Interview: James Morrison talks his new album and sharing a line up with The Roots
James Morrison broke onto the scene way back in 2006. Now, over ten years later and after living through a string of personal adversities, he’s a changed man with a new sense of purpose and artistic vision.
We caught up with James ahead of his performance at this year’s ONBlackheath to find out what we can expect from his set and about his love for The Roots.
You’ve had a pretty tough few years personally, what’s it like to be back on the road and releasing new music?
Yeah, yeah it’s really good. It feels exciting, I feel more happy about it now even though it’s less successful in terms of chart positions and stuff like that. I feel positive about what kind of music I’m making and it feels more like I can enjoy it a bit more nowadays.
Your new album ‘You’re Stronger Than You Know’ was released in March. Can you tell us a bit about the writing process?
The oldest song is four years old but most of them were sort of written across the next few years after that. The bulk of the ones I really liked were written right at the end. Once I knew what sort of vibe the album was going to be, I had a better understanding of what I needed to go on there. I wrote probably 4 or 5 of the tunes really quickly at the end. I knew I wanted it to be a live album and I wanted it to deal with the stuff that I was going through but in a subtle way that’s not so obvious. I just wanted them to sound positive, soulful and reminiscent of music that I liked when I was growing up which was 60s/70s music.
Once I gathered the songs it was a really quick process of making the album. I was just like ‘let’s get on with it, record the songs and see what happens’. I went into it quite open-minded really, the process was the thing that I enjoyed the most. I didn’t really think about anything, just played the songs, thought about what felt good and went with my instincts - that was the nice thing about it.
I do feel like I would like to try and keep getting better at the writing of the songs. I feel like I’ve still got a better album in me, but I’m happy with the feel of it and the way that it was recorded and the vibe of it is what I’m more pleased with.
This album is a lot more soulful compared to your previous releases which were a lot more pop.
Yeah, I think I’ve been overproduced in the past and because I was young, I didn’t know what I wanted. I suppose everyone just tried to do the same thing as before. The ‘Broken Strings’ thing was very pop and sort of synthetic and my undiscovered stuff was raw and live. I just didn’t really know how to get that right, I had a lot of string arrangements on the first album and I suppose that filled it out a little bit more. It was a nice learning experience to go back to stripping it right back to the live songs - just a voice and a band. That’s why I was reluctant to put any strings on this album because I wanted to hear the room on the record.
What’s your favourite thing about playing festivals?
It’s playing to people that aren’t necessarily there for me, but by the end I’ve got them. I always feel like I’ve accomplished something then. Sometimes people are like, ‘Eh James Morrison’, and it might not be their cup of tea - they think it might be really sultry or pop or whatever. And then I get it up and smash it out with the band and it sounds great, people are like, huh it’s pretty good! I like that about festivals.
For someone who hasn’t seen you live before, can you tell us what they can expect from you at ONBlackheath?
I’ve got quite a big band, I haven’t got any horns with me at this point in time but I’d like to! You don’t really miss them too much - it’s just a really good, solid, rock, soul live band. We don’t use any tracks, it’s quite a rocking show. It can go from really subtle, beautiful moments and I can power in with the band and it sounds way rockier than I think people will expect. So it’s going to be a very soulful, emotional show! Hopefully, people will get into the lyrics, maybe cry… laugh a bit… I just try and be a real person on stage, without too much of a show. As in, the show is the songs, it’s not scripted - I just sort of go for it!
You’re playing the same day as The Roots and you’ve been known to sing their songs in sets, are you a fan of them and will you be watching them after your set?
I am exactly that! I’m definitely going to watch them. They’ve made so much music that I love and I’ve always liked them. I’ve always wanted a band like The Roots, so I’ll definitely be watching them, 100%.
What’s your favourite song of yours to play live?
There’s a few actually, maybe one of the tracks on my new album, ‘Power’. It’s just a very soulful, uplifting, funky sort of tune really - it’s like a sunshine tune! Then there’s another one that’s quite depressing but rocky and it’s called ‘Slowly’ - I love playing that.
This year we’ve got Street Feast coming to OnBlackheath. What type of food is a festival essential for you?
What’s funny is, I’ve never been to a festival for more than one day as a punter. I’m going to another festival this year as a punter and it’s the first time I’ve stayed there for more than a night. I’m excited! I haven’t got a clue, in my head, it would be something like a jacket potato with chilli, or something like that, or a pulled pork roll. I’m not fussy, I was bought up on a council estate so a burger and a hot dog is fine. If they’ve got some nice curry or chilli, something like that I’d be down.
We’ve also got a dedicated family area at the festival with activities for all ages - including a Mini Zoo where you can touch a tarantula or a snake. Would you be up for the challenge?
Haha! Yeah easy, no worries! I’ve held one before it’s fine, they can’t hurt you. My heart would start beating holding a massive spider in my hands, but I’m alright with snakes, they don’t bother me. I’m not a massive fan of spiders but I can hold them! Weirdly, I’d rather touch a tarantula than a house spider, it’s the way they move in the house, it’s a bit scary - tarantulas move a bit more slowly.
James plays the Main Stage on Saturday, 13th July. Make sure you pick up your tickets to see him, Jamiroquai, The Roots and more at this year's ONBlackheath.