producers and I will never take away from their talents but it wasn’t what I was hearing in my head. So, I said ok well I’m going to take a stab at this. I started playing around with sounds and the first couple of beats that I made were trash. I kept going though, I knew I could do this and I knew…. what I wanted to hear. I just have to figure out how to actually execute that. I’ve been working on this project Tomorrow and another one coming out at the top of 2017.
Mm: Yes, you are working honey!
KJ: Ha-ha! I have to. I’m on a mission.
Mm: How long did it take you to teach yourself the piano and guitar?
KJ: The guitar— one I still feel like I haven’t mastered.
Mm: I don’t know if you ever will feel that Mr. Perfectionist ha-ha.
KJ: Haha, right, right! There are some things that I hear in my head and I’m like dammit, I’m not there yet. Then I have to call for reinforcements. It took me a while. I got the guitar in 2012 and when I was going through that breakup, I would sit in my apartment and just play for hours and hours and hours. That was extremely therapeutic for me. I would get on youtube and look up videos my fingers started callousing up and that was that. It wasn’t necessarily about where it would take me. I wasn’t thinking about producing. I was just doing it because it was therapeutic and made me feel good within what I was going through. Once I came out of that gray area a little bit more it was like… this is what I was going through and this is what I learned while I was there. Lets see what I can do with it but while I was there the goal wasn’t to produce anything, it was just to make it to the next day.
Mm: Wow! Speaking of that next day, you have come full circle with your EP Tomorrow coming out. What does Tomorrow mean NOW to you in this moment?
KJ: I’ve said this before and it still stands true. Everything that we are doing today, is for tomorrow. Everything that you are doing right now is so you can live a happier more impactful life tomorrow— and the tomorrow’s to come. That is what this project is to me. It took me a while to get here. There are several times where I was going to release it and the timing was not right, the money was low because again, I’m an independent artist and the bills are real. There were so many factors where I was like no, this isn’t going to happen. Or, I would say nope, I am going to keep going or oops …I am going to stop now because, I am overwhelmed. But, tomorrow I am going to get back up and I am going to do this again. Tomorrow is just about that hope for something better. A better place, a better time, a better situation. We can’t just look at today and feel like this is the end all be all. As long as tomorrow keeps coming we have a chance to be great and do what we want to do and live.
Mm: In regards to what you are doing, is there another element within that, you aim to master?
KJ: Haha, thats a good question. This whole thing is a process and when I say process I mean the work period. Even though you were told that I am not trying to be the trend— or be trendy. I am just doing what comes natural to me. That’s just be creative period. When we get to interviews and people start to know who you are and do events, you do have to be professional and know how to carry yourself. That takes practice too. I still have to know how to be well-rounded not just ok, I’m a creative period. I have to be forward thinking. I have to be progressive. I need to be someone who gets along with other people, not that I struggle with that yet I am from Miami and we tend to talk really forceful.
Mm: More than New Yorkers?
KJ: No, no! I don’t think it is more than New Yorkers but it is an abrupt kind of way in which we talk. I am learning now when to cut that off and how to carry myself in business meetings. I am learning the tools necessary to be successful in the industry now that, I am in this and this is what I chose to do. We can say its all about the music. It’s not— its about the money and opportunities and relationships. It’s about knowing how to govern yourself accordingly to be successful in all those areas.
Mm: How have you amidst working two jobs and knowing that this is not your end all be all. But you have had to do it. What are the things you have said, to yourself when things aren’t making sense? When you know that there is a tomorrow but its feeling bleak. How have you Kori James pushed through that?
KJ: I smoke when I get home and write about it.
Mm: Haha- I love it. I love the honesty.
KJ: My day ends when I get off of work and it keeps me humble because, I have to go back there. The job is what’s paying for the studio time and the traveling. It’s paying for all of this stuff so it keeps me humble because I still need this. I still have to respect it for what its doing for my life and my situation. What I do is not that bad so I have to respect my process and respect the opportunity to make money to fund my dreams.
Mm: Respect my process, I love that. If you could define what next year this time encompasses for you, what would that look like?
KJ: In my world, I would probably be on a high next year this time from my grammy nomination. Because it would be so unexpected. I would be so surprised that people were actually listening to my stuff like that but here it is December of 2017 I have a grammy nomination. I feel like stranger things have happened. I have another EP coming out at the top of 2017 and then the full album comes out in the summer.
Mm: I love it and then, I will be at the Grammy’s interviewing you.
KJ: Right, right! I’ll be like this is my good friend Melissa, we go way back from telephone calls and everything.
Mm: Hahahaha! Right, they don’t know.
KJ: I just see elevation. Last year, I was not in this position at all. I was switching locations between jobs. I lost my grandmother on thanksgiving and she really inspired tomorrow as well. During that time, I was just going through a lot. So, just to be in this position this year, a whole year later its like wow! God is real! There is no limit to what you can do if you just focus all your energy into yourself. Have people around you that believe in you and share your same vision. Invest into the people that invest back in you and move forward. That is what I have done within the last year. Wth the new relationships, I can’t imagine that I will be in the same place next year.
Mm: That is the best way to end and seal this deal. We have a verbal confirmation of whats to come for you next year. I love asking this question because when you think about it, feel it and then see it— you can then begin to live in that life for yourself. My intention is to use my voice to, not only tell your story but to use whatever wisdom, love and support— I naturally love to sow into people, to help boost you.
KJ: What’s crazy is, since this era that I have been in. I’ve been meeting some genuine people. I was a bit turned off by the industry. Which is why you were told about me not being interested in following the trend. I was turned off to some personalities not being genuine and a bit cold. Yet this season in my life, I have been coming across some of the most genuine people and its been real interaction. It’s simply, I believe in what you are doing and vice-versa. We see each other for what we are really here for and we feed life into each others situations. That gives me hope for tomorrow as well, there is no way, we can be in the same place tomorrow.
Mm: That is so powerful. I am excited that I got to chat with you. It gave me this natural-energy that I needed. Thank you so much, this was a highlight of my day.
KJ: Thank you, thank you for taking out the time to speak with me as well.