If you listened to the radio in 2014, chances are you heard the hit song “Best Day of My Life,” meaning you’ve heard Tallahassee-native James Adam Shelley. Shelley, the lead guitarist of the band American Authors, has spent his life making what often seemed like an uphill climb to break through into the music industry. This struggle is reflected in the hit song that would later make their name, which was written when the band was at their nadir. “People are telling us, ‘No, you guys will never do it.’ The song is maybe when we’re sleeping, that that’s the best day of our life, and that’s a better version of where we’re at right now.”
Being no stranger to overcoming uphill climbs, Shelley is an avid mountain climber, a hobby that helps him remember to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. “I think there’s nothing, for me in my life, there’s nothing that makes me enjoy simplicity like getting off a mountain because I hate… truth is, I hate being on the mountain […] I’m just counting down the days, and the minutes, and the hours before I get off of it. Then, I come down and the first thing I do is I go get fried chicken […] And I sit in a t-shirt and jeans, and sandals, fried chicken and French fries and drinking coca cola, and just think, ‘Man, it’s good to be alive.’”
Shelley is fluent in Floridian. When asked which place in Florida he loved the most, he stayed away from the popular tourist destinations and stayed close to home. “The North Florida coast is really beautiful and amazing. The food, the culture, and people don’t realize. That also makes it special because there’s not… the only tourists really on the Florida coast is other Floridians.”
Host Chris Cate and James Adam Shelley at SalterMitchellPR’s Tallahassee office.
Header photo credit: Deering Banjo Company
Chris Cate:Welcome to the Fluent in Floridian podcast, featuring the sunshine state’s brightest leaders talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and its millions of weekly visitors. I’m your host, Chris Cate, and in this episode created by SalterMitchellPR, I talk to James Adam Shelly, lead guitarist for the band, American Authors, who are well known for hits like Believer and Best Day of My Life.
In our conversation, we talk about James’ past from Tallahassee to international rockstar, and the odd jobs that he had in between. We also talk about the Florida music scene and his favorite music venues, about song writing and even a bit about mountain climbing. And, you can hear it all right now.
James, thanks so much for being on the show. I thought I would start by asking about your Florida roots, before you even met your band mates. So, can you share a little bit about where you grew up, and who helped teach you to become the musician that you are today?
James Adam Shelley:Yeah, of course. A lot of questions and I have a lot of answers for that. I am from Tallahassee, Florida, born and raised. I started off playing music, I think, I was 11 years old with David Hogue, over off, I think, Centerville. I forget all the street names now in Tallahassee.
Yeah, got lessons from him all through middle school, and high school. During high school, Leon High School has a guitar program, and I think I was there the first year it started with Ed [Pracey 00:01:27]. I did four years with him. Then, went to Florida State, and still took lessons from David.
Then, I … After Florida State, when I graduated there, I left Tallahassee and moved to Boston. I went to Berkeley College of Music. Met my band members. Then, we all dropped out of Berkeley College of Music, and moved to New York City to chase the dream.
Chris Cate:Well, when you were in [FSU 00:01:51] you didn’t actually major in music though, is that right?
James Adam Shelley:No, I majored in political science with a minor in business. I was very confused. Music is a hard thing to go after, you know?
Chris Cate:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Adam Shelley:So, it was like, “Ugh, what do I do?” So, just kind of went with political science. Actually, the only reason I went to political science, funny story is, the day before Florida State was like, “If you don’t pick a major, we’re going to kick you out.” So, literally I had one night to figure it out because I waited till the last minute because I didn’t know. All I wanted to ever do was music, so I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
My buddy called me and he was like, “What are you going to do? What are you going to do?” I was like, “I have no idea.” He was like, “Dude, just do political science. I’m in political science. We’ll take some classes together. We’ll screw around. Be so much fun.” So, I thought, all right. Sweet, I’m going to do political science. So, that’s why I did political science because my buddy was doing political science.
Chris Cate:What was the music scene here like at that time? Did you do much touring around Florida?
James Adam Shelley:Oh yeah. The music scene was great. I was playing in bands at the time with May Day Parade, who did really well coming out of Tallahassee. And, just played every single venue. We used to drive down to Orlando. My band at the time used to drive down to Orlando, and Tampa, play in Tallahassee all the time, and Big Daddy’s and Floyd’s, and when it used to be called The Cow House. I think it’s called something different now.
Chris Cate:I don’t even know.
James Adam Shelley:I don’t know. We used to drive to Jacksonville, and different parts of Georgia, and just playing. It was always like for five people but we had big dreams.
