Graeme James: From the street to the stage

If you ask virtually any musician why they started their career in the music industry, many will say because it was their passion, their calling, or that they can’t see themselves doing anything else. It’s unlikely they’ll say “for the money”—unless you ask Graeme James.

Graeme James is a performer hailing from Wellington, New Zealand. Like most musicians, he has been playing and performing from a very young age. He dreamed of being a concert violinist. However, this dream was put on the back burner as he pursued different careers.

“I did a number of different things that weren’t music related. I studied to be a teacher, worked at a supermarket, started to study electrical engineering, but music is what I had been doing the longest,” James says. “I was just so worried about going off the rails, like many musicians do, so I avoided it for a long time but once I started, it just made sense.”

“I was just so worried about going off the rails, like many musicians do, so I avoided it for a long time but once I started, it just made sense.”

One day, James made, as he describes it, one of the most impulsive purchases of his life and bought a loop pedal—a device that allows musicians to layer tracks over one another and create a beat.

“Could I actually afford a loop pedal? No. Was I going to buy it anyway? Absolutely,” James says.

As James was driving on New Year’s Eve in New Zealand a few years ago, his car broke down. He was stranded and had no money to get gas to get the back on the road. What he did have was his loop pedal in the trunk of the car, so as a last resort, he broke it out and started playing music on the street to make some money for his car.

It worked.

Little did he know that this would open the door for him to launch his music career. Noting his success during that instance, Graeme James began busking (playing music in the street for donations) more frequently. He traveled through Queenstown, New Zealand playing for crowds of up to 200-300 people, and, through that, ended up meeting his wife.

Even then, he never imagined he would one day be going on a 34-city tour around North America.

“It has been a slow-moving and organic transition,” James says, “which can be hard sometimes because you want things to move quickly, but it’s good for the mental health to have that transition.”

James is a musician whose title cannot be confined to “singer-songwriter,” but instead encompasses the essence of “one-man band.”

In most live shows, a solo artist typically has an assigned guitarist, drummer or pre-recorded track playing in the background that they sing over. James does all of the above. His music, as he describes it, is a combination of high-energy folk music put together through the sounds of electric violin, guitar, baritone ukulele, mandolin, harmonica, and beatboxing layered over one other with the help of his beloved loop pedal.

During his performance, James creates the music to his songs from scratch, all while exchanging banter with audience members and explaining each step of the process. Once the beat is perfected, he sings his song over it.

Through busking, James learned how to interact with an audience and keep them engaged, and continues to bring that skill to the stage. If the crowd is unfamiliar with the lyrics, he teaches them the words and encourages them to clap or sing along with him.

Graeme James’ debut album came out in 2016 and is called “News from Nowhere.” Today, it has about four million streams on Spotify. James is looking forward to his future as a musician.

“I feel very blessed to be where I am,” says James.