Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Copeland James. Together we discussed their thoughts on communication, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, small their, their upcoming single “Best Friend”, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?
I’m grateful to Mustard for asking me to join them! I’m doing pretty well, but a little sleepy. My cat just climbed into my lap, so that’s a big plus.
2. Mustard wonders what your relationship with music was growing up. What artists did you gravitate towards? How did they influence you early on?
I was pretty oblivious to pop culture as a kid! I played piano, but my family didn’t play much music around the house, and I went to a pretty small school. I remember hearing the song “Drive My Soul” by LIGHTS in a dance class when I was maybe 11. I kept repeating a lyric in my head on the way home so I could remember to google it. I fell in love with her music videos on YouTube; I loved how creative she was with set design and animation. She played a keytar, which is one of the reasons I have one now. I started finding more musicians on YouTube, artists like dodie and Tessa Violet. It was cool to grow up following the journeys of independent artists like them, I feel like I got a peek behind the curtain into how the music-making process worked. Only more recently have I been learning more about the classics, which has been super interesting, if a little late.
3. As an artist, you are trying to bridge the gap with communication. What makes language an imperfect tool? How does music allow you to express and strengthen that tool? What can humans do to better improve their communication skills?
Honestly, I’m not sure if language is flawed or if I’m just not being the best at using it. I stumble over words, ramble without completely knowing what I want to say, and sometimes I can’t get my words out at all. Songwriting might not actually make me better at communicating, but it definitely makes me feel more in control of it. I can take as little or as much time as I need, and even if my words don’t make perfect sense, the shape of the melody or the way the drums drop out and leave the piano exposed might get my point across. And in lyrics, it’s okay to say exactly how something felt, even if it doesn’t make logical sense. Usually no one goes “Huh? I don’t get what you mean.” Even if the listener doesn’t understand the exact thought behind it, the music conveys the feeling.
Maybe it would be easier to communicate if there was less pressure to say things in a perfect way, or at the perfect time. Sometimes the things we need to say are messy, and we should make space for that.
4. Songwriting allows you to strike a balance. Can you recall the first song you wrote? How was your communication then compared to your newest work now? What is your songwriting process?
At first, I saw songwriting as more of a creative writing exercise than self-expression. I was just a kid, so I didn’t have much of my own experience to go off of. I wrote with dramatic symbolism that even I didn’t understand, inspired by the books I read. These days, almost everything I write is about my own experience. Usually, my songs start with a thought that grabs me; I’ll jot them down in a journal to sit with and expand on later. I still think it’s fun to write from other perspectives as a creative writing exercise every once in a while though.
5. Who (or what) influences you?
I’m influenced by musicians I love (like Fenne Lily, NoSo, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, and dodie), a background in classical music, Studio Ghibli movies, beautifully decorated living spaces, anxious spirals in the middle of the night, and heartfelt conversations with friends.
6. Is there a song or album that had a significant impact on you?
So many! Most recently, NoSo’s album Stay Proud of Me has made a big impact. NoSo sings about his experiences with being trans and Korean-American, growing up in predominantly white suburbia, and navigating complex queer identity within relationships. The writing is so vulnerable and honest; you can’t write that way without taking a good hard look in the mirror and really getting to know yourself. It’s been inspiring me to try to write in ways that push my own understanding of myself too. On top of that, their guitar playing and production skills are phenomenal. I could really see them becoming a big name in the music world.
7. If you could turn any Buffy The Vampire episode into a song what episode would it be and why?
I love that I’m being asked about Buffy. I think “Tabula Rasa” would make a great song! It’s an episode where a character tries to erase someone’s memory of a bad thing she did, and accidentally gives everyone amnesia instead. I think there’s a good song in there about begging forgiveness for trying to hide your mistakes. If anyone actually wants a bunch of Buffy-themed songs, Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Noeline wrote a song about each episode for their podcast “Buffering: The Vampire Slayer.” I love how their podcast analyzes not only the fantastic stuff about the show but also its flaws. Anyways, I totally only like the show a normal and regular amount!
