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PAUSE Meets: Harry James Jr

PAUSE MEETS:

Harry James Jr.

Talks inspiration, photography and music.

Photographer: Martina Martian // @martinamartian
Styling: Palesa // @masentle
Styling Assistant: Vanessa Anglade // @rummmcake
Interview: Sonia // @ohsosoniaa
Featuring: Harry James Jr // @harryjamesworld

Reclining on a shaggy and extremely chic cream coloured couch, wearing iridescent green latex trousers, Harry James Jr. looks almost like a merman effortlessly adapting to his new habitat when I arrive at the Pause office on a Monday morning. Sprawled around him is an entirely female team of creatives wrapping up from a photoshoot. Before they leave and our interview begins, Harry takes the time to thank each member individually, note social media handles, and later tags them all in a warm Instagram story. The whole thing has a rather charming and authentic touch to it.

Formerly known as the rapper Fugitive, south-east London born Harry James Byart started out in the industry aged just 12, spending his formative years as a regular on Channel U. By his late teens, Harry moves into producing music for friends and changes his stage name to Harry James Jr., named after Harry Haag James, the classically handsome American musician and his grandfather’s favourite artist. Following a lengthy hiatus, the Harry I meet is ready to share new music of his own. His singles, “Numbers” and “Honest”, featuring Spanish rapper C. Tangana, both out now, are a breezy blend of pop, r&b and rap, and there is an album ready for release in early 2022.

In between small talk about one of the greatest Canadian rappers of all time, Belly, I ask Harry the unscripted (and slightly irrelevant to the context) question of What percentage of your team is female? It is 10% out of a team of 10 — but it’s his reaction that says much more as he earnestly reflects on his inner circle and the “attention to detail” that diversity brings to all our work. At 27, Harry James Jr. has well over a decade worth of experience in music and still seems very eager to continue to grow. Below are edited extracts from our interview.

Berthold jumper, Diesel jacket & trousers, Diemme boots
 

How old were you when you started out in music? And what was that early experience like?

My mum worked in the management industry so I grew up around music. I first walked into a studio when I was 7 and fell in love with the atmosphere; the noise, the machines, the lights in the studio, I just knew it was in me and I started writing. Then I got to year 7 at school and everyone was rapping in the playground, so I started rapping too.

I started shooting my own videos and put content out on Channel U, and it kind of just went from there. And then, at around 17/18, I took a step back from music and started producing. A lot of my friends were rapping around then and I was going through a lot of personal issues, so I focused on being in the background: producing, managing acts, directing, starting a label and building other artists. I’ve been working on that for the past 3/4 years and it’s given me a different set of knowledge, and I’m applying stuff I’ve learnt from back in the days, so that’s been like my high school and university, and now I feel like I’ve graduated.

Did I read that your mum worked for Marvin Gaye? What kind of music was playing at home?

Yeah, my mum worked with him, so the music around our house was a lot of Motown to Rod Stewart, to Millie Jackson. I think that’s helped a lot with my musicality now, it’s helped my music theory because when you’re making a beat, it’s not just about the drums sounding hard, or the base sounding hard. If you layer in beautiful guitar chords — that’s the melody and that’s what hooks you to the song, and that’s what I got from growing up in music with my mum. When I got to school, all I wanted to do was hit it hard with drums and a hard base, but when you mix that with musicality, that’s what gave me my early sound and identity.

You changed your stage name from Fugitive back to your birth name, was this inspired by a change in musical direction?

When I got to about 20, I was only producing, I wasn’t Fugitive anymore, I was Harry and I kept it real because that’s who I am, this is me now, this isn’t a gimmick, I want to do this whether I make money from it or not, I only care about the art. My full name is Harry James Byart and when I made the change, I went to see my Nan and Grandad to tell them. My Grandad has always loved my singing voice, he’d say, “Your singing voice is so beautiful” and want me to sing more, and this is a man who loves Frank Sinatra. So, when I told him I was changing my stage name to Harry James, he was like, “I can’t believe you’ve said that, because when you were born, your middle name was going to be John, but I told them to call you Harry James because he was my favourite musician and I knew you were going to be musical.” How crazy is that? I swear to God, that’s 100% the truth.

What direction are you going towards with your new work?

My mum is half Spanish and half Greek, so that’s where the Spanish influence in “Honest” comes from. I want to keep showing people who I am, it’s been a long time since I released music and I’ve been experimenting for the past ten years — all the music you’re getting now is a culmination of everything I’ve learnt, and throwing away things I don’t need. I collaborate with a lot a people from across the creative field, I’m a creative director, I own a label, I do merchandise for people, I direct videos. Being Harry James Jr. allows me to do what I want to do as an artist, and when I produce music, it gives me the avenue to have a creative outlet and allocate it to the right places to get to where I want, because something that might not be right for me, might be right for someone else.

