Vanja James: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Keyboards, undetermined, Violin, Vocals

Genre: Acoustic, Pop, Rock

Sound description: Cross between Norah Jones and Janis Joplin with shades of Leonard Cohen, Bonnie Raitt, Bright Eyes, and Tom Waits.

RIYL: Sheryl Crow, Linda Vickerman, David Beldock, Bonnie Raitt, Etta James, Janis Joplin, Candye Kane, Norah Jones

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Inception: San Diego, 2002

Influences: Leonard Cohen, Cole Porter, Jets to Brazil, Aretha Franklin, Nirvana, Mudhoney, Elliot Smith


Born and raised in San Diego, singer/songwriter Vanja James has been performing her acoustic and electric blues rock stylings for local audiences since summer 2002.

With a musical history that includes DJing, classical guitar, and gospel choir, James got her start in songwriting during her senior year at UCSD (where she majored in theater) at age 19. It was in a “Singing for Actors” class that she met her vocal instructor Linda Vickerman.

Vickerman took James under her wing, taught her jazz and blues vocal techniques, and introduced her to guitar teacher (and future cowriting partner) David Beldock. James has returned to Beldock many times to work together on the guitar arrangements for her songs, which have now become a trademark part of her bluesy roots sound.

In 2009, James was singing backup with the Gift/Curse and Laserwolf & Thunderbolt. She has also performed with a local Johnny Cash tribute band. “One time when I was singing with Cash'd Out, I was off stage and it was time for me to run back on for the finale because they had just called my name. I was clear on the other side of the venue and ran as fast as I could. I failed to realize there was a drink on the floor and heel of my shoe ended up in the glass and I proceeded to take the most epic stage fall of my life, with about 500 people watching.”

“To make the matter worse, when I got up, my heel was totally stuck in the skirt of my dress. I just smiled, laughed it off, and thought to myself I'm glad those years of ice skating taught me how to fall.”

In late 2011, she began work on a new full-length (which she described as “very rock oriented”) with guest players Tommy Andrews, Damon De La Paz, Ismael Velasquez, and others. To cover costs, she emailed fans seeking donations. “This is a different project,” she says, “with a name other than my own, and with a different sound.” She calls it Led Zep and Wolfmother meets the White Stripes, but with female vocals. “It’s coming together quietly, but with a lot of support from the people who count. I’m giving my fans an opportunity to quietly show their support via album pre-orders, private show bookings, or sponsoring just because.”

Her dedication to her hometown music scene was recognized when she was nominated for a San Diego Music award in 2012.

In 2013 she relocated to Los Angeles and formed the band Little Dove with drummer Dylan Cooper. Little Dove played over 25 shows in 2013 and got radio airplay nationally in six major U.S. cities, and in the UK and France. James relocated back to San Diego in summer 2015 and re-formed Little Dove as a four piece with a new lineup.

In addition to making lots of music, James can also be found photographing live rock shows, selling her paintings (acrylic on canvas/wood), restoring furniture, and selling her upcycled grocery bags made from T-shirts.


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