Only a couple of years ago, at just 15, Coby James started writing songs every day. He’d played guitar all his life, but this creative growth spurt was different. ‘I think a girl broke my heart or something,’ he said, ‘and I just wanted to find a way to express it.’
‘They were just like pop songs,’ he said, ‘kind of dumb. They weren’t good by any means.’ But Coby’s dad knew they could be, if he had something bigger to write about. He suggested Coby try giving his songs to God. ‘From then on I started writing Christian music. And I never looked back.’
His dad was right. Influenced by John Mayer and Shawn Mendez, Coby’s nimble guitar work offered something the Christian music industry had been missing, and he quickly drew attention from people in high places. ‘I was going to all these record labels, talking to all these people. I felt like a little fish in a big pond. I wasn’t ready for any of this.’
‘I found myself being the youngest person in any room that I’d walk in, ever, especially now. One of my best friends is 40 years old, and has a wife and kids, and he’s my producer.’ On the last day of his first week writing songs in Nashville, Coby took inspiration from the weight of expectation on him. ‘Pressure’s a really universal feeling. Everybody’s felt pressure in their life. Everybody’s gone through that. And so I just wanted to vocalise that. And I think as an artist, you’re supposed to put emotions and feelings into words in ways that some people can’t.’
You can’t escape the pressure, but you don’t have to be alone either, if you’re playing on a team with God
But more than the feeling itself, Coby wanted to remind us how we get through it. You can’t escape the pressure, but you don’t have to be alone either, if you’re playing on a team with God. ‘You give me all I need to prove who I am and what we can do,’ he sings, in a catchy single that showed that, young as he was, he was more than ready for the challenges of the music business.
Coby had grown up performing in Church, but the pressure was on again when he found himself opening for Danny Gokey, playing for thousands of people. Armed with just his acoustic guitar, the first few nights he was shocked by how anxious he felt. ‘By the second week, you get out there, you do your thing, you feel the crowd out. I just love entertaining. I think it’s one of my favourite parts about this.’
With COVID-19 putting tours on hold, Coby has been missing those crowds. But he’s been using time at home to write dozens of new tunes. ‘I’ve written so many songs, I’ll probably never get to release all of them in my lifetime. But I’m really, really excited about a handful of them.’
We’ve been playing a few of those tracks on 180, and of course we’re just as excited to hear what Coby James brings next. The pressure’s moving in, but we think he’ll be all right.
Listen to more Coby below.