Portland songwriter dives deep into the Worried Well

Daniel James (right) and Cam Jones make up indie-pop-punk duo Worried Well, out of Portland.

It might be a cliche, but it’s nevertheless true that when you listen to Worried Well – the brainchild of former Sophomore Beat frontman and songwriter Daniel James, with drummer and vocalist Cam Jones – you can hear the pain in James’ voice. You don’t get the sense that he’s just pretending, like so many pop singers and emo bands. There’s nothing forced. There’s a realness and a rawness to James’ music, that imbues it with a sense of honesty. Daniel James is not just wearing his heart on his sleeve – he’s holding it out there for everyone to see.

“I experienced a lot of heavy stuff in the last five years or so. I guess you’re never truly done growing up,” said the Portland-based James, who fronted the Sophomore Beat, a popular Maine pop-punk band, for five years until its dissolution in 2011. “If Worried Well sounds extra-miserable at times, it’s because it is my outlet for stress and anxiety.”

Where the Sophomore Beat might have inhabited a slightly more carefree world, Worried Well dives deeper into both lyrical introspection and musical sophistication – albeit with the same pop sensibilities James has embraced all along. The maturity he has found as a songwriter over the past six years be he heard first hand on the band’s new EP, “She’s Got Something To Say,” released this week on Bandcamp. It accompanies Worried Well’s 2011 debut self-titled album, released exactly one year ago.

“Worried Well is a project with no boundaries. I felt much more free to express myself in the simplest way possible,” said James. “Plus this band is a brand-new concept, there is a big difference between writing with no guidelines or expectations versus writing for a concept that already has an established audience.”

The lead single and title track for the album, “She’s Got Something To Say,” shows off all James’ strong points: big vocals, big pop hooks, and unflinching lyrics. In particular, There’s a melody that’ll be stuck in your head, sure, but more importantly, there’s a narrative structure in place and raw emotion that sets it apart from other pop-influenced songwriters.

“For better or for worse, believe it or not I am the person in the songs. That’s my experience, my thoughts, my fears and strengths coming together to tell a story,” said James. “I suppose some of the meanings are more veiled and metaphorical than others but it is the purpose of my writing to be producing songs and lyrics that people can relate to. Maybe it will help the listener through a hard time, maybe it will just be an interesting story?”

While the pop-punk sound crops up in a turn of vocal phrase now and again, Worried Well brings to mind songwriters like Elvis Costello and Ted Leo, as well as bands like Spoon or the Hold Steady, in its mixture of smart and simple. That attention to accessibility puts them squarely in the middle, in between indie rock and pop-punk – a place James is happy to inhabit.

“WW is rooted less in current popular music and more in my past influences and sounds that I grew up with,” said James. “That being said, I really love writing pop songs,” he said. “And when I say pop songs I’m referring to melodic music that is easy to relate to, songs that tell a story but are also fun to listen to.”
Worried Well will play next on Wednesday, Dec. 26 with When Particles Collide at Nocturnem Drafthaus in Bangor. Both the band’s albums are available for download via worriedwell.bandcamp.com.
Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a University of Maine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, taken belly dancing classes, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.