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Interview: James Vincent McMorrow

James Vincent McMorrow cord pink blue press shot

We’ve been seeing a lot of James Vincent McMorrow in Australia this year. The Irish singer-songwriter made an appearance (albeit a technically-deprived one) at Splendour In The Grass back in July, and has spent the year knuckling down to release his third studio album ‘We Move’. Before the alt-folk vocal powerhouse embarks on his Australian tour next year we chatted to him about eating crackers, working with producers, and why Aussies seem to adore him!

Your new album ‘We Move’ was produced over three cities, Toronto, London, and your hometown in Dublin. Was that always part of the plan?

Not at all, there was no specific plan! Wherever everybody was, that’s where we recorded it. I wanted to leave myself open to any possibility with this record, because the whole point of going into it was putting myself forward beyond what was expected of me and what I expected of myself, instead of what was easy. It would have been easy to recreate the second record, but we wouldn’t have achieved as much and it wouldn’t have been as compelling.

When I was making it and I was in Los Angeles by myself, all of the guys that were working on this record came to LA and we chatted. The fact that we were in Toronto and London was purely coincidental, and as for back home, that’s just where my studio is. I went where everyone was because I wanted to make it as easy for them as possible, as well as making it as interesting for me as possible. It’s not empowering to me to just hang out in my studio solo all day long, eating crackers, and watching TV! I wanted to push myself!

Do you think each city had its own influence on the album?

Dublin has an influence on me, but that’s kind of obvious because it’s my hometown. London and Toronto have been really important cities for me musically, because I lived in London for a long time and I became really fascinated with the sound of radio there. It’s quite interesting, you can listen to Radio One at like 3 o’clock in the afternoon and they’re playing really aggressive Drum ‘n Bass… it’s [really] reflective of the sound of London. Even though it’s not part of my music specifically or overtly, it’s always been a part of my physical upbringing, so the fact that I got to make the record there was great.

As for Toronto, my love for music from Toronto, especially in the modern context, and especially someone like Drake, is pretty well documented at this point. I was a huge fan of his, before I met any of the guys from OVO Sound Label (Drake’s production company) and I just really liked the way they worked. It’s so low key, and they work within a very specific and small group of people. They build and make records with very specific agendas.

Toronto has always been on my musical radar and I’ve always played really great shows there. It’s a city that has a lot of resonance for me on a lot of different levels… both of those cities do, so getting to make the record there, while it wasn’t part of my initial plan, in hindsight it made perfect sense!

You mentioned the few producers you worked with throughout the album. I understand you’re used to working on your music relatively alone, so how was the new process for you?

It’s jarring and unnerving, and it makes you examine yourself on a very molecular level where you’re thinking “What kind of person am I?” and “How do I interact with people?”. Making music is a strange and private thing for me, at the best of times, and having to include people in that dialogue makes it weird because you can’t change your routine… so you have to bring these people in and show it to them. That’s really unnerving, but also very beneficial to me, because it made me think about what I was doing so much more and it made me think about what I was coming to them with.

That being said, my process for this album was exactly the same as it’s been for my first two records. I sat in a room by myself for six or seven months, then I recorded the entire record by myself. But, this time, I went to three people that I admire greatly and said “Can you do the things I need you to help me with, because I want to focus on writing songs?”.

It sounds redundant to say I wanted to write the best songs I’ve written, but I did. I wanted to be honest, plain spoken, and not hide behind metaphor and flowery lyrics. I wanted to say things I could understand and people could understand, and the only way I could do that was if I handed off a certain amount of the work to other people. So while it was awkward for me and took me out of my comfort zone, it also really empowered me on a different level because I trusted these guys and they’re brilliant at their jobs!

Comparing your past albums with ‘We Move’, it seems the new album takes a new direction towards RnB and hip hop influences and away from the folk influences of your previous work. How did that come about?

In ‘Post Tropical’ there were songs that were overtly influenced by my love for hip hop and RnB, so this album was very much a continuation of that and pushing further into those ideas. Songs like Cavalier, Red Dust and Gold from ‘Post Tropical’, and We Don’t Eat off my first record, they’re the ones that have the most heart and the most joy and are the most closely linked to this third record.

So the progression through the albums feels very tangible and real to me when I isolate those specific songs. This record is just me focusing on that and getting better at it. There are songs on this record that recreate the same things those songs did, but they just have more honesty.

Your latest Australian appearance was at Splendour In The Grass earlier this year, how can we expect from your headline shows to differ from that performance?

The full live show is so heavily conceptualised. I’ve always put a lot of time and energy into the show, the flow, lighting, the rig, and what we do. The Splendour show was very late at night, had a very fast change over, and while it was a really fun show to play it’s not necessarily reflective of the album or the work that we’ve put into the show over the last two months of touring.

Anyone who knows me, or is familiar with me in terms of how I speak about my work, knows that I don’t talk about things in a high brow or high energy terms. So when I say that I feel like this show is the best thing I’ve done by a long way, that’s not an exaggeration!

I’m excited for people to see the show because we’ve put a lot of time into it and the way that the songs from the three albums fit together is really compelling. I’ve done 40 shows in the last two months and I’m not a single per cent less excited about playing every night!

Lastly, what do you think Aussies love about you, and your music?

It’s hard to figure out! There’s this discovery and love of music which is something that feels very similar to Ireland and Canada. People appreciate music and come to shows for the right reasons, and that’s always stood out to me when I’ve been to Australia. We could never figure out on paper why it happens. I think having radio stations like triple j, and publications and people that are real music lovers always helps. It’s just the people, and how they look at my music and if they choose to take it in the right way.

There’s solid Australian touring infrastructure so there’s artists in Australia that are huge that don’t necessarily exist in other parts of the world, and that’s a very unique thing. You have a thriving, inward-looking music industry with musicians that aren’t looking to become a band or an artist to go to America and crack it, they’re happy to play in Australia, and I think that creates this really thriving, cyclical system.

James Vincent McMorrow 2017 Australian Tour

Festival Gardens, Perth
The Triffid, Brisbane
Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Recital Centre, Melbourne

Get Tickets HERE