In a studio off of 167th Street, the sounds from passing trains reminded us of the bustling world outside but soon we would be introduced to a new world, a pink one. Dondre, Hoay and I sat with singer songwriter James Scott and listened to a few tracks from his upcoming album Forest. He was born Edwin Arzú but created his moniker by adopting “James” from his alma mater James Monroe High School and “Scott” from the rapper Scott Mescudi (better known as Kid Cudi). The West Farms native, with roots in Honduras, has been working on this new album. He also performs in the music collective The Nobodies, which he describes as a group of guys who want to become “somebody from nobody.” James shared much insight on his album as we took turns inquiring about his current social media aesthetic, what it means for him to be true to himself as an artist, and his affinity with the color pink.
There aren't a lot of pictures of you on Instagram, is that on purpose?
I’m at a place where I'd rather be about the music and the art every time. When you come to performances, you'll see me. With whatever I do, I'm always the supporting character. That's the same way I treat my Instagram or any social media handle except for Twitter. I'm a jokester so Twitter is for cracking jokes or putting up a meme.
Did you create the aesthetic on Instagram yourself?
I had an idea to bring people into the pink world of mine. What I did was start off with a pink background. I hit up my best friend Neville and said I want to take this to a grander scale. I wanted to make a Bob Marley collage, he sent it within a matter of days and it was sick. From there we started putting together the artwork for the Bronx Museum performance and it became what it is now.
What's the significance of pink, what is your “pink world”?
Pink, to me, is like a fresh start. It's the idea of starting again. My project Forest is the beginning of me again.
How does that project link back to introducing you again?
I did a video a while ago called Home. In it, I wake up on the beach and the next shot is me walking into the forest. One day I watched the video and it meant something to me, from that day, I always go back [to the forest]. It's a place to vent, walk around, and get my mind straight. I decided to name the project Forest because that’s where I go to be me. The project is me 100%. Me being as honest as I can be, that's how it all fits together. I also like abstract art so I wanted to make sure that I tied everything in. My best friend, Francesca, passed last year and things got a little more crazy. It was more abstract than anything because I didn’t understand death. I still don't understand death. Forest became more of a life experience than just songs. A lot of the songs I recorded were before she passed away. Listening to them after was like “this is why I wrote this, this is why I called her Cloud Princess.” I kind of vented and had this home already made from me when she passed away.
Have you ever felt like or do you ever feel like you want to forget music and pursue something else? Was there anything else that you wanted to pursue before music?
When I was younger I wanted to do computer programming, but that was just a small dot in this timeframe. One day I woke up and I wanted to do music. Honestly I just wake up every day and think, “what do I have to do to make this happen?”
What is your musical background?
I have no musical background, the only time I did something that made me feel like “yo, I want to do this for the rest of my life,” was when I was in 5th grade. We had a Black History Month performance and my after school counselor asked me if I wanted to do it. I had to do this James Brown piece and I killed it.
From that day I thought if I could make all these people happy in this moment, laugh and go home with it, then I want to do this forever.
How long have you been making music?
I would say from 2007-2008, which was my sophomore year in high school.
How has your music style transformed from then until now?
In the beginning I want to say I reflected who I was in the sense that I wanted to do whatever people liked because I wanted to be liked at the moment. In school I was not the popular kid, I was funny. When I started taking music seriously everyone was like "Oh this funny guy is trying to be serious." But I went to school, went home, went to the studio, and left at like 5 o'clock in the morning. I was writing songs for this producer name Yala. The songs I wrote for him were the way he wanted them. After I stopped, I still had that mind state. I continued to make these “poppy” sounds. I would ask, “What's on the Billboard 100?” But my music now, it’s what I like and how I feel. Before I would write everything out. Now I freestyle.
How much of your songs would you say you freestyle?
I want to say 75%. I’ll write some ideas but a lot of ideas I freestyle.
You basically have a skeleton of what you want it to be about or what you want to say?
Yes, I have a song called “Solitude Flower;” I started off freestyling. I tried to go home and write down the second verse and it wasn’t working. I had to come back and live that moment. I feel like the vibe was still in the air from that night so I came back and made the song. The second verse came out and it just fit.
Who are your inspirations?
I think anyone would say Michael Jackson, then Kanye West and Kid Cudi. Every time Kanye comes out it's something different. Cudi, off the bat was just different and Michael had that vision. Those are the perfect examples for me.