Chris Cate:But, you met the guys in American Authors, eventually moved to New York City, and I know you took some odd jobs there, including being a Chinese language TV host. Did you ever consider taking a traditional job path, or you really all in on the band making it?
James Adam Shelley:No, the funny story is like we got to … So, when we got to Boston, we dropped out. Moved to New York, and we all moved into this tiny little terrible apartment. I mean, it was terrible. It was meant for two people and we had four guys living in it. It was in this super sketchy neighborhood. Like, our drummer got robbed at knife point in front of the house. The first week we moved there, there was a shoot out like 150 feet away from our house. It was just nuts living there. We had rat problems like crazy. All night long you could hear the rats running around the apartment, just chuck, a chuck, a chuck, a chuck, all through the walls.
I used to go to Walgreens … and sorry. I used to go to Walgreens and buy that … buy those little … you plug them into the wall and it makes the ultra … some sort of sound that scares off the rats and the mice. I remember one point I hear this stuff … I just bought them and I was so stoked. I was like, “Finally, these rats are going to leave the apartment.” I plugged it in and I heard this little sound. I walk out of there and turn the lights on, and there’s a rat sitting on top of a rice bag, eating the rice probably two inches from the thing that’s supposed to be making the sound that scares them away.
It was just so bad. I used to find … I mean, we had … when I moved my bed to clean it out, there was just rat droppings everywhere. I mean, it was not great. Super small, so we were all just living there together. At the time, we all were getting odd jobs at restaurants or whatever we could. And, constantly getting fired from them because I would say, “Well, I have a show.” They would say, “Well, you have to work.” I’d say, “Well, I got to go to the show.” And, they’d say, “Well, either pick your job or music.” Every time I’d pick music. They’d go, “All right, and don’t come back in to tomorrow.”
So, I was always getting fired. We had no money. It was like a really not awesome situation. Finally, I went to this really nice restaurant called [Baltizar 00:05:45], it’s in the So Ho, Broadway. Super nice French restaurant. I knew nothing about France at the time. I walked down, this guy … his name is like George or something. Some older French guy from there.
I went in for the interview and it’s a really fancy restaurant. I mean, in the way that like servers starting off are making $40,000 a year. For me, I was making nothing. I was making $10,000/$11,000 a year. I was like, “Oh my God. If I had $40,000 a year, think about what I could do with that!” I was like wow.
Chris Cate:In New York City no less.
James Adam Shel: In New York City, which is still, $40,000 in New York City is nothing you know? The guy’s like … I go in for the interview and the guy is like, “Okay, what do you know about French cuisine and blah, blah, blah.” Sorry, I loved doing a French accent. I was like, “George, I know nothing.” He was like, “So, why would I hire you?” I was like, “George, just give me a chance. I promise, I can do this. You just gotta believe in me. I’ll learn stuff. I’m going to work so hard for you. I got this.”
And, after awhile talking to him, and convincing him to hire me because I knew nothing about French food or the cuisine, this is a nice restaurant. He goes, “Okay, I’ll give you a shot. Come in tomorrow. I’m going to give you a chance. Come in tomorrow and we’ll start training you.” I show up and I’m like, “Finally I got a job. I can still play music. This is going to be great. I’m not going to be scrounging as much.” I remember I worked for like 30 minutes.
Sorry, this is a super long story getting to this. Worked for 30 minutes maybe and I just felt my heart sink down into my chest. Like, “Ugh, I can’t do this. This is … I hate this. I’ve been working for 30 minutes and I hate this. I just can’t … I don’t even know how I’m going to even get through the day, let alone months, weeks, or however long it takes me to write a great song.”
I worked for … that was the 30 minute mark. I worked for another 15 minutes so I could get … they give you a sandwich after working a full 45 minutes because it was like around lunch time at that point. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to hit the sandwich mark, and just take a minute and think about it.” I got the sandwich and I came back in. I walked downstairs and I was like, “George you know, your expectations are here at this level, and I can only give you this level. I can’t make it.” He was like, “You’re quitting already?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m so sorry. Thank you for the opportunity but I just can’t do this.”
I walked out of there just feeling this huge weight off my chest, like ugh. There was no way I could get through that but then, I realized at the same time, I had $25, maybe $40 to my name. I was like, “How … Oh my … what have I done?” I was like, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I just got this job, and now I’m … ugh, what am I going to do?