8. What is your favorite playlist you have had your music added too?
Someone made a playlist called “My Heart is Restless in Italy” that just has my song ‘Restless in Rome’ and Ricky Montgomery’s ‘My Heart Is Buried In Venice’ on it. Great stuff.
9. How has social media helped you as an artist? Do you have a preferred platform?
I know Twitter is kind of a dying dumpster fire these days, but I’ve met so many amazing independent artists on there. It’s great for hyping people up and sharing their stuff. There are so many people on there that are excited to share the things they love. I was super late to the game (I only made account a year ago), but it’s already made a big difference for me as an artist. Tiktok is also effective for reaching new people, but its algorithm has me in a chokehold. My screentime is a cry for help.
10. Have you found out an answer for why humans often try for things that are out of their reach? As a condiment, could you share more about human nature?
I think it’s human nature to do silly, counterintuitive things and worry that we’re the only ones doing those silly things, when really we’re all worrying about being the only ones doing them, together. Maybe we all feel a little like a confused condiment sometimes.
11. Small talk is an interesting phenomenon amongst humans. Is there specific small talk etiquette that humans follow? Has the weather mandated that it be mentioned during small talk?
I have mixed feelings about small talk. I have a hard time following its etiquette, but I can have an even harder time with the etiquette of unfamiliar or emotionally tumultuous conversations. Small talk can be boring, but its scripted nature can be a safety net. In my upcoming EP Small Talk, it’s a sort of metaphor for the ways I find myself dancing around difficult conversations, for fear of rejection or lack of understanding. There’s a gap between the big, confusing internal feelings and the ‘small talk’ I manage to say out loud that I’m working on closing, and that’s where the EP comes in.
Also, there are a lot of small talk haters in this world, but I am a weather-talk apologist! Weather is a common denominator! If it is nice out, I want to know. If it’s going to be dangerously icy outside, I want a heads up! We all experience the weather. Isn’t that nice?
12. Mustard wonders why teens are so fickle? Have you been told by them why that is?
I think I was 16 when I wrote that song, so I probably had access to the teen secrets that have since been revoked from me. Darn those evasive teen secrets! Maybe it’s something they put in the school lunches?
13. If given the opportunity to build Rome in a day, what would you start with? How would you manage this project? What was the inspiration behind this single?
I think the appeal of building Rome in a day is not having to worry about managing the project. Just running blindly straight to the finish line. Obviously that’s not a realistic goal–I was poking fun at myself a bit with the lyric after getting irrationally annoyed at someone’s post captioned “Rome wasn’t built in a day” (which I saw while procrastinating).
14. What can fans expect from your upcoming single “Best Friend?”
Have you ever made a new friend and been like “I think you might be the best person I’ve ever met, I want to know your secrets, I want to make art with you, I want to be just like you, I want us to be old friends one day. Are we on the same page or am I being weird right now?” If so, I sure have the song for you! And if not, maybe ‘Best Friend’ will give you a peek into how that feels. Come join me, my piano, and a really cool lead guitar part (played by Jimmy Diskin) in yearning for close connection and the feeling of being known.
15. What qualities and traits do you look for in a best friend?
I look for someone who is unapologetically enthusiastic about the things they love, excited to hear what I’m interested in, not afraid of a little whimsy, ready to have a heavy conversation and help it feel lighter, and who will always commit to the bit. A dear friend of mine says “committing to the bit is a love language” and I quote them on it constantly.
16. Where can readers listen to your music?
My debut single “Restless in Rome” is on all streaming platforms under Copeland James, and on February 10,“Best Friend” will be too! If you want more, I’ve got a handful of other songs on my Bandcamp, including demos of two songs that’ll be on the Small Talk EP.
Stream Restless in Rome:
Pre-order Best Friend: https://copelandjames.bandcamp.comm/album/best-friend
Bio Site: https://bio.site/copelandjames