“The way it was described to me is that I was singing before I was talking.”
The love of music is deep rooted in musician James Neary. He recounts hearing stories about him humming melodies as a child while sitting in his parent’s truck. He describes his parents both as “musical” people. His father has been playing guitar for 35 years in cover bands and original bands. His mother has a background playing violin, oboe, and other instruments. Neary also noted her talent as a singer. He describes the environment he was raised in as one full of music.
“Getting into music was never…I wouldn’t even call it an option,” he said.
Neary pursued singing as early as elementary school, performing in the choir. While in the sixth grade, he auditioned and qualified for the state choir in Indiana. He described the experience as important, as it was his first taste of professional production and organization. He still recalls vivid descriptions of the lighting and the stage at the Indianapolis event.
“Everything was bathed in gold,” he said. “From the stage, you could just barely see the audience and I remember thinking ‘this is really cool.’”
Changes in schools led him away from the choir, but he continued his musical pursuits, with the violin being his first instrument in high school. He also credits his instructor, Pete Collins, for helping him hone his musical skills. He described the amount of time spent learning the instrument, playing during orchestra classes in school and practicing for hours at home. He explained the instrument as a fortunate place to start, as it taught him a finesse he might not have picked up had he started with the more forgiving guitar.
“I started to figure out musicality a little bit,” he said, describing the violin’s precise requirements for playing a certain note. “It’s also the joy of being able to bravado that, to go in between the notes. You don’t get that on guitar. It taught me nuance.”
Neary eventually did add guitar to his skill set at the age of sixteen, enticed by the instrument for the reasons that most teenagers find it attractive. He picked up his own guitar from a friend who was no longer using it. He describes his musical pursuits at that time as “fun,” telling me he mostly played for himself. An encounter during a school play, however, would push him further into musical creativity.
During a school production, Neary had a part that took advantage of his skills with a violin. Another member of the cast, Ryan Trost, approached him about playing music and the two became close friends. At the young age of fifteen, Jame’s new friend was already writing songs and inspired him to write his own. The two would continue to write, make music, and inspire each other until Ryan’s passing.
“He was a hugely vibrant person,” Neary said. “His capacity for understanding music at fifteen was incredible. He latched onto songwriting so hard and fast. It blew my mind.”
Neary continued his musical pursuits, continuing to improve his writing and practicing in front of audiences at open mics. He found success winning open mic contests, earning prizes in what he referred to as “the start of being paid for music.” He would also go on to win the 2013 Acorn Theater Singer Songwriter Competition, which led him to the release of his first album, 2013.
His roots from his parents, instructors, and musical peers continue to push him in perfecting his craft. Upcoming projects include an EP and a second full album. His abilities as a performer also recently won him a contest that, just prior to this printing, put him on stage to sing with his favorite band Muse. You can find his existing music, keep up on those future releases, and find information on live shows by visiting jamesneary.com.
These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.