That was like the last of my money. I had nothing. It was just … I’m walking down the street. I’m walking down the street and I’m like, “Oh God. I’m going to have to start selling stuff in my house.” So, I go back to my house and I find these … I had two old broken computers.
So, I’m like, “Okay, I got to sell these.” So, I go on Craigslist and I kind of break the computers a part. First, I was going to just try to sell them to a pawn shop but, I go to a pawn shop and the guy’s like I’ll give you $20 for them. I was like, “Well, no. I’m not going to take that.” So, then I go on Craigslist and I see people are selling all the parts to these computers.
So, I thought, “Okay, maybe I can just take them a part and I’ll make a little money.” I sold both the computers for, I think, $250. My rent at the time was $400. So, I thought, “Okay, this doesn’t pay rent but this will pay for food for like a week and a half to two weeks, till I figure out what to do.
But then I thought to myself, either I buy food for two and a half weeks and still go out applying for jobs and who knows, because by that point, the French restaurant, I had been applying for jobs for two weeks and that was the only one that would give me even a shot. Then, two and a half … Then, I go, “or, I can take this $250 and buy more broken stuff on Craigslist and try to sell that.”
So, then I went online and I started low … just asking people. People would say, “Oh, I have this broken computer. I’m selling it for $200.” I sent out probably 400 messages on Craigslist said, “For all people selling stuff for $200, I’ll buy it for $100.” Most people are like, you know, send a terrible email back like screw you, go to hell. All these things.
But then, there’s like one person out of every 100 people that you email that says, “I just want to get rid of this. Whatever. If you meet me right here, fine.” So, then I went out and bought this computer. Person walked out, and I literally put it right back on Craigslist, and end up selling it, selling that computer, for like $250.
So, then I ended up … I realized at the time like, okay cool. This is amazing. Wow, I’m selling, and doing this stuff. This is great. I’m not making that much money but I’m making enough to get by. I realized to myself that’s not enough. I can’t just flip computers and make a couple hundred bucks a week and survive in New York.
So, I was like, “I have to do something else that I can play music with and still do at the same time.” So, what I came up with, I said, “What do people want in the world? Where can I make my own hours and work however I want to work, and have nobody tell me what to do? I do it when I want it, because I’m not that good at like when people tell me do this, do this, do this, or listening to people.
So, I came up with the idea. I said, “What do people want? What do people want?” In my head, I don’t even know how this ever came about, I said, “People want tall white guys who speak Chinese.” I don’t even know how I came up with that but, I go, “Oh, and maybe there’s something I can do with Chinese companies and different stuff. I can make … I don’t know what it is I’ll do.” But that’s what I came up with is I’m going to learn Chinese.
So, every single day, I’d get up in the morning at 7:00 AM every morning, go to the gym because my friend gave me a free pass to this gym. Go to the gym, and then, I’d immediately go to this place called RGOT in Union Square in Manhattan. I’d sit there everyday from like 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM and I would flip computers on Craigslist. I’d have people coming and meeting me. I had a big bag of broken computers, along with I’d study Chinese 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
I had no money to do anything else. So, it was like I’d sit there, and I would buy rice and this Indian sauce that was super cheap. I would just bring my food there. I got to know the people at the coffee shop so well they would just give me free tea all day long, and leftover croissants and stuff. So, I would just sit there and study Chinese all day every day for years.
Then, at night time I would go play music, and I would write songs with my band. Eventually, I started going to different Chinese events and stuff, and speaking Chinese with people. Eventually, word spreads fast within the Chinese community. There’s, “Oh, there’s this American guy speaking Chinese.”
Someone that I had met at this event called me up and said, “Hey, somebody’s looking for this as an opening for a Chinese speaker. Would you like to try?” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do anything.” And, it was hosting this Chinese TV show in New York that you would film and they would send back to Shanghai. It would air in China and in New York, like on Chinese TV in New York.
I went for the interview, and I remembered I walked and there was this Chinese woman sitting there. It was in this big room, and there was a bunch of Chinese people sitting in a circle all around the room. I sat in the chair right next to the woman in the middle of the room. She sits down and she goes, “Okay, speak Chinese.” So, immediately right off the bat we just started talking in Chinese.
First thing I said is, you know, like what do you want me to say in Chinese? She just said, “Anything.” We just started chatting and laughing and joking. By the end of the interview she gave me the job.
