Greylan James has been a celebrated songwriter, having penned major cuts for artists like Blake Shelton, Cole Swindell, and Kenny Chesney. Now his star is on the rise as he begins his venture as a solo artist. Raised in Knoxville, Tenn, like his hero Chesney, James – also a talented guitarist – got his start performing in a band around East Tennessee.
At age 18, he packed his bags for Nashville, where he signed a global publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG). He also did a stint on NBC’s The Voice. In August of 2022, James dropped his debut EP, I Hope She Hears These, celebrating the release with a show that included Scotty McCreery as the headliner.
I Hope She Hears These plays out as a love letter to someone special, and James co-wrote all of the songs on the five-track project. Titles on I Hope She Hears These include “Anything Cold,” “Walls,” “Where You Got It From,” “Make The Best Memories,” and “Damaged.”
“After writing songs for other country artists’ projects, I’m so excited to finally be putting out my own EP. These songs took a lot of living, heartbreak, alcohol, love, and time to create,” James shared in a press release. “I think everyone can find themselves in one of these songs, and I’m glad they’re finally out of the vault and into the world.”
James has followed up his EP with “Old Truck Young Love” – a tune he worked on with six-time NBA all-star and Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler.
“As a life-long NBA fan, when I got the call to write with Jimmy Butler, I was in total disbelief,” James tells Country Now of his newest single, which he also co-wrote alongside Jessi Alexander and Ben Hayslip. When we started tossing out ideas, the concept of this classic country storyline quickly took shape and felt like a perfect blend of new and old. Once we finished it, I was racing to get it out to the fans. Hopefully, they like it as much as us.”
James caught up with Country Now to talk about his debut, I Hope She Hears These EP, his journey in country music, and what his plans are next to round out 2022.
Keep reading to find out more about Greylan James in this exclusive Q&A below.
How did you become a country singer?
It’s a long story but a good one. My grandparents bought me a toy guitar when I was 5 years old. I was like, ‘Okay. That’s my occupation.’ That summer, I started taking singing lessons. I started singing at a karaoke café in Knoxville, Tenn. My parents took me there every other weekend. I’d sing, ‘Who’s Your Daddy’ by Toby Keith. Then I started going to shows that had bands playing. My papa would walk up and tell them I played country music. He would offer them $20 to let me on stage. We did that until I was about 9 years old. Then I played in a bluegrass band at barn dances in East Tennessee. I did that for a few years. Finally, I put together a band of local musicians. I was a frontman in my cowboy hat. We’d play at restaurants, on patios, and at tomato festivals, anywhere that would allow an 11-year-old in a cowboy hat to go around and play at shows. So, I always did it. I started playing guitar and got recognized for that.
Then you got a call to be on The Voice.
Yes. One day, when I was about 15 years old, I was coming back home from school on the school bus. I got a call from a casting director in Los Angeles. He said he saw one of my YouTube videos. They wanted me to audition. So, they flew me to Memphis to sing in front of the producers. From there, I went to LA. I was out there for a month filming for The Voice. That was when everything became real for me. I started playing real shows and going around outside of East Tennessee. I played in Nashville, Chicago, and Wisconsin. I had a touring agent who was helping me out. I started writing songs about my old middle and high school girlfriends. One of those songs got noticed by a publisher, who is married to a legend, Bob DiPiero. He has written a ton of No. 1 hits. My dad drove me to Nashville, and I met with them once. I played the only good song I’d ever written, and they were like, ‘We would like to sign you to a publishing deal.’ I did not know what that meant, but I knew I didn’t have to go to college. I was 18 at the time. So, I packed my bags and moved in with my drummer, and the rest is history.
Was it easy to transition into songwriting every day?
I would be the first to tell anybody. The first two years I lived in Nashville, I had no idea what I was doing. You show up, and you’re writing but telling all your feelings to people you never met before. You’re with them for four hours. Then you don’t see them for months. I had never experienced anything like it. I never had a real job up until that point. So, getting up and going to work every day, especially being expected to create something that lives forever, was an incredibly intimidating thought. I don’t remember when it changed for me, but I turned into kind of an impersonator as far as trying to write songs for other artists. I try to imagine Kenny Chesney, for example. I have written songs for him, and I imagine him singing lyrics I was trying to write in my head. So that changed it all for me.
How did you continue to hone in on the performance side of music once you got your footing as a songwriter?
I have been singing my entire life. When I realized songwriting was a thing in itself, and when I started getting good at it, I was like, ‘I can make money at this. I can get home in time to play with my dog, play Xbox, go to sleep, and do it all again.’ I made a good chunk of money on the Kenny song I wrote. The thought crept into my mind where I was like, ‘Could I just do this?’ Then, I’d go to shows and see my buddies up on stage, playing songs I had written. I’d see the crowd reaction in stadiums or arenas, and I was like, ‘I can do this.’ I realized people liked what I was doing with those songs, and I wanted to be someone singing on stage. So, it faded a little bit when I was writing songs every day, but as soon as that thought crept into my mind, it kept coming back. What makes me happy is writing songs and getting to go out there and see people’s reactions to them.
