I'll never forget the day one of my best friends introduced me to an artist who, unbeknownst to me, would soon become one of my favorite vocalists from that day forward. It was about seven years ago, in the middle of winter and we were on our way to a kickback, comfortably packed in her car with a few of our mutual friends. She suddenly grabbed the aux cord and eagerly asked, "Have y'all heard 'Strawberry Vapors' by Luke James?" The rest of us collectively shook our heads and eagerly awaited for the sound to permeate our ears. "Just wait 'till you hear his voice," she warned. "It's insane." Fast forward to today and the word insane feels like a gross understatement to describe the musical gift that is Luke James.
It's about mid-morning when our call connects and Luke is surprisingly calm, cool and collected. There's some hustle and bustle in the background, which is understandable seeing as how in just a few short moments, he'll be headed to rehearsal and subsequently showcasing his God-given talents in front of thousands of adoring fans for an intimate concert experience at the House of Blues in his hometown of New Orleans. How does it feel?
"Magical," he admits honestly to xoNecole. "I'm feeling very magical."
And why wouldn't he? It's a blessing to be back in the city that not only helped shape his musical appetite, but a city that continues to show immense support and undying love. And as a thank you, James is inviting those same fans to connect with him as he soulfully and skillfully expresses his angst and his admiration over a prize we all are seeking but few of us ever really possess: true love.
Photo Credit: Alexander Black
At its core, James' sound is sonically superb. But at its highest? It's seductively sensual, commanding attention from your spirit, soul and body all at the same damn time. With a discography that boasts songs like "Make Love To Me", "I O U", "Exit Wounds", and "Drip", the "These Arms" singer 's voice carries and produces a feeling unlike any other. And his latest album, to feel love/d, is just another near perfect example. The album is a smooth culmination of easy mornings, lovely days, and late nights. It's the cool breeze that blows when the sun peeks out from under the clouds after a storm. The goofy dance you do with the person you love on a lazy Sunday morning and the soothing sway of a porch swing at dusk in the South. The nine-track love letter covers almost every emotion present when it comes to dealing with love and intimacy and is a solid nod to all things soul, funk, and R&B. It's also a timely treat for long-time fans who have been waiting patiently for the talented multi-hyphenate to bless us with something other than his impressive acting chops (looking at you STARand Little).
We got the chance to chat with the artist about all things love and music, and here's what he had to say.
xoNecole: A lot of your music comes across as very sensual and ethereal. Is that on purpose? How are you able to consistently channel that?
Luke James: Honestly, I try to live in the truth when creating my art. The end result is all God, I guess. I really follow the theory of some of the greats like Quincy Jones, and I just leave room for God. And I think that's what you're hearing.
'To Feel Love/d' is out. What’s your favorite song off the album?
You know, it's really hard to answer that. Each song marked a period in life for me and I feel like if I never had those moments, I wouldn't probably have this album. I wouldn't have this particular perspective on love, being loved, what it means to love someone else and what it means to receive love. So it's really hard for me to pinpoint one song.
I can’t be mad at that. So tell me, what’s your earliest or best memory of what true love was supposed to look like?
I don't quite remember when my mother had me (laughs), but I'm sure that's when it happened. I think that's the truest form I've seen and felt throughout my life. My mom is the truest form of love that I've witnessed thus far from a human being. You know, for mankind, it's quite difficult because we're just 'know-it-alls'. It's really hard to just let the mind go and lead with your heart. But when you find someone who just can't help but love you, you know it. You can feel it, it's undeniable; it's everything.
Photo Credit: Alexander Black
"It's really hard to just let the mind go and lead with your heart. But when you find someone who just can't help but love you, you know it. You can feel it, it's undeniable; it's everything."
Speaking of undeniable, you have an effortless ability to make women feel all the feels when it comes to your voice and your sound. When you hear the word love, what feelings come to mind?
Well, trying to be as honest as I can right now: I'd say sadness and joy. Those are the two words that come to mind. You know, love is hard. But when you get past that place or find that place where love isn't hard--then you can find that joy. Because it's beautiful to surpass sadness with love and through love to find joy. For some people, love is giving up something in some cases. For others, their perspective is that love doesn't mean giving up something. And why should they? Why should they have to give up something for something that should be easy and open and receptive and uncompromisable and forgiving?
What scares you the most and excites you the most about finding true love?
The freedom is what excites [me] the most. When you have freedom, you have support and that's beautiful. What scares me about it, is maybe it not being equal. You know? Maybe I'll love a little less or love a little more than someone else. And that can be scary because how would you know? How do you gauge that?
