James Vincent McMorrow’s fifth album is titled Grapefruit Season. Musically, the Irish songwriter skips between genre, emotion and expectation. The reason for his unpredictable approach, James explains, is to create something as close to a chaotic two-year period as possible. And certainly, he does.
Grapefruit Season is an album defined by giddy highs and aggressive lows. “I was coming to terms,” James shares, “with my life. Not as I want it to be but as it actually is.”
McMorrow’s full thoughts below.
MUSIC FEEDS: What is Grapefruit Season about? Can you bring Music Feeds readers into your headspace?
JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW: I’ve been coming to Australia for 10 years now. For three, four, five different albums. I always feel like the people of Australia get me. I’ve always felt understood. My records have always been well received. I think that there’s a nuance to how people perceive it. And this is a pretty nuanced record in a lot of ways. I’m not trying to do anything linear anymore. Because I just don’t think about life in a linear way anymore. I think about it as isolated incidents I’m trying to coalesce together into something. And that’s the way that I made this album. I’ve tried to create something that has a little bit more nuance and depth to it. When you listen to the album, you’re getting as close to the representation of my life as I can humanly make it.
MF: The album shifts not just between genres but emotions as well…
JVM: I spent two years making Grapefruit Season. My endeavour was to try and make something that genuinely captured the full spectrum of the human emotion in my life as I understand it to be. I was coming to terms with my life. Not as I want it to be but as it actually is. So emotionally it does run the gamut because that was my goal. I think that in the past, I leaned towards darker emotional themes. I still pull towards those. But I’ve also tried to add an amount of levity to it. And a bit of cynical humour!
Because that’s me as a person. If you have seen bits of my shows, you know it’s 50 percent music and 50 percent stand-up comedy. That’s just the human element of that you know? I don’t like the idea of me standing on a stage with a one-way interaction with an audience. So I tried to bring that type of emotional resonance to the album. It is something that people can laugh at as well as cry at.
MF: Did recording during coronavirus pandemic lockdown impact your creative process?
JVM: I think that it became more of a job in the last year and a half. Previously I saw it more [as] an obsession than a vocation. Something I woke up every day and felt compelled to do. And then at some point last year (because there was no one there making me do anything) I kind of switched how I thought about it. I started going into my studio in a more of a nine-to-five way. It now has a bit more of a structured situation to it. Which has actually been really helpful to me physically and mentally.
As a songwriter, it’s helped me a lot. As I progress as a songwriter, my goal is, always, learning
the basics. The basics of what to expect from being a musician. Turning toward more of a “workmanlike structure” helped the album’s production. Going into the studio, writing and creating, helped me approach life in a more even-keeled manner.
In the last year, there were a lot of manic episodes that everybody felt. There were a lot of highs
and very aggressive lows. So I’ve been trying to find a little bit of consistency. I started approaching music a little differently, a little bit more like it was a job. That has actually been quite helpful.
MF: Were you frustrated about not being able to perform?
JVM: Definitely. My entire life has been based around the fact that I can get onto a stage or get in a room and sing. Or that I can write a song and people can like that song. Through those interactions, I have developed my personality, my psyche, my sense of wellbeing.
I am not saying any of that is really healthy. It’s not. I think last year really illustrated and highlighted how unhealthy it is.
But that’s the reality. You know, we take so much of ourselves from what we do and who we are. And all of that got taken away last year.
MF: So you were having a big “Who am I?” moment?
JVM: I’m not sure. I’m not sure if anything came out of it. Because I think the reality is that once we return some sort of normalcy, which is kind of happening in Ireland now, my fear is I will “hard reset” into the person I was before. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to be a person trying to find their identity through one thing, making music or being a musician. Because as we learned last year, nothing is predictable. Like, we’ve gone through life assuming that the next morning we will wake up and something similar to the day before will happen. Now we know that that’s not true. The idea of going back to a person who got all of his self-worth from being a musician?
I love being a musician. And it will always be the thing that I do. But I don’t want to be a random person, I want to be a whole person. My goal right now, in a very simple form, is to be a bit more coherent as a person.
MF: Musicians are now performing live again in Ireland. How did it feel to get back on stage?
