James TW On ‘Chapters,’ Touring with Shawn Mendes, and His Upcoming Solo Shows

James TW made a name for himself opening for Shawn Mendes on tour for two years — but now, the 21-year-old is gearing up to take center stage on his own North American headlining tour.

On a breezy July evening, James TW sits in a colorful room in the Island Records New York offices. He’s surprisingly calm for someone set to give their first-ever television performance of their newest single, “Incredible,” on Live With Kelly and Ryan, in just a day. He fidgets with a Rubik’s Cube as we talk, solving the puzzle in under a minute.

Some might say he’s a genius. But the Barford, England native shrugs off that suggestion, insisting smarts has nothing to do with it — it’s all a matter of technique.

“I gave my band members notes and in hours they were doing it,” he says.

But regardless of what it actually takes to solve a Rubik’s Cube, James TW, who’s real name is James Taylor-Watts, might still be a genius: after all, he signed with a major record label, released a debut album, performed original music on shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and snagged a role as Shawn Mendes tour mate all by age 21. Sounds pretty brilliant to us.

 

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But despite success having become the norm for him, James admits the idea of having just released his first full-length album, Chapters, is still a bit surreal.

“I was definitely nervous in the buildup to it, whether it was a big enough statement and whether it was all me,” he says. “It’s definitely a bigger deal [than an EP].”

Luckily for James, he has the chart-topping single, 2016’s “When You Love Someone,” leading the record. Though the song is a few years older than most tracks on Chapters, James knew including it was non-negotiable.

“I think it’s a song most people recognize of mine, and it just seemed like a good move,” he says. “Some people might’ve heard ‘When You Love Someone’ on the radio and liked the song, but didn’t follow up. So for them it’s like, ‘oh, it’s the guy that did that song.”

“When You Love Someone” has been James’ biggest song to date, earning spots on music charts around the world. Some of the song’s success may have to do, in part, with pop titan Shawn Mendes bringing James on tour with him in 2017, where James got to play the song to thousands of people each night.

James TW and Shawn Mendes

And that’s not the only way the “Senorita” singer lent a hand to James at the start of his career — in addition to helping James land a deal with Island, where he himself, and other major names like Elton John, are signed, Shawn also taught James how to captivate an audience.

“Back then I hadn’t played in bigger venues before, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence, I think, on stage,” he says, revealing that all changed after playing around 50 shows over two years with Shawn. “The biggest thing I learned from him was how to interact with the crowd, and to not worry about coming across as controlling or rude when I’d tell the audience what to do, like sing along or clap.”

One album and thousands of Instagram followers later, James is no longer a stranger to crowds of cheering fans — the musician completed a European headlining tour leading up to the release of Chapters, and beginning in late July, he’ll head out on his first headlining tour across North America. The tour, which runs through October, will also mark the first time James will play Chapters in full.

“I did the European tour, but I didn’t want to play all the songs on [the album] because it hadn’t been released yet,” he says. “So for my North American shows coming up, fans are gonna get to hear the album front to back live, which is cool because I’ve never played it like that before.”

Proving that he has, indeed, become more confident in performing than ever, James will not only be playing the entire album, but he’ll be playing it solo on stage. No electrified instruments No backup singers. Just James and his guitar.

“I think it’s gonna be a nice setting to introduce people to the songs live for the first time,” he says, noting that his current favorite songs to perform are Big Picture and, of course, Incredible. “I’m figuring out unique versions of the songs that work for the setting, so they’re gonna hear one-off versions of these songs.”

With phrases like “tour headliner,” “major label recording artist,” and “Rubik’s Cube extraordinaire” on his resume, you’d think James would be feeling pretty satisfied. And while he’s certainly proud of all he’s accomplished, he still has a few things he’d like to check off his bucket list.

For one thing, he’d love to play larger venues across the world. In the United States, he’s hoping to play 1,000-cap spaces by the end of the year. In Europe, he wants to bump that number up to 3,000. He also has a few personal goals he’s working to achieve.

“I want to be a better songwriter. I feel this industry has so many talented people in it, but what I realized very early on was there’s not enough great songwriters,” he explains. “So whether I’m doing it for me or writing for other people, songwriting is my number one goal to just be good at, the best at.”

And his one last request? That fans of music, no matter their taste, enjoy his Chapters.

“I hope that anyone who hasn’t, listens to it,” he says, adding that Incredible is the one song he wishes everyone would give a shot. “So if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, and you’re kind of like, ‘meh,’ listen to incredible and then you can choose.”

Catch James TW on tour in these cities.

Written by Hillary Maglin