Nashville has seen the incredible growth of countless established singer-songwriters, but there are none quite like the rising James Droll. Born in rural Ohio and now based in Tennessee, Droll embodies the purity of a human being searching for what’s to come next in his touching discography. Droll’s songwriting mostly focuses on the devastation that inevitably comes with painful heartbreak, which is a familiar feeling listeners can certainly resonate with. In preparation for his forthcoming debut album, Droll is giving us a sneak peek at his enticing musical direction with an immersive new single, “Cut My Teeth.”
Droll’s discernible ability to create dark pop songs with a comforting hint of optimism is evident in the grappling “Cut My Teeth.” As Droll sings about being hesitant before allowing himself to become emotionally invested in someone, he stresses how important it is to know what you want in any type of relationship. The captivating electronics and alluring synthesizers are just an instrumental bonus to Droll’s hypnotizing vocals, which are nicely layered with sweet harmonies.
On “Cut My Teeth,” James Droll shared with us,
“‘Cut My Teeth’ is a song about reluctantly falling in love. I knew the relationship was close to a breaking point, but I had already bitten off more than I could chew. I tried my best to convey finding one’s place, even if it’s in a sinking ship.”
Ahead of his upcoming performance at SXSW, we recently chatted with Droll about the local Nashville music scene, his awesome tattoos, and his forthcoming debut album.
OTW: You’re originally from Ohio, but now you’re pursuing music in Tennessee. Why did you relocate to Nashville? What are your thoughts on the local music scene?
JD: At the time I was working at a bar in Cincinnati and was offered the opportunity to relocate to Nashville and open up a new bar downtown. It was a combination of personal and professional, honestly having so little to do with pursuing music, as I was also seeing someone at the time who was living down in Tennessee. I had done the band thing for a number of years and was pretty burnt out on music and wasn’t really sure I’d find my way back to it at the career level. My first few years in Nashville really put me through it emotionally.
I learned about myself and started to find my way back to creating music out of catharsis rather than the sole purpose of it to be heard by others.
The local scene in Nashville is so nuts, I’m finding it more and more difficult to stay up on all of the new artists and releases with every passing day. It’s so encouraging to see budding artists outside of the country world coming here and gaining as much inspiration and motivation from it as I have. I think we’re building something really cool with a very specific attention to detail in terms of creating meaningful songs that resonate authenticity.
OTW: Your mature songwriting is complemented by your truly stunning instrumentals. Can you share a bit about your creative process?
JD: First and foremost, I have to give a shout out to my primary collaborator/producer, Reed Berin. He is always down to fully realize any terrible (and sometimes dope) ideas that pop into my head with an excitement I’m working on emulating. Almost every song I write and end up queuing up for the masses starts as a “I can’t sleep so I’m going to open my notes app and dump every single thought until my eyelids get heavy” kind of a moment. I would say my process, more than anything, relies on flexibility and understanding that it is an ever changing sequence of events. Sometimes Reed will text me with an idea that gets my brain working on some lyric and melodies; other times I’ll sit down and write an entire song in fifteen minutes while swatting my cat for control of my keyboard. Staying open and understanding that there is no formula to a great song has truly helped me the most and would be my unsolicited advice for any newer writers/artists.
OTW: “Cut My Teeth” is about the troublesome concept we’ve all dealt with: love. What inspired you to write this song?
JD: “Cut My Teeth” is my hesitant first attempt at a love song. It truly embodies the relationship I was in at the time and in hindsight has given me quite a bit of perspective on the aftermath. There were so many moments where I felt like my best self with the subject and then so many times where I felt like an alien. I tried to capture my favorite moments but also my hesitance in how jarring it was when we felt like strangers. By the end of it, I kind of feel like I had cut my teeth on trying to navigate what felt like was my first adult relationship.
OTW: For those who are unfamiliar, can you explain what the phrase “cut my teeth” means? Why did you use this specific idiom for your song?
JD: “Cut my teeth” is a way of saying you have broken the proverbial seal and gained experience to a specific end. It just fit the sentiment of feeling like the relationship had allowed me to cut my teeth on love and being a significant other.
OTW: You’re currently working on your debut album… Any updates on that? What has this experience been like for you?
JD: We’re shooting for the summer! I already have a folder of songs stashed away that I’m very excited about. We’re just waiting on a few final touches to round them out. The experience has been eye-opening, frustrating, liberating, tiring, and self-assuring. I’ve learned so much about how ambiguity is something to embrace rather than fret. I’m so excited for everyone to hear what we’ve been working on.
OTW: You recently tweeted: “first rule of music: don’t listen to anyone who thinks they’ve got the industry ‘figured out.’” Can you expand on this?
JD: That was definitely a hot take, but I stand by it. I’ve been pursuing music on and off for the better part of eight years, and I’ll say the one constant is change. There is no for sure fire plan to success… There is no perfect plan that can launch any breaking artist into the hearts of millions. It always comes back to one of my least favorite phrases I have to repeat to myself in the mirror: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” There are so many times young artists hit pitfalls early in their career by being promised the sun and the moon and I am no exception.
Write music you like that says what you want it to say and surround yourself [with people] who care about you more than they care about your professional successes.
OTW: Your hand tattoos are so detailed and bold. Why did you get “Fake Love” tattooed on your fingers? Can you explain the face tattoos on your hands?
JD: I feel like I’m painting myself to be the jaded grandpa I’ve always wanted to be… But I got them as a reminder of all the times people have cared more about the advantages of being close with me than the symbiotic nature of true friendship and intimacy. I know it may not sound like it, but I’m quite the dreamer. I’ve just got sandbags tied to my ankles so I don’t float off into the clouds. The world can be a terrible and wonderful place and sometimes people don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. They’re an ode to that.
OTW: Who are your current Ones To Watch?