James Fauntleroy Speaks On 2024 Grammy Nod, Songwriting And ‘The Warmest Winter Ever’


Photo Credit: Gizelle Hernandez)

In the decade following his work with the acclaimed group Cocaine 80s, James Fauntleroy has become a staple in the music industry by penning hits for artists such as Rihanna and Bruno Mars, as well as appearing on records with Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and countless others. Now, the Los Angeles native has set out to make a name for himself as a lead solo with The Warmest Winter Ever.

Released last month, Fauntleroy’s project combines the previous two Warmest Winter Ever releases, with the addition of nine new songs. This reimagined Christmas album examines the beauty of the holiday season through tracks such as “Sleigh,” “Miracle,” “Christmas List,” and the previously released “Mistletoe,” featuring Maeta. With this new album, along with his global recognition for songwriting, James continues to stake his claim as a powerhouse musician in multiple genres.

Prior to the debut of his first solo LP, Fauntleroy was nominated for a seventh Grammy Award for his collaboration with Terrace Martin on NOVA. What is particularly special about this nod is that it’s his first as an artist. Embarking on this new journey as an entertainer may be uncertain at times, but for James, it’s a moment that has been years in the making.

“I’ve been building up my whole life, I feel like, to get to this point,” Fauntleroy says. “A lot of people have been asking me in my life, in interviews, in sessions, “Why now?” It’s just time. I know I’m about to be putting more energy into releasing music, releasing projects, and releasing anything I can get my hands on from now on.”

James Fauntleroy sat down with ESSENCE in a candid conversation about the creation of The Warmest Winter Ever, navigating his career as an artist as well as a songwriter, his first Grammy nomination as a lead solo act, and goals for the future.

ESSENCE: I wanted to talk to you about your album Warmest Winter Ever. Can you tell me what went into the decision to revamp the original into the amazing solo debut that you released last month?

James Fauntleroy: Well, thank you, first of all. Honestly, what made me do it was years of people hitting me year round, telling me, “It’s June, I’m still listening to it. It’s Halloween, I’m playing the Christmas album.” So just people caring about it. I didn’t need a million people per se, but just the amount of people and the consistency because it’s been out for so long. This last year that passed, people were still hitting me up throughout the year about it, and I’m just so humbled and honored and in disbelief that people were still using it. So, I thought if it’s of use and people care, it’s so fun whenever I get to work with some different parameters creatively. So all those things work together to bring us some hot shit in the winter.

You said that people were hitting you up saying they were playing the album in June and everything like that. Can you speak to, I guess, the original and this new version? When you were creating the album, did you have that year-round playability aspect on your mind, or did you just create it with no expectations?

No, man. I had the Luther Vandross Christmas album in my mind. I just caught myself singing one of his songs recently walking around the house. And as a songwriter and producer who’s done so much work and just written about everything under the sun, like I said, I’m always looking for new inspiration or new ways to think about something so it can stay fun. So I just thought it would be fun and it really was. It is so fun. So that’s why I did so many because it’s super fun.

This project is a holiday album, but for me it’s also an album that’s filled with romance, intimacy, stories about love and everything. In your opinion, what is it about the winter season that brings about those types of emotions from people?

It’s cold. It’s cold, man, so I think it’s in our DNA. Like it’s cold, let me find somebody I can snuggle up with. I wrote a whole song about it. It’s called “Body Heat.” It was on the second group of songs and also on this project. But it’s literally like, “I need your body heat,” and that’s the whole song.

But I think aside from that, the end of the year, at least in America and places, it’s just a time where you are reflecting or introspective about your relationships, your family, and romance and all this type of shit. Then I feel like because Christmas is such a family time, there’s not—well, there now, there are so many. But there weren’t, in my opinion, quite enough Christmas slow jams, and so I just wanted to make as many as I could.

Outside of the music, what does winter and the holiday season in general mean to James Fauntleroy?

Well, I’m from the LA, Inglewood area, Century, and so it doesn’t snow out here at all. It’s one of the warmer winters you can have. But then also because of global warming the temperature has been thrown off for the last couple years. Also, I have a song called “The Warmest Winter Ever.” But as far as just winter in general for me, it just means a change in music you hear when you’re walking around. I get to hear all my favorite Christmas songs.

But also I have a bunch of warm-ass clothes that are so fly. You can’t wear too much of that shit in LA because it’s usually not cold enough to wear all these fly-ass sweaters and hoodies and jackets and just, man, you get to really shine. You get to really throw that stuff on when it gets cold outside. So that’s a fun time for me.

Congratulations on your recent Grammy nomination. You’ve won Grammys before, but this is your first nomination as an artist. Can you speak to me about how this nomination feels as opposed to the previous ones?

No, it’s a huge, huge difference, man. Even though I never expected that I was just going to be getting Grammys, I felt like I deserved it pretty much. But it’s completely different, even though I wasn’t expecting to get any Grammys. So I’ve been ecstatic and surprised to get the ones I have. I have four now. But as far as my skill level, I’m like, if anybody’s going to get a Grammy, it should be me… Still it’s very humbling and all that, but it’s less shocking because I think I’m so good.

But as far as being an artist, especially because I’ve been telling people I’m not an artist for my whole writing career, really reminding everybody that I’m not a recording artist and I’m not trying to do that and honestly, this is my first project. This is my first solo release, and then the NOVA album is my first release that’s a project led by me that’s officially been put out into the world. So for that to get nominated for a Grammy my first time out and as an artist—well, first I realized I got to stop telling people I’m not an artist because that’s ridiculous now. But it’s super, super exciting. Especially after getting all these Grammys, I always hear people be like, “I’m so happy just to be nominated,” which it is an honor. But I’d be like, “Man, fuck all that. I want the Grammys,” right? But I genuinely feel like just getting the nomination alone is such a huge deal, and I’m as excited to be getting nominated as an artist as it was to win all those awards as a writer.

Speaking about you excelling as both an artist as well as a writer, can you talk to me about the challenges, if there is any, for writing for others as opposed to writing for yourself?

No, I think that what’s fun about writing for others is the same reason why I did the Christmas project in the first place. It’s just parameters because there’s so many things you could possibly write about or talk about, and so many ways you could sing it. It was just—especially after you have done it as long as I have and been exposed to everything I’ve been exposed to—it’s just you can get choice paralysis. So when I’m working with certain artists, then it helps so much because it gives me a set direction to go in.

Then for myself, the way I fight the choice paralysis there is I’m being a lot more led just by feeling and experimenting and stuff like that. So they’re both fun, but I wouldn’t say one is easier or more difficult than the other. It’s easier for me to decide if I like it or not. You know what I mean? For somebody else, I got to wait on them to choose if they think the song fits whatever their story is. So in that regard, it’s a lot easier with my own shit because I can just be, “I like this, I’m using it.” But other than that, they both have their own challenges that make it exciting and their own payoffs that make it exciting.

I mean, I wasn’t planning on even being an artist. Whenever something comes out or somebody takes one of my songs, I still am extremely excited and surprised every single song that comes out. I just can’t believe that I’m doing this. It’s been mind-blowing the whole time. So it’s just exciting regardless.

What can audiences expect from James Fauntleroy in 2024?

I’m going ham, man. As far as my artistry is concerned and everything I do because I’m an artist—a recording artist now officially. This time last year, Disney and I released this new design for Mickey Mouse. We made four 12-foot statues, 100,000 toys, and I’m announcing a bunch of different partnerships.


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