What's your favorite Michael Jackson song?
It's off the Free Willy soundtrack, “Will You Be There.”
What's your favorite James Scott song and why?
I would have to say “Last Year.” At that time I came back from California and I was in a different place. My girlfriend just broke up with me and we’d been together for so long, I was tight. I came to the studio and that was one of the first times I started freestyling. Whatever I felt came out. “Last Year” was my example song it was exactly how I wanted to do my music. I did it exactly how I had in mind. That's why I love that song.
When are you going to release Forest?
I'm trying to release Forest March 6th. It's the day my best friend passed away; this album is basically about her.
Scott plays a few tracks from the album.
This song is called “The Rain.” My best friend liked the rain so I thought why not write a song about it. It’s produced by my friend Brandon from Toronto. I can show you the artwork (for the song). I was on Tumblr one day and I found this painter named Philip Maltman, he's from Scotland. I sent him my music and I said I love your art, here are some songs of mine, and hopefully I can use your art. He hit me back like an hour later and said, “I love your stuff, use anything you want to and whenever I have something new I'll contact you.”
Each song has a different piece of art?
Yeah, the album cover looks like a treehouse.
He shows us the cover.
Have you ever created a song based off of artwork?
Not yet, and I want to go there. But with making music you have this painting in your mind sometimes and you want to paint that. It's not a physical painting.
How long does it take you to pair the artwork and music?
Usually it's pretty fast, I look at the art and know which song it is. Then I get the artwork to Neville and he puts it on the pink [background].
That's displayed in the music too?
The project goes by chapters, and there are three chapters. The project goes from a lighter shade of pink to a darker shade of pink. If you go on my SoundCloud you can see what the emotion is for that chapter. The darker it gets, the darker my thoughts are. The chapters are “Moon After Yule” which is my and Francesca's birthday month, “Lunar Solstice,” that chapter goes off lunar solstice when the nights feel longer than the days. Those songs have that feeling. The last chapter is called “Spring Equinox” because that's when I thought I was going to finish this project. I thought I'd finish in September. Spring equinox is when spring starts, I started that chapter with “Solitude Flower” and that’s like the blossoming song.
Your album moves from a lighter shade of pink to a darker shade of pink, but the last chapter is called “Spring Equinox.” “Spring Equinox” and *“Rainbow” don't sound heavy.
Exactly! This whole project is basically a dream sequence. You go from a lighter sleep to a darker sleep, “Rainbow” is that song at the end of your sleep when you know you're about to wake up. It’s the quiet after the storm, it starts off with this cloudy type of sound. “Nightrage” is the darkest tone but I had to wake up at some time because at the end of the day you don't want to end nothing on a bad note you want to end everything on a good note that's why “Rainbow” is there. “Rainbow,” to me, is the ending of the project.
The bonus track is very bright which is why it’s the bonus track. I didn't want to add on to the story. You know when you watch a Disney movie with the happy ever after? Not in my house!
You seem to be very visually driven with Instagram and the album artwork, how much of the visuals do you incorporate in your performances?
I just started. Brian (founder of The Nobodies) knows how to edit videos, he does everything, he's like a guru, so we just did a video one day. We performed at a rooftop show in Harlem called The Secret Show and we had our projections. People were saying they got lost within the projections and that's exactly what we wanted. We wanted them to be as involved as they could.
Has the Bronx influence your music?
You know, it's always interesting to me when people say, “it sounds like you guys are not from the Bronx.” What does the Bronx sound like? Everyone has the perception of what an area sounds like. When you think about the Bronx, people automatically say it's grungy but the music doesn’t really represent that because everyone is different. When I was growing up, I was watching Disney but when Brian was listening to rap songs. I really wasn't about that life, I was listening to rock songs. Do you expect a Bronx kid to do that? What is a Bronx kid, what is a Bronx person?
Any tours or shows down the line?
When tours happen everyone’s going to know. That’s the part that drives me, ever since the [James Brown] performance. I live for performance, it's a super duper high.
Where do you see James Scott. Where do you want to see James Scott?
Whenever I think about my music, I always think bigger than myself. It's easy to think about what I can do next, but to think about what you can do in the future and actually accomplish those goals is something I look forward to doing. I definitely want to be an influential person. I want to at least drive people to listen to music differently, experience music differently, or even make music differently.