‘Faith Over Family’ is the debut offering from James Billett, the man with the balls to walk away from a decade-long songwriting career, from the guidance of none other than Elton John, from the praise of Noel Gallagher and writing sessions with John Legend; ten years where “all I wanted to do was write a song I love”.
This step back was a measured one, a necessary one in order for James Billett to reconnect with his true intentions and write and release music that he felt came from a place of truth rather than a show-business mindset. ‘Faith Over Family’ is, therefore, the result of James Billett’s unbridled and unconstrained creativity. It tells the tale of a young gay man whose father puts his religious beliefs above his love for his son. The song is “an ode to the happiness that his son finds when he comes out as being gay, juxtaposed with the bitter sadness that the father inflicts on himself because he cannot accept his son for who he is.” An outpouring of frustration and exasperation, the song takes on a different quality in Billett’s softly-spoken vocal, rendering the song not as a violent call to arms but an outpouring of pity for, and disappointment in, those who refuse to change their ways. “It’s only hatred that will stay if you don’t change,” sings James, in a unique vocal tone which sits somewhere between James Taylor and Ray Lamontagne.
Accompanying this heartbreaking narrative is a video which is nothing short of breathtaking. Set amongst the cinematic landscape of Iceland, the video is more of a short film, with beautiful cinematography and a fully realised narrative and characters. James Billett has not forced himself into this visual (after all, he is not gay, but “it blows my mind that people think you need to be gay to understand a situation like that,”) and instead allows the characters to play out their own story. The story is soundtracked by James’ whispered tones, sliding guitars and brushed drum beats, crafting a song which sounds like it’s etched on an old LP getting dusted off in a record shop in Nashville.
Walking away from a path to stardom so perfectly laid out for him would not have been an easy decision to make. “I started to hate the idea of becoming famous if all it meant was wearing the right things and singing songs you didn’t like,” says Billett. Instead of being forced into co-writing duties, even if they were with John Legend, James Billett was then free to write his own songs, not only about love and heartbreak, but about more political topics such as the #MeToo movement, police brutality and gay rights.
Culminating in the repetition of the lyric “but only you can change… you can change… you can change,” ‘Faith Over Family’ is not a damning rejection of religious beliefs but a song that holds out hope for a future full of empathy, love and peace.