James Morrison has had unpleasant experiences in his musical journey and personal life but that hasn’t stopped him gaining success towards the end and living a more happy life with a few changes. I had the pleasure to catch up with the talented singer/songwriter and we got chatting about his new album, song writing process and so on.
What encouraged you to get into music?
It’s a combination of having no money growing up and it was free. It was an easy thing to kill time with. My mum was in a band, so I was always around music. My dad used to sing and my family always used to play music at home. I was always singing along to music but then my mate had a guitar when he was about 5 and I used to have a go on it. Then I got one at about the same age, but I was shit, I smashed it up because my sister used to take the piss out of me and then I got another one when I was 13. Music was something I could escape to because I had a bit of a shit time growing up, so I thought playing my guitar could allow me to escape from overthinking about stuff. Once I could play enough to play in front of people- it happened slowly really, my mum used to embarrass me and get me up in family parties and restaurants, and she’d go “if my boy plays, will you give us free food?” and I’m like “Ahhh!” but yeah all that stuff was handy for confidence building really! I also used to go busking a lot, I played in a school band and by the time I was 16 I thought I knew then, this is what I wanted to do. I used to imagine being on the radio. I think when I was 6 or 7, I remembered watching Moonwalker, and that bit where all the crowd are singing along and all the lights are out and I just remember thinking “I wanna do that, I wanna be a singer, I wanna do what Michael Jackson does!” But that was obviously just a dream and I was a kid, I didn’t think it was actually gonna happen, I didn’t think I’d actually become a fucking well known singer. I also played open mics for a long time, I had to learn cover songs really quickly and I suppose that’s where I got my experience singing live, so I was all ready to play live before I wrote any songs and then I started writing songs and that’s when I was discovered by my managers, they came to an open mic- I did a few gigs there and they saw that there was a good crowd and then by a year and a half after that, that I got signed.
How was it winning the British Male Solo Artist at the Brits 2007, what was going through your head at the time?
I couldn’t believe it. I still feel like it was a dream, it happened so quickly- my album came out, I think it was July 2006, then the following months in February 2007 it was The Brits. It was really quick and when they called my name out, I was like “What? Nah, that’s not right!” everything slowed right down. Even when I look at the footage of me, I look so young, it was 11 years ago. I’m glad I had that type of attitude, I’m glad it just went over my head and I enjoyed it but at the same time I didn’t really take it seriously, The Brit that I got is in my drinks cabinet at home, right at the back. I don’t like showing it off; sometimes, family members come round and have pictures with it and that. I’m proud of it, but it’s not my favourite moment of my career or anything you know, it’s good- other stuff like doing Jools Holland that was more momentous to me or supporting Stevie Wonder. Those sort of things are more powerful in terms of ‘Wow, I’ve come pretty far!”
Tell us a bit about your collaboration you did with Joss Stone, how did that come about?
I met Joss at The Brits she gave me The Brit. Before then, I used to hear her songs on the radio when I was cleaning vans and I thought “I like her style!” and I was singing similar stuff at open mics and I was thinking “this young girl has done real well, maybe I could or should try get an album together and start writing some songs.” It’s fun to come full circle from before I made it I was listening her on the radio to her giving me The Brit award to working with her. She also sang with me at Coachella 10 years ago, so I’ve always come across her, she’s the only other artist on the album. I wasn’t going to do a duet to be fair but this song just sounded like it could use another voice, its like call and response. I’m glad and stoked that people like this duet more than the others, because obviously broken strings is a big song, most people who say they know my music they just say “oh Broken Strings” and I just like to have other tunes that people know because that was just a one off thing I did, you know. Musically that song wasn’t what I’m about. It was just a production of a good song, you know. I’m glad I’m bringing it more stylistically musically back to where I started out. Joss has a clean voice and mine is husky and together it combines different flavours.
You’re very open talking about the struggles you have faced, now you’re here and nothing has stopped you being where you are today, how does that make you feel?
I suppose it is just part of it really. Growing up I knew I was never gonna be like really level headed but equally all my problems were more out of insecurity, and sort of self worth things. But over time I’m getting over that because I’ve got kids and being a dad has allowed me to see myself in a good light aside from the music. It’s helped with my confidence in terms of not caring what people think so much, I just always had this thing that I’ve got to please everyone and it’s only in the last few years I’ve stopped feeling like that. I feel like I can please myself now.
