James Rhodes

Travelling inwards

07/17/2023 · By Lala Llorens
James Rhodes, musician

Being in love with the creative process itself is what keeps pianist James Rhodes hooked on music, literature and photography. He confesses that, despite constant frustration and tough moments, that love is “so pure and so divine” that there’s no room for doubt. His entire work and latest project, ‘The Daily Muse’, invites us to turn inwards to that intimate refuge where silence is the best soundtrack.

If there’s one word that defines James Rhodes (London, 1975) beyond his well-known professions —pianist, writer, philanthropist— is, undoubtedly, ‘sensitivity’. Sensitive to art and creativity in all its forms, James admits to living in a constant search for beauty, whether through music, literature or photography, which he has taken up recently. “I’m always searching for beauty, which is why I’ve married the most beautiful woman in the world, I play my Steinway and live in Madrid, which is the most beautiful city in the world,” he admits.

With a clear, open and curious gaze, James approaches art from a place that also seems bittersweet since, as he himself admits, frustration is ever present: “If I play a concert with 100,000 notes and there’s half a gram of extra weight on a single finger for a single note, it ruins the concert. That’s the level of nitpicking we have to live with, and I struggle with that. It’s not perfectionism; there’s only one way of playing pieces by gods like Beethoven. That’s why we work for hours and hours non-stop. Even when I’m not playing the piano, I’m playing the piano in my head.”

“I always use my piano to escape. It’s like a drug for me: without side effects, free and legal”

Nevertheless, he assures us the sacrifice is worth it. “I know I can always do better, but I’m so in love! It’s a bit like marriage. There’s a level of such pure and such divine love that even during tough moments, there’s no doubt. It’s like that with music, writing, taking photos... Even during difficult moments, the process is so beautiful to me! It’s a way of balancing the good, the bad, and everything,” he says excitedly.

In fact, he declares that anyone who sets their mind to it can play the piano well, write well or take good photos. It’s just a question of hard work and perseverance. “It’s a bit like Formula 1: in a race, 0.2 seconds, which isn’t much, means the difference between first place and eighth or ninth place. You can work a lot to reach a certain percentage, but to achieve those extra 0.2 seconds takes decades of work.” But he explains: “For me, talent is 99% work, sweat, and 1% magic, something divine. You can’t listen to Mozart, for example, and not be some sort of believer, talent like that cannot be human. That’s why we still listen to Chopin, Bach or Beethoven 200 or 300 years later, there’s something divine there.”

“At this time, it’s essential to maintain that connection with the heart, with the soul”

Reconnecting with oneself
James, known for his activism for the protection of minors against sexual abuse —he was one of them himself—, still finds music a lifeline and a safe space to connect with oneself: “I always use my piano to escape. It’s like a drug for me: without side effects, free and legal. We live in a world that I struggle with a lot, which is very tough at the moment. Music is a way of travelling inwards for me.”

In his opinion, modern society always sets it sights outside (social media, TV, advertising...), and that’s terrible. “Aeroplanes and concert halls are the only two places in the world right now where we can escape from everything, the only places where there are no mobiles and where we can relax and breathe,” he admits.

The need to look back inside oneself is what has pushed him to develop, alongside an expert team, a new app, The Daily Muse, whose goal is to “somehow balance social media”, which is quite a toxic experience in his opinion. “The Daily Muse is a way of reconnecting with oneself, reading a paragraph of something creative every day that helps you to think and reflect. Like a kind of meditation. There are no DMs, no Likes... You can share your reflections with the entire world if you wish.” As he highlights, “at this time, it’s essential to maintain that connection with the heart, with the soul.”

“There’s no cultural snobbery in Spain; it’s part of the roots of our country”

Spain, a new life
“There are few moments in life that are a turning point: the first time I listened to Bach, when I met Mica, my wife, and when I came to Spain,” confirms James. This artist assures us that Spain has completely changed his life: “I arrived with three suitcases and four words of Spanish, and I found a flat and a piano in a weekend; there’s nothing else I need.” He admits that our country is like Disneyland for him, the light at the end of the tunnel, and here he finally feels like he’s home —in 2020, the Spanish government granted him Spanish nationality—. “For me, the thing about Spain is that there’s no cultural snobbery here. It’s part of our roots. We speak of the country of Lorca, Albéniz, Alicia de Larrocha... of idols,” he states.

For Rhodes, the charm of travel precisely lies in discovering new destinations, in the possibility of opening a new door to hope: “The magic of flying, of aeroplanes, is that you never know what will happen in a new place. There’s incredible potential there. Who knows?”

“For me, talent is 99% work, sweat, and 1% magic, something divine”