‘The Sparrow And The Wolf‘ By James Vincent McMorrow.
If I Had A Boat’ By James Vincent McMorrow.
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These days it appears to be de rigueur for singer songwriters to seek isolation in a remote location in order to feed their artistic muse. It worked for Bon Ivor and indeed it seems to have worked wonders for Irish singer songwriter James Vincent McMorrow who locked himself away for six months in a isolated house by the Irish Sea. The resultant album “Early In The Morning” showcases James gentle, airy soulful vocals combined with dark poetic lyrics, it’s a multi layered, atmospheric master class in gentle, lilting folk-pop which centers around ‘the darker, less spoken about aspects of life, solitude and disillusionment.’
You’d be hard pressed to find any trace of the hardcore punk influences James listened to in his youth on ‘Early In The Morning.’ This is dreamy folk pop replete with haunting falsetto vocals which at times seem as fragile as the beating of butterfly’s wing on a summer’s breeze, and at their peak can make the Beach Boys sound like Paul Robeson. His floating wistful music certainly has more in common with Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, Jeff Buckley and even on occasion, Antony Hegarty than A System Of A Down. It’s an album full or warm, evocative songs, a kind of rustic folk music that seems to flit back and forth through time and has a genuinely authentic American feel to it.
James also has a damn fine beard, a wistful look in his eyes and can often be found staring into middle distance as if pondering the imponderable as all great poetic singer songwriters are want to do. Furthermore he also comes across as the type your chap your parents would approve of if your sister brought him home. Having already scored a number one over in his native Ireland and gained an enthusiastic fan base in the U.S. James looks set to charm the UK in the coming months and has already benefited from support from the likes of Zane Lowe and Huw Stephens.
Album rating : 8/10
We coaxed James from his hermits cave ( ;) ) for a chat with regard to his musical journey thus far.
VP: James, you originally started music playing the drums, how did the process evolve from beating the skins to becoming a singer songwriter?
JAMES : Slowly over time, I took up drums because i wanted to be a part of music, but I liked the idea of existing in the background somewhere. I grew frustrated being in bands when I started college, I wanted to play and learn all the time, the people I was trying to play with seemed to care more about saying they were in a band. That’s when I decided to learn other instruments like the piano and guitar for myself, and also when I started singing. Once you start learning about songwriting you seek out the best songwriters you can find, and that’s what lead me to folk music, to bands like the National, Arcade Fire,Band of Horses, Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom. When I look at it over the years it seems like a completely logical evolution, but then I’ve been living it so it really should make perfect sense to only me!
VP: You recorded your album in an isolated location, playing pretty much all the instruments yourself. Do you work better alone without anybody diluting your ideas and would it be fair to say you enjoy your own company?
JAMES : I’d say I enjoy my own company up to a certain point, but what I do like is making music in isolation, playing all the instruments, having to generate all of the ideas yourself, it means that the music takes on a sense and sound that is 100% yours. I’ve tried to make music with others before and it never worked out, but maybe now that I’ve learnt how I work best I could find a way of working with others without compromising on my ideas. Maybe!
VP: Is it true that you recorded the entire album with just one microphone? Did you ever have any moments when you thought it wasn’t ever going to come together?
JAMES : Yeah it was just 1 mic, an AKG 414, I think there’s some sort of magic in it, I’ve no idea how it managed to record all those instruments on it’s own! Making music day in day out over the space of 6 months, you’re going to have days where you just think what you’re doing is completely futile and pointless, and that you’ll never get to the end of it. I just learnt to be patient, if something wasn’t working, I’d move on to something else. That was how I made it work, for the first 4 months I worked on all the songs at the same time, only in the last 2 did I start finishing things, that’s what kept me focused and moving forward.
VP: You’ve previously said that ‘The Old Dark Machine’ kind of encapsulates the album. You’ve also had the Bon Ivor type comparisons due to working alone, but what would you say are the main themes of the album?
JAMES: I don’t know if the album necessarily has a theme, the year that preceded it was a pretty turbulent time for me, a lot of upheaval and change, some long days and nights spent thinking about the kind of music that I truly wanted to make. I guess I carried all of that with me into the album, in the playing, in the lyrics, but definitely not in a conscious way, I couldn’t read you a lyric from the album and tell you what it’s about, but it’s certainly all in there somewhere.
VP: It’s said during your youth that you were a fan of music with a punkier edge ? What sort of stuff did you listen to in those days, and when did you begin to move your own music in a different direction?
JAMES: When I was in school I listened to bands like at the drive in, refused, system of a down. A lot gets made of this, which kind of surprises me really, when we’re kids we all listen to a lot of music that we think we are going to be listening to forever, and we’re so sure that all other types of music are a waste of time. I played drums along to those records, I still love them to this day, but at the time I wasn’t writing songs, I was just learning and playing, by the time I even thought about attempting to write a song I’d discovered music like Donny Hathaway, CSNY, the National, and all of that shaped me as a writer.
VP: I’m not sure how these things work, but you get a publishing deal, and later some of your music is used on big US TV shows such as Greys Anatomy. What happens? Do the TV company approach you or the label?
JAMES: I’m not too well versed in how it all goes, with me I was incredibly fortunate, they asked to put one of my songs in a TV show before it had even been properly mixed and mastered, was just a friend in the US who played the unfinished record for a friend of his who worked on a big show. That money paid for the album being finished and put out, it was such a blessing to get it, and then I guess a few more of those things came in through my publisher and the label. The TV sync stuff is a pretty unknown world to me, I’m just grateful for it when it happens, it’s getting your music into the homes of millions of people in one fail swoop, it really gave my album some early life when I didn’t have any money and no one knew who I was.
VP: What’s been your most amazing moment as an artist so far?
JAMES: There’s been a lot over the last 12 months; it’s hard to pick out one single highlight. The first time I sold out a Dublin show, playing to a packed crowd at the Electric Picnic, having my album licensed to amazing people in the US, Canada and Europe, just a few of the ridiculous things that have happened to me since this all began.
VP: What do you have lined up for 2011?
JAMES: A lot of travelling and playing. The album has been out in the US for about 2 weeks, so the hard work there really starts now, and it comes out in Europe in a couple of weeks, so I’m expecting I’ll have to be 2 places at once from now until the end of the year at least! Also I’m trying to write as much as I can in my free time, just taking my time with the songs and allowing them to present themselves slowly. I’ve never really written songs as I’ve toured before, it’s a different energy and dynamic, I’m excited to see what it brings.
VP: If there’s one song you’d wish you’d written what would it be and why?
JAMES: ‘Hope There’s Someone’ by Antony Hegarty, or ‘I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know’ by Donny Hathaway, the 2 most complete and perfect songs as far as I’m concerned.
VP: Five words to describe what music means to you?
JAMES: Just three -it means everything….
James Vincent McMorrow – ‘This Old Dark Machine.’