WITH YOUR NAME BEING MIKE BUTLER, HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE MONIKER “JAMES BAMBU?”
James is my middle name and Bam and Bu are two nicknames that I grew up with. On my dad’s side they call me Bam to this day and on my mom’s side, my aunts and my grandma – who actually wanted me to be a singer, but I told her no when she was alive – always called me Bu. I put them together in 2013 and came up with James Bambu.
BECAUSE THE NAMES THEMSELVES RESONATE FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD, DOES THAT TIME PERIOD (THE 90s) IMPACT WHO YOU ARE AS A PERSON, YOUR MUSIC, AND CREATIVITY?
Because they’re names that I had growing up, I definitely pull from my childhood and what I knew to be music then. And I incorporate what I know to be music in my own music. For example, growing up I listened to people who were superstars in Atlanta like Usher and Toni Braxton. I knew that type of music to be like classic R&B music, so I want my music to be classic R&B music. I definitely incorporate a level of soul and contemporary R&B, but what I want people to get from it is that it’s classic R&B music and something that you can listen to with you family and friends and even in your alone time.
“It can be difficult because I am not a person that is easily influenced by the radio or what I hear circulating among my friends.”
IN WANTING TO HAVE THIS CLASSIC SOUND IN A NEW ERA OF MUSIC: FAST BEATS, CARIBBEAN VIBES, AND TRAP MUSIC, HOW DOES WHAT’S POPULAR AFFECT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS, ESPECIALLY WITH YOU WANTING A 90s SOUND?
It can be difficult because I am not a person that is easily influenced by the radio or what I hear circulating among my friends, but I definitely try to block out every influence that might be going around, because it is a subconscious thing. It’s not anything that you think about as far as music that’s popular affecting how your own music sounds. I try and make sure that my sound when I’m writing my music or selecting beats that each song has its own personality and that they’re coming genuinely from me and not anyone else. You won’t hear anything from me that you’ve heard somebody else do.
TAKE US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS OF SONGWRITING AND PUTTING TOGETHER AN EP. WHAT IS THAT JOURNEY LIKE?
In reference to SOULO, my new EP that I just put out, MP808 (formally with 808 Mafia in Atlanta) came to me last March to work on the project. I had already created one of the tracks on the project and had already known him for 3 years when he was at TIG Entertainment, so it was a perfect fit. MP808 knew that I wanted to do alternative music, which is not a niche area of mines, but it’s easy for me to do because I am from a place where R&B music used to be.
YOU JUST MENTIONED R&B MUSIC COMING NATURALLY TO YOU, BUT IT NOT BEING YOUR NICHE. WHAT IS YOUR “UMPH” OR THE TYPE OF MUSIC THAT YOU’RE ACTUALLY PASSIONATE ABOUT?
I think what I’m even more naturally capable of doing is alternative soul music because I love soul music. And when people hear my music, they point out the fact that my vocals are soulful and that it has a juicy, colorful R&B sound. Right now R&B is more popular, so while I want to do complete alternative soul project, the game and the people that I’m working with are not as completely open to doing everything that I want to. The way I see it is that as long as I am getting to write my own music about whatever I want to express and make it sound how I want it to sound and it still falls under the umbrella category of R&B, then that’s fine.
When it came down to MP808 hitting me up about the project, initially we were only going to do three songs and I had already done “Jungle Beat,” so he sent me the beats and I listened to them. A lot of them I liked, but for some, I saw them as a bit more challenging to write to.
HOW DOES THE WRITING PROCESS WORK FOR YOU AND WHERE IS THAT COMING FROM? DO YOUR SONGS STEM FROM EXPERIENCES, THOUGHTS, FANTASIES .. WHAT INSPIRES YOUR WRITING?
Most of my songs are based on experiences that I go through and when I’m writing the music, I try to make sure that I can feel the same feeling that I felt based on the experience that I’m trying to write about. So I know when I’m writing a song, that same feeling will be in the song and it can be hoped that anyone listening to it can completely feel that emotion too. I do that by making sure that my mind is clear and completely immersed in the idea that I want to get across through the song. That feeling can be translated with the lyrics or the melody or even a mixture of both. it’s not easy and it takes a long time to do it, but it also took me a long time to perfect that craft because when I first met MP, he was a different type of producer. A lot of his beats at the time were for trap artists or had trap influences in them, but he knew the type of artist that I was, so it was easy for us to work together and for me to mesh my writing with his beats.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR MUSICAL INFLUENCES?
D’Angelo, Lenny Kravitz, and Maxwell. Basically all male neo soul artists. As for women artists, I love Lauryn Hill and how she was able to make her name a staple in her genre and manipulate her writing and vocals in a way that I can only dream of doing one day.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG ON YOUR NEW EP, SOULO?
My favorite song on the EP is “Play The Fool.” Because the song is a ballad and there aren’t many ballads out right now, I was surprised with the amount of people that appreciated it. The song goes into an experience with my dealing with love and the pain that that love brought me. I felt like people would be able to feel that pain when hearing it as well, so I made that one the ballad. Despite that being my favorite, we still decided on making a video for “Space & Time.”
YOU JUST STATED THAT YOUR FAVORITE SONG WAS “PLAY THE FOOL,” BUT YOU MADE A VIDEO FOR ANOTHER SONG. WHY WAS THAT? WHY DIDN’T YOU PUSH HARDER FOR THE OTHER SONG?
That decision was made after having a discussion with a mentor of mine, who said that nowadays it’s better to first go with what’ll help get you exposure now for the things you want to get exposure later in the future. “Space & Time” is the song that people are listening to most. When I look at my stats online, everybody is still playing “Space & Time.” That’s the song that gets the most plays every day. Even after putting the project out, that was the song everyone said they liked the most, so it made sense to do that one now. I will definitely still try and make a video for “Play The Fool” though in the months to follow.
DO YOU FEEL AS AN ARTIST, YOU HAVE TO MAKE COMPROMISES LIKE THAT OFTEN? WHAT YOU WANT VS. WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE WANTS?
Sometimes, because you want to reach this particular audience and while most times I’m down to do whatever I want to do, I figure why not do what the people who actually listen to my music would want me to do. I’m always open to compromising and “Space & Time” was the right choice, because it is more contemporary based on the beat and hook and would make for a great visual.
WHAT MAKES YOU JAMES BAMBU? WHAT DO YOU BRING TO THE TABLE THAT NO ONE ELSE CAN BRING AS HARD AS YOU?
I don’t think I write like other singers who write their own music. I also don’t sing it in the same way. It feels great when you hear those affirmations from people that have been listening to your music and know you. I can’t even compare myself to the James Bambu three years ago, because my voice has gotten better and my writing had gotten stronger. I’m also a performer and I love singing live. When people hear me live, they often say you sound exactly the same. Just like with my writing and how I want people to feel what I felt when I was writing it, I want people to get that same experience when I’m singing live.
WHAT LEGACY WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEAVE BEHIND?
I just want to perform and connect with other artist globally, ultimately contributing to the great things that people within my family have done in the past.