James Vincent McMorrow

by
jamesvm
Last month, Irish artist James Vincent McMorrow released his third studio album. We Move is the most honest and unfiltered Mcmorrow has ever been, straying away from the use of allegory that was so common in his first records, to create his most personal work yet. Kate Giff spoke to him about the record, his live shows, and more.

Photo Credit: Britrevolution

I  wanted to start by congratulating you on We Move being number one in Ireland. That’s a pretty big deal.
Yeah, thank you. I think that’s the first time that’s happened so it’s pretty cool.

How are you feeling in the general post-release-haze? Has it all been how you wanted?
Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to answer the question because it’s hard to know what I wanted. It feels like it’s been out for months, I guess because I’ve been on the press and promo trail for a while now; my brain is kind of a bit of a mushy mess at this point so I can’t remember what’s happening or where I am. But to answer your question, it’s pretty fucking cool. It’s dope that people bought the record, and are still buying it, and listening to it as much as they are.

Do you look for feedback from fans on social media?
I think it’s a tricky thing because the response has been really great, which in itself is amazing, but it can set you up for these weird moments. You can’t get in a rhythm where you’re constantly going on Twitter looking for affirmation from people. It’s lovely to see that people are liking it, and I try and stay as engaged as possible. I think in the past, if someone really hasn’t liked the record and they’ve made it known to me, it’s always really upset me – I think it upsets everybody when those things happen. But with this record, I don’t feel that vulnerable to that kind of stuff anymore.

As a long time fan, it feels like the vibe around this album release was very different, partly because of the open-letter that you started with. Why did you decide to go down that route?
I think because it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. This record was as much about doing things I’ve always wanted to do, but I’d never had the confidence to actually do, as anything. I spent so much time thinking about this record then we made it relatively quickly. That’s what I wanted to say at that particular moment and I believe that’s the right thing to do at that point. There’s definitely a different feel to this album- apart from the fact that it’s existing on a level that’s beyond anything I’ve done before in terms of exposure – it’s more spontaneous and open for me, so I hope that’s shining through a bit.

Definitely, it’s a nice surprise for a fan to be able to get that access, but is there a balance between wanting fans to understand where you’re coming from, and giving them too much of the meaning, taking away the mystery?
In the past I’ve over thought it, and at this point I’m giving it the appropriate amount of thought. In interviews I gave for the second record, I always talked about wanting to keep things obscure, and not put too much onus on the lyrics because I thought in my mind “I want people to care about the guitars as much as they care about the lyrics.”  I’m not saying that it was a mistake. But, in hindsight, the thing that I love about music is a degree of plain spoken openness. It’s not about trying to manipulate the picture to try and make people see what you want them to see, it’s not about curating a picture. I can’t tell someone they need to listen to the snare on track four, and explain that I spent six months trying to get that sound, because ultimately that doesn’t resonate with people. What resonates with them, and me, is standing on stage singing songs that mean something to me, that will impact people in a way that’s tangible. I’d rather give too much of myself away than not enough, otherwise I don’t get anything out of it, which is also important. I need to get something from this as a human being.

Was that another spontaneous decision or did you look back at former albums and think I want to change this?
I’m someone who overthinks, which can be bad, but when it comes to making records, I think that it’s good because I did examine what happened with the second record. That was the first time I put something out in the world where there was an amount of attention on me. When the record came out, people were quickly judging it and talking about it and I was having to listen to those ideas and decide if I agreed or not. Music is subjective, and everyone has the right to an opinion, but you also have to be objective about your own music, and apply an amount of reasoning to what you’re doing. I was taking things away from the process and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, because I’m a human being prone to mistakes.

So while being open on this record was ultimately for you, did you ever think of it in terms of helping other people?
It’s impossible for me to not see that people find themselves in my music in a way that’s tangible and real to them. That’s a lovely thing. I wasn’t making the decisions to feed into that, but that’s what I love about doing what I do; being on stage and seeing people react and respond. No one’s ever come to my show as a fair-weather fan; people are in it because they’re in it, and that resonates with me. Again, to go back to what I was doing wrong, I was trying to make music that was to a degree overtly feeding into that sensibility: I want people to feel. The thing I realised that I needed to do was – and this sounds really flowery – make myself feel, sing these songs on stage and know I can sing them for a long time. It’s the songs where I know what I was talking about and why I was talking about it that mean the most to me.

In terms of live shows after releasing an album, do you just want to play the new material?
This is the first time where I want to play all 10 of these songs [from We Move] on stage every night, and we fully intend to play all 10 of them. This is an album that was built to be played live. There’s always the narcissistic thing with an artist that they say the most recent thing is the best they’ve done, but I’m not a legacy artist. I’m not 10 albums in to my career, this is my third album, and I feel like I’m getting closer to what I’m supposed to be doing with each thing I make. I don’t want to dismiss the things I’ve done before, it’s about finding songs that fit in the context of what you’re doing. There are definitely three or four songs off the first two records that there’s no way I would get rid of, because I still enjoy playing them. I don’t lose heart in the songs because they’re five years old, they still mean something to me. When they don’t, I’ll stop playing them.

I saw you at the Barbican a few years ago and the staging was like you were on the surface of the moon. How much do you think about staging before you go on tour?
I think about it a lot.  There are artists that throw themselves into it full force, usually at a high level, like if you’re playing stadiums. In a room with two or three thousand people, there’s not that much of an instinct. I always said that if I got to that point, I’d put that effort in, and try and visualise the thing in a specific way that wasn’t just a bunch of spotlights. I want the staging to be almost like an extra musician on stage, to guide the audience through the track. This album calls for a whole new aesthetic. I take it really seriously, and my lighting engineer Conor has been out on tour with Alabama Shakes for the last two years, he has ideas that are incredible. What you saw at the Barbican, I wanted it to feel like it was another planet, and he took that and created a whole thing. That’s wicked, I’m glad you got it. It’s a necessity for me.

Does that translate to album artwork as well?
We take that incredibly seriously, too. I always have an idea very quickly. With Post Tropical, I knew what I wanted that image to be even before it was created; I wanted it to be like a surreal postcard. With this one, that photo was taken very early on and I just loved it and wanted it to be the album cover. The theme of the record, if it had a theme, was movement. To have a photo that had an element of movement in it just fit.

Did you make a conscious decision to take yourself off the cover after Early In The Morning?
I’ve never been a big fan having myself on things. It freaks me out. I don’t think the type of music I make ever requires it. Even though I’m a solo musician, it’s always more than that. So I thought if I just plonked myself on the album cover, anyone who’s just superficially looking at that shit will think it’s just me, and they’ll have it pre-judged. A lot of people say they listened because they like the cover. If you work like that, I’m not judging you, but I don’t want to put myself on the cover so you think it’s just going to be a dude with a guitar. You’ve got to think about those people and take that into account.

Last question, if I was going to get hit by a bus tomorrow, what album should I listen to today?
Shit, that’s dark. I respect the darkness. Are you a fan of The National?

I am…
I always say Boxer by The National, but if you’ve listened to that I’d say D’Angelo. Listen to Voodoo by D’Angelo. That’s an album I come back to more and more and it keeps me intrigued.