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
- "Strange Stage Stories from San Diego Musicians: Skid Roper, CC (Little Hurricane), Stevie Harris (the Styletones) and More" · Nov. 17, 2012
- Jam Session: "Vanja James Needs a Christmas Present" · Dec. 12, 2011
Inception: San Diego, 2006
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 2006, other than a brief period spent in L.A..
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 became a trademark part of her bluesy roots sound. She has toured with Cash'd Out as their June Carter, and sang backup for the punk band Nothington.
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 said at the time, “with a name other than my own, and with a different sound.” She was nominated for a San Diego Music Award in 2012.
In 2013, James 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 several major U.S. cities, and in the UK and France. James relocated back to San Diego in summer 2015 and revised the Little Dove lineup to feature Kyle Areford on bass and Ryan Schilawski on drums and backing vocals.
James' song "Ring Ring Ring" was heard on the Bravo TV show Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce, and her single "Misery" from Little Dove's debut album was featured on the Showtime TV series Shameless.
In addition to fronting Little Dove, James has also played with a side project called Delaluz which features three-part vocal harmonies with Lauren Leigh Martin and Libby Lewis. Her studio project with pianist Ed Kornhauser has featured jazzy rearrangements of popular tunes like Danzig's "Mother," "Heart Shaped Box" by Nirvana, and White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."
When not making music, James has been known to make her own grocery bags made from upcycled T-shirts, refinishes furniture, and also draws and paints. In addition, she founded a non-profit called Youth Music San Diego to help mentor young musicians.
As of 2019, Vanja James was going by her first name only.