Ahead of his run of sold out shows we catch up with Irish folk sensation James Vincent McMorrow to find out a bit more about what audiences can expect from his impending visit. We also discuss his debut album Early In The Morning and discuss the influence of soul music and Sufjan Stevens on his work.
Hi James, how are you today?
Not too bad Simon, and you?
Yeah good, where are you calling from today?
I’m in Dublin, I’m at home
Ah great, it must be what 10 there, or something like that?
It’s almost 11 now.
Just going to have a quick chat about the album and your upcoming tour. So what was the inspiration behind you debut Early In The Morning?
Gosh, there was no specific inspiration behind it necessarily, beyond just the desire to make an album initially. I mean I didn’t have a theme or anything like that. I just had all these ideas and snippets of songs that had been swirling around my mind for a couple of months, and some actually longer than that, like a year. And then I just needed to make it, and well that’s what I did. The inspiration really was just to make something that got all those ideas out really.
I think I read that you locked yourself away in a remote house by the sea to record the album, how was that experience?
It was obviously incredibly fruitful, but quite strange. I did it because I wanted to make an album, and I’m not a studio guy. I’ve never been able to work in studios, they’re just too cold and static and strange. So I wanted to be in a place where I was just by myself. It was incredible at times, difficult at times, six months of trying to sustain creativity by yourself is never ideal, because even the strongest mind would have serious moments of doubt or anger or questioning. Those emotions and those feelings definitely crept in from time to time. But all in all, I obviously look back on it with a lot of fondness because of what I got from it.
I have an early EP with a couple of fairly early 8-Track recordings, and the stripped back sound on them is quite fantastic. They obviously came fairly early on in the recording process?
Yeah, I tend to record a lot of versions of each song. Even now I’ve started work on the next album, and I think I have about ten running versions of each song at the moment. And on a daily basis things will get scrapped and changed. It’s just how I’ve always recorded. It takes a little while for songs to reveal themselves and become what they’re meant to be. In that period there is always going to be changes. I like to play them on the guitar and on the piano, that’s where all those demos have come from, on a day I’ll just record every song just with me and a guitar in front of a microphone and then just store it away somewhere.
So work has begun on a new album then, are you expecting any dramatic shifts in sound, or are you planning on keeping it much the same?
It’s definitely changed. I think its kind of inevitable that things will change, having spent two years playing these songs and playing in front of audiences, and seeing how audiences react, and playing with a band. It has sort of shaped the songs; the songs off the first album have changed a lot. When I was thinking about the new songs and the arrangements, I was thinking about the live situation a lot more. How something might be articulated, and what would work as well as what wouldn’t work. That’s shaping the songs a lot. And I think my writing has changed. How I’m approaching writing songs is different. But I think the core ideas are the same, the core of the album will remain the same, but I’m definitely trying a lot of new stuff.
Early in the Morning has just come out over here in Australia, but it’s been out a little while in the UK and Europe, what has the reaction to it been like?
It’s been incredible. It’s quite a funny thing I guess. It came out in Ireland to very little fanfare, I put it out by myself so it was very much kind of jumping up and down trying to get people to notice it. It wasn’t until a year after that that it started to take a hold in Ireland. At that point I was just starting to put it out in the UK and the US. And then it wasn’t until a year after that that it started to catch on in those countries as well. It’s just been a bit of a slow process. But it’s been incredible; the reaction when people hear it is always the same. The album tends to find its feet quite organically, which I always enjoy.
Where there any particular records or musicians that set you down the path to wanting to be a musician?
Yeah, definitely. There are countless musicians who have kept me inspired. Sufjan Stevens is someone I always tend to talk about as someone who when I was looking and thinking about making a record he was definitely a template for me. So much of what he does is based on him and his ideas, and he records and plays so much stuff himself. So his albums are on this sort of platform so high above me I can’t even visualise it anymore, they’re incredible. They’re always the ones I’m looking at to show that its achievable to make music in a, for want of a better word, homespun way, and they can still sound bigger than just being recorded in your bedroom. So he’s the one I always tend to talk about.
I read that you’re a bit of an admirer of Donny Hathaway. I feel there is quite a soulful element to your work, do you listen to a lot of soul music?
I am yes. Yeah I listen to it a lot. I’ve always listened to it; a lot of things have their place in my musical heart I guess. As a singer, soul singers have always been the ones for me. It was Donny Hathway that kind of made me want to sing, or at least really focus on singing I guess. I was always singing, but never in any meaningful fashion. Then I bought a record of his, not even to hear him, it was actually just to listen to his rhythm section. I read an article by someone who said that the rhythm section on his live from the bitter end album was incredible. So I bought that, listened to it, and it was pretty life changing really. I know that can sound overly silly, but it really was one of those moments, where it was OK that’s how a singer is supposed to sound. I was always listening to people like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, but hearing him and having never heard of him before was quite a revelation. And then other people like D’Angelo and those other artists in a more modern context have been a huge inspiration as well, I’m bit of an obsessive D’Angelo fan. But yeah Soul music is huge for me.
Lets talk about the tour briefly; you’ve already sold out shows in Melbourne and Sydney that must feel pretty good?
Yeah, I only just heard that today actually. I wasn’t even aware; I’m a bit off the map at the moment recording. So wasn’t really up to speed with what was going on. But yeah it’s amazing. All the shows have pretty much sold out now, they’ve added a second Sydney show as well, I didn’t even realise that. It’s incredible to come to countries for the first time and know there are people who want to see you; it’s a very gratifying feeling.
So for those who might not have hunted down any clips on Youtube, what can audiences expect from these shows?
Well it’ll just be me with my guitar. So I guess it will be quite a hushed affair. They tend to be quite quiet. I’m kind of loathed to use the word intense, because it always suggests a certain thing. But there does tend to be this feeling in the room whenever I play with just the guitar. With the guitar by myself what I want to do is just put the songs across in the most pure and honest way for an audience and hope that they leave having seen something that they feel is worthy of their time and their money I guess. So that’s always my goal, to try and deliver the songs with as much passion as I can. I do it anyway; I’m a passionate person when it comes to music and playing, so it’s just going to come out. People can expect I guess a certain amount of intensity, but in a good way I think. Hopefully people will come to the shows and realise that I’m not just going through the motions, and that every show matters to me.
So what are you most looking forward to about coming to Australia?
I mean beyond just never having been there before, I’ve got so many friends who live in Australia now, who I haven’t seen in just the longest time. So aside from all the great musical stuff that’s going on, like playing Bluesfest in Byron Bay. Again I’ve only just found out some of the people who are playing that festival, so I get to stalk John Fogerty and Crosby Stills & Nash. But yeah I get to see some friends, and it’s really cold here and really warm there (laughs) so that’ll be a nice change.
Definitely, and I’m sure after this trip, we’ll see you down this way again?
I think so, I’ve seen some things flying back and forth about some shows later in the year, but I don’t know too much about it. But so far the sense down there is pretty strong, so once I get down there I’ll be able to see for myself and we’ll be able to talk a bit more about it. But I mean I always want to come back to countries. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a county and not gone back. I’ve always made it my business to get back and play again, because I think that’s what counts, you’ve always got to try and get back to places and play more shows as quickly as possible.
Great, well I think that pretty much draws things to a close. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, and enjoy the tour!