“If I can come up with the melody and words at the same time, that’s when I know it’s going to be a really good song,” says Joelle James about the intuitive writing practice that led to her first Grammy win for Ella Mai’s 2018 mind-blowing hit “Boo’d Up”. “I usually just go right into the booth and record on the mic, no paper, no pen,” the Southern California native says about her process. “I haven’t written with other songwriters in awhile because I just have this system that I do well with.”

An accomplished songwriter, artist and label owner, the Murrieta, California native first began writing songs on her own in 2014, but her journey to Recording Academy prestige began when James was a child. “I just had this second life,” she says about growing up a regular kid whilst juggling an early passion for singing. From major sporting events to Showtime at the Apollo to performing for Ray Charles at the age of 10, James’s striking voice led her to perform on stages that would train her, and ultimately poise her, for undeniable music industry success. “My family always supported me and my mom always told me to work hard and be an outlier,” she says, reflecting on a lifetime of singing.

James’s singing passion brought her to Berklee College of Music, where she studied her craft. There she began uploading soulful Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige covers to YouTube, where she was discovered by one of the world’s biggest artists, Chris Brown. He then offered her a deal with his CBE label & eventually Interscope records. To this day, James credits what she learned in sessions with Brown as the core of her songwriting practice. Alongside “Boo’d Up”, James has written songs for Tamar Braxton, Justine Skye, and JoJo, as well as new unreleased discoveries.

“Coming into the industry straight out of school from doing covers, there was confusion about what kind of artist I was going to be,” James says about the typical pop songs written for her in early sessions because of the way she looks. She roots the differentiation and brilliance of her new music in the challenges of not being able to tell her own story for so long: “I was tired of people telling me I didn't have a sound. I was really tired of people telling me I didn't have a story. Eventually I was like, you know what, I just need to write myself and get confidence in it because no one's going to be able to tell my story the way that I can.”

In 2017, with the help of her longtime brand manager Bobby Francis, James launched VnllaFctry. “I try to make the purest songs truly from my heart when I write,” James says about the name of her label and brand. “Vanilla is the purest flavor. I want my music to be what vanilla ice cream is to people, a unifier”, she says. Three years later, James’s new music is a sweet note during sour times. Her debut offering as a solo artist, is a testament to the premonitory power of her intuitive practice. “The world wasn’t feeling right to me, having no idea of what we were about to face this year at all,” James says about the inspiration for single “Where in the World ''—the very first track she cut for her forthcoming debut back in 2019. The sonically nostalgic and relaxing “2020 Vision”, bundled with “Where in the World'', streaming on Nov 20, 2020 ,is a soothing counterpart. The purity of music and its healing powers are part of an ethos that echoes throughout James’ new music, and one that shines through her work with VnllaFctry, a place she hopes to teach and inspire other artists to tell their own stories, and own their voice: “I know I wrote this really big love song they many have said helped bring real R&B back and whatnot, but I think my real purpose is bringing healing, unity and love to a hurting & divided world through my music.”