Broken Records Magazine’s Markos Papadatos had the good fortune to speak with Grammy-nominated country music singer-songwriter James Otto, where he talks about his influences, latest album, poignant single ”Soldiers & Jesus,” future plans, as well as his insights on fatherhood.
Regarding his inspirations in country music, James Otto shares “it was Hank Williams Jr. that actually turned me on to wanting to be a country singer in the first place. It was something that struck me at the time, so I was ready to make that move.”
“I love the songwriting in country music and the stories, especially since they are about real life,” Otto says. “Country music is something that most people can identify with, since they’ve lived through a lot of it.”
On the song-selection process of his latest album Shake What God Gave Ya, he notes “I literally listened to hundreds of songs, but most of the songs I wrote with a friend of mine. There were only two songs that I did not write and those were both written by a friend of mine, Chris Stapleton, who I think, is one of the best singer-songwriters in the business. We were trying to put together a country- soul record and I feel that we did an ‘all right’ job.”
On his songwriting inspirations, Otto remarks “some of the songs were inspired by what was going on in the world. ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’ was inspired by the economy, and the title track was inspired by basically wanting a song that when you came on to a club or a venue that we are playing, it makes you want to forget about work, and makes you want to dance and have a good time.”
“One of my favorites on the album is ‘Good Thing’s Gone Bad’ because I love its groove, and I got to sing on it with one of my all-time favorite country singers Ronnie Milsap. Ronnie has an amazing voice! He was incredibly kind and cool, and he exceeded all of my expectations.”
One of Otto’s most powerful vocal performances to date is his moving tune “Soldiers & Jesus.”
“Being the son of a drill sergeant and the grandson of a Korean War vet, and a veteran of the military myself, ‘Soldiers & Jesus’ is very personal to me,” states Otto. “Growing up with guys like that around me, and being a Christian, the song sprang through to me. My friend had talked about seeing that on a church billboard that there are only two people that would die for me, and they were soldiers and Jesus. It was something we talked about, and a story just came out of it.”
On his proudest accomplishments, Otto acknowledges “winning the CMA and ACM ‘Song of the Year’ award for ‘In Color,’ which I co-wrote with Jamey Johnson was one of my biggest moments so far.”
Otto has also received two Grammy nominations in his career, including a “Best Male Country Vocal Performance” nod for his chart-topping hit “Just Got Started Lovin’ You.”
On his future plans, Otto notes “I’m working on a bunch of new music, writing songs, and basically pushing forward, and trying to make some progress.”
On August 24, 2010, Otto and his wife Amy welcomed their first child Ava Katherine.
On balancing fatherhood and a music career, “this year I had to make Ava a priority, since she’s a new addition to the family. I said that I didn’t want to be out on the road more than three days a week. I got to hang with her and be dad.”
For the rest of our exclusive interview with James Otto, grab the next issue of Broken Records Magazine.