You and Kenny Chesney are both from East Tennessee. Has watching the trajectory of people from your hometown make it help you in terms of navigating your career?
It normalized chasing the dream because Kenny did that before all of us – Kelsea Ballerini and Morgan Wallen would say the same thing. We all grew up where you play a local show in Knoxville, and you always have the little old lady that walks up and says, ‘I think, you’ll be the next Kenny Chesney.’ You believe it because you’ve heard it enough times growing up. You go, ‘You know what? I can do this because he did it.’ Dolly Parton has done it before him. I think having pillars like that to look up to can make your wild dreams not so wild and more realistic. I think anyone else from anywhere else would think it’s a crazy thought to say, ‘Hey. I’m moving to Nashville to be a country star.’ But Kenny set the standard and made it possible with hard work.
Has Kenny Chesney offered any advice to you?
It’s been crazy talking to Kenny and getting close to him. I always tell him I am thankful for him. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing. I first met him briefly when I was about 10 years old. My bluegrass band was playing at a fundraiser. He was there. Peyton Manning was there too, and 10-year-old me was freaking out. I got to walk up to him with my dad. I had also just gotten my first C on a science test, which devastated my family. I remember telling my dad about my report card, and he was like, ‘No. That’s unacceptable.’ But I said, ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m going to be fine. I’m going to be a country music star.’ It just happened to be that night that I met Kenny. The first question my dad asked him was, ‘Do you have any advice for Greylan because he got his first C. He wants to move to Nashville.’ Kenny was like, ‘Two pieces of advice. Stay in school and learn to write songs because songwriting will be your ticket.’ I never forgot that. Fast-forwarding to now, he still gives me advice. I was at a show in Chicago, and he told me how to put a set list together and how he approaches which songs to play for what audiences and what markets. I’m getting to learn from the best and get to work with the best. I still pinch myself that I get to work with Kenny Chesney. It’s crazy.
Your EP is I Hope She Hears These. How did that title come about?
I count only three actual girlfriends throughout my life. All of them broke my heart like really badly. When I write songs, I’m thinking about a rotation of all three of them. I wanted them to hear those songs mainly because I still communicate with a couple of them. I want them to know that I still think about them and that those were fun times. If it weren’t for them, just as much as how Kenny has been a part of my life, my exes have been a massive part of my life. They are who I write songs about. So I hope they hear all of these – one more than the others. But they all got a piece of the songs on the EP, as well as on some of the songs coming out this fall.
What was the inspiration behind your song “Walls”?
I wrote that song with Josh Miller and Jacob Davis. We wrote it toward the end of the year and before Christmas break. I think it was Dec. 23, we were the last guys in town. We sat down. It was the end of the year, and we were all tired. It was cold outside, and we were like, ‘Should we all just go eat lunch?’ Then we started talking about Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon, who wrote “The Chair.’ We discussed how we felt like they could write a song about anything. That was one of the biggest songs in country music history. So we tried to challenge ourselves by picking something in the room and seeing if we could blow through it fast. Jacob looked at the walls. He was like, ‘What about walls?’ And we were like, ‘Oh man. That’s trippy.’ So we just started talking about it. Then I brought up those first couple of lines that go, ‘When my back’s up against one?’ And it just snowballed from there.
You self-produced your EP. You also play on multiple instruments and co-wrote all the songs on it. Can you tell me about that?
I am glad you recognized that because not a lot of people have brought that up. The production side of things and playing the instruments are why I didn’t have many friends growing up. I wanted to learn how to do all that stuff in my bedroom. It is a trying process. When I first decided I was going to start putting songs out, I went through some producers in town. I learned what I was doing in my head a little bit better. My manager and I talked. He was like, ‘Why don’t you just try it yourself.’ I was insecure about it because I had never done anything like that. I never put out something that I built from start to finish. When I did, and people loved it, it became fun. It’s something to be proud of when it is all done.
What’s next for you?
Well. I’m currently out with Restless Road on their Bar Friends Tour. I’m also with Ryan Griffin tour for his The Slow Down Sunrise Tour. I’ve been with the Restless guys for 4-5 years now. It’s fun to get out there and get to know them on a personal level, and see them doing their thing and get to know their fans. We’ve also got some exciting things in the works for a tour at the top of the year. That is going to blow people’s minds! I’m so excited to get out there when it does. It’s going to be fun!
Fans can keep up with Greylan James on Instagram.