James Adam Shelley:I had never had any experience in TV or film, or interviewing or anything like this before. It was such a random occurrence in life. The weirdest part is, I think about now, like I think it’s so crazy that you put this idea in the world, like I’m going to learn Chinese, and that’s going to work out for me somehow. The crazy part is that the next thing you know I’m hosting this Chinese TV show and having a blast, and I’m working two days a week, and they’re paying me more money than I’d ever seen in my life. It wasn’t that much but it was more money than I’d ever seen in my life at that time.
So, it was just this insane experience like being the one American working with 800 Chinese people. It was such a blessing. Everybody was so nice. It was so cool culturally. You got so many cool experiences from that. They started asking me to be in these Chinese theater shows. I was getting invited on trips to China and all this different stuff.
Meanwhile, still giving me enough time to play music with my band and write songs and do whatever I wanted, because I basically made my schedule with the Chinese company. So, there was like … I think what I learned from that, one of the big things I learned from it and from music as well, is when you tell yourself, “Hey, I’m going to do this”, and you say it out loud, and whatever crazy idea you come up with, as long as you’re envisioning it in your head, and you believe that it’s possible, somehow it works itself out.
Chris Cate:And even though, at the time, the band … kind of on hard times, just trying to make ends meet, you’re still writing pretty upbeat songs. I mean, I love your music. Up beat songs, they make me want to sing along. Is that … did you still kind of have that joy in the music even though you’re kind of struggling to make ends meet, but when you’re on the stage it’s really a joyful moment, is that … tell me-
James Adam Shelley:The songs are really joyful in a way that people don’t realize. Actually, we had written an EP at the time. It started to get a lot of buzz in the under world like, on blogs and everything else. We were called by a different band name at the time. We caught the eye of these two producers who used to … one of them, Chef Goodman, who used to also be the VP of A and R for Mo Town when Mo Town was still a label. So, we went and met with him. He was also a producer. He had a studio in upstate New York. He started talking to us at the time.
He was inviting us to come record at his studio, because he’s a great producer as well. So, we started going back and forth up there. He’s the one who said to us, he goes, “Guys look, you need to change your band name because you’ve been pitched to every record label. They said no. So, we need to become something new and fresh.”
So, that’s just kind of the backstory how. So, we’re going up there, going up there, going up there, and I remember at the time, funny thing is, we brought all these songs in and, I remember Chef looks at us, Chef and another guy named Aaron [Asseta 00:16:26]. They look at us and they go, “Guys, these songs are cool but they’re all just so depressing and sad. Give me something. Give me something upbeat. Nobody want … I don’t want to hear all these slow songs. Give me something upbeat.” He goes … he walks out of the room, and I’m like, “Screw that guy.” He walks out of the room to make a phone call, and he comes back in and we wrote the song Believer. [song 00:16:48]
And, it’s funny because all those have happy songs but what people don’t realize is that songs actually come from these kind of sad places because best day is not about having this great day, which a lot of people think it’s about. It’s actually … we wrote it about life being so miserable for us, and sad, and I can’t … When I sleep and I have a good dream, is that better than what reality actually is? [song 00:17:28]
So, reality is this terrible thing to us. We were struggling, living in this rat infested apartment where somebody shot right across the street from us. We’re getting … we can’t walk on the met line. We didn’t have no money. I was getting fired. We were living off … We’re living off .. we’re so poor we can’t afford health insurance, we can barely afford food. We can’t even, you know, just do regular things. We’d go out to drink, and we can’t even pay for drinks unless we know the bartender, or we go to one of our friend’s restaurants and like hook us up with drinks.
So, life is so terrible and we’re chasing this dream that seems impossible. People are telling us, “No, you guys will never do it.” The song is maybe when we’re sleeping that that’s the best day of our life, and that’s a better version of where we’re at right now. And, Believer, which got our first attention, because right when we released Believer we immediately … all these ALT stations and Regan at Serious Satellite radio, the ALT station there, ALT Nation, he picked the song immediately. Was like, “I love the song Believer.” And started playing it. Then, all these places across the US started playing it, without a record label, nobody.
And, what’s interesting is that song even still was our version of a positive song but in the verses, if you listen to the lyrics it says, “Oh, I’m this terrible person. I’m angry. I’m nervous all the time. I’m so scared that I won’t make it in life, that I’ll be a loser forever.” All these things but at the end, it says, I’m a believer that things will get better. You know, because we keep shooting forward. That’s kind of where the positivity I guess comes from.
Is like, still the four of us believing that things can become better. So, the songs aren’t necessarily happy songs. They’re where we’re at at the time. Life is not great, but we were struggling and pushing forward.
