Kelley James Says Brands Will Discover the Next Cobain

Kelley James interview with Nicole Hanratty Life of a Rockstar photo IMG_8085
(left to right: Nicole Hanratty and Kelley James, Santa Monica CA)

What makes a musician a sell out? Signing a record label deal according to Kelley James. The artist who was given a fortunate invitation from his favorite band growing up O.A.R. to tour with them says the experience, “was off the charts and again that was one of those things where those guys are incredible guys they were so nice to me and just so genuine about–number one, everything they do and the music that they make–but just how they treat the people that are on their tours. It was another thing that legitimized [my] path, it was like wow you don’t have to go the label route to play all over the nation. You don’t have to go the label route to make money. You don’t have to go the label route to go and be on big tours. You can do it on your own if you create something that people want.”

Creating something people want is exactly what Kelley James has done. Now out on a 40 IN 40 TOUR in support of James Durbin [read the LOAR James Durbin interview] with his new album The Pattern Transcending, Kelley James is well loved by his fans. He invited me into his Santa Monica studio just north of his Manhattan Beach home to talk about his show I was fortunate enough to attend at The Viper Room, the state of the music industry today, as well as the mutual envy between pro-athletes (a few of which are his close friends) and rock stars. We closed out the day with Kelley letting me create a custom made sports 49ers themed mash up just for LOAR.


Kelley James started out putting a ton of miles on his van with a brand sponsored Sorority and Fraternity road trip tour and the singer songwriter that is known for fusing rap, hip hop, funk and reggae attributes where he is today to Oakley. “Without Oakley,” Kelley tells me, “it would have been really hard for me to legitimize this whole touring thing that I had figured and I created called the Sorority and Fraternity tour. We trademarked the idea, we did it across the nation. We brought brands into sponsor it which was so amazing because you know in that regard the sponsors…they really just let you be an artist. They let you do whatever you want to do, they help you out. They bring you and expose you to places and things you probably couldn’t do without them and it legitimizes it to an extent. So without Oakley that would be massively difficult to really have for the path that I’ve taken.”

“I feel like brands today have replaced traditional labels,” I reply and Kelley concurs. “To me it’s the future. In 1996 if you had done something with Red Bull you would have said, ‘Oh, you’re a sell out.’ Today, I’m looking at artists going, ‘If you sign this record deal you’re a sell out. That’s the worst deal ever. You will make zero dollars, you will have zero creative control. You will not be able to fully realize yourself as an artist.’ To me that’s a sell out. To me the future is brands because these brands are so willing to support. We’ve done different kinds of deals from Oakley, to Muscle Milk to Corona to Wheels Up to Honda, all across the board. These companies, they don’t care, they just want you to do what you do. …No strings attached. They’re not eaten’ off what you’re bringing in. …It’s all positive in every single aspect so in my opinion it’s the future. If we can find a way as an industry to really create a formula for it and a business model where brands can succeed and artists can succeed we are going to see amazing art come out. …We will see the next Cobain we will see the next Hendrix. We will see the next super prodigy that is going to change music and is going to change sound in a way that we can’t even think about right now.”

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What song does Kelley James say best describes his personality? “‘Don’t Stop Believin.’ I mean again, that’s all life. If you set goals, the one thing I’ve seen with a lot of successful people and just people in general–if you set a goal just stay on that goal. Are you gonna end at that goal? Who knows? It doesn’t really matter ’cause you might be looking right there and then you might end up in a place where you never even thought possible to go. ….Just don’t stop believing for anyone for anything. There’s always an opportunity, there’s always a chance.”

While in studio Kelley James treated Nicole Hanratty to a freestyle mashup that was nearly ten minutes of sheer genre jumping magic making brilliant twisting lyrics that wrapped up his songs “Standing On A Rooftop” with “That’s My Girl” while incorporating sports and the 49ers in honor of the playoff game we interrupted to hang out with him. Just as the interview closes the 49ers kick a field goal to seal the win and high fives fill the studio full of San Francisco football fans.

Special thanks to Sébastien Hameline on camera and Yu-ting Huang on photos

Kelley is an avid supporter of Strikeouts for Troops, founded by his good friend and San Francisco Giant, Barry Zito. Together with Zito, Kelley has helped support the charity through various private events, all in an effort to bring awareness to the foundation and raise much needed funds. Strikeouts For Troops (501c3), Zito’s national non-profit, gives back to military service men and women through donations by incorporating the joy of baseball to comfort and uplift injured troops and families in their greatest time of need. To learn more about the foundation or to donate, please visit


Music review and interview by Nicole Hanratty
Posted January 13, 2014

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