Austin Feliciano, locally known under the moniker “Austin James”, saunters on stage at The Arts Block, a charming local venue/restaurant and bar nestled in the Northwestern Massachusetts town of Greenfield, with an unassuming gait, accompanied by 3 beautiful guitars and a custom microphone. His first act at the mic is to smile broadly at the crowd and introduce himself. “Hi, I’m Austin James. Thanks for coming out today, this song is called “Flight of the Fearless.”
He takes a small step backwards, takes a deep breath, and slowly closes his eyes as though he is about to peacefully drift into serene slumber. His fingers skillfully dance with the strings, his voice seamlessly drifts into harmony with deft folk guitar, and he communicates a prevailing narrative in song that captivates each person in attendance. He progresses through his set list, each song stopping the listeners in their tracks with each booming, climactic finish, vocals akin to a sweet and salty fusion of the lows of Hosier and the highs of Tom Odell. At one point, he slows it down and channels his inner Paul with a moving rendition of ‘Blackbird’, closing the song in a somber, melodic acapella.
Music is created for many reasons. One such reason, perhaps most prominently, is to evoke sentiment from the listener; to share in the creator’s joy, to elicit empathy for their pain and suffering, or just simply tell their story as they want it heard. I had the opportunity to sit down with Austin after the show and pick his brain a little about what drives him to invoke such powerful compositions.
Interview with Austin James
Austin, what drives you to write the music you do?
Well, it affords me the opportunity to be my most honest and transparent self. If I’m going through something so intensely personal, it’s easier to sing about it than simply speak about it.
Well said. Besides your own personal reasons, is there anything else that drives you to make music?
It’s therapeutic. I grew up writing poetry, and I guess I never really stopped. I tend to pen the lyrics first and write the music after. It’s always seemed to work for me, but I’ve definitely studied and learned to write and score in reverse. Both methods have their perks.
When did you start playing/writing music?
I started piano lessons when I was 4 and began playing violin when I was 10. I always sang (pretty terribly) but I really fell in love with music in college singing with an acapella group. So I picked up a guitar after I left school and I guess the rest is pretty well documented…
Is there one single thing you’d attribute the success you’ve had in music to?
Support. Plain and simple.
Awesome. 5 years from today, where do you hope to be in your life?
Hmm. Touring regularly…maybe internationally. The musician’s life isn’t easy, but if you can remain humble and honest, it can be so rewarding. I want to affect positivity in people’s lives and ultimately leave a legacy.
How often do you play shows currently?
I try to play out a couple times a week. Usually smaller gigs or venues. But I definitely enjoy playing those bigger shows. The adrenaline rush is unreal. There’s truly nothing like it.
What other artists do you cite as inspirational, or that motivate you to grow as an artist yourself?
Alex Vargas. Full of passion and is just so brutally good on stage! Noah Gunderson. So damn honest and at times painfully so. Daniela Andrade. Her growth and sheer inventiveness are inspiring. William Fitzsimmons. Makes me feel more emotion with just a voice and a guitar than anyone else. He’s the reason I create songs the way I do. Daughter, James Blake, Jon Bellion [laughs] I could go on and on, but I think this’ll do!
What was the first album that you added to your personal library?
I think the first album I ever bought was Usher’s 8701. Some real gems on that album
Usher, alright! And what was the most recent addition to your personal music library?
Uhhh, the most recent addition was the second single from Maggie Rogers, it’s called Dog Years. She’s brilliant; definitely the next big thing.
So since we just finished with your performance, tell me about *your* first live music experience? What was the venue, and which artist were you there to see?
My first show was a doozy! [laughs] I saw a bunch of hardcore bands play in some venue in southern Connecticut. I was 14 I think, so I’m a bit hazy on it…I know the last band that played though was Life In Your Way. I crowd surfed and screamed into the mic, it was a good night.
So, if you could cover one artist in your music library, which would it be?
Hm, either Carry the Ghost by Noah Gunderson, or Plans by Death Cab for Cutie.
That’s great, I’m actually a huge Death Cab fan myself. Alright, here’s an important question: What artist do you wish more people had in their music library?
Jon Bellion. The kid is masterfully creative. Watch any of his “making of” videos and you’ll see what I mean.
Okay, last one: how would you describe your music?
That’s always a damn near impossible question to answer, but at its core, it’s my autobiography. Personal songs about love, politics, family, etc…Maybe someday I’ll write a story about someone else, but for now, I’ll continue to write about what makes me feel.
Austin’s solo album can be found for purchase on www.theheavycalm.com for $5.