Luke James Admits He Was Once a ‘Dirtbag,’ Speaks on New EP
New Orleans-born crooner Luke James belts out high notes beyond compare. Once his smooth vocals are heard, it’s hard to deny his power, his presence and the pleasure his sound brings to the senses. For those unfamiliar with his work, his new single, ‘I Want You,’ is a good indication of his talents. On the song and in the accompanying video, which can be viewed below, the singer-songwriter croons with conviction, telling his lady love she’s the only one he desires.
As the solo newcomer — he was once signed to J Records as a duo — re-introduces himself to the masses, his new EP, titled ‘#Luke,’ will serve as the first handshake. From the mellow mid-tempo tune ‘Soldier’ to the transfixing ballad ‘Signs of Rain,’ the artist, who’s signed to lauded producer Danja’s New Age Rock Stars imprint via Def Jam, delivers a commendable project.
Uncover the mystery of this southern soul, as he explains his link to Frank Ocean, reveals a new song he has with Estelle and admits his past as a self-proclaimed “dirtbag.”
Who have you been in the studio with lately?
I’ve been in the studio with Jerry Wonda. I did a collaboration with [him] and Estelle. We did a duet together. It’s a song called ‘Easy.’ I had wanted to work with Jerry Wonda for a minute now. The label — Mercury Records, Island Def Jam, Def Jam — they made it happen. We were just waiting on a time where our schedules would allow us to make music together. I’ve been knowing of Estelle through various people. Kadis and Sean, the producers of ‘I Want You,’ they produced some records for Estelle, so we kinda got connected that way. Randomly one night I was coming in from a club and I was going Twitter crazy I guess. I got on Twitter and I [reached out to] her. I said I wanted two things: either do a song with Estelle or be in a video. I’d much rather do a song with her but I’d take what I can get. She hit me back in five minutes. She said, “Let’s make it happen.” We went into the studio and within 10 minutes we laid down the song.
What’s the premise of ‘Easy’?
Basically, you know how you’re in a relationship — a lot of people go through this — when things are bad, it’s bad. To people on the outside, it looks like madness, craziness. But on the inside, you know, you and your partner, you know what it is. Things get bad, but if they really truly love you, they understand you. And when it’s good, it’s so easy. Like you make me so mad but you make me so easy to love you. It’s a contradiction but it makes sense when you’re in love.
Your label deal was secured through producer Danja. Explain your working relationship.
Danja’s basically Quincy Jones in this situation. We’ve been knowing each other like four years now. It felt only right to come together as a team and do something musically and pursue my artistry. We have the same interest in music, where music should go. How we work together, yeah he comes up with ideas. We get influenced by different music that’s out there, that’s underground music, alternative, everything. We tag team on stuff like that. How we work together is really organic. A lot of times I don’t have any music. Like if I don’t have a track, I’ll go into a studio and make the music vocally. I’ll create the song and bring it to him and he’ll create on top of it. It’s very organic. We never rush it. When we rush it, it’s never right.
You’re from New Orleans. How did growing up there influence you musically?
I guess growing up in New Orleans in the ’90s, before radio was what it is now, back then they played everything. Even just album cuts. We have a popular station called Q93, from old school to new. Songs that weren’t even singles and what not. I got put on to music that way. I was also into jazz. New Orleans is just so full of culture in the music content — blues, folk. I was introduced to a lot of things. My mother didn’t keep me away from other music. She only kept me away from rap. The closest I got to rap was D’Angelo. Growing up in New Orleans, the murder rate and all of that stuff, it was influencing. My mother, [me] being an only child, and she felt like that’s how she needed to raise me.
Who inspires you?
I hate saying the cliché stuff but I gotta be honest. Marvin Gaye, I’m super influenced by him. D’Angelo, Donny Hathaway. All the old school cats. New people, I like M83. I like Coldplay. I love Frank Ocean. Miguel. I get inspired by all these cats. People don’t know that me and Frank Ocean went to high school together.
Did you guys run in the same circles?
Nah. I wanna say I was a junior and he was in ninth grade [in high school]. I kinda remember him when I see old pictures. It’s weird. We met in L.A. like years ago, he was going under a different name. It was like damn, we did go to school together.
What’s the story behind your song, ‘I Want You’?
I had an epiphany. I was a dirtbag and I had an epiphany and I realized that this girl that I had been treating bad or just not giving her what she needed, I realized I really wanted to give her what she needs and love her and want to be with her. That’s what the song is. And that’s what I was going through then. How I created the song, I was trying to create a different kind of record and it just winded up turning into this. That’s how it happened.
So how do you handle relationships now that you have a career which thrusts you in the spotlight?
You have to adapt to the situation. It’s kind of difficult to put that on someone who doesn’t do what you do. But that person would have to be very understanding. You know you got to work through it if you really want that relationship to work. It’s very tough to be away from someone you love or you’re used to seeing all the time. But if you’re truly in love it will work. But it is difficult.
You’re fairly new and just making your name as a solo artist in this industry. What are your hopes of people when they listen to your music?
I want people to be inspired by what they hear. I consider myself an honest soul. I hope they feel like what I’m saying is some truthfulness, not only to my life but speaking to theirs. I just want people to give it an honest listen. They can take anything they want form it. I feel like if you really give it a genuine listen, not with your ears, I’m talking about with your heart, I’m pretty sure my music, my artistry will speak to you. I just want everybody to be in love. That’s all [laughs].
How long have you been working towards this goal of being an artist?
I’m a songwriter. I was in a group before, a duo called Luke & Q. That was my brother Q and we were signed to J Records. That fell off but I started writing songs. I wrote a couple songs for different artists — Chris Brown ['Crawl'], Justin Bieber ['That Should Be Me'], Keri Hilson. Keri Hilson is how I met Danja. After meeting Danja, I started doing the artistry.
Watch ‘Vocal Warmups’