When it comes to physical intimacy versus emotional intimacy. Which one, if at all is more important to you?
I think I'm more into the emotional part of it…
Why is that?
Because the physical is inevitable, but the emotional is not. If you can have both or work your way to get both, then it's beautiful. But I would start with the emotional aspect of it first and then the physicalities will work itself out. It'll be a lot sweeter, more profound and fulfilling if the emotional cup is full.
Who is Luke James as a lover?
Wow. I like that, that question is cool (laughs). Wouldn't that be a little narcissistic though? Because I could say I'm an amazing lover and someone else who's been around could be like, "Nah." I can tell you who I am to myself, like who I think I am.
(Laughs) That’ll work too.
OK (laughs). Thank you for that. I am--hard on myself. But I am also easy. I don't always see myself, but when I do, it's a breath of fresh air. I would say I am awesome, but someone else might say I am hard to deal with or indecisive. But I am kind. I am love-full, love is who I am; it is me. Maybe my empathy for what I feel in the world sometimes though, makes it hard for someone or for myself to even feel love. It's a lot, I feel everything.
Photo Credit: Alexander Black
"I don't always see myself, but when I do, it's a breath of fresh air. I would say I am awesome, but someone else might say I am hard to deal with or indecisive. But I am kind. I am love-full, love is who I am; it is me. Maybe my empathy for what I feel in the world sometimes though, makes it hard for someone or for myself to even feel love. It's a lot, I feel everything."
Being an empath, what would you say are your love languages?
Communication and time. I'm not as open as I may appear to be. I'm pretty much isolated a lot, so giving my time is pretty valuable to me. And I'm sure it's valuable to my friends and the people who love me.
What do you know now about love that you didn’t know before?
I know nothing (laughs). I know nothing at all but I think that's a part of the beauty of that particular rollercoaster. You know love is up and down, round and round, fast, slow, high and low. Love is also alternating, it can change--and you can make it what you want it to be. But I also think love is honest. It's 100 percent honest, there's no bullshitting in love and when there is, you know it. Love will show it. It's a never-ending story, I'm riding through life.
What’s the biggest difference between the Luke at the start of your career and the Luke now?
I am not green. I am not moved by a lot of things. I'm unimpressed. I am not complacent. It's not about being able to just sing and write songs, or act—it's much more than that. There's much more to me. I think early on I was OK with letting people make decisions and drive the car. I prefer to sit in the driver's seat now.
To Feel Love/d is available to stream everywhere now and for more of Luke, make sure you follow him on IG: @wolfjames.
All images courtesy of Luke James
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
I first moved to Spain in December 2018, bright-eyed and ready to dive into the culture. While I have loved every minute of my life abroad, I definitely received my share of culture shocks in Spain. Some were hilarious, some were surprising, and no matter how many times I was warned about others, they were still shocking!
When I first arrived in Spain, I was so used to the American mode of constant productivity. It almost caused me anxiety how relaxed most Spanish people are about everything.
In the United States, your career defines you; everything must be done correctly the first time and on time, and even your relaxation time should be productive. Spain is the opposite.
I learned to embrace it because if they’re not freaking out about it, why should I? It was an instant release. Spanish people place value on making time to relax, enjoying good company, and being outdoors in the sunshine. My mental health and ability to handle setbacks in stride improved a ton in Spain.
So as I near five years living abroad, here are the biggest lessons the Spanish taught me about chilling the fuck out.
Lesson Number 1: “No pasa nada”
My first day working as an English Language Assistant in Spain couldn’t have gone more wrong if I tried. The bus that took me to the town where I worked never showed up. When I finally got to the town, hours later, I couldn’t find the school. When I finally managed to make it to a class (after missing my first three of the day), the presentation I had prepared didn’t work.
I remember looking up from the computer screen to a class of eager students and my enthusiastic co-teacher (who also happened to be my boss). My heart sank into my stomach, “I can’t open the presentation, Mabel.”
“No pasa nada, just talk to the kids, let them ask you questions.” Just like that? The kids were so excited to meet someone from the USA that the questions just kept coming, and they thanked me for a fun class.
No pasa nada translates to something like no worries, or it’s not a big deal, and I must’ve heard it at least 10 times a day every day in Spain. If something ever goes wrong, “No pasa nada.”
You can’t control everything all the time. Is anyone bleeding, dying, or injured? No? Then it’s not worth losing your head over. Just come up with the best solution you can think of at the moment and roll with it.
