It was early 2015, and 17-year-old U.K. singer songwriter James TW trekked out to New York in search of a record label deal after growing a following through his YouTube uploads.
But instead, James Taylor-Watts’ career exploded in a completely unexpected way during his time in the Big Apple, when fellow rising pop star Shawn Mendes personally reached out to him on social media.
“I just happened to wake up one morning and saw the tweet that he had sent me, which was kind of like saying that he saw my YouTube videos and was saying that he found my videos inspirational, which was lovely,” Taylor-Watts said. “I was shocked.”
From there, Mendes invited James TW to join him as his opening act in his 2016 Illuminate World Tour, where Taylor-Watts made his North American debut. It was not only his first time not he road, but he said it was a huge learning experience as it helped him gain confidence in his stage presence.
“I’ve always been a bit reserved about asking [an audience] to [sing and clap with me]. Like, if they’re not here for me, then maybe I shouldn’t really be doing this,” Taylor-Watts said. “But Shawn really encouraged me to do it, and he said they’re here to have a good time; they want to follow your instructions and to sing with you.”
It’s not like Taylor-Watts was new to the music scene. Music had essentially been in his blood from the start. His parents not only named him after James Taylor, one of their favorite music icons, but the “When You Love Someone” singer credits his mom and dad for the path he took as his life calling.
His dad, who had helped Taylor-Watts begin to upload videos to YouTube, was a musician at heart and had written songs of his own from his teens onward.
“He was the musical guy in the family who just kind of bought all the instruments, and then they were lying around for me to play with,” Taylor-Watts said.
As for his mom, Taylor-Watts said she greatly influenced his personality.
“I’m a very romantic, emotional person, and I think I get that from my mom, for sure,” he said. “And that’s what makes me a songwriter.”
James TW is known for writing about romance and relationships, but he said his future releases will see a significant shift in tone.
“Since I was 16, I was in a very long-term relationship until last year,” Taylor-Watts said. “And it was the only relationship I had ever had. It was where a lot of those stories came from [in past releases].”
Through the next several months, he’ll be releasing tracks off his upcoming album, on which he reflects on the struggles and celebrations that came from his breakup.
“It was a mutual breakup; it wasn’t one of those stereotypical ugly breakups,” he said. “So I think there are some unique emotions that come with that.”
His latest single, the bouncy “Butterflies,” talks of trying to move past heartbreak. But beyond the lyrics, “Butterflies” holds even more significance for the 23-year-old.
“It kind of got written the wrong way around for me. I usually come up with a lyric or a concept that I want to write about, but this time it started with a guitar riff,” he said. “There’s a big guitar riff in the chorus, and I was a fan of that riff since I came up with it. And the song took me two years to write. Usually I write songs in two hours, but this one took its time, and I had to rewrite it lots of times.”
Follow writer Amelia Parreira at Twitter.com/AmeliaParreira.