James Vincent McMorrow is a difficult man to pin down. He’s been busy doing press for his third album, We Move, which marks a change in direction from his previous two albums (2011’s Early in the Morning and 2014’s Post Tropical). The album sees a departure from folk pop ripe with dense imagery to a much more stripped back, RnB/hip-hop sound with central themes of loss and anxiety. “Everything on the record is written from personal experience – writing it was a kind of therapy for me. There wasn’t really anywhere to hide.”
On tour last year he met Nineteen85, a Grammy-nominated record producer (best known for producing some of Drake’s biggest hits) who ended up co-executive producing We Move. The first single, “Rising Water” perfectly blends his classic falsetto with layers of synths and beats. Did the change in direction make it more daunting to make? “In every part of this new album I see myself. I hear it in every lyric and every note. And it’s still terrifying. But it’s exactly what I needed to make.”
In the past he’s been accused of hiding behind his metaphors; there’s no place to hide on this record. He’s very open about his struggles with anxiety and low self-esteem. He started playing drums at sixteen to release pent-up anger, but didn’t see music as a potential future career. A friend at school gave him a Jeff Buckley CD which made him think differently about music generally; he also cites Fiona Apple as a big musical influence. Since then he’s battled anxiety, an eating disorder and is no stranger to failure (he was dropped by Universal very early on in his career).
He went to London to 2008, by his own admission very naive and not prepared for what was in store. He’s thankful for the experience though, as it helped him to better understand the music business. He saw friends sign big record deals and which fell flat. “If I’d been more self-possessed earlier on, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now – I’m always pushing myself to improve and grow as a result.”
Did he have a set direction with the new album, or did it just happen organically? “I had a very specific arc that I knew I wanted for the record. When I met Nineteen85 and the other producers I went on instinct – I respected them and they respected me and what I was trying to do. I could go away and leave them to it and come back and change things I didn’t like.”
What advice would he give to aspiring musicians? “You need to understand that it’s your career, not other people’s. You can delegate stuff to others, but ultimately you still have to drive the whole thing. Getting a record deal doesn’t change that.” And for anyone struggling? “There’s no reason why dancing and heavyheartedness need to be mutually exclusive things.”
James Vincent McMorrow played the Sage Gateshead on Saturday, October 15th at 7.30pm
(Interview written for Narc magazine).