James Wong keeps good company. The New Zealand songwriter shares the same publisher as Justin Bieber and when Bieber's team needed help on "Company", a track from his 2015 album Purpose, Wong and fellow Kiwi Leroy Clampitt were asked to lend their songwriting skills.
Wong's CV now includes 'Grammy nominated songwriter and producer'. It also shows that he's worked with Ty Dolla $ign, Demi Lovato, and Sage the Gemini. It's about to include 'pop singer' with his own new record as Gladius James.
Originally from Auckland, Wong has spent the last few years living in Los Angles where he works producing and writing music for others. On his days off he's been quietly creating his own body of work. As Gladius James, he's signed to Island Records, and is set to release his debut Revelation in early 2018.
Wong produced, wrote, performed and mixed Revelation himself and from next year will be releasing a song per month from the EP.
Listen to the the debut single "Too Bad" which features such evocative enticements as "I'm about to mess your hair up/Kiss that lipstick off" and read a recent email exchange we had with him.
Noisey: You live in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles. Where's the best spot to hang?
James Wong: I may be biased but I have to say my house Heavens Creek. It's one of a few houses in Los Angeles with a natural creek running through the gardens. The house is surrounded by tall oak trees, giving the feeling that you're in the middle of the forest. I'm the kind of person who needs to be in nature often, and this is the next best thing.
What have you learned from the music industry since living in LA?
Patience. It's easy to look at other's success and compare where you are to where they are. It gives you this sense of urgency, the kind of urgency that can make you go a little crazy. The way others come up will be different to the way you do. So I guess there's two lessons there, being patient and not comparing yourself to others.
What opportunities did working on "Company" open for you?
It allowed me to get in the room with better writers, which is extremely important for improving yourself as a songwriter. Being able to work with A-level songwriters gives you the chance to hear your ideas through experienced ears. The more people you work with, the clearer the image you can create of what works.
"Company" was co-written by Poo Bear. Have you met him? How do you react when introduced to an adult man named Poo Bear?
I met him and his wife at a Grammy party earlier this year. He was very kind! I guess I don't really think about it because I meet people everyday with aliases even more out of the ordinary.
Have you spent any time with Bieber?
I have been in his presence, on the outside of an asteroid field of people surrounding him at one of his parties ha. But other than that, no.
Are you much of a club person? As a songwriter do you think it's important to go out and see what songs are working in clubs?
I have been in my past. I currently don't spend too much time at clubs unless there's some kind of celebration/event. I don't drink anymore, and that was always a big part of going to a club. But that's a good question, I do think it's important. When I used to go out I'd become conscious of the way everyone reacted to music, and how I would react. It taught me a lot about the undeniable feeling certain songs give you, and also how songs with a consistent groove or central idea work the best. That being said, there's no formula to this, it's just what inherently feels good. Take "Started From The Bottom" by Drake; it encourages so much interaction between you and your friends and makes everybody feel like they've "made it" in some kind of way. When you listen to songs like that on your iPhone speaker it might not seem like much, but when you hear them in the club they have so much power over people.
What inspired "Too Bad"?
It's the only song from the EP that I made before I wrote the lyrics. I decided to sit down and make something for fun. It came so fast that I can't quite pinpoint what inspired the beat, but it sounded like it held the sexual tension that two people feel before they go out. I know that's specific (ha) but I see stories when I listen to instrumentals. I decided to really indulge on the production, so it represents my thought process as a producer. Sonically, it's like the sum total of everything I've done in the last five years.
'Revelation' will be available in early 2018.