James Otto Talks Career, and New Music From West Coast Tour – A CMM Exclusive Interview

Often when people think of California they think of sand, surf, hippies, Hollywood, and the state of “Anything Goes.”  It is a misconception that country music does not play a big part in the lives of it’s residents, but I can assure you that is a myth.   Thanks to the tour sponsor, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company and James Otto for helping us break that myth with a trail of small venue shows starting out in Tuolumne at the Black Oak Casino on February 5th and wrapping up in Fullerton at the Slide Bar on February 8th.  After many years of big shows and festivals I have grown to enjoy and appreciate the smaller shows, because it shows that if an artist can entertain you with just his guitar and a few tunes, he is truly a man of his craft.  The early musical influences in his life from classic rock, blues, R&B and country came through in his show on the 8th, playing to a standing room only crowd who were easily drawn in by his talent, charm and charisma.

Singer song-writer James Otto started his singing career at a young age and learned to play the violin, saxophone and guitar.  Having traveled a lot growing up and while serving two years in the Navy, it is easy to see this helped his career, he was already seasoned for the road.  He moved to Nashville in 1998 and in 2002 he landed a record deal with Mercury Nashville.  His first album, “Days of Our Lives,” brought two releases, “The Ball.” and “Long Way Down.” The songs staggered and after he finished up his 2004 tour with Shania Twain he exited the label.  In 2007 Warner Brothers Nashville saw something in this young artist and signed him to their label.  It was a career defining move once his first release, “Just Got Started Lovin You,” hit the charts making it his first No. 1 single. More praise came when a song “In Color,” which he co-wrote became an award winning song for Jamey Johnson.

James is working on a new EP and has a new single out now, “Somewhere Tonight,” which can be found on iTunes and on SIRIUSXM’S The Highway.  Before his show in Fullerton we had a chance to visit and catch up with James. He makes you feel very comfortable and it was great to work with such a professional crew.

CMM:

Welcome James and thanks for taking the time to sit with us.  Being that you started out at a young age traveling do you think wanderlust and an artist’s career have to go hand in hand?

James Otto:

I think you have to have it, there are plenty of people who would rather not do it, but there is no other real way to get out there to people and play your music. I love to travel, I have always lived a wandering life growing up in various different states, and have lived all over the world so I am pretty accustomed to it, I really like it.

CMM

In ’98 you came to Nashville and signed with Mercury Nashville in 2002.  The songs off your first album struggled. What were the learning curves during that time and are there still those learning curves today.

James Otto:

Oh yea, absolutely. There is a big learning curve in this business and one of the first things you learn is that it’s not really about your talent or about anything else, there’s a lot of other things that are completely out of your control.  You can be the greatest. be the best and make the most amazing album yet still not get heard.  It takes a lot of luck, and a lot of determination to make things work.

CMM:

You became involved with the MuzikMafia. How was that experience and do you feel it helped your career.

James Otto:

It was cool and a neat period.  Musically it was an experimental period for me and seeing something like that explode was fun for me.  It was an interesting way to do it and there was no question it was a boost to my career.  It definitely heightened the profiles for all of us, it was wonderful.

CMM:

In 2007, you were then with Warner Brothers Records Nashville.  Your first release. “Just Got Started Lovin You” was a number one smash hit. How overwhelming and full of pride were you when you realized what you had accomplished.

James Otto:

I was overwhelmed and of course proud. When we cut the song none of us knew that it was THE song. We were all excited and thought it was great, but not until it got out to the public that we really got to see that reaction.  We started hearing radio talking about it and it continued building steam. It really was amazing and took us all by surprise.

CMM:

How did you become involved with the song, “In Color”

James Otto:

Jamey and I were friends and had been been hanging out, he was at my house the night before actually. My writer cancelled on me that day and I texted him and said, “Hey man, I got nothin to do today, ya wanna write? He said sure.”  I was about to sit down with Lee Miller so we had Jamey come over and write with us.  That was the day we wrote “In Color.”  I still write a lot with other artists and as a song-writer I am always on the look out for what could be that next line or idea that sparks something.

CMM:

You have been on tours with Alan Jackson, Toby Keith and Trace Adkins. What can you tell us about what you learned from those times.

James Otto:

You just have to watch and hang on. Those guys have been doing it a long time and they are all pros.  I have watched their shows studying things they did, how they work the crowds, and the audience as well as how they worked their sets. It is all there to learn if you want to sit there and do it, study it and figure it out.  There’s a lot of wisdom there for us to learn.

CMM:

You are a big supporter of the USO and St Jude’s Hospital.  Did the songs “Soldiers and Jesus,” and “Where Angels Hang Around” come about because of your involvement?

James Otto:

I actually wrote both of those songs before my involvement.  “Soldiers and Jesus” was written off of something Chris Wallin either saw off a bumper sticker or church billboard and it sparked the idea for the song.  Coming from a military family those things ring true for me.  “Where Angels Hang Around” I wrote with Monty Criswell, he had a friend whose child was sick and it was a powerful song.  And then to actually go to St Jude’s and be a part of it, learning what it’s all about; it’s just incredible. You feel for these families but the great thing about that place is they’re getting amazing care.  You walk in there and you think it would be all kind of dark and scary but it’s not.  A lot of the kids are getting better, they are finding cures and that’s incredible.

CMM:

You appear to be a in great place in your life. Your new song, “Somewhere Tonight” reflects that. Is that coming from a sort of growing process per say and a different new perspective on life.

James Otto:

This new song for me has been like part of a rebirth, a re-emerging as an artist.  I wasn’t sure I was necessarily that excited about getting out there but knew I needed to take that step.  I was pretty happy staying home being with my little girl Ava and my wife Amy.  I needed that time to be a dad, making that bond so that when I did get up to leave again she would know who I was and have a good foundation.  In 2015 I am working on touring, getting back out establishing new music, seeing my friends in radio and in bands out there.  I also have a new EP coming out that I am finishing up now and hopefully in the next couple of months that will be set to go.

Thanks again to James for the visit.  To here more about the new EP coming out find all the information at the James Otto website:  http://www.jamesotto.net/

If you are out this way in California make sure to check out the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company:   http://www.figmtnbrew.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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