Joelle James

Songwriter Profile: Joelle James - Conjuring Classic Soul with “Boo’d Up”

The soundtrack for the summer of 2018 will undoubtedly include the Billboard #5 single, “Boo’d Up” as performed by U.K. soul artist Ella Mai. Joelle James can hear it in the air. “I was walking street in Times Square and there was a BMW blasting it out. I thought, ‘Oh my God I wrote that song!’ How cool to experience it in the city, in life, in motion.”

She never set out to be a songwriter, James explains. Signed to Interscope Records soon after her graduation from Boston’s Berklee College of Music via an affiliation with Chris Brown’s CBE label, James was on the artist’s path. “No one could deal with me as an artist or figure out what to do with me. When I first got signed I wasn’t a writer, so I was put in with all of these different writers and producers. I’m grateful––they gave me an opportunity not just to write, but also to learn how to write; to see their processes and methods. Now I have my own way of doing it.”

James claims assuming the role of the songwriter was difficult. “When I got better at it and people wanted to take my songs, I was like, ‘No! That’s my song.’ But if you write a hit you can write another one. I have to give them up for adoption, and they will have wonderful lives.”

Built on a smoldering retro groove courtesy of DJ Mustard and Larrance Dopson, “Boo’d Up” is reminiscent of great R&B tracks from decades past. James considered releasing it herself. “I wrote it years before it came out and it had a whole journey. I love that song and I could have used it, but would it have been as successful for me as an artist––this soulful white girl? In the R&B lane there’s the concept of certain songs working within the social climate. ‘Boo’d Up’ would never have been as successful for me.”

In addition to writing, James takes on the role of a producer when an artist is recording one of her songs. “A song is not just words and a melody, it’s a whole package. Producers are important, but songwriters are producers in their own right. We should stand up for that. When I go into the studio I totally take over. I like to be there, telling them how to hit the notes, producing them. I know they love it, too.”

Originally from Murietta, CA, James gravitated to performing early, singing the National Anthem at innumerable sporting events, and appearing on television competition shows. “I’ve always loved soul music, and when I was younger I was the girl who sang Aretha Franklin on Showtime at the Apollo and Marvin Gaye on Star Search. I loved classic Motown.”

Now working on soundtrack projects with Lionsgate/Code Black Films, James’ musical contributions include the films Traffik and Two Minutes of Fame. “I’ve always listened to music in movies. Celine Dion in Titanic (“My Heart Will Go On”) is my first memory of a song in a movie that could change lives. I’m lucky that soundtracks are coming back. I love doing soundtracks, whether it’s using songs I already have, and writing songs inspired by watching the movie. I like it better than just going to the studio and writing. With movies there is a platform with a story line, and my favorite thing is telling the story.”
Signed to Roc Nation, James is working with a notable roster of writers and producers including Toby Gad and Poo Bear. “I’ve always been an artist. I wasn’t planning on being a full-grown songwriter,” she says. “The music industry is one big heartbreak. But I think that’s the reason that my music comes out the way that it does. If I hadn’t gone through everything that I’ve gone through I wouldn’t be able to write with the emotion and passion that I have.”

Contact Hanna Bolte, Bolte Media, hanna@boltemedia.com