The musician known by many as frontman for Old Mission Collective on Saturday officially releases his first solo recording in Traverse City, but his musical reach extends to Grand Rapids and Ludington.
Benjaman James can credit an injured hand, in part, for what’s turned into a budding career as a singer-songwriter and musician.
The 2009 Traverse City Central High School graduate — aka, Benjaman James Bennetts — bought his first guitar while studying at Michigan State University in hopes of using it to help rehabilitate the injured hand. When he took the guitar with him to study abroad in Sydney, Australia, he forced himself to learn a new song every week.
“I would street perform on the beach walkway and play the latest song over and over again until I mastered it,” he recalled, noting that his busking for donations from passersby helped him earn “enough money to afford groceries.”
Nowadays, the “funk/soul-inspired” singer-songwriter plays for much bigger audiences at numerous venues in Traverse City and across Michigan, with official release of his debut solo EP, “Growing Pains,” taking place this weekend.
He’s also become a diehard musical collaborator who’s played bass with a new Grand Rapids indie-pop project, Miss Atomic, led by Nicholas Warren, as well as performing with Grand Rapids trumpeter Brad Fritcher and East Lansing guitarist Olin Clark – both of whom appear on James’ new recording.
“I am simply a story-teller who utilizes whatever genre is necessary to paint my canvas,” he offered. “No soundtrack is ever limited to a single genre and there are no boundaries in art. What I love about this project is that the music is for all audiences, because everyone loves being moved – whether it’s via rhythm or an inspiring plot. My goal is simply to tell my story, which inspires people to love and live their life to the fullest on a daily basis.”
James performs at 6 p.m. Friday as part of Santa Claus’ arrival and tree-lighting ceremony in downtown Traverse City, then hosts the official EP-release party for “Growing Pains” at 9 p.m. Saturday at Rare Bird Brewpub in Traverse City.
James, who works by day as a product manager for a Traverse City manufacturing company, may be most familiar to northern Michigan audiences as frontman for Old Mission Collective, a Traverse City-based alternative, funk-hued jazz rock band which released a demo EP in 2014.
The singer-songwriter has now “re-branded” his music as “Benjaman James” with release of the new record.
James called on a host of other well-known Michigan musicians to record his new four-song EP at Runyan Media in Bellaire, including Chris Sterr, Katie Larson (of The Accidentals), Peter Murphy, Steve Seward, Mark Lavengood, Dutcher Snedeker, Caleb Elzinga, Brad Fritcher and Olin Clark. (Check out a video of “Check, Please,” a track from the new EP, below.)
“The Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Michigan State University music communities have been an amazingly supportive resource and this project would not exist without them,” he said. “For a small town, Traverse City has an incredibly eclectic and supportive music scene.”
In addition to his solo projects, James also is “focusing on a few unique collaborations” with Ludington folk/Americana artist Chloe Kimes as well as Nicholas Warren in Miss Atomic.
That vibrant regional music scene helps make performing an “addictive” experience, insisted James, who grew up listening to hip hop, R&B and funk, as well as northern Michigan’s “campfire-based” acoustic music.
“I am inspired to perform by performing,” he said. “Whether it’s the musical interaction between musicians or the indescribable inspiration of having an audience sing and dance to your original music is unbelievably addictive. As an artist, the only thing better than creating art is the opportunity to share it with others.”
As such, James is committed to bringing the project to venues across the state and to “perform as many Michigan music festivals as possible.”
VIDEO: Benjaman James, “Check, Please”
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