- Mon, 2011-09-26 14:03
Five years on from his 2006 chart topping, platinum debut, James Morrison is set to release his third album, The Awakening. We caught up with James for the third (!) time in I Like Music history for a chat about bearing his soul, ignoring commercial pressures and dealing with fame.
ILM: How are you feeling now The Awakening is finished?
James: I’m feeling good! I spent a long time writing the songs, so when I recorded them I felt quite good before I’d even finished. I just hope people like it as much as I liked making it. I feel really proud of it which is a nice place to be. Even if it doesn’t do well I feel like I’ll still be able to stand up next to it, rather than trying to do something which I know will sell loads and I’d be unhappy with. I’m in a better place than where I was last time. I didn’t let my managers into the studio! I didn’t let any of the A&R guys in either. I really felt like I was in my own little space, my own little world to sculpt how I wanted to sculpt it.
ILM: We know you're a big fan of old school soul and funk. How did those influences work their way into the record this time around?
James: Yeah, there are definite references to all the old soul music that I love! I didn’t want it to sound like a rehash of that music though, I just wanted it to sound a little like it’s referencing it. Ultimately, I just wanted it to sound live. That was the main thing I had in my head before I started recording: I wanted it to sound like a band in a room. Simple and not over-produced, but with nice production.
ILM: The record refrences some very personal stories, including the death of your father. How do you feel about sharing so much with so many?
James: It’s hard for me to talk about personal stuff, but when I say it in a song I don’t feel like I’m giving anything away that is too personal. Even though dealing with my dad dying was a very personal thing, I think the fact that a lot of people can relate to it is enough for me to write about it and not worry. It helped me in my life. I was struggling to cope with my dad’s death, so to write songs about him kept him alive in a way… it just helped me deal with it really. I don’t feel like there is any lyric in there that is too revealing. There’s a lot of things that have happened in my life and in my relationships - whether it’s with my parents or family - that I would never talk about, so to just give a hint of it I think is enough to let people in. I don’t feel like I’m giving too much away.
ILM: How difficult is it to channel those complex emotions and experiences into a three or four minute song?
James: Doing In My Dreams, for example, I thought I’d write down what I really wanted to say, then if there was a better creative way of saying it afterwards I’d change it. I didn’t need to change anything by the time I’d finished it, because it was exactly what I wanted to say. I played it to some people and they were like “it’s a very simple song, the lyrics could be a little less obvious,” but I kind of liked the fact that they were obvious. I didn’t need to sculpt the lyrics too much to make them work; they just came. If an idea comes really quickly then I think there’s a reason for it.
ILM: You've won awards and had some amazing chart success, how aware of that are you when writing songs? Does it effect how you make your music?
James: Success is weird thing. Success to me is just a perception in your mind. I could have hundreds of awards and it wouldn’t affect too much how I think about myself. I’m still very realistic about what I think about myself. I did feel good, obviously, when I won the Brit. I was stunned! Winning Best Male is one of the best accomplishments that I’ve got, but at the same time if I don’t feel good about the music I’m making I could have a thousand awards and it wouldn’t make a difference. With this album I didn’t think about awards at all. I didn’t even think about pleasing people. I just wanted to write songs that I felt I needed to write to feel better, and that’s what I did. I think that’s why I enjoyed it. With my second album I definitely felt like I’d had a Brit and that I needed to come back with an album that was going to sell. The pressure of having to do that just didn’t allow me to enjoy the process of making it.
ILM: We first chatted to you just after you’d done your very first performance on Jools Holland, before you'd released your first album! You’re now on your third album and have come a long way, what have been some of the most significant things you’ve learnt along the way?
James: I always felt like I had to be a smoother version of myself. I’m quite clumsy and very honest - sometimes too honest - and I’ll give away too much. I’ll admit to my insecurities in front of a lot of people and put myself down. I think I’ve just learnt to accept who I am and be happy with it. I think that’s the important thing. I was just always really insecure. I’d done a lot of singing live before I got signed, so I was good at that side of things, but doing interviews and videos and all that other stuff is not really so natural to me. It’s taken me a long time to get comfortable with it
ILM: Learning to just be yourself?
James: Yeah, having that confidence to just be yourself takes a long time to build, especially if you’re insecure and shy. I was shy! Playing in front of people has taken me years to get used to and do without a second thought. I’m not an attention-seeking person. If there’s a big room full of people I’ll stay in the corner and wait until I can have a one-on-one or one-on-two conversation, rather than be the guy in the centre of the room. So that was tough to deal with; the attention and all that stuff. I think that’s why I was always being self-deprecating. I’d never felt comfortable with loads of admiration, I never got it growing up…from girls in general or for playing music. As a person I never got told how amazing I was and it still feels weird.
ILM: How do you feel when you sing?
James: It’s a hard feeling to describe when I sing. It feels like a universal way of speaking. It feels like when I sing it’s any language… I’m expressing feeling and I don’t have to be from a certain place for people to understand it. That’s the magical thing about being a singer; when you feel like you’re really interpreting what you feel and people feel what you’re singing. That’s the thing I always concentrate on getting across. Whatever I’m singing about I want people to know that it’s from the right place. I’d rather sing a song that puts me across with a feeling rather than me trying to do a cool vocal, but sometimes it’s good to have a mixture of both. Slave To The Music to me is a mixture of both. It’s a lyric I can relate to and it’s a rhythm I can get into vocally. It’s good to mess around with both kinds of things really...
ILM: What are you hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future? What’s left to achieve?
James: Aside from the tour and album and stuff, I’d like to work on some decent side-projects one day. Maybe write songs for other people, or help develop someone else. The next step for me is setting up my studio at home, working from home and having the time and space to experiment with stuff. The more time and space that I’ve got to work in my own studio, the more I’m going to be writing, and the more I’m going to be getting a better idea of how to put stuff together. My problem at the beginning was that I knew how to play and I could sing live, but I wasn’t very good at putting tracks together. I’m still not very good, but I’ve got a better idea of how to do it now. If I get an assistant to help me with tracks then that’s going to help me a lot!