Courtesy of Ambar Mejia
Lesson Number 2: “Teacher, Did You Not Have Time for Breakfast?”
When I was working in the U.S., I often had all sorts of meals at my desk. Breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks. It wasn’t uncommon for me to sit in front of a screen, clacking away on my keyboard while taking bites and sips in between thoughts.
One day, in Spain, I showed up to school with a thermos of coffee and was sipping away while I led the class. One student raised his hand, “Yes Miguel?” “Uh, teacher, did you not have time for breakfast?”
Count on children to call you out! I thought he was just being an 11-year-old until later that week, a teacher asked me to go get coffee in between classes. When I went up to the counter to ask for it to go, she looked at me like, “What are you doing?” I said I was just grabbing it to go so we could get back to work. She said, "Yeah, we don’t do that here." And in fact, they didn’t even have a way to give me this coffee to go.
She later explained to me that it’s not usual for Spanish people to drink or eat while they walk or work. “Certainly you have 10 minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee and relax.”
(ENJOY my coffee? Interesting concept. I was just going to consume it for energy.)
In another instance, a Spanish friend of mine saw someone walking while eating a sandwich and said, “How depressing that they don’t even have time to sit and eat a sandwich.”
And actually, if you think about it, that is sad, but it’s not out of the ordinary in the U.S. But our bodies need food, and when we don’t even take those 10 minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee or actually chew a sandwich, we’re saying work is more important than caring for our bodies.
Even taking those 10 minutes to just focus on your coffee and be present can help you slow down and relax throughout the day.
Courtesy of Ambar Mejia
Lesson Number 3: “Y la sobremesa?”
I learned over the years living in Spain that food and meal times are sacred. It’s not just about getting something in to carry you throughout the day. Meal times are a moment to pause, relax, and unwind, and it’s always at the table!
Meals are also a time to gather with family and friends and have rowdy conversations about any subject under the sun (except work, as they consider this stuffy conversation).
This tradition of chatting after a meal is so important, it even has a proper name 'sobremesa' (over table). Long after the plates are cleared, the sobremesa will continue over drinks, coffee, or dessert. It can last several hours! (I once had lunch for five hours, four of which were just the sobremesa.)
If you try to get up without it, someone might ask, “Y la sobremesa?” like “What about the after-meal conversation?”
There is so much emphasis on connection in Spain, whereas American culture is more individualistic. Now, while I’m not suggesting all Americans have 5-hour lunches or do everything in pairs, there is something therapeutic about prioritizing your meals, not rushing, and being in good company.
Courtesy of Ambar Mejia
Lesson Number 4: Go have some sangria, walk on the beach, and try again.
In my second year teaching English in Spain, I moved to a different city in Spain and had the strange luck that my new boss was the strictest Spanish person I have ever met to this day.
When I couldn’t get an appointment to renew my residency card in time, she told me if I didn’t have it sorted by January 1st, she wouldn’t be able to let me stay in the country.
I made an appointment in a nearby town, but when I showed up for the appointment, the police officer told me I had to do it in the town I lived in. I started bawling. As a child of people who had immigrated to the U.S., I was in panic mode.
He tried consoling me and begged me to calm down, but I only started shaking and crying more, “My boss won’t let me stay if I don’t have my card renewed.”
And I will never forget his next words, “It’s okay. It’s okay. This isn’t the U.S. We’re not going to come looking for you.” (In retrospect, it is kind of funny.)
“Why don’t you go have some sangria, walk on the beach, and try again.” This did not feel like the time for this “no pasa nada” attitude, but I took his words of advice.
I had the sangria. I walked on the beach. And I went home to try again, and guess what? I did in fact find the appointment.
Courtesy of Ambar Mejia
Lesson Number 5: Sundays are for soaking up the sun.
Everything in Spain closes on Sunday. Everything except restaurants. So you couldn’t even run errands if you wanted to. This is usually a day for family and friends to gather on the beach, in the park, at a restaurant, or out on the plazas underneath flowering trees.
Sunday is just about connecting with loved ones and enjoying the sunshine at your leisure. I’m sure you can notice a theme here, Spanish culture is all about letting things flow.
Something that struck me most about Spain was how much less they complained about their mental health. It feels like almost all of my friends in the U.S. are struggling with anxiety or depression, and not without good reason. American lifestyle can feel like a pressure cooker, but what I think we can learn from the Spanish is to slow down, take life as it comes, have moments throughout the day and throughout the week where we can just be, and always make time for good company.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image courtesy of Ambar Mejia