Interview: Fergus James (AUS) on his debut EP All Of The Colours, Justin Timberlake and career highlights.

Fergus James has more accolades under his belt than your average twenty-year-old. Nay, more than most above-average twenty-year-old. From opening Ed Sheeran‘s stadium tour to thousands of Australians, touring with Meg Mac, nabbing the Triple J Unearthed spot on this year’s Splendour In The Grass lineup to having over ten million Spotify streams over three tracks; Fergus is a force to be reckoned with.

With his debut EP, All Of The Colours, out today and the first date of his national tour, there is no stopping for this Armidale export. We caught up with him to see how this wild ride is treating him.

How are you, Fergus? Where are you right now?

I’m perfect. I am in Sydney. It’s fantastic day. I’ve been out of the office all day, lots of coffee. Playing a bit of guitar – just spectacular. Did some washing. Very therapeutic, actually.

That’s an ideal day. Let’s talk about you. You’ve had a massive year this year. Just to quickly run through some of it. You’ve toured with Meg Mac. You opened the biggest stage at Splendour in the Grass. You’ve had two incredible BIGSOUND sets and you’re about to drop your debut EP in a matter of days, followed by an Australian tour. That’s insane. What a 2019!

I had a pretty big 2018, to be honest. I remember saying to my mum just hands up next year. It’s going to be nice and quiet and we’re just going to do a little bit of music, but it’s actually kind of shaped up to be this crazy whirlwind, and I’m so thankful. Massive, I couldn’t believe it. I keep on pinching myself.

Has there been a highlight for you?

I think, it’s really funny because I think everything just kept on getting better. Meg Mac; I’ve been listening to Meg Mac since a young kid, I went and saw her at Groovin’ The Moo when I was still in high school. Loved the music, our family loved the music, and the fact I got to support her, to do thirteen shows was unreal, and only to be topped by getting to do Splendour, another life goal, opening that massive stage… BIGSOUND was incredible too. I just think the year is definite high point in my life, thus far. I’m super thankful that it’s all happened.

Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean there’s none of it that you’d want to take back, and I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings. I mean, if you want a quiet year next year, it’s just going to be like ten times bigger than this year.

I don’t even want to think about 2020. It is coming too quickly.

Oh, you’re telling me. You released a new single last Friday with Dustin Tebbutt called “Old Stars” and he’s been a bit of a mentor to you, hasn’t he?

It’s hilarious and unreal, that relationship. He’s kind of become this mate/mentor/muso cocktail thing to me. It’s amazing. I think the story of him being from Armidale is a bit… people have heard that now. But he was in Armidale before that “[The] Breach” track came out. You know, he was helping his dad build around town – he was a builder – and he built my mum’s deck.

So Dustin Tebbutt helped build my mum’s deck before “The Breach” came out. And to think that five years later, he’s coming to my high school and we would eventually start working together and he’d actually have a track on my debut EP, mind boggling. So he’s a gorgeous man, I think he’s one of the most talented people I know and I’m just so lucky to have him involved in my career and my life. So I love this song. It’s such a soft point of that EP. So I’m very thankful.

What an ode to Dustin Tebbutt just then. That was so sweet. Oh man, the world works in such mysterious ways. When did you guys start fiddling around on songs together? How long ago was that?

I was actually going through my voice memos last night and the first… I took a new idea to him and that idea was recorded on my voicemail on January 2017. It was the start of Year 12 for me. It’s been three years, essentially. And we started working together two and a half years ago and I’ll start with one of the first songs we wrote and produced and it’s just kind of been slowly getting added things to it, production-wise and ideas-wise. So it’s been a two and half years’ wait. So yeah, it’s been a fair while but it’s finally out so we’re both happy about it.

Yeah, I can imagine that’d be pretty cathartic having that sort of wait, and you just know this gold track is sitting in your back catalog waiting to be released and then now it’s like, “Oh share it with the fans.”

Totally and I’ll let you know that after a lot of changes and two and a half years I was a little bit concerned that it may not make as much sense as a song anymore. Maybe not mean as much to you anymore. But I think what it’s done is only grow on me and it’s definitely grown on my family. Mum still tears up to the song and I think it’s really grown on me. So I’m super thankful that I had that time to let it become a part of me and become a part of the EP.

Right at the very beginning of the two and a half years, did it sound quite different to what it is now?

Yeah. So we added, it was very acoustic to begin with and then once I started writing more of the tracks from EP, Dustin kind of allowed the production to come into the closer to what the EP was shaping up to be. So there’s a few more electronic elements here and there throughout the track that might not have been there initially. Because “Old Stars” was the first one written, and “Mistakes”, which was the single before this one, was only written at the start of this year, so there’s all this distance in between songs and I think we’ve taken each song and kind of drawn them into each other just to make it a little bit more consistent. But yeah, it was a little bit different back in 2017 than it is now. It has changed a little bit.

Interesting, I guess that’s just part of you finding your own sound and making a cohesive body of work.

That’s the big question. Trying to make something sounds consistent and coherent. So, that’s what I’ve been doing the past two years essentially.

