If you could do anything, what would it be? I’m not talking skydiving or swimming with dolphins—I’m talking about your career. Maybe you want to be a writer for the New York Times? The Yankees’ ace pitcher? How about a United States senator? What separates those who achieve their dreams from the rest of the world is that they don’t stop until their ideal career path is within reach. James Spaite, recent graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University, has a knack for music that spans beyond a smooth singing voice. Finding success as a musician in 2016 isn’t an easy task, but Spaite rose to the challenge and is making a name for himself nationwide. There’s a lesson to be taught from such a bold move, and Spaite’s overwhelming passion proves that nobody’s goals are out of reach.
College Magazine: What ignited your passion for music?
James Spaite: A passion for music was sparked in me by other people who were sources of care and warmth in my life. Namely, my pops and grandma. I have been so far beyond privileged to have them. I used to ask my dad to come and play the guitar until I would fall asleep. As a young child, I remember I would lie under my grandma’s piano while she would play and do my best to soak up all the sounds and vibrations.
CM: When did you write your first song?
Spaite: When I first began writing music, I would only do percussive fingerstyle guitar work. I was very insecure about my voice for the longest time and figured that, if I was fascinated by the guitar, I might as well do something creative with it. First song I remember writing was in eighth grade and, naturally, gave it the beautiful title “My Guitar is like a Baby with Strings.”
CM: What song means the most to you and why?
Spaite: If I had to choose, I would say a fairly recent song called “Coyote.” It is an extended metaphor about a handful of experiences I had working in agriculture growing up and how I see that they apply to humans at large. The song plays with the idea of nature and nurture while emphasizing on a third component that I believe significantly shapes our experiences: our choices. The premise of the song intends to push the idea that we are not just the social and biological stories that we inherit from our parents, culture, society, etc. I recognize that ideals are clean and packaged up with pretty little bows, but real life is messy and comes with a massive set of challenges. I hope that song communicates on some level that we—each of us—have a moral responsibility to make choices that shape our lives.
CM: What was your major in college, and why did you choose it?
Spaite: For two years I studied music but changed after recognizing that much of what I wanted do with music wasn’t offered in the particular program that I was in. I changed to psychology with the thought in mind of doing music therapy with trauma victims. I’m still not entirely sure of what that might look like, but it might be in the future? I just graduated and still have a while to figure that out.
CM: Were you nervous about trying to pursue a music career?
Spaite: Absolutely. I waited years before I even considered I could actually make it a reality. Despite opening for bigger artists and playing big shows in high school, I think a lack of confidence early on was what seriously hindered me from jumping in full force earlier. Even still, there are doubts. Two of my best friends are incredible musicians, causing me to often wonder if there is even room for me with people who are that good around. One is a far better composer than I am, and it is simply unfair how creative he is. The other is a monster guitarist, has an absolutely angelic voice and is a great songwriter.
CM: How have you taken steps toward your musical career since graduating college?
Spaite: Immediately out of college, I decided to tour the West Coast again. The intent of the tour was to move music back into common spaces and simply connect with people through sounds and stories. I decided to just go super grass roots-y and posted on Instagram and Facebook letting people know that if they were in California, Oregon or Washington and wanted me to come and play a show in their city, I would do my best to make it happen. I got around 30 responses and got to work. If you have a fairly solid following online, I would 100 percent suggest trying to set up a tour this way. I loved it. Ended up playing in living rooms, barns, basements, coffee shops, around fireplaces, boutique clothing stores, backyards and even an avocado orchard.
CM: What is the most rewarding part of making music?
Spaite: Hands down [the] most rewarding part is the people. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply enjoy the creative process, but music started with people for me and ends with people.
CM: What was the process like to get your music on Spotify?
Spaite: The process to get music on Spotify is pretty simple… In my mind, the challenge for artists is found in creating art that stands out, that people will enjoy enough to consistently come back to and that people want to share with others. Once again, music can be much more about the people than about the actual art. Musically speaking, look at so many famous artists who are still “inventing the wheel” while there are buskers [street performers] who are taking trips to Mars.
CM: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Spaite: Guaranteed still creating. Guaranteed still using all that I have been given to encourage and empower others. Hopefully with a sustainable career in full-time writing, recording and performing. The dream would be playing shows like James Taylor at 65-plus years old.
CM: Do you have another album in the works?
Spaite: I do! I am looking forward to it. Exciting new stuff to come out within the next months, but surprises are best kept as secrets!
CM: What advice would you have for a college student looking to chase an unconventional dream?
Spaite: First, this is some of the best advice I was given during a conversation with Greg Laswell a few years ago: “If you aren’t going to actually do it, then don’t waste everyone’s time.” Art is an ever increasingly tough career, so if you plan to do it, do it. Second, lean on every support system you have around you. Embrace others and let other people help you.