Critically acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow returns to Ireland for a string of dates soon. Music Editor Kevin O’Neill enjoyed a brief chat with James about his year so far, how the record came about and where he is going from here.
Your debut album, "Early in the Morning" was recorded in rather unconventional circum- stances. Would you like to tell us how it all came about? My initial idea was to write
some new songs in an isolated place, record some demos of them, then take that to a studio and make an album. After about a month working away I really liked the way everything sounded, so I de- cided to put my head down and keep working away at it. I wasn't so sure how it would be
received, making an album without the bells and whistles of a normal studio is an unknown prospect for a lot of people, I guess that's where the six months came into play, recording and re recording parts to make sure that they were up to scratch sonically was so important to me.
Were your surroundings at the time of the recording process a big factor in the style and sound of the album? Or was the project shaped more by your musical taste? The surroundings played an
enormous part in how the record sounds and feels. I think a lot of it is to do with that simple romantic notion of making music, if you put yourself in a beautiful quiet place, you'll want to make music that re- flects that. Almost everything on this record was made in that house, so the two are completely bound together.
When did you first become in- volved in music? Was it some- thing that you always wanted to do? I took up drums when I was 17,
I wanted to play in bands and there were very few drummers around. When I did get to join bands I was constantly disappointed, most mu- sicians I came across talked such a big game but were never as good as they claimed, and that made me want to start playing other instru- ments. I was always fascinated by how
records sounded, production value, so it all just sort of started there. There was no profound sense of 'this is what I am meant to do', I
just loved being around it, so I pur- sued it.
Having caught you twice this year, I can see that you are more assured in your live perform- ances than you were. Were you always a nervous performer or was it the prospect of putting out your own songs? Has the full- band helped to improve the live performances in any way, do you feel? Do you prefer performing or writing music? Playing live for me was almost
like learning to walk for the first time. I'd never played in any con- sistent fashion before I put out the record; I was very much a studio musician only. Taking these songs that had all these intricate parts and harmonies going on, and stripping them back to just a voice and a gui- tar was something I found incredi- bly difficult to do. Perseverance was key, playing
the songs over and over again, un- derstanding them from the ground up. I think there was a certain naivety on my part as well, as though because I had written and sung these songs I could magically get up on stage and through sheer force of will make them work. Mistake! They are very much 2 separate
entities, what you make, and how you play it to others. It was only in the last few months, playing with the group of musicians I've put to- gether, playing the songs solo over and over again, and treating the process with the respect it de- serves, that I've really understood what it takes. Now I love it, every second of my time on stage whether it's on my own or with others.
Is there any music that you are listening to quite a lot at the mo- ment? Is there anything, in par- ticular, that is influencing any tracks you may be writing presently? I've been listening to the new
Menomena record, Mines, a lot. It's incredible. I'm fascinated by the way they arranged the songs; some of it is just unreal. Also Lisbon by the Walkmen. Aside from the
songs being flawless, the sound of that record is so singular and bril- liant. I've also gone back to listen- ing to a lot of the hip hop records I obsessed over when I was learning how to record music, In Search Of… by N.E.R.D., the first Missy Elliott records, Black on Both Sides by Mos Def. I mean, I'm not going to be rap-
ping on the second record or any- thing, but from a structural point of view, a lot of the new songs I'm working on are much more rhyth- mical than anything on the album.
Also, are there any artists you would be particularly eager to record or perform with? I don’t think so, I never really
think about stuff like that. I mean there are bands I'd love to jump on stage and sing a song with, if the National asked me to sing the cho- rus of ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ at a show or come record a song with them then I'd happily oblige! But at the moment I'm still learning so much about my own songwriting, I think I'm happy exploring that for the moment.
Currently, you are touring the US with Bell X1. Tracks of yours have appeared in both Grey's Anatomy and One Tree Hill, while you are also releasing an EP in the States. How is the proj- ect going? It's going really, really well. For
my first time playing here, getting to come out here with Bell X1 in these size venues to incredibly at- tentive audiences, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to this whole thing. You could hear a pin drop in the rooms most nights. The fact that the EP is out, and
with the songs in those tv shows you mentioned, means that there was already something to be build- ing on towards the release of the album in January. I also heard my songs being played on NPR one morning, which was the first time something like that has happened to me, exceptionally surreal mo- ment!
The album was very well re- ceived in Ireland, in particular among the blogging community. Do you pay much attention to critical reviews? I guess the thing with my record
was that when I put it out and no one knew who I was, so very few major publications gave it much
The lowdown with James Vincent McMorrow
James Vincent McMorrow is back in Cork this Friday
time initially, aside from Jim Car- roll at the Irish Times who's always great for supporting new music, and if they did they gave it a pretty short and relatively uninterested write up, which is fine. I guess the way it normally
works is they have the album for months before they review it. That's probably why the blogs were the ones to really take the record and run with it, they started writing about it after they'd had some time to properly listen to it.
You were more outspoken than most artists in the midst of the IMRO-blogger dispute earlier this year. Do you feel that the positive online feedback that was created around the time of the release was a factor in your suc- cess in Ireland? Absolutely. This isn't a record
that was destined to be played on daytime radio, so people passing it around as a complete album was what it was going to take if it was to keep growing and moving. It was that response from certain blogs, from certain radio DJ’s that I reckon made people go and seek out the album in the first place. And in terms of that dispute, all
I did was post a blog on my own site talking about my own personal experience with putting out an album from scratch. Every blogger who asked me got a copy of it, and explicit permission to post what they wanted. Most of them do this purely for the love of it, so to turn
around and ask them to pay a fee for doing so; I didn't think it made much sense.
What can we expect from James Vincent McMorrow in 2011? Are you going to continue touring and getting your record to new places or can we hope for a fol- low-up to "Early in the Morn- ing"? The album comes out in the
US/Canada/Europe in January, so I think it's going to be a year of solid playing and travelling. I've started recording demos for the next record already, so lots of new songs will be in the set. There are already 3 new ones we're playing at these next 4 Irish shows; they're a really good indicator of where the next record is going to be going. I'm also putting out this 7" vinyl
with my friend James at Any Other City records, a limited edition Irish only thing, which I’m really ex- cited for people to hear. Hopefully things like that will keep people happy until the second record comes out!
James Vincent McMorrow plays the Pavilion in Cork on Friday, October 29th. At the time of writ- ing, tickets are still available via ticketmaster and tickets.ie
. This show is a fantastic opportunity to see one of Ireland’s finest young talents showcasing one of the al- bums of the year and I’d urge you not to miss it.
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