Lovely. I also want to chat to you about this viral video of you in high school – just another person you’ve wowed in high school: Justin Timberlake. And you played him an original and he said, “I’d put that on radio right now.” Have you hit him up? Have you gotten in touch with JT’s people: “All right Justin, let’s put me on American airways. You said this, let’s do it. It’s happening.”

Yeah. I keep on thinking about that actually. I think maybe not yet, but I think that might be a point in my career when I might be able to turn around and send a little cheeky DM to say, “Hey, you might not remember me, but you know, I’m still doing music. I am still doing this sort of thing.”

I still play the song played him in my live set. If that song ever surfaces I think that’d be the perfect opportunity to maybe hit up his team and say “It’s come a little further since I last saw you, so thank you for everything”. Really weird. Not many people get to thank Justin Timberlake for helping start their careers. One has to be humble about these things.

That’s a pretty surreal sentence. But I reckon it could probably even be a social media campaign. You should just get your fans to all DM Justin Timberlake. “DM JT” is what you could call it, and then just get them to make so much noise that he has to listen. He has to put you on the air.

Yeah grassroots, I love the power of that. I love it.

Power of the people. You’ve also already played stadiums, which is wild as well. You opened for Ed Sheeran’s stadium tour and I imagined that it was at the beginning of your career. What was it like playing to an audience of that capacity so early on?

To be honest with you, I think had I had any prior experience playing live shows, as a proper musician, I think I would have struggled a little bit more than I did. I am not saying it was easy. It was one of the most horrifyingly scary things to get up in front of thousands people with a guitar at the age of eighteen. But, I think not having any other experiences to relate it to, I just kind of saw the Ed shows as an opportunity to either get up there and do what I do the best, or just completely crumble.

I chose to actually give it a bit of a go, but I’m now playing the Meg support and the Splendour thing, it was a great start because I think once you start with thousands of people you can only go a little bit lower than that. Support slots and solo shows. I think having a big audience in the start helped me be able to connect to the small audiences I am playing at the moment. So yeah, wild and again, not many people my age would’ve been able to do something like that. Opportunity-wise, I’m super grateful it happened, but it was mental at the time. There was more people at the Perth show in the audience than my whole hometown combined, which was baffling. Really special moment.

That just gave me shivers. That’s insane. I guess it’s also really nice to be thrown into the deep end straight away. It’s all or nothing in that sense.

It was all or nothing. I hopefully it didn’t go bad and I think if it went woefully, I probably wouldn’t be chatting with you.

All, I think we definitely went all in on that one.


Let’s chat a bit of EP gear. So you’ve got All Of The Colours out on November 1st – do you have a favourite song?

I love all five of the songs that are going to be on it. We’ve got one ready to go, which comes out the day the EP comes out, but I think I love songs more, the more they get to become themselves, once they’re out in the world. I love “What Are We Waiting For” and I love “Old Stars” and I love “Mistakes”. But I think “Back To Life”, is a really special song to me. I’ve received a few messages here and there from people that… It’s a really special song for them as well. If I had to pick one begrudgingly, it’d probably be “Back To Life”. But I think as body of work, the five songs work really nicely together and I’m just really proud of the project. “Back To Life” has a special little spot in my heart at the moment thugh.

I can’t wait for November 1st just to listen to them in order and in completion.

Well thank you. I’m very, very nervous but very excited.

You shouldn’t be nervous. I mean the reception of the four songs that are out has been amazing. So nothing to be nervous about. Let’s circle back around. What is on the horizon for 2020, what else can we expect from Fergus James?

Totally. I think it’ll be really interesting to see what the songs do. How other people respond… You know, you’re not a musician by just putting stuff out, they have to do something with the people that are listening to it. So I’ve just got the rest of the year for the EP to be itself and you know, playing these shows, which I’m super psyched about.

Then I think 2020, off the back of the EP, playing some more shows, hopefully some more festivals, put out more music. I turn 21 next year so it’s going to be a bit of a crazy year. So just really utilising the past two years of work and just playing and writing more and releasing more and just seizing opportunities I’ve been given. 2020 bring it on, big time.

And it feels like… The whole JT thing was in Year 12 for me, so it kind of feels that I’ve been doing this for three years now, but it is still the beginning. The fist EP… The first song came out just last year, so to me I’ve been doing this for quite a while now, but maybe for the rest of the world, it’s only just beginning. I’m very excited for this year.

Hey, if you think about it, this is just going to be a whole lifetime for you. So there really hasn’t been that long in the full grand scheme. We want this to be decades.

In this grand scheme of things it’s very, very short. Hopefully a lot of fun things.

Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me, Fergus. I hope you get outside and get to enjoy some more of the sun. Such a nice day.

Thank you so much for chatting to me. And thanks for all the support. It means a lot. I’m very excited for this Friday coming. Thank you so much.

Fergus Jame’s debut EP All Of The Colours is out now.

Catch him on his All Of The Colours EP tour:

1 November | Rocket Bar | Adelaide, SA
7 November | Factory Theatre | Sydney, NSW
8 November | Grace Darling | Melbourne, VIC
9 November | Gourmet Escape | Perth, WA
15 November | Milk Factory | Brisbane, QLD

Tait McGregor