JVM: I did a show in Ireland last year. I guess the first show. There were no shows here for a year-and-a-half. I had this first one back during the summer. Since then I’ve done a couple of festivals in the UK.
A lot of old habits and old muscle memory kicked in quite quickly. The first show was very manic. I think a lot of our hopes and dreams as a collective Irish musical community were really hardwired into that first show back. I think that was very special. It was very strange and very emotionally raw at times.
In Ireland, as an artistic community, we are paraded around the world. Irish culture is a worldwide commodity. But this year, while other industries were reopening, the music industry here was put on pause and treated quite terribly.
And so I feel there was a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity around shows coming back. So it’s been strange. It doesn’t feel normal at all. And it will probably be a long time before the idea of playing shows feels anywhere close to normal.
MF: One of the songs on the record is called ‘Hollywood and Vine’…
JVM: Pre 2020, I spent probably three to four months of my year in LA. Just because it’s a good place to work. And because it’s warm! When it’s cold here I like to go to places that are warm. It’s a place that I’m very familiar with. And that I love. The reason I wrote that song is that lyrically it speaks as a very specific emotional response to my time there.
Because what happens is that I go there and for the first two or three weeks I am obsessed with everything about Hollywood. People are very healthy and quite earnest. And I think when you are making music, being around people that are earnest can be really helpful.
Everything feels important. You get really caught up in it. And then, after a while, my cynical Irish persona kicks in. And I start questioning the earnestness, the poise and the slickness of everything. And then I want to just leave.
I just want to eject myself from the city as fast as possible and get back to Dublin. To be around Irish people who consider and share my cynicism. So ‘Hollywood and Vine’ was written from that perspective.
I was standing at a street corner which was called ‘Hollywood and Vine.’ That’s where it started. And I was just sort of looking around. And, in my mind, documenting the people and how everybody looked. And then just realizing I needed to leave…
MF: Is that a big part of your writing? That fly-on-the-wall approach?
JVM: In the beginning, if you were to go back to my first album, I deployed metaphor quite aggressively. I think I was trying to say things that felt resonant and felt close to my heart. I wasn’t really well-built to occupy a space where I could be quite open, direct and candid.
As I have moved through my albums, my writing has led me to a point where I can stand on a street corner, see a scene unfold, and then go home and write in a coherent way. I just want to document the thing. I’m still trying.
I think it’s harder. There is a misnomer in the music industry, the idea that the hard music to make is more atmospheric and obscure. I would argue that the harder thing to do is sit and write pop songs that are is resonant. The kind that hits you on a lyrical level, has poetry and that melodically does its thing.
It’s a hard thing to do. And I’m not out here putting my hand up saying I’ve mastered this craft or anything. I’m just saying that what compels me as a musician is to try and find those roots, to search, to try to find something like ‘Hollywood and Vine’ that is setting a scene that lets people into that world. But also retains enough obscurity, enough, opaqueness, enough candidness to tick all those boxes for me as a writer.
MF: Is there a song by somebody else which is a good example of this?
JVM: I guess if we’re talking about writers that are really candid and clever, and if we’re talking about Australia, I think Courtney Barnett is a prime example. I remember, the first time I heard ‘Avant Gardner’ by Courtney Barnett.
I honestly think that that might have been the first time I heard a song that describes something incredibly, not mundane, but there is nothing high or profound about those lyrics. It is very much
specifically about a thing that happened in real-time.
To find a way to elevate that to the level of art and poetry is really a very singular and very rare
skill. She’s the kind of person that comes to mind when I think of that type of writing. Phoebe
Bridges as well.
MF: Is there a message that you would like to share with your Australian fans ahead of the new album?
JVM: I think everybody in the world has been through a very similar experience. I hope people like the record and want to listen to it. But, I mean, I know how mentally exhausting this period and process is.
And I think that, as an artist and a lover of music, the idea that those things can get taken away from you, again is very hard to deal with. I hope everyone is holding up okay. And having lived through it, on this side of the world, I know that it does. Once you get through it, it does very quickly go into the rearview mirror. Thankfully!
‘Grapefruit Season’ is out now.