While many country artists hope to get a break into pop, it’s unusual for an artist to move the other direction.

Ask singer and songwriter Jessie James about her move from pop to country, though, and she’ll set you straight.

“It bothers me when people say, ‘Oh, she’s gone country now,'” James told CBS Local in a recent sit-down interview. “I never left Nashville. I always wanted to be a country artist.”

I would get in trouble for wearing cutoffs and boots, and smiling too much on the red carpet. They wanted me to be more mysterious.  – Jessie James

James has a full-fledged country album set for release this summer on Show Dog-Universal. And she is debuting her brand-new country single on iTunes on May 22.

Titled “Military Man,” it’s a song she wrote as a tribute to her father. And during early press previews it’s been getting raves. “I have never had such massive feedback on a single before in my whole life,” she says.

Born in Italy but raised all over the South, James first gained attention as a recording artist a few years ago with the pop single “Wanted.”

But, she says, “It wasn’t necessarily my vision to ever have a pop album.” And as she tells it, her path to pop acclaim actually started from her desire to record country music.

She’d been traveling to Nashville “trying to get a deal at age 15,” she explains, but at the time, “nobody wanted to sign me.”

And then “for some reason one of my songs ended up in the hands of [producer and record executive] LA Reid.” Within a few days she was singing for him “in his office, a song called ‘My Cowboy.'”

“After I was done, he said, ‘I want to sign you right now.’ I said, ‘I’m country.’ He said, ‘I know, let’s make a country record. Who do you idolize?’ I said, ‘Shania Twain.’ He said, ‘Well, let’s make you the next Shania Twain.'”

James smiles and laughs. “It didn’t really work out that way. Before I knew it I was in the studio with hip-hop producers, crying in the vocal booth because they were telling me to not sound like myself. That was really hard for me.”

Not that she didn’t see some success. “Wanted,” she said, was “in the top 20. I sold 500,000 singles.” But, she says, “I didn’t know how to be a pop artist. I would get in trouble for wearing cutoffs and boots, and smiling too much on the red carpet. They wanted me to be more mysterious. And it just wasn’t who I am.”

“I have nothing but amazing things to say about my pop label,” she assures us, “but it wasn’t the vision I had for myself.”

So Jessie’s career path isn’t that of a pop artist ‘going country’ — it’s the path of a country singer working her way through the industry and the publicity, and finding her way back home.

“You can’t fake it,” she says of her country identity.

Jessie James (photo by Kristin Barlowe)

Jessie James (photo by Kristin Barlowe, courtesy Show Dog – Universal Music)

“I grew up loving country music, being in the car with my dad playing Tracy Lawrence and Trace Adkins. I loved listening to pop, but I enjoyed singing to country so much more. That’s just what I was raised around. And I think it defined who I am.”

“Military Man” will be available for purchase on iTunes on May 22.

– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local

Get another new Jessie James song, “When You Say My Name,” on iTunes.

Watch Jessie perform “Military Man” live at Chicago’s US99.5. She also performs “I Make My Own Sunshine” with her friend Alyssa Bonagura (who wrote the latter song).

Watch Jessie perform a ‘karaoke’ version of “What Is And What Should Never Be” at Pittsburgh’s Y108.


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