Chris Cate:How do you guys write? Do you work individually and then, come together as a group? Do you sit down and say, “Hey, let’s write a song”? Or, what is that process like?
James Adam Shelley:It’s songs … there’s many rivers that lead to the ocean. Songs come from many different ways. Everybody in the band can play everybody’s instrument. Everybody can sing. Everybody can play guitar. Everybody can play drums or bass, or piano or keyboard. So, everybody … we just sit in a circle and write. Everybody writes together. We all write lyrics. We all write melodies. We all do everything together.
So, it’s a pretty … I think a lot of bands don’t work like this but, everybody in my band I think is just so talented and such great writers. It’s so much fun to work together and, create things together. I mean, sometimes somebody will come up with something by themselves, just a small part. Maybe even like a melody and bring it in, and everybody would tear it apart or work on it, or add to it. It’s great to see communal music experience where everybody … because that’s … then, music is something that’s shared with people. It’s so much fun to share with your best friends this amazing experience because we’ve all kind of grown up, and we’ve all been through this together.
So, everybody can write. I’ll write a verse and Matt will write a second verse. Or whatever happens … Zack will write a guitar part and I’ll write a melody. It all changes.
Chris Cate:Because Best Day of Your Life has become so globally popular, does that put any extra pressure on you to feel like you need to write something that sounds like that, or perhaps even the other way, we need to write something totally different so we’re not kind of categorized in that way?
James Adam Shelley:Yeah. At the end of the day, there’s always going to be a lot of pressure. There’s more pressure now than there’s ever been. The first … they always say your first album, you had your whole life to create. Your second album, you have three months or you throw it out and you have a couple months.
Yeah, there is a lot of pressure because now there’s publishers, record label, managers, everybody around you, even your friends and family expect like, “Wow. Do this again.” And, it’s easy to get caught up in that, and the hardest thing is just forgetting about that, and saying, “Listen, I’m just going to write music that I like. Whatever happens, happens.” That’s all you can do is just write the best songs you can write and keep moving forward.
So, sometimes you get caught up in the stress but, you have to force yourself to get away from that.
Chris Cate:I’m sure you played some of the best venues in the world to play, but I’m curious about Florida’s venues. Do you have any favorite places in Florida to play and then, how do they compare to some of those, you know, Red Rock type places that you hear about?
James Adam Shelley:Yeah, I mean, Florida is great. We’ve had some amazing times playing in Florida, like in Miami. Playing right on South Beach. Tallahassee, growing up playing at Floyd’s and Big Daddy’s will always be super special to me. Those buildings and those areas, because I forget what it’s called now, but it used to be called The Cow House. I remember going to … it was right next to the train tracks by College Town. It was right by Florida State.
There’s train tracks behind it. I remember going to shows in high school, then running and jumping later off the trains with friends afterwards. It’s like those were my first experiences seeing real life music. But yeah, Red Rocks is … you know what I mean? I’d love to say Florida has the best venues but, Red Rocks in Denver is the best venue in the world.
Chris Cate:Cool. And, I know it … I’m sure touring makes it hard to stay in good physical shape but, I’ve seen photos of you climbing mountains, which I’m sure provides a pretty good workout for you. How did that … How did you get into mountain climbing?
James Adam Shelley:You know-
Chris Cate:Especially from Florida. It’s a pretty flat place.
James Adam Shelley:Yeah, Tallahassee. I used to … I remember when I was … I kind of always went hiking but, during my time at Florida State one of my childhood friends, he went out and hiked the Appalachian Trail. When he got back, this was when we were like 18 or 19, when he got back he was like telling me about it, talking about hiking and all these fun things. I was thought wow, that sounds like so much fun because I had done a couple spring breaks at Panama City, and Destin, and you know, the whole Florida State thing.
I just kind of got over that. So, we started doing … we started going up to the Appalachian Trail and over spring break instead. There was snow out, and going to Tennessee, and North Georgia, and the Carolinas and hiking through the … in the snow there. That’s how I kind of got into it, just being in the winter time and the snow, and the mountains.
From there, right when I graduated I went on a mountaineering expedition in India for three months in the Himalayas, which pretty much changed my life forever on climbing. From that, I started ice climbing and rock climbing all the time. When I moved to Boston I was always up in Mount Washington area climbing all the time in there. From there to Alaska, to … like I just got back from an expedition in Russia.
