Matt James doesn’t believe in luck. You make your own luck, he says.
James, 34, is a singer and songwriter from Mattagami First Nation, now living in Sudbury.
He was the recipient of the Best Country/Americana recording at the 2019 Native American Music Awards for his debut album A Miner’s Prayer.
When he first heard his song from the album play on the radio, it was an emotional experience.
“It just blew me away. I didn’t believe it. You set this dream and only hope you get to see a glimpse of it. Never did I think I would be walking where I am today,” James says.
The album, released in 2018, was dedicated to his late father. He died just as James was preparing to leave for Nashville to record.
They ended things on bad terms, James says, but he’s made his peace with the past. Since the loss of his father, he looks at his life in a whole different way now.
“Don’t be afraid to say sorry first even if you’re not the one who is in the wrong. Don’t wait to apologize because you just might not have tomorrow,” he says.
Last week, James started recording the first three singles from his new project with a Billboard-charting mixer and producer Brian Moncarz at Hapy Hipi Studios. James hopes to have the first single out by early August.
He first met Moncarz in 2019. After Moncarz reached out to James showing his interest in working together, James pondered the idea and realized it was the perfect time to put the music out, he says.
Since his first album was very personal, this next project is going to make people feel good and will have a “get up and dance” type of vibe.
The second project is also different in the sense that he has more say on how the arrangements are going to be, James says, and Moncarz makes sure he's comfortable with the songs and the changes.
“There’s been so much sadness, disappointment and grief throughout this whole COVID experience,” he says. “So I just thought I would put more of the good things that are happening to me. It’s more or less about accepting the past and leaving it in the past and embracing a new future.”
James’ grandmother Elizabeth played a huge role in his life when he was growing up and she encouraged him to keep singing.
He didn’t know how to play any instruments until he was 19. James’ best friend and fellow musician Lee D. Roy put a guitar in his hands and encouraged him to pursue his passion. Roy also introduced him to the bluegrass genre and they played together in a group called Canucky Bluegrass Boys.
James credits his team and all his supporters for helping him achieve so much in a span of just one year since his album’s release in 2018. He is also going to be featured in a book about Indigenous superstars and he got asked to be in a brand new Indigenous arts magazine.
As an outgoing bubbly person, James likes to see himself as “everybody’s friend” and says no one ever made him feel uncomfortable in the industry.
“The music world has been super accepting and embracing my sound and what I have to offer,” he says.
In his work, it's important for him to write with honesty, stay true to himself and for songs to have a meaning. Write about your life but remove yourself from a song so that everybody can relate in one way or another, James advises.
James’ dream is to win the Juno Award and play at the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly country music stage show in Nashville, Tennessee.
“If you get to play at the Grand Ole Opry, you’ve made it,” he says.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com