I was first introduced to the music of James Cavern when I was working on my interview with Iconoclast Robot. They said I had to hear his music and that he was one of the most talented singers in Sacramento. They were right. James Cavern is an amazing singer and musician with immense talent and a whole lot of soul. When you see him perform you know that he is in the music business not for the fans or the recognition but because music is what he loves. Whether you like Folk, Hip Hop, R&B or Soul, James brings it all to the table. His music is personal and relatable and the Sacramento music scene needs musicians like James Cavern. If you have never had the pleasure of hearing his music you should definitely check him out at listn.to/jamescavern or on iTunes. I recently had the honor of sitting down with James and this is what he had to say. – By Jamie Candelaria
Tell me about yourself, where did you come up with the stage name Cavern?
James: I’m a huge Beatles fan and the Beatles had their break at the beginning of their career at a club called the Cavern Club. It was the venue where they met Brian Epstein. He came in and saw them play and was like wow. One night I was watching the Beatles Anthology DVDs and I had been trying to think of a name. I was watching the segment where they were talking about the Cavern Club and I was like I wonder if anyone has the name James Cavern. So I Googled it and nobody did. I took the name that minute, called my manager up and told him this is what it is and he got it copy written and the rest is history.
What inspired you to become a musician?
James: I’ve always wanted to play guitar and I’ve always wanted to play music. In high school I was kind of a jock, I’d play soccer all the time. I was a sports head. When I graduated I realized how much time I had because I wasn’t playing soccer that much anymore. I started learning guitar. I bought some cheap $200 guitar from guitar center and it came with a DVD, picks, and a tuner. I watched the DVD for about a month and picked up on the basic chords. I learned tablature from there and online. I started learning my favorite songs and from there started writing my own songs. I’ve always wanted to play music but that’s pretty much how it happened.
You’re originally from London.
James: Yes I’m originally from London, England.
Did you move to the United States to pursue music?
James: No my parents moved here. They are both Vietnamese. After the war they escaped their country, Vietnam, and wound up in England. Then when I was born they found out the rest of the family was in America so they applied to move here. It took about ten years, so we moved here when I was fourteen. I’ve been here for ten years now.
Are there any other musicians in your family?
James: One of my older sisters, the middle child, has always had a knack for music. She’s the one that has always gotten me into music. Some of my fondest memories as a child is her having me listen to the Beatles on cassette tapes. Then she got me into Oasis and Blur, obviously those guys are iconic English musicians that I am heavily influenced by in my songwriting. She’s probably the most musical one. Both of my parents love singing. They have always sung around the house, karaoke and stuff like that. My mum once told me that when she was younger she wanted to be a musician. She ended up being a teacher, which is still good.
As a solo artist you sing folk music?
James: I’d class my genre as folk slash soul. I have a lot of love for that kind of 60s Doo Wop kind of music, as well as the contemporary soul music that you hear from the likes of John Legend and Adelle. I love folk music too. I have a love for the classics like Bob Dylan and Ray Charles, lots of storytelling involved. I’d say my music kind of blends the two together, mostly folk with some flashes of soul, just to keep it interesting.
You recently started a Hip Hop project, The Ricky James Project, with Ricky Pannell, what made you choose Hip Hop?
James: The music I grew up listening to in England was predominately U.K. garage music, which is kind of like fast paced, of drum and bass music slash Hip Hop. There was lots of lyrical content in the music. When I moved here the first CD I bought was Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001, the CD everyone should have. I bought it as soon as I got off the plane at the airport. When I first moved here in 2000 hip hop was getting super main stream. Nelly and Ludacris were coming out with all their classics. That was what I was listening to in my teen years and it’s been an influence. I love that kind of music. I’ve always had a love for hip hop and I love the underground scene such as Atmosphere, the Roots, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. Those guys who aren’t as obnoxious as what you hear on the radio, they have something to say. That’s where my attraction to Ricky came from. He’s one of those rappers that are a lyricist, a poet. The first time I heard him do a piece it was a poem. Then I saw him perform, rapping, and I went up to him after and asked if he wanted to play. So we played together a few times. Then I was offered to open up for Sage Francis at Ace of Spades and the guy called and asked what our name was. I had no idea, we hadn’t talked about it, I figured his name is Ricky my name is James throw a project at the end of it and we had the Ricky James Project. It works out because people think of Rick James at first but it has a ring to it.
You have an EP Friends and Lovers, which is actually now carried in a record store in New York.
James: I went to New York two weeks ago. I have a friend there so I went to visit and network. I heard it was very similar to London so I went to check it out. I was walking around and I just kind of stumbled into a record store. I talked to the guy and told him I was a musician. He asked to listen to my stuff and he liked it. He asked if he could have some copies for the store. I gave him some copies and told him he didn’t have to sell them he could just give them to his top customers. I hope that’s what he did but it’s nice to know that it’s over there.
What can people expect from the EP?
James: On the EP you’ll get to hear a lot of personal songs. A lot of people see it as controversial but I don’t really, I always tell people that I play music for myself and I write music for myself and if anybody else enjoys what they hear and can relate to it then great. So with that thought process in mind I feel like all of the songs I write are very personal, private songs. Usually they are written in the span of 5-10 minutes. It usually has to do with an emotion and then out comes the song. On the EP I would say that you really get to know me on a personal level without having to talk to me. You just hear the songs and pretty much know what’s been going on in my life.
You’ve been featured on Good Day Sacramento a few times, how did that come about?
James: That’s been really cool. The first time was the day after Christmas. I remember sitting at the dinner table for Christmas dinner and my manager calls and asks if I want to be on television the next morning. Of course I said yes. At the time I lived in Placerville and my mum lived in Rocklin so I stayed the night and wore the clothes that I wore to Christmas dinner on television. After that performance they really like it and when they heard that I put out the EP they asked me to come back on the show. Since then I have also been on KCRA3, which was really cool, with The Ricky James Project and that worked out great too.
What can people expect next from James Cavern next?
James: I’d like to focus on The Ricky James Project but as with any band, you have more variables and it gets a little more difficult to plan things and timing. I would like to come out with a Ricky James Project EP. I’m always writing music and experiencing things in life therefore I am always writing about those experiences. In the future I expect a Hip Hop EP or a few new songs for myself. I am going to try and run with the EP I have for a year. Definitely the main focus for myself as a solo project is to start playing out of Sacramento more. Hopefully you’ll see me in San Francisco and down south and maybe even in the East Coast.