Yeah, it’s a hard … it’s really hard with lifestyle but, yeah, and it’s hard to do it on the road, especially. But, that’s how you kind of get into it. The adventure of being outdoors in these big mountains and the danger of it. You know, kind of putting your life on the line. Really, there’s nothing else that makes you appreciate life than putting your life on the line. And, the beauty of just putting yourself through hell. Like, climbing Denali in Alaska, it took me almost a month to climb. It’s probably negative 30, negative 40 half of the trip, terrible, and you see horrible things like people getting frost bite and losing limbs-
Chris Cate:What do your band mates think about that?
James Adam Shelley:They don’t like it. I mean, it is who it is. It’s who I am, and it’s like … somebody ask me about it the other day, like why do you do it? I said, for me, for personally, putting yourself through this because for instance, the summit day on Denali in Alaska is the equivalent of … doing just that one day is the equivalent of running four marathons in one day.
So, it’s kind of like your cold, and miserable, and it’s just hard, hard work. The whole experience is not awesome but it’s a beautiful in a certain way. When you come down … I think one of the things we forget in life is the simplicity of sitting in this room right now, with you and me, where it’s 95 degrees outside but we’re sitting in this air conditioning room, drinking water, having a conversation, and we forget how special something like that is, to enjoy this right now. To enjoy this day, and this moment, and being comfortable.
After this, I’m going to go to Publix and get a fried chicken sandwich. The simplicity of sitting and enjoying my Publix sandwich is like unbelievable. I think a lot of times we get caught up in work, and what we’re doing, and everything is just … and you know, family. We forget to just take a moment to just really enjoy the simplicity of life. I think there’s nothing, for me in my life, there’s nothing that makes me enjoy simplicity like getting off a mountain because I hate … Truth is, I hate being on the mountain. Not terrible, I’m just counting down the days, and the minutes, and the hours before I get off of it. Then, I come down and the first thing I do is I go get fried chicken, which is terrible, I know.
But, I guess being raised in Tallahassee, you know, we love fried chicken. We love fried things. I go off and I just sit there, and I sit … when you get off the mountain, in a T-shirt and jeans, and sandals, fried chicken and french fries and drinking a coca cola, and just think, “Man, it’s good to be alive.”
Chris Cate:Did you ever have that one moment, almost like, reaching a top of a mountain when it comes to American Authors where you kind of realize, “Okay, we’re kind of at the peak of the music business.” Right? I mean, you put in all the effort and you’ve reached that top. Have you had that moment?
James Adam Shelley:Truthfully when I’m climbing on the mountain the only thinking I’m thinking of in all reality is I never think about work. I never think about … I actually randomly posted this because I think, like I said, in life we get caught up thinking about our jobs, our work. We get caught up thinking, “Oh my God. I want a bigger house. I want more money. I want these things. I want all this stuff, like a new couch, new TV. I want money for this, and this, and this. I want … I’m stressed. I want all these different things in life.”
I think on the mountain for me, the only thing I think about is getting to that point where I’m sitting down in a nice sunny day and, I’m comfortable. I’m sitting with somebody I care about, and just having a nice conversation, drinking that coca cola, eating that fried chicken and french fries, the most simple basic thing in life. That’s pretty much all I think about, is just getting back to that point where I feel safe because in the mountain, you’re never safe really.
I mean, like when I … I mean, you know, there’s lots of teams that never make it back. There’s people that come back with deformities, parts of their face or hands or feet gone. You can never get that back. So, then all I think is I just want to be comfortable. I want to be safe with somebody I love and eating my favorite basic food since I was five years old. That’s the only thing that really matters to me.
But, I’ll tell you a funny story though. When I was … I was just in Russia climbing the biggest mountain in Europe. Just May, May through June. The guy I was climbing with, I just hired this Russian guy named Mike. He couldn’t barely speak any English. Really nice, couldn’t speak that much English. We didn’t have much to talk about, which is fine.
Chris Cate:You didn’t learn Russian before hand?
James Adam Shelley: I learned a few words. I learned a few cuss words because sometimes he would look at the mountain and start cussing, especially if it was the weather was bad. I think when you see somebody look at something, like a terrible storm coming in, and they say something you kind of figure out the cultural bad words really quick. I won’t say it here but I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.
The funny thing is I never said anything to him because when I do these trips I don’t like necessarily talking about being in the band or, the music, or my life. I like being with people and experiencing the mountain together, and the hardships and what the mountain is. So, we start …
We were climbing, and our last day of climbing we have a small, small … the terrible weather, like when I first flew in, I saw two teams come off the mountain. There’s probably 14 people leaving and probably 12 of them have frost bite. One guy had gotten helicoptered off because he slipped and he got an ice ace threw his stomach. Another guy had lost his eyesight from the glare of the sun always back up in his eyes.
