meet james

Hello and thank you for visiting my website!

My name is James Coates and I’m a singer-songwriter from Sumner, a small town in Washington state. Sumner is roughly 30 miles south of Seattle but worlds apart. It’s a rural plot of land full of good people where everybody knows everybody. The biggest happening around here is the Daffodil Parade and, other than that, it stays pretty quiet. You can even let your kids play outside. I love this town and I’m proud to call it my home.

But Seattle, Tacoma and Portland have all acted as wonderful homes-away-from home, offering three of the most prominent live music cultures in the Pacific Northwest. I got my start playing in a band I put together with a few close friends. The band was ill-fated but my love for music was not. I continued to play out, this time as a solo artist at Seattle clubs, eventually settling on local open mic’s as the perfect stages for me to hone my craft.

Mandolin CafeThe Mandolin Café (RIP)

It’s at Tacoma’s sprawling open mic scene that I met some of the most talented and passionate artists anyone could ever come across. At music-centric coffeehouses like the Acoustic Café, Mocha Moo and Mandolin Café I began to learn the elusive ways of live performance. Recording has never been my favorite artistic process (I’m a very impatient person) but playing live has remained the greatest way for me to feed the fire.

What I learned more than anything else during my time at open mic’s and, later on, gigs that I played, is that the most valuable part of playing music is the connection you can make with people. If I’m in a noisy bar full of avid conversationalists but there’s just one person listening, I can play my heart out for them all night long.

When you hear a song on the radio and the lyrics sound like they could’ve come out of your own mouth, it helps you realize that you’re not the only person in the world feeling the way you do. In short, music helps remind me that I’m not alone and when I realized that even my own songs could do that for people, it was an incredible moment.

I felt challenged by my favorite artists. Listening to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty and even newer guys like Ryan Adams gave me a benchmark to strive towards. I’ll never be as good as Bob (no one will), but he lit a lyrical fire under my feet, pushing me to use the English language in more inventive ways.

James Coates & The Lost SoulsJames Coates & The Lost Souls
Pictured: James Coates, Kevin Poleskie & Jordan Walton
Not Pictured: Jason Maybell & Chris Walbridge

After playing for years as a solo artist, I put together another band (also ill-fated) that only played four shows. This group was incredible and consisted of some of the best straight-up musicians I’ve ever met. The year we spent together was surrealistic. Two of our gigs were sold out, one of them gave us the opportunity to open for a national touring act and, at our very first show, there were 366 people in attendance (a big number for a local band like ours).

James Coates & The Lost Souls was a moment in my life that I’ll always remember and treasure but, like all special moments do, it came to an end. Playing in that band helped me realize that there’s more to music than just the numbers. I wanted to get back to my roots and focus more on showcasing the songs themselves. Kevin, Jason, Jordan and Chris are some of the best musicians I’ve ever played with and I’ll always be grateful for the time we spent together.

After returning to life as a solo artist, I began work on my first album, Land of Fame and Glory. It was recorded over a (much too) long period of time at Hidden Lake Studios in Bonney Lake by an old friend, David Barfield.

The recording process was incredibly stressful because I had set a deadline for myself: the CD release party and a 26-date U.S. tour. After the album was completed, my dad and I loaded our gear into his Toyota Dolphin motor-home and headed for Yakima, Washington, the first stop of a tour and father-son road-trip that could rival any other.

Father and SonJames Coates Jr. & III at Niagara Falls
July, 2012

Above The Beatles, above Bob Dylan and above so many other artists that I respect and admire, my dad has always been my biggest musical influence. He’s the reason I started playing music in the first place and music is the reason I exist at all.

He was playing with his own band at Oregon’s Mt. Hood during a family reunion. As they jammed on stage, a woman was in the audience. She was enjoying the music and started to head towards the stage. From the dancefloor she started singing harmonies along with my dad’s lead vocal. He invited her on stage and, shortly after that, she joined the band. The rest is history.

After years on the road, my parents eventually settled down when my sister and I were born. My dad took up a career in piano tuning and my mom acted as his receptionist while taking care of us kids. There were anywhere between two and eight upright pianos in our family room at any given time and, consequently, I started plunking around on a few of them. That’s when Dad started to show me the ropes.

He wasn’t as militant as any piano teacher you’d conjure up in your head. He just showed me what I needed to know and I kind of took it from there. I didn’t quickly develop a skill for music but I was instantly in love with it. I loved playing piano, coming up with little melodies and eventually improvising my own songs.

When I got my first acoustic guitar at age ten, I loved playing that too. I wasn’t as good at guitar as I was at piano but I would carry it around the neighborhood like a traveling troubador, playing the one song I knew, “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, for all my friends.

We traveled in his motor-home from the end of June ’til the beginning of September, sweating, singing and repeating all across Eastern Washington, the Mid-West, beautiful Niagara Falls, Nashville, Florida, the South and up the West Coast. Jet-setting across our entire nation at 50 miles-per-hour was an incredible experience but I have never been happier to feel the cool, clean breeze of the Northwest upon my face.

After returning home, I took two weeks off to relax and spend time with the family and friends I’d been without for almost two months. Then, I started hitting the bricks again, writing and recording new music, playing shows and continuing to grow as an artist and, more importantly, a person.

Horseshoe BananaLiving Room Concert, Tacoma, WA
(Photo by Michael Hochstatter)

The next summer was not spent on tour but, rather, in living rooms. House concerts are a phenomenon that were first brought to my attention yeras ago. Back then I was blinded by the potential glory of rock stardom. I wanted a stage, lights and a sound system back then. Now I just wanted people to listen. I played four or five living room concerts that summer and the experience was incredible.

It’s all about breaking down the barriers between the artist and the listeners. There’s usually no stage, sometimes not even a sound system and definitely nobody screaming about their favorite sports team while you’re pouring your heart out. I’ve gotten used to people talking over my music but, every now and then, it’s amazing when you can find ten or fifteen people who just want to let you indulge in your art.

Now I’m gearing up for my next adventure, recording a group of songs that will eventually be compiled as a new album. This new effort will be focused on the acoustic side of things with less production and fewer overdubs. It will sit closer to the road and feel more like the live acoustic shows that I’ve loved playing so much.

When will the new album be out? Probably in a few years, if I’m lucky. When will I be on stage again? Next weekend, trust me. It’s been an honor to have music in my life and, to all the people who have given me an opportunity to share my songs with them, thank you. You will never know how much three minutes of your time has meant to me.

So, in short, my name is James and I’m a singer/songwriter from Sumner, Washington. It’s nice to meet you.

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