A Conversation With Tyke James

Words by Faith Bugenhagen | @babyyybug

Photos by Kate Cranney | @ktcranney

Coronavirus has led to an insane amount of boredom as we all sit at home, waiting for our lives to get back to normal. Finding any form of entertainment has become our main goal, to stay preoccupied from worrying about what is to come. My brother found his form of entertainment by watching old videos from past Voice auditions.

This began our nightly ritual, as he climbed into my bed, and we chose which videos we wanted to watch. He happened to click on one that featured a new-age folk singer named Tyke James.

We were both transfixed by his overall look—long blonde hair, sparkling eyes, topped off in a cowboy hat—and gained even more of an interest in him as he began to sing. The judges shared a similar sentiment, baffled by his overall cooler-than-you-without-even-trying appearance.

James, would continue on to reach the top twelve contestants of that season, only to be eliminated after the episode we were watching. We watched on through each performance, and he gave more of himself and his talent away to the audience week after week.

I don’t think it was just his talent that had my brother and I—along with the fans he amounted throughout the show—invested in his Voice journey. I think it was the fact that he was even participating in it that sparked the interest.

James was a character on the show: he said “bro” casually and was adored by the judges because of the free-spirit attitude he possessed. He stood alone within these characteristics, adding to his individuality against all of the other contestants in his season. His personality appeared almost out of place in such a competitive atmosphere. He seemed to be somewhat of a walking contradiction.

This prompted my personal interest in him and I had nothing to lose when reaching out to him through social media. I hoped I would be given the opportunity to uncover more about him.

This is exactly what happened as he almost instantaneously gave me his phone number and a time in which he would be free to talk with me. I should say I was amazed that all of this process was fairly easy, but it reflected his easy-going, go with the flow energy.

Stretched out on the floor of my childhood bedroom with an iced-coffee in hand, I spoke a soft hello into the phone, not quite knowing what to expect. I was greeted with his warm voice busting through my phone’s speakers as his dog barked happily in the background. I smiled as he apologized, attempting to quiet down the dog so we could talk.

We flowed into an easy conversation that did not quite feel like an interview, but more so like a close talk with a stranger that could later be a friend. This reflects the energy he exudes.

Tyke lived in Hawaii and considers the ocean his home. He has a strong tie to the natural world around him, as landscapes he lives in are often featured inspirations of his songs. His cosmic attention to the universe around him and his urge to become immersed within it led him to start living in a van.

Finding it more convenient for his musician lifestyle, he tours, lives, and writes music in Craig—the pet name he has assigned to his van, inspired by it’s original owner.

“As soon as I was eliminated [from the Voice], I met this guy, super cool, his name was Craig. He actually was the one who gave the van to me—I know pretty crazy,” James said, “ I met him, and he was like, yeah I have a van. I told him that his van was sick, and he actually responded by telling me he hated it. He said he had been trying to get rid of it forever and said I could have it if I wanted. I thought he was kidding, apparently he wasn’t.”

I smiled in a slight reaction of surprise. Here was a guy who was nineteen like me, who grasped the world and all the opportunities that lie before him. He knew that by buying this van and seeking the life he always wanted, he would have the ability to see the world and write the songs he wanted. All choices that I couldn’t see myself being bold enough to make. “It’s kind of hard sometimes, but there’s a lot of people who will let you shower in their shower sometimes, so it’s nice,” he said, “Plus I could decide to leave Salt Lake and live in California tomorrow, if I really wanted to.”

That’s the thing about James that became clear throughout the course of our conversation—nothing stood in his way. His life was somewhat different from the average nineteen-year-old, but he didn’t see it this way. He regularized his lifestyle, because he had known no other way of living that he would want or need besides the one he slowly started making for himself.

This individualistic perspective also radiated through his and his band, The Moss’s music, all of which he wrote the lyrics and melodies’ himself. Despite his lackadaisical attitude, his voice perked up when discussing his band and the work that they did together.

I could almost feel his excitement radiating through the phone, as he described the energy his band shared within a majority of their shows.

“I write pretty much all of the songs on my own for both my band and I, so I think the only difference is the energy that comes with playing with them. One of our main drives as a band is to raise the stoke [energy level of the crowd],” he said.

James characterized himself as enjoying time alone when growing up, ”Growing up I was kind of a loner and the ocean became my best friend. It just taught me a lot about myself and what was important,” he said.

This was not the case however when he was on tour with his band, as he favored having their company over touring solo. He loved the energy they created as a unit and loved being collectively creative with them.

His band formed with an initial connection to all things Hawai’i, as a majority of the members were friends with Tyke growing up, and others found their way to Tyke through the Hawa’ian music scene he was active in.

This scene laid the groundwork for his inspiration, as the mountains, ocean, and spirit of his home drew him further into his music.

“It is just the lifestyle out there [in Hawai’i], it is so laid back and everyone is so lovely, you just start to realize that there is not much that is necessary to living,” James said.

Alongside nature functioning as his main inspiration, he cheekingly began to divulge stories of failed and attempted love interests, as bits and pieces fueled a majority of the songs we dissected.

We found points of intense similarity, as we discussed the idea that social media prompted this disconnection between finding someone you think is right for you, meeting them, and realizing that your fabrication of them was not who they were. He discussed this as an unnatural order and we both laughed about how strange it was that a majority of our generation found love like this.

His sentiment grew a little more intimate and his voice lowered, he almost sounded shy to be discussing the inner workings of his mind. On his recently released album Light+Sun, these thoughts about love and possibilities came through in lyrics open to his audience.

“Well...it’s like being per say, numb for a while, but then finding someone or something that spikes your interest. They get you excited about what’s going on. It’s also about hoping that these excited feelings are reciprocated,” he said, “I talk about light and sun because it all feels kind of distant, like you are shooting at the sun and feeling as if it will fall down.”

The further peeling back of privacy came and targeted his thoughts about the state of our world. In a song entitled Stronger Together, he showed that his concerns went beyond him, just as a majority of those within our generation take on more responsibilities, rather than focusing on their own existence. A line within this song references his thoughts of how “ knowledge can be evil,” and the constant preoccupation of people can lead to more harm, than help.

“That line came from my belief that a lot of the problems within our world right now stem from overthinking things, instead of just feeling them. I think if we were to live with wisdom as a simple truth that would keep us sane and keep us real,” he said, “Wisdom exists to keep us sane and to figure out our shit.”

Within the conclusion of our talk, the walking contradiction that he embodied became clearer, he was so careless in spirit, free to who he wanted to be, yet he had such a depth of understanding. He spoke to his audience, because he cared, and he wanted to make his voice reach relativity and encapsulate the thoughts for his fans to find a connection within him.

“I think it is so funny how you can come across a song by an artist you have never heard before and the song itself you haven’t heard before, yet it’s words can hit you so hard,” James said. “It just seems as if the cosmos aligned to deliver you these words that are somehow meant to be made for you, you know?”

He concluded the interview by asking about me, wanting to know how life was for another nineteen-year-old who hadn’t necessarily chosen a path too similar to him. He spoke about how much he loved my home state of Texas and how he had been planning to make it up to Boston, where I study. Every mark of concern was housed within his questions, as if he cared about getting to know me as much as I was trying to get to know him.

He left the phone call wishing me a good day and with one last message to give to all who wanted to listen: “Just have fun, people do a lot of overthinking and over-stressing, people just need to remember how to have fun. Also people need to remember that their journey is their journey, life is not a race, wherever you are is exactly where you need to be.”

Check out Tyke James on Instagram and Spotify.