It’s just … there was somebody lost on the mountain. It was just this gloomy experience to fly into. So, we had … it was really bad weather the whole time. The whole time climbing it was like negative 30 degrees, super windy, and one of the days we’re climbing it’s a lightening storm mixed with snow, mixed with 50/60 mile per hour winds, mixed with just crazy cold. We’re walking through it. We’re in the clouds actually walking in the lightening storm trying to get out. Lightening is going around all over us.
So, we had … Finally, we keep going back to the base camp, base camp, base camp. We get a small window to summit. We go for it and we try to beat … There’s a big storm coming in, and we have to beat his storm. We get 10 feet from … and we were hauling. We’re going … The summit day normally takes like eight to 10 hours, and we ended up doing it in four hours because we had … I was, we were … Me and Mike, who’s been climbing for 15 years, were dead.
So, we get to the … We’re 10 feet from the top and Mike stops. I’m like, “Mike, what are you doing?” He keeps looking at me, and he’s like, “Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.” I’m like, “Mike, if you don’t walk I’m going to pass you. I’m going to unhook from this rope, and just go for it. I am so tired, and I just want to get up there. It’s cold.” He’s like, “Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.” He pulls out this tiny little like … I didn’t see it at the time. Didn’t know what he was doing. Pulls at this thing, keeps looking at me telling me to hold on. He’s like, “Hold on. Hold on.”
He pulls it out and, he presses on it. All of a sudden I hear Best Day of Life playing.
James Adam Shelley:I was like, “Ugh.”
Chris Cate:Ruined the moment.
James Adam Shelley:I was like, “Mike. I’m listening to the sound of nature right now, and the wind, and you’re ruining it with this.” But no, it was really special. He just started dying laughing. He couldn’t speak English but he could sing the song. He sang the song and we walked the last 10 feet up, and sat on the summit. He sat there and danced and sang the song. I just sat there and tried to ignore him a little bit, but while laughing at the same time.
It was a really, really special experience because he didn’t speak enough English for me to even talk to him about what I did, but somehow he had found out about the band. And, brought the speaker up so he could play it. It was super special. I laughed, laughed, laughed. I think that was really the first time we had laughed together because we had never-
Chris Cate:[inaudible 00:32:55].
James Adam Shelley:Yeah. We had nothing to talk about the whole time before that. So, it was a really, really cool experience. On the way down, we had to walk down about 6,000/7,000 feet from there that day. The whole time we were just kind of laughing about that. It was a really fun moment.
So, that was a special … Then, I thought about the band, but normally I would never do that. But then, I thought this is really special that I’m in this … I’m on the boarder of this small town, small area in southern Russia on the boarder of Georgia, sitting with this guy who doesn’t speak English, and who’s been living in this area, this farm mountain area for his whole life, and he knows every word to my song.
Chris Cate:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Adam Shelley:And he doesn’t speak English. That was really, really special experience I’ll never ever forget.
Chris Cate:I want to close with four quick questions that we ask every guest at the end. The first being, who was a Florida leader you admire, and it doesn’t have to be a politician or anything, but just generally Florida leaders, maybe someone you grew up with or, just someone you admire from Florida?
James Adam Shelley:Besides my parents?
Chris Cate:You can go with your parents if you like?
James Adam Shelley: Well, yeah. I always admired my parents. My dad is an amazing man. He’s like one of the … I think he set the standard and the bar too high for me to ever reach as a man. He’s one of the kindest people I know and just having that, and driven, and he takes care of all these families, and people in need. All my life he’s made sure that’s an important part of who I am and what I do. Even now sometimes, he’ll like … he has access to my accounts and sometimes I’ll get a call from him. He’s like, “Hey, I took out money and I donated it to this charity.” I’m like, “Dad, you can’t just take out money.” He’s like, “You need to do this because it’s an important thing to do. You have to give back once you get.”
He goes, “you know what it’s like to be poor. You’ve lived through it. Now, you need to give back to people in the same situation.” So, I think … growing up with that has been a huge inspiration in my life, and my mom as well, who is a massive inspiration. She’s such a strong woman.
She was the right hand person for Chiles … Governor Chiles at the time. I remember growing up meeting this … you know, the governor of Florida is this important man who trust my mom with everything, especially in a world we live in now. Women might not get paid as much and there’s different … there’s still unequal opportunities for women, and seeing my mom as a strong woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone, was a big inspiration in my life to grow up and go for your dreams, and go for these things no matter … don’t listen to anybody else. Just always … you have it in your head, and people will tell you, you know, but you don’t care. You just keep moving forward.
