‘I’m not done yet’: James Reid on risk-taking and self-discovery
Even before he put up Careless Music in 2017, James Reid had already been trying to expand his musical horizons and expressing himself with alluring songs that allow his followers to peel off the layers of his continually evolving musicality.
While his sound, style and musical sensibility may have significantly deepened since 2013—from “Alam Niya Ba” and his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” to his JaDine heyday and the steamier, sassier iterations (“u & i,” “Turning Up”) of his music—James said in a recent one-on-one chat with Inquirer Entertainment that he doesn’t take anything for granted. In fact, he embraces the changes with growth-evincing maturity.
When we spoke to the 30-year-old singer-actor to discuss his brand-new single “Jacuzzi,” his catchy, hook-heavy latest collaboration with Grammy-winning producer DJ Flict and South Korean rapper B.I (after “4 Letters”), he said that his attempts at bucking convention didn’t come without risks.
James explained, “It was risky and terrifying when I began making my own music with Careless. I would know, because back in 2017 or 2018, I did have a lot to lose. But I decided to follow my passion for music and see where it could take me.
“It’s been a lot of self-discovery. I never pretended to have all the right answers. I never said the music I was making would be the future of OPM (Original Pilipino Music). It was just me experimenting, trying out new things.
“But I’m not done yet. You said earlier that I hit my stride with my past few songs, but I feel like I’m just about to actually hit my stride. And that’s why I can really combine everything that I used to do and everything that I’ve learned. I want to create something that will transcend borders and make my fans, the Careless team and the Philippines proud.”
When asked how he wanted music aficionados to remember his songs, James quipped, “Wow, I never thought about that. People probably have different opinions about the music I make because it’s so diverse.
“But the way I hope people would remember my music is that it’s quite brave, not sticking to what’s traditional or what the norm is—especially because it’s from someone like me who comes from mainstream TV (“On the Wings of Love”) and movies (“Never Not Love You”), then transitions to music.”For his Filipino fans, the matinee idol may be more known for being the first “Pinoy Big Brother” (PBB) teen edition winner and as the other half of the immensely popular JaDine love team (with former girlfriend Nadine Lustre), but music is expanding James’ reach globally.
Doesn’t he mind becoming more famous for his music than his films or TV shows?
“I’m glad to hear that, actually (laughs),” he replied. “My name has always been bigger than what I do. So, it’s nice to know that people are recognizing me for my music—because it’s something that I myself create.”The rest of our Q&A with James:
“Jacuzzi’s” catchy hooks are really right up your alley. After your collaboration with Benjamin Kheng (“Rock Bottom Blues”), what excites you about “Jacuzzi”?
The focal point was the chance to work with B.I [again] on this track. Han-bin is an amazing artist and he was really perfect for the song. His style and voice worked really well with the second verse that I gave him.
I was also able to collaborate with a Singaporean music label (Cross Ratio Entertainment) to help promote the song, which was interesting. We wanted to try out ways of marketing beyond the usual way of doing it.
For the music video [directed by Hiromi Uematsu], I was also able to collaborate with so many stars, like Maris Racal, AC Bonifacio and Miss Universe Philippines Michelle Dee.
As for the concept of the video, we wanted something larger than life—super fun, easygoing, not too deep. Something that would evoke a romantic setting with people drinking champagne in a jacuzzi, although I don’t really own a jacuzzi (laughs).
We wanted guest stars who could match that vibe—and Michelle, AC and Maris were perfect for it! Maris looked pretty good despite not ever having played golf before. I told her, “You’re an actress—just act like you know what you’re doing (laughs)”—and she wasn’t bad at all.
You’ve always had a knack for catchy hooks and melodies. But for fans who want to know more about your songwriting process, what comes first—music or a hook or lyrics?
For me, it’s always the music that comes first. I need to start with the chords so I know what the emotion is—that’s when I feel something. Like, “Oh, this makes me feel romantic. I want to dance with somebody.”
That’s what the chords, as well as the drums and percussion, make me feel. That decides the pace and rhythm. After that, I’ll just create melodies and freestyle … whatever comes naturally. Then, I’ll write to it.
You also recorded “4 Letters” with B.I How did this partnership come about? I was very lucky to have met him backstage at a concert in Seoul. He told me he was doing a concert in Manila [last March] and that he would love to have me onstage with him. And I said, “Yeah, I’m down. Let’s do it.” So, I opened for him.
After that, I sent him my track for “Jacuzzi,” and he said he’d love to be on it. Then, he sent me “4 Letters,” and I jumped on that. So, these songs actually happened at about the same time.
You’re doing well as a solo act. But other than B.I and Benjamin Kheng, you’ve also recorded tracks with other exciting talents, like Zack Tabudlo (“Hatdog”), Manila Grey (“Backhouse Ballin’”), Massiah (“Experience”), Billy Crawford (“Manila Girl”), among others. What did you take away from those collaborations?
From the perspective of my music label when I wear my music-label hat, there’s certainly that aspect of cross-pollination of fans [that we can all benefit from] and seeing what else is possible to do. You’re expanding your reach and your market, especially with artists who complement your music.
But personally, these projects allow me to find out how I am as an artist. Doing them kind of reveals to me what my own style is and what works for me. I learned a lot from working with Benjamin, who’s one of the best out there, and seeing how B.I, who’s excellent at what he does, connects with his rabid fan base. They really push me to be better, which is great because I like challenging myself.
What’s exciting about your music is the fact that we don’t quite know what else to expect. Any reaction?
I like that. People never really expected me to do something like “Jacuzzi.” But I promise you, people will not be expecting the song that I’m doing next.
Do you know how different you’ve become from the young and almost shy James Reid who won “PBB” in 2010?
Yes, it’s like they’re two very different people (laughs).
You’ve released a lot of music since 2013 or so. For new fans who are just beginning to appreciate your songs, which of your recordings do you think best represents your sound?
That’s hard to answer. I have a lot of musical influences. I definitely have favorites, but I’ve always been very versatile with my sound—from R&B and pop to rock, electronic and “dance-y.” It’s also kind of funky and disco.
So perhaps the album, “Lovescene,” would be the album to listen to. If you listen through it, you can kind of get where it’s very diverse. I was really just experimenting with all the things that I like. I think the whole album is a good representation of my taste and all of my musical influences.
But definitely, the next album I’ll be working on will be a bit more “refined.”
“Refined”? In what way will the next album be different?
These current songs (“Jacuzzi,” “Rock Botton Blues”) are not leading up to the next one… no. They’re standalone singles.
I want the next one to be a lot more personal, more introspective. The next one will be very different from “Palm Dreams” or “Lovescene.” I feel like this might be the most personal and vulnerable I’ve ever been. It’s definitely going to be a side of me that the fans have not seen.
It’ll be about a lot of things I didn’t particularly want to write or talk about. But then again, what’s the point of music if not to really express what your feelings are, right? It’s time. INQ