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Farming artist: Joshua James

Singer finds songwriting inspiration at home, on the road

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The average day for Joshua James goes something like this: Wake up early and get breakfast started. Go for a jog. Feed a variety of animals before eating breakfast with his wife. Fix a gate or perhaps plant seeds in preparation for the next garden harvest. If he's lucky, there's some music worked into the schedule — writing or recording. It's not your typical rock 'n' roll life, but James is not your typical singer/songwriter.

He works religious imagery and themes into his music without being pigeon-holed with a Christian artist label. His music stirs emotions with the force of a hurricane, but his songs have been featured on Sons of Anarchy, not Grey's Anatomy. His albums are released independently after he turned down just about every major record label. No, James, who will perform at the Evening Muse on March 27, is definitely not your typical singer/songwriter.

In 2011, a constantly-touring James decided to take some time off from the road to focus on homelife. The acres of land he owns in Utah have developed into a place which inspired his latest album, From the Top of Willamette Mountain. You see, "Willamette Mountain" is his name for the Utah homestead, but it's also a fictional ideal of where James would like to live.

"I took some time off because I didn't feel the need to be touring and getting into that rut of touring and making music, where the days turn into weeks which turn into months which turn into years," James says. "I had to stop and think about the motive behind it — is this making me happy? I'm trading time for digital numbers in my bank account. I have a strong sense of responsibility for doing what makes me happy. Who knows if I'll be singing in five years."

What made him happy was connecting to his land and spending time with his wife and their animals — two dogs, four cats, five goats, 12 chickens, an apiary of bees and a large garden. He prefers to stay busy.

"Idle hands, you know," James says. "When you're on the road, there's so much idle time. You sit around for hours, while back home you're busy all the time. On the road there's a lot of driving and waiting and, sometimes, it drives me out of my mind."

At home, James and his wife started with a small garden, then got some chickens. That led to goats and a bigger garden. Then they needed bees to help pollinate the garden. "It's really nice to be able to live off of our own work," he says. "If I'm in garden mode, that's where my energy goes, but I have a great lady that steers the ship while I'm gone."

James didn't plan for a farm in the same way he didn't plan to sing with a voice that wrenches every ounce of emotion out of his lyrics. His song "Coal War" was selected for Sons of Anarchy during the opening scene of the show's fourth season — "I ain't open my eyes till we all walk free" James sings as a prisoner is released. James thought it was the perfect fit. "I can't imagine another song being in that spot," he says.

As for that singing voice, it's not close to the tone of his normal speaking voice. It's raspier like Ray LaMontagne's, yet soothing and comforting, even when sounding like he's on the verge of tears.

"It wasn't anything I was trying to mimic or create," James says of his tone. "I put myself in the core of the character that I'm singing about. Not all of my songs are autobiographical. It might have nothing to do with my life or anyone that I know."

When he sings about the mystic "dancing in the heavens far below his golden gates" on "Mystic" or "when the day arrives that the angels take your life" on "Doctor, Oh Doctor" or "I should have seen the Holy Ghost, but not for me, no, it's for your sake," his religion is more in-the-moment than in the message.

"It's not the main concept in my songs, but it plays into the quality of the human beings I sing about," James says. "For me, music is an escape."

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