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Nashville via Detroit songwriter Stephie James’ debut full-length album, As Night Fades (out Mar. 1) exudes sparkly, starlit evening motifs, shot through the lens of dreamy doo-wop and romantic Americana rock n roll. James overturns Nashville’s hat and boot culture with her own Iggy Pop-meets-Judy Garland panache. She borrows the storytelling tradition of writers like Townes Van Zandt & Guy Clark but fuses it with 60's girl group sounds, echoing The Shirelles and The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman.” James presents us with a record that’s subtly subversive—at one turn familiar and nostalgic, while simultaneously evoking the dawn of something new.


James has been a steadfast musical powerhouse since her teens. She’s toured with Anita Baker and Nikki Lane, worked production for Buddy Miller and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, has written with John Bettis (songwriter for Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, The Carpenters and more) and even shared the stage with Michael Bolton. As Night Fades was produced/engineered/mixed by Andrija Tokic who also produced the platinum, Grammy-nominated Alabama Shakes’ album Boys & Girls. John Baldwin (The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Nancy Sinatra, The White Stripes) mastered the album.


As Night Fades opens with the cinematic and sultry “Company,” an autobiographical narrative through a smoky, late night scene. Its romantic, symphonic balladry elevates the classic Hollywood scenario that we’re gifted through James’ endearing vocal delivery—all enchantingly wrapped in the modern setting of a seedy East Nashville dive bar. The Phil Spector-esque, “Spanish Harlem,” latin percussion contrasted with a gentle acoustic guitar leaves the perfect amount of space for multi-instrumentalist Billy Contreras (Béla Fleck, Hank Williams III, Sunny War) to layer a myriad of violins.

The beautifully dreamy album closer “Night Fades” is about those memorable nights that slowly blur into early morning, wandering home as the sun rises, finding someone on your mind. Recorded primarily live, you can hear the instruments bleeding into each other, Lawrence’s long legato bass notes resonating. James pairs a talk box with her opening guitar line and melts into misty vocals. Its gentle artistry paints a picture of a woman embracing uncertainty and optimistically looking ahead. It resolves in a way that makes you want to play the record over again.


As an ambitious 15-year-old, James opened up a coffee shop with her brother, as an excuse to have all ages shows where she and her friends could perform and build a local music scene. This DIY nighttime operation of mismatched furniture, posters of Bob Dylan and coffee as a secondary excuse to create a community led to her meeting legendary singer Anita Baker and eventually touring with her during the summers as a teenager.


James started an indie-folk project with her friends and they quickly became a go-to local act for the burgeoning scene of cool midwest Americana, regularly opening locally for larger touring acts like Leon Russell. She began working with legendary songwriter John Bettis, who introduced James’ music to Michael Bolton. Bolton included James’ single “Silent Film” in his documentary American Dream: Detroit, and the two performed at the film’s premiere. Her ambitions soon drew her from the Motor City to Music City U.S.A.


In Nashville, she navigated to Auerbach’s recording studio, Easy Eye Sound, where she worked as a second engineer to Detroit pal, Collin Dupuis, who had just worked with Auerbach on Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence and the preceding Black Keys albums. Dupuis brought James in to help with Easy Eye projects and introduced her to artists that Auerbach had been producing, including Nikki Lane.


James and Lane hit it off, and soon they were touring together. James was playing in Lane’s band and occasionally opening the shows with her own material—sometimes solo acoustic, sometimes backed by the rest of Lane’s band. Clear Plastic Masks were the opening band on one Nikki Lane tour, and would become James’ close friends and collaborators on both her 2020 These Days EP and As Night Fades.


“They were the coolest rock n roll band I had ever seen live,” says James. “The first time I heard them, I realized something really special was happening in that room. I remember thinking that if they never had any huge commercial success, they’d be like the Velvet Underground or something—an underappreciated band that would inspire all the other bands and artists and tastemakers around them. We bonded really hard on that tour and spent lots of time together, in different cities. Eventually, they became the backing band for my solo stuff. Everything on this record is Charlie on drums and Matt on guitar and keys. Matt heard something in the music I was writing and was the real catalyst to working on my own project. I don’t think it would have happened without his involvement and encouragement.”


The These Days EP and As Night Fades were both recorded at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville and produced, engineered and mixed by Tokic. These Days exemplified James’ autobiographical, heart-on-her-sleeve songwriting while hitting us with classic pop meets Americana rock, all with a sheen of cinematic coolness. Particularly with the EP’s title track and “Lost With You,” which has the heart of a crooner ballad, boasting shiny rock & roll guitar lines and a noir doo wop feel.


Rock and roll happens at night. It’s dangerous. It’s mysterious. That’s why we’ve been drawn to it since the 1950’s. On As Night Fades, James takes us on a cinematic tour through her world of late night soirees, loves lost and loves found, all the while unafraid to embrace the uncertainty of the world. Her lyrics are charming, tender, vulnerable and incredibly vivid. It feels like black and white, 35mm celluloid, shot by Jim Jarmusch and dreamt by David Lynch. As Night Fades soulful rock & roll feels timeless and essential.

Photo by Shervin Lainez

"Dark and rootsy, James is a venerable front woman to what becomes a garage rock-fueled jam, offering plenty of room to sink into its dusky, hypnotic vibe."  - News Break

"There’s a fiery vibrancy emanating off the five sleek tracks on this new EP—smoky/surfy guitars, swooning-pulse rhythms, and that perfect amount of syrupy reverb so as to evoke a sense of midnight desert road trips. It’s a very cinematic sounding batch of rock songs, easily accommodating imagined visuals of a movie you can see inside your head while you’re listening, all the while James’ lead vocals can soar, slither, and saunter, as they tap into blue-eyed soul and dusty Americana." - Ideas Adrift Blog


"Stephie James paradoxically gives us exactly what we want: enough to leave us yearning for more."

- MNPR Magazine


"...oozes with sentiment and is universally relatable." - BTRtoday


"Stephie James opened the show with some no frills, ass-kicking rock and roll. A little bit Roy Orbison, a little bit Billie Holiday, and a little bit something entirely her own, Ms. James  and Co. belt out a set of solid tunes."  - Audio-Love (formerly humans of Nashville) 

...smoky arrangement with a punctuating accent to the early Nashville scene where Orbison, Patsy and Hank charmed both radio and The Opry. While James clearly pays homage to her influences, she wraps it with her own identifiable charm and seductive vocals, making her a worthy newcomer to Americana."

- Glide Magazine

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