By Jessamy Baldwin
Speaking from his new home in Nashville, Tennessee, James Sinclair Stott of rising country music duo Cross Atlantic talks to me about the struggles of breaking into the music industry, his rollercoaster few years out in the US and his love for the ‘very special’ Guernsey, which he’ll always call home.
We’ve all heard stories about how hard it is to ‘make it’ in the music industry.
Why? Well, for one, there are thousands of people out there dying to perform to packed out crowds, all dreaming of one day hitting that coveted number one spot in the charts. Shows such as the X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, American Idol and the Voice evoke our society’s shared enthusiasm for singing and song writing – both in terms of career aspiration and as a spectator sport of sorts.
With so many people shooting for the stars, it’s no surprise that some miss out or don’t make the cut. But, after years of trying to get his ‘big break’, one Guernsey boy has done just that.
Former St Martin’s Primary School pupil James Sinclair Stott is on his way to music stardom… and he’s just getting started.
The 26-year-old forms part of the country duo band Cross Atlantic (along with 21-year-old Karli Chayne), who have been going from strength to strength over the past few months. In early June, the music video for their debut single ‘Mercy’ reached the number one spot on Country Music Television’s coveted 12 Pack Countdown. What’s more, they’ve already opened shows for country music legends Lonestar and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
James said there have been “plenty of bumps” along the way. Whilst music was always a huge influence on his life as a young boy and teenager, in his early twenties, James found himself straying from his passion and feeling somewhat “lost”.
“Once I left school, I started playing in a rock band called Heaven’s Basement – it was pretty heavy,” he tells me.
“We played with Papa Roach which was pretty great. That didn’t last too long though because the band didn’t really see eye to eye on where things were going. I then played with a couple of other bands but nothing major came from those projects. It all went quiet for a few years and I ended up in London working a regular job – working in sales for Abel and Cole, the organic food company.
He quickly started to become disillusioned with the “fast-paced ‘rat race’ of London” however.
“I knew music was what I wanted to do but I just kind of got stuck in that way of life. Once you’re in London, you have to earn enough money to survive and it’s a vicious cycle. I just took a look at myself one day and realised I hadn’t even picked up a guitar for a good few years and I needed to do something about it.
“Two years ago, my best friend from St Martin’s School, Ali Higgins and I were sat in a pub and decided that was it! We wanted to do something completely different. And we did. A month later we packed our bags to do a couple of months travelling around America. Our first stop was Nashville, and we ended up staying there for the whole trip. I didn’t know anything about country music then and I still don’t know why I was so drawn to Nashville, but the whole thing kind of took on a life of its own.”
After his trip, James came home to Guernsey, but he knew there had been a complete shift inside him. He was hungry for success in doing what he had always loved – music.
“I’d picked up a few contacts in Nashville while we were out there, so decided to go back on my own. Within a week of arriving, I bumped into this girl called Karli in a coffee shop. We got talking and ended up writing some songs together.”
Guernsey beckoned once again due to American visa limitations. Still, James used his time wisely. He quickly began recording the songs he and Karli had written out in Nashville and sent them back to her to play around the music circuit. A music manager heard a few of the tracks and urged them to give things a real ‘go’ as a duo.
“I then spent 18 months trying to get my visa. It was difficult, we couldn’t play shows because I was in Guernsey and Karli was in Nashville. The music industry is a difficult place to make it in anyway, but when you throw in having to get an American visa sorted as well, it makes things even harder.
“At the start I was going out to America for two weeks at a time for meetings etc and then I was back on Guernsey working three jobs at a time to try and earn as much money as possible to go back out. It was pretty hectic. I was here, there and everywhere, working at Boots, Hojo’s and doing gigs at Christie’s on the weekends.”
At long last James was granted a three year visa and officially moved to Nashville on New Year’s Eve 2016.
“We ended up being signed by a fairly big management company (Gelman) and that was what clinched it for us in the end and helped with the visa. They manage a band called Sugarland who are huge in country music so that was incredible for us. We were also signed to WME booking agent.”
Since James has been living full time in the States, Cross Atlantic have been playing countless shows in a bid to build a solid fan base. They have also opened concerts for some pretty big country music stars.
“We’ve been doing lots of shows and did a small tour in California which was great. We’ve opened shows for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band who are one of the founding fathers of roots music. They’re all old guys now but absolute legends in the country music game. They invited us on stage for their encore, which in what dreams are made of when you’re starting out on the country scene. We’ve also opened for Tracy Lawrence, Tyler Farr and Lonestar. It’s been a lot of fun.
“We’ve also done a lot of theatre shows out here to 1000+ people, which had been awesome. The audiences over here have been really receptive. We are on a bit of a roll right now but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
James said that whilst he’s learnt countless lessons along the journey so far, perseverance and ‘enjoying the ride’ are top of the list.
“There were so many ups, downs and moments where I thought it wasn’t going to happen for me. For anyone who wants to make it in the music industry or is coming out of school and thinks they would like to go into this world, you need to have a very thick skin. It’s the same with a lot of things in life though. Anything worth doing is going to be hard.
“I’ve found that things usually start to break through once you’ve hit the darkest point. I’d given myself a cut off time and I was literally a few months from leaving it all behind. You know, life has a funny way of working things out if you keep going and persevere.
“I’ve also really learnt how important it is to enjoy the ride whilst you’re on it. If you’re going to do something like this you’ve got to enjoy yourself and embrace the good times as well as the bad, or what’s the point?”
An album isn’t on the agenda just yet for Cross Atlantic. However, following the success of their debut single, they will be releasing two more tracks this summer.
“Mercy has been really well received well so far. It’s been streamed way more than we expected, which is super exciting for us. We now just can’t wait to put out more material and play it live. Our bread and butter is playing live – it’s what we both love the most. Recording the songs is great but that’s a means to get out and perform in a live environment.
“When you’re a new band you’ve got to get yourself out there and play as much as possible. That’s the great thing about America as well. There are so many amazing opportunities to play live and put out our music. The live scene in the UK is decent, but it’s too small to sustain a high level of touring. You end up playing the same places over and over again. To put it into perspective, Texas alone is almost three times as large as the UK. So just staying in that one state, you can do four or five times more gigs a year than you can in the UK. You can be busy all year round. America offers so many great things, but its size is a huge draw for musicians.”
The biggest moments so far?
“Opening for Lonestar was huge for us. They were such nice guys too – they were there watching our sound check, were really supportive and spent plenty of time talking to us beforehand. The audience was absolutely packed, which doesn’t always happen when you’re the opening act, so that was one of the most enjoyable experiences so far. That was a pinch yourself kind of moment.”
Although born in Huddersfield, James moved to ‘the rock’ when he was just nine years old.
“Guernsey is still very special to me. Karli, who’s from Missouri, came over one time and she absolutely adored it. We will certainly end up back for a vacation at some point when we’re less busy. We are hoping maybe this year. Whether we’ll be back to play or not, I don’t know yet. I’m confident we’ll do some kind of gig in the UK within the next year or so though.”
When he does get the chance to be home in Guernsey, James’s first pit-stop is always Herm.
“My absolute favourite thing to do when I’m home is a daytrip to Herm. I love it there so much. I don’t think there’s anywhere more tranquil on the whole planet. Whether its brilliant sunshine or tipping it down with rain, it doesn’t matter, it’s just so peaceful over there.”
Although final details are still under wraps, James says Cross Atlantic are set to work with some “pretty big artists in the near future”.
“I think over the next few months there are going to be even bigger, more exciting moments to come. Watch this space!”
This article appeared in the Guernsey Press on 4 August 2017.