Maurice James: Music Heals a Divided World
Written by Vocalo Radio on November 24, 2021
“In this moment in which the world is so divided, I think music … has the power to remind us to be empathetic and to recognize the humanity of everyone around us.”– Maurice James
Maurice James brings listeners together with his new single “Angels Exist.”
Raised on the West Side of Chicago as a Baptist pastor’s son, singer-songwriter Maurice James spent much of his childhood in the church with only his voice and a baby grand piano to keep him company. Inspired by gospel, Maurice James believes music is a universal language that can help unify a divided world. Over piano and rhythmic instrumentals, James’ harmonious voice brings out his true emotions about living with a heart full of love.
His single “Angels Exist” was featured on Vocalo’s “Poised To Break Through” playlist for November 2021. The song’s heartfelt lyrics over an emotional instrumental expresses James’ feelings for his significant other — as though she is an angel herself. We virtually sat down with Maurice and discussed his faith in music, growing up in the church and more.
When did you first get into singing, songwriting and playing the piano?
I grew up singing in church. Every Sunday after service, when I was younger, I would rush over to the baby grand piano to play it and eventually go into creating my own melodies. It didn’t take long for me to then ask my parents to put me in piano lessons, and they did so. I am of course forever grateful to them for that investment.
I didn’t discover my passion specifically for songwriting until my freshman year of high school. I wrote my first song, “Open Up My Eyes,” and the choir ended up performing it at a few concerts that year. I loved the feeling that came with that, so I went on to write the graduation song that the school choir performed my senior year. And that’s when I thought, “Man, I might actually be good at this!”
How has being the son of a Baptist pastor and growing up in the church affected your relationship with music, if at all?
I can confidently say that it is the biggest influence on me as an artist. Gospel music always holds a lot of emotional power and it’s often able to bring out emotions that you don’t even know are inside. So, in all that I create, I find myself unintentionally striving for that type of effect.
Tell us about your new single “Angels Exist.” In your words, what is the song about? What motivated you to write this song?
My girlfriend and I were celebrating our fourth anniversary. So, as I was reflecting on our relationship, it occurred to me that it often feels like she is of another world — in terms of her heart, her soul, her smile, etc. As a creative, I poured all that emotion into this song.
In your Vocalo submission bio, you wrote you believe music has the power to “unite in times of discord.” Could you expand on that idea and talk about how that is relevant in our current times?
There are a lot of barriers that keep us from effectively connecting with one another — language, location, economic standing. Music, even when written in languages we aren’t familiar with, is one of the few things that is universally adored. Of course we all like different genres and styles, but I think most, if not all, would agree that music plays a role in their life. In this moment in which the world is so divided, I think music, more than ever before, has the power to remind us to be empathetic and to recognize the humanity of everyone around us.
Can you pinpoint a specific instance when you’ve experienced music uniting in a time of discord?
I will never forget when a verdict was reached in the Trayvon Martin case. I was a freshman at Northwestern University. An emergency town hall and protest was organized by our Black Student Union. There was a great deal of pure anger and sadness amongst everyone, but I distinctly remember toward the end of the night, we all loudly chanted the chorus to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” It brought all of us together as a community in a time when where we all felt hurt and hopeless, and it was a defining moment of my college experience.
What has your experience been as an artist in Chicago?
Being an artist in Chicago has brought a lot of growth. Mainly in terms of connecting and working with other creatives. I spent a few years living in LA after graduating in 2018, so coming back to Chicago was cool because I was able to come back as a new person artistically. I’ve had a lot of fun establishing my sound and my style, and learning from the other dope artists here.
If you could change anything about the Chicago music scene, what would it be and why?
The only thing I would change right now is the lack of open mics, but I attribute that to the pandemic. So, hopefully those come back in full swing as life starts to open up a bit more.
What’s something you hope never changes about the Chicago music scene?
The collaborative spirit, for sure! There’s so much to learn from one another, so I hope the willingness to share and work together never slows down, especially since there’s so much ridiculous talent.
In April you wrote on Instagram that you were “missing intimate performances.” What makes those intimate performances special to you? Have you had a chance to perform again since then?
I love the connection that comes with intimate performances. Being able to look the audience members in their eyes and witness their reactions to my art is a truly exhilarating experience and they’re my favorite type of performances. Since then, I’ve mostly performed at weddings and similar events which have been pretty cool, but I can’t wait to get back into performing in “coffee-house” venues.
Do you have a most memorable experience from a performance?
When my high school choir performed a song I wrote, ”Open Up My Eyes,” at a concert, the conductor introduced my mom, who was sitting in the crowd, as the mother of the songwriter. He asked her to stand and everyone in the room clapped for her. Seeing the happiness on her face is something that I will cherish forever.
Do you have a songwriting process that you have found works best for you?
I have! My go-to technique is to loop the music/instrumental and stand up and walk around the space. This usually helps to get my blood flowing and to relax and release tension. From there, I usually like to think about how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking about or what’s going on around me. Or maybe I’ll think of a line or topic that I’ll then use to jumpstart the words. And then I’ll go from there!
What do you have on the horizon that fans should know about?
I am currently working on visuals for “Angels Exist” and am also planning on releasing another single toward the beginning of 2022. So be on the lookout!
Follow Maurice James on Twitter and Instagram, and stream his music on Spotify below!
Intro by Milo Keranen
Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca and Milo Keranen
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