Chris Cate:What is something about Florida that you think deserves more attention? I mean, you’ve been all over the world. Spent time in New York, Boston, what do you think about Florida that deserves more attention?
James Adam Shelley:I think North Florida deserves more attention as in … well, also one thing in Florida, I think people forget is that we have great casual seafood.
Chris Cate:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Adam Shelley:Because in New York, if you go to a seafood restaurant it’s like a fine dining experience. You can’t … what I love in Florida is the casual seafood. That’s one of the big things I miss is going and just getting a casual fried flounder, or a shrimp that’s cheap, and that’s still freshly caught and great. You can get them at all these different shacks and stuff. I think that’s one thing I really miss about Florida. That’s like the first thing I do when I get back to Florida, is just get seafood, or Bradley sausage is the best sausage dog in the whole world.
If people don’t know about that it’s …
Chris Cate:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Adam Shelley:North Tallahassee, and it’s a shack that’s been there for how long? 80 years?
Chris Cate:I mean, it’s been there forever.
James Adam Shelley:Yeah, it’s been there forever. And, it’s the best sausage. I’ve been all over the world and that’s the best sausage dog in the world.
Chris Cate:Where is a favorite place in Florida for you to visit?
James Adam Shelley:Tallahassee, definitely. Well, my family, my … I grew up here. People don’t realize in the world also is that you … the North Florida coast is really beautiful and amazing. The food, the culture, and people don’t realize. That also makes it special because there’s not … the only tourist really on the Florida coast is other Floridians, or people coming from Georgia, and Alabama. Other than that though, it’s like you don’t get the same traffic you would in Miami from the international community, which I think people don’t realize. It’s almost just as beautiful, and you get more … you get this really great culture that comes along with it.
So, that’s for the international community, and people that aren’t from the area, like New York and California, or like Colorado or whatever. It’s like, you can get a cheap beautiful beach experience with great seafood for nothing.
Chris Cate:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Adam Shelley: So, that’s good. What was the other question?
Chris Cate:Well, after the four, is a simple question. Do you have a favorite Florida sports team you cheer for?
James Adam Shelley:I don’t know if I should tell you this because it’s going to disappoint you. It’s going to really disappoint you. It’s going to disappoint your listeners too. If you want to hear this …
Chris Cate:Yeah, let’s hear it.
James Adam Shelley:You’re going to …
Chris Cate:Sounds like you’re setting up the Florida Gators here.
James Adam Shelley:No, I’m not setting up for the Gators, even though I went to Florida State, my parents went to UF. They went to Florida. You know, I went to Florida State, and never even went to a game.
James Adam Shelley:See, I can see … I can see the disappointment in your eyes, you know. Okay. The problem was for me was as I was at Florida State, I was trying to tour. I thought my band at the time was really amazing. I listen to our records now. We were terrible. So, we were really bad, but at the time I was trying to tour, and play shows, and my music was my huge dream, and that’s all I wanted in life, ever since I was a kid, was to be a musician.
So, I missed tons of time. At Florida State, I had a little bit of anger towards the teachers because I … granted sometimes they would be like, “You missed literally half the semester.” I would say to them, “Yes, that’s because I’m going after my dream. I’m still getting good grades but I’m going after my dreams, and that’s playing music.” So, I was in Jacksonville. I was somewhere else that weekend, or the night before, or playing these shows so I wasn’t able to make it. They would say, “That’s not an excuse.” And they would lower my grades because I missed classes. I used to always say to them, “Okay, but if I were a football player, this would be totally okay.” They would be like, “Well, you’re not a football player. Football is associated with the school.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I’m going after this thing. Why does it matter if I show up or not? Let me do this.” And I’d be like, “If I were on any sports teams you would not even care if I missed class. If I got good grades and I missed class it wouldn’t be an issue.”
So, I had a little animosity towards the sports teams at Florida State because of that. But, you know, it is what it is. It’s hard for us musicians out there.
Chris Cate:No, I get it. Well good. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the show.
James Adam Shelley:Yeah, thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
Chris Cate:Thanks for listening to the Fluent in Floridian podcast. If you aren’t subscribed to the podcast yet, I hope you look us up and subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app, like Apple podcast, Stitcher, or Google Play Music. If you leave a review, that would be great too.
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