Hailing from Dublin, singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow has been wowing audiences since his debut album Early In The Morning was released in 2010. Since then he has continued to amass fans, with his mega-popular cover of Steve Winwood’s classic Higher Love, and second album Post Tropical.
Having just released his third studio album We Move to critical acclaim, McMorrow has a busy 2017 ahead of him which (lucky for us) includes heading back down under in March. We chatted with the singer about his upcoming Australian tour, the concept of genres in music, and what’s currently spinning on his record player.
Music Feeds: What first got you into music?
James Vincent McMorrow: Cliché stuff, really. There were no revelatory moments for me when I was a kid. My parents listened to a lot of music, a lot of good music, a lot of bad music (laughs). I just liked singing along to it and I liked the feeling I got from like just jumping around the room to music, be it something like ELO or Air Supply or whatever stuff my mum was listening to.
My dad listened to a lot of The Eagles, Neil Young, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan. My parents just listened to a lot of music which I think is a thing I took from them quite heavily. I always just thought music was music, ’cause the fact they would go from ABBA to Elvis Costello to The Beatles made perfect sense to me.
MF: You’ve just released your latest album We Move, what was the recording process for that like?
JVM: It was fun. For the first time in my life the recording process was a lot of fun. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that I included people for the first time so it wasn’t stressful for me the way it had been before. On the first record I took on everything myself, and on the second record, and that’s not really something I’d ever want to do again. It was just a lot more fun to be around, and I traveled a lot. The album was kind of recorded across the course of a year, from LA to Toronto and London and back home. So there was a lot of moving and traveling and connecting with people. It was a very revelatory experience, very eye-opening as well. For the first time in my life, not a stressful thing, relatively speaking. I enjoyed the process for the first time in my life.
MF: That’s lovely! What were your main influences for the album?
JVM: Musically speaking, the idea of the album was that it would reflect my ideas of life: the things that I have believed for a long time and trying to put into practice. I talk in interviews all the time about how I don’t believe in genres. I haven’t subscribed to them, like what I was saying to you before with my inception as a kid, I never believed in musical genres. People are so intent on placing them upon artists and musicians. Like you play guitar so you need to play guitar, you know?
I wanted to put those ideas into practice: that I believe a guitar is just a vehicle for a song, as is a drum pattern or a vocal melody or refrain. I wanted to be truthful to my beliefs as a musician more so than being like “I want this to be a guitar record, I want this to be a synth record”. None of those conversations entered any of our heads while making it, it was just like “Is this fucking cool? Does this excite us musically?” and if it did then we just went with it. I think that inevitably the album came out kind of genre-less, to a degree, which can be difficult for people to put it into place. I’ve made three records like that now though, so I think people are kind of used to it.
MF: You’ve mentioned that your latest single Get Low was influenced by the production skills of Pharell Williams. Do you feel that you’re perhaps more influenced by production than genre and artist?
JVM: Yeah, definitely. Like production is something that has always compelled me across all genres. There are some genres I used to listen to that would not have been based on production. But, I think as a singer-songwriter and as a bit of a producer definitely listening to The Neptunes, listening to Timbaland, listening to Neil Young records or listening to Jimmy Iovine’s production on Tom Petty records, hearing the way the bass hits against the snare and the kick and how it fits together. Hearing 808s in hip-hop and wanting to figure out how I could incorporate that world and warmth of the 808 into my life as a singer and as songwriter, while still feeling natural. So all those things kind of came into play with that record and with Get Low it’s a good example of that, if you were to take away the 808 it’s just a plain-spoken guitar song, that’s what I had written. To me, the warmth of that 808 was so important.
MF: You’ve had quite a good response from your cover of Higher Love, what made you choose that song as a cover?
JVM: That was recorded in 2011, and it was recorded for a charity record. The charity record had quite specific parameters. It was a joint thing between a charity and an advanced training college where people learn to become sound engineers and studio engineers. Both the charity and the college had come to being in the year that song came out which I believe is 1987, so they asked me to cover a song from that year. Higher Love is one of my favourite songs of all time and it happened to be from that year.
The fact that that song became as ubiquitous and as big as it has is amazing because it’s raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for that charity. It came together so quickly, it was a one take thing, and I was very sick the day I recorded it. I didn’t even think about it at the time, I just loved that song and felt like there was a darkness that gets lost in the original. The original is genius. I think that version is incredible, but there’s something beautiful in the lyrics and I wanted to record something that captured that, so I did.
MF: What are you currently listening to at the moment?
JVM: I really like the new Childish Gambino record, I think it’s really, really interesting. I love Donald Glover, I think he’s a really interesting human being and I love that record. A friend of mine produced the John Legend record so I’ve been listening to that a lot the past couple of weeks, I really like that. Generally this year the records that have probably struck with me the most, I really like the [most recent] Bon Iver record, I listen to that a lot, I think he’s an incredible musician and it’s a really interesting album. I like the Frank Ocean records, and there’s a band called Pinegrove that I really love, they put out a record, but they’re a lot smaller. They don’t really get the recognition, but I think in a couple of years time they’re going to be just everywhere because they have something incredibly special about them. That was probably my favourite record of the year, the Pinegrove album.
MF: That’s cool, I’ll have to check it out! Is it similar to Bon Iver at all?
JVM: You know, it’s more of like a straight guitar record. They’re just a really great band, lyrically speaking. Listen to the first song on the album called Old Friends. I love that song, there’s a section after the second chorus where everything drops out and there’s this one specific lyric that just makes me cry. I think if you listen to that you’ll like it.
MF: You’re coming back to Australia in March next year, what are you most excited to see when you’re over here?
JVM: I mean generally speaking this is probably our third or maybe fourth visit to Australia in the last few years, and the nature of the schedule over there means that we have a lot of free time, so we get to see a lot of stuff and go to a lot of places, so there’s nothing specific anymore that I’m ticking off the list.
Generally speaking, I just like being there a lot. Before I was doing so well in places like America or Canada, we were doing really well in Australia, and I can’t quite figure out what it was, just something about the reception to the albums was amazing. It became quite a special place for me quite quickly. The last time we toured there, we got to play the Sydney Opera House and that’s such a special experience, you know, that you don’t get to do every day. I’m just excited to be there, I’m a big fan of Melbourne I like it there a lot. I’m always excited to be anywhere when we’re playing shows, to be honest.
MF: What do you have planned for the rest of 2017? Do you have anything scheduled to be happening later in the year?
JVM: (Laughs). Yeah, we had a lot of shows this year, like I just finished two and a half months of touring this weekend. Right now my plan is to go home and sleep, because I’ve forgotten what sleep feels like. But soon we’ll be right back into it. We start going again in January, we have a couple of shows, then we’re starting the Australian tour in March, then I think we’re going to Japan, Singapore a couple of other places. Then after that it’s back to Europe for shows, then America, and then we’re into Summer [in the Northern Hemisphere], and you know, the festivals are going to be super busy next year. So, my schedule is pretty much locked out now until November 2017.
MF: Is there anywhere that you haven’t played yet that you would like to play in the future?
JVM: Yeah, well I mean I’ve never played shows in Japan before so that’s got me really excited. I went to Tokyo earlier this year and I loved it. It was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been and the people were so lovely, so I’m really excited to play shows there because I don’t know how it’s all going to go or how the crowd will react! They’re so polite and respectful, I don’t know how the interaction will go, so I’m excited to see what that’s like!
James Vincent McMorrow will return to Australia in 2017 for a limited run of shows across Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. See dates and details here.