19th April 2022
Interview: Amy Bell
LA based indie artist + songwriter James Ricker brings honesty, wit, and a smile to every project he’s a part of. The goal he says is to “undoubtedly make you feel seen and hopefully better after listening… If I can make you laugh or even impress you with something artsy I did- that’s icing on the cake baby.” Beginning with his debut single release, “Drop It”, in November of 2021, Ricker balanced an acoustic-driven almost-breakup tune with an anthemic chorus and bridge that would get an entire bar shouting “MAYBE WE SHOULD DROP IT!”. After meeting artist, producer, and now friend John Samuel, the two took a few days out of their schedules to record James’ first EP.
With John Samuel’s enviable knack for catchy production techniques, and James’ eagerness to get some songs out of his heart and into the world, the pair created what would simply be called, “THE EP”. When asked about his favourite song on the album, he wrestled but landed on “SH!T”, which he hopes to play live soon at one of the many LA local venues. Within the first month of THE EP release, James’ monthly listeners shot up by over 650 people- something he doesn’t take lightly. “I’m so thankful to be building a real fan base one person at a time- as a fan of so many artists myself, I promise to only put out honest, quality songs that actually mean something to me and those around me.” With his next project in the planning stages, we are excited to see what James Ricker drops next.
Hi James, thanks so much for talking to us! Let’s go back to when you first began creating music, who were your influences growing up and is this something you have always wanted to pursue?
I’m happy to chat, this is so kind! My story on how I got into music began with jealousy. I was in 7th grade, watching one of my best friends (Gabe) play guitar in front of a bunch of girls. I wanted to be him so badly that I went home, picked up my stepdad’s old guitar and a chord book, (begged him to tune it for me) and locked myself in my room until I learned how to play “hey there delilah”, lol. So yeah, my friend Gabe is who pushed me over the edge into the music world. Then, one day that same year, while taking a test in school, my teacher was playing a song that completely distracted me from my completely average academic endeavours. My ears were hearing something much more important than what my eyes were glued on. I walked up to her mid-test and asked her who the hell that singer was, to which she replied, “John Mayer.” My life hasn’t been the same since. I learned his whole discography and his music has completely shaped my guitar playing/songwriting. As a thirteen year old, I knew I wanted to be an artist. Because I lived in a small town, the biggest music venue for me was a local church, so I got involved in their band and actually made that my career for a while. I led bands in that space from like 2016 until right before the pandemic. Yeah, it was sort of the off-brand version of my dreams. I learned immensely from my time there, but all the while I dreamt of touring as my own artist playing my own songs. During that time, my musical inspirations widened beyond Mayer to the indie pop bands like LANY and the 1975, as well as 60’s & 70’s music like The Temptations, America and Fleetwood Mac. Freshly inspired by all the change life was bringing gave me all these songs in my heart that just needed to get out. After moving to LA, I finally had the guts to pursue my own artist career. With the help and support of my wife and good friends, I was able to create my first body of work.
You have a new single out ‘Sh!t’, what was the influence behind this new single?
This song started for me in 2018 when I was playing a progression on the piano that somehow inspired me to yell something sort of like a chant for the chorus. I knew I wanted it to be something everyone could just yell out in frustration, and the next thing I knew, I was just yelling, “Shit!”. I thought that was so funny, simple, and actually therapeutic. I also loved the idea of having an expletive as a song title, so that hopefully it would be memorable. The exclamation point replacing the “I” was my goal from the jump. So after only having 1 word written, I needed to give “SH!T” a worthy story. I borrowed from a friend’s recent break up, mixed it with personal gaslighting experiences, and ended up loving the concept of a post-breakup song. I wanted to express the pain of getting broken up with and being left with a ton of baggage (sh!t) while your ex moves on to their next victim without a care. Oh, and I wanted it to sound happy and fun like any good indie pop anthem. Flash forward to 2021, I met my friend and insane producer, John Samuel Gerhart, and we worked on “SH!T” in his studio in Glendale. After trimming a lot of the fat off of the song, we co-wrote and finished what came to be a catchy indie pop bop that I hope you will love as much as we do.
What is your writing and recording process like?
That is a great question. So far, I have just come up with ideas on my guitar or piano and recorded them on the voice notes app. I’m sure this will change, but my process for writing lyrics with every song thus far began with the opening line of the song. Kind of weird, but it has worked so far. I really enjoy telling a story with my songs in a simple, catchy way with a lot of symmetry. When it comes to instrumentation, I try my best to produce the overall feel of the song in my head and then play out different instrument sounds with my mouth, lol. I am not very strong in a DAW like logic or protools at this point in my life. What made the biggest difference in my process was working with a talented producer. While I had written a majority of all 4 songs prior to working with John Samuel, bringing my concepts and visions to him only elevated the entire experience. It’s almost like I have a drawing outlined and shaded in pencil, and we’re upgrading to painting it with any color imaginable, ready to hang on the wall. Having that second ear to help get catchier melodies or a more witty way to say something is priceless. More practically, the recording process looked like me tracking vocals over a minimal backing track, tracking some guitar, and then John Samuel playing Bass, Lead Guitar, Drums, really everything else on the song. He then mixed and eventually mastered each song.
How has your music changed, since releasing your first ever song?
I can say that I have a lot of genres in me that want to come out to play in my work. I love too many sounds to stick to one. The first song I released was a pretty poppy song called “Drop It”. It was pretty straightforward as far as a song that could fit in any pop playlist on any given day. Following that up was “2016”, which went totally alternative “coming of age” anthemic vibes. I wanted this to be a song that everyone could go crazy with at a live show with a full band. Blowing your face off with huge electric guitars and stacked vocals shouting “Old Kanye and thanking Obama, before all the digital trauma.” I still have hope that that song will be adored by the world one day similar to how everyone freaks out over “Mr. Brightside”. Don’t hate, I can dream, can’t I?
I would say that with each song I make, I want it to be it’s own little world existing however it works best. I will respect what wants to come out, so if it's a huge rock song, electronic pop bop, or a super quiet acoustic ballad, I will do my best to stay true to what the song is asking to be.
You put on your Instagram, that you are ready to start creating more music, what can we expect from your new music?
I would love to know that answer as well. I can tell you one of my goals is to share more of my story and hash out some of the stuff I've been through growing up. I hope to help people feel seen. I’d also like to have a super happy song under my belt as well. Oh, that, and some collabs with other artists! I am ready to get that going too. How that all manifests itself is an exciting mystery to explore. I have been super inspired by the band Her’s, Far Caspian, and anything from the 70's. Mix that with some Room for Squares vibes and big electronic pop songs and that’s my best guess as to what you could expect. Can you tell that this is the most fun stuff ever for me!? We’re planning a writer’s camp for this early summer, and the goal is to co-write most of the new work from scratch, which will be a new adventure for me.
What is 1 piece of advice you would give to people starting in the music industry?
Youtube how to distribute your songs to all platforms, actually release it, and then celebrate the SH!T out of it with your friends.