It was kind of hard for me because I came out at such a young age and I experimented and grew up in the public eye. There was a time I hated my past, but as I’m getting older, I love everything I’ve done because you’ve had a real journey with Harry— whether it’s as Fugitive, the rapper, or Harry the producer, or Harry the director, it really brings you into my world. When I think of people like Jay Z or Diddy and that great businessman in them, they make great music and then they allocate it to the right places. Diddy would produce a great record for Biggie and then when it came to his own work, he might go in a different direction. Great artists allow themselves to explore through different outlets. Many people make great music, it’s also about where you put those ideas and where they sit in the bigger picture.

Berthold Jumper, Ice Rocks Jewellery
 

Who are the musical greats that you go back to?

Marvin Gaye, 100%.

Songs in particular?

“Inner City Blues”, “Distant Lover”, “Abraham, Martin and John”. They’re great songs that were introduced to me by my mum and they feel like home to me. They’ll live with me forever, I know even when I’m 70, I’ll hear those songs and think of my mum.

You recently directed “Boyz” by Jesy Nelson, featuring Nicky Minaj. What was your concept for the shoot? And how was the execution?

Amazing. The concept was the original Diddy video, but to take that idea and flip it. So, they turn up to the neighbourhood, they get to the house and have a party, she’s there with her friends, she’s sitting on the roof. It was kind of like an ode to Diddy. I tried to keep it as close to the location as I could. I think they shot the original at Universal Studios, when Jes’s sitting on the roof, that’s not an effect, she is actually sitting on the roof, we had a crane up there and everything — it was a really amazing experience.

MRC MyRealCover jacket, Berthold jumper, Geo Location trousers, SERGE DENIMES Necklace, IceRocks necklace, Clarks shoes 
 

When did you first become interested in photography?

When I started out, I didn’t have a team, I didn’t have the money to pay for people, so I’d have to do everything myself, and a photography shoot could cost you £300 to £500, so I just brought a camera. I found one from Luke Biggins, my good friend and a legendary director who passed away recently. He got me in touch with his mate Roger who did me a huge favour by selling me a second-hand camera for a lot cheaper than he should have. He believed in me and gave it as a friend, I must have been 16 at the time, and I’d say it’s been in the past 2 years I feel like I can go into a video and not get scared to be working with an artists money. It’s now that I have the confidence to know I can do it. But I had to go through failing so many times, it didn’t happen overnight, it was a lot of dedication and it taught me discipline.

When I was a lot younger and all my friends were going out to Ibiza and partying, I didn’t do that, I still haven’t been to Ibiza and partied. When they were doing that, I was saving my money to go to Toronto or Atlanta, even when I didn’t have anything set up, I’d go out there and sleep on friends’ sofas. Once you keep doing something, it becomes second nature to you, it doesn’t feel like you’re messing up. People put a lot of pressure on views and numbers, and this, and that. I’m terms of music, that doesn’t matter to me anymore, I want to do this regardless, whatever the outlet, or whatever the emotion is that I want to put out there, that might connect with the second or third song from a project. As long as I get it out there, that’s all that matters to me. I was in a situation where I nearly gave up on music once and it would be such a shame not to share it all.

Geo Location Jacket
 

Do you have a TV or movie highlight of the year so far?

There’s a few, “Tiger King” was really good and I’m looking forward to the second one. And when I have my downtime, I put my projector on and I watch the Nelk Boys, they have a YouTube channel and they’re really funny. I love Canadian culture and I feel like they appreciate what we do over here too. You see Drake coming to London, wearing Stone Island early on and appearing on grime tracks. It’s a great time for the UK music scene, and it isn’t just in grime, it’s UK rap, pop, indie, there’s a lot of great music today, a lot of great artists and producers making great things! I think it was a blessing and a curse when streaming came out, the amazing side to it is that you can be heard, you can put music out, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a 2-minute song or a 7-minute song, everyone can have a voice now.

Album of the year for you?

There have been some really great albums…

Between the Drake and Kanye offerings?

That would be Drake, without a doubt. And my favourite song is probably “Get Along”. Dave’s album is also amazing!

Favourite song from the Dave album?

Track 2, “Verdansk” for me. It’s a great song!

“System”, featuring WizKid, is mine and has one of my favourite verses of the year by Dave, if we can make that a thing…

That’s an amazing song too!! WizKids album, was that this year or the end of last? That’s amazing as well!! Majid Jordan’s new album is amazing too! They have a record with Diddy which I love. Check it out. Jordan is probably one of the best producers in the world right now and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

Dream dinner date and what would be on your plate?

Ooooh! Past or present?

Either. Fictional, even.

It would probably have to be Marvin Gaye. He’s had such an impact on my life. I’d ask him how he performed so effortlessly, where he looks like he isn’t even trying. And I’d ask him for any advice he could give me. I’d ask him so much and get him to school me over a 10/10 Wagyu steak and a bottle of red wine.

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