What were the dark moments you endured during the making of your new album?
It was more to do with the past few years, those years were really difficult. A combination of me not selling so many albums on my last album, personal stuff going on in my personal life that was difficult to deal with, I had a kid that was difficult, difficult pregnancy, had to pretty much stop what I was doing and focus on that for a year and a half. It was just stressful, anything like that with your kids or pregnancy or your other half. It’s all pretty important stuff and I had to put everything on hold really until I got over that. I’ve been writing the whole time for the baby, I’ve been writing for the last 4 years- I already had the songs together by the time I was able to record them again. It all happened really quickly and I went from writing excessively and no one really listening to what I was doing, the label dropped me and there was part of me that thought, “What am I doing? Who am I doing this for?” I could of easily quite have given up making music there and then and not thought a second about it.
Did the previous label turn you into someone you’re not, musically?
They were trying to get me to go on radio 1, I had a discussion with them and I said look I’m not that artist and “but you know times are changing and all that, you need to stay modern” that’s what they said and I started thinking “yeah, maybe they’re right!” and I started questioning everything I’ve ever done, where I come from musically and it just screwed me up a little bit. I stopped writing for me and I was writing for everyone else and it all sounded shit. It was just a downwards spiral like that and it was only after I got dropped I started thinking differently “why don’t I write songs for my self and write songs that I like?” and that’s a good starting point.
What’s your song writing process like?
I don’t plan it out too much; it’s like a date. When you go on a first date, you’re not going to plan what you’re going to say, are you? And it’s like when you get into a room with someone or you’re trying to write a song. You just need to let it flow and then see where it takes you. You know, that’s the beauty of writing music like all the songs I’ve ever written thinking about it, it never really goes well, you have to let the idea come out and then think about it afterwards. Then work to the rough piece of music you’ve created. Sometimes I’ll just go in have pretty much have the whole song, not all the lyrics, like I’ll have the tune in the first verse and chorus and I had that quite a few times with probably 4 or 5 tunes on the album where it just all sort of, after I knew I was making the album the way I was going to make it. I was like “ok I know what I need to do now.” Whereas before I was trying this, I was trying that, I was trying different productions and then when I stripped away all the songs with production, I was left with all these core songs that I liked, they were all just demos of like acoustic guitar, piano and crap drum kit, pretty simple. And then I just tracked them up with a band and they sounded like 20 times better because proper musicians were playing them. It all came together quick at the end.
So what did you do next, how did you make this new album?
I carried on writing and then I collected the tunes together from the last four years and the news ones I’ve written that felt pretty good, and then I made an album. I did it with Colin my A&R guys from my first album, Mark Taylor who produced my album, I’ve worked with him across the years on broken string, won’t let you go, loads of stuff and Bryan who owns a studio, the three of them together have created a label and I’ve been talking about making an album like this for years with Mark. He was like “let’s just do it, we’ll sign you to a little label and do it ourselves!” I was like “alright!” and then I got really excited cause it felt like we were doing something fresh for the right reasons and I thinks that’s why I’m excited again because it feels like I’ve had freedom to create an album I’ve wanted to make and equally the main thing I’m excited about is the sound of it. I’d probably be able to write a better album in time but for now, I’m really pleased with the songs, they come across really well, they sound good. Before I just felt like I was singing with worry, singing worrying that everyone was like “are they gonna like it, are they judging me or I’m romantic, I’m not quite a singer-songwriter, I’m pop” and all that shit. And now I’m like “sing it”, I just get up and sing and if it feels good I don’t worry about it- it’s such a nice feeling to have. I’m enjoying the process now, whereas before I was just getting through it worried, I just wanted to survive and get through it so I don’t look like an idiot, you know. I don’t have any of those thoughts anymore, I’m just thinking to enjoy making it, do it for the reasons you wanna make music and then everything else falls into place.
What can we look forward to this year from you, anything new coming in the lines?
For me personally, I’m looking forward to making more albums with this framework, with a live band in the room and trying to use all the influences that I love musically. I don’t know I think, it’s not rocket science. I just need to get into a room and think about what I wanna say and write using the same inspiration I’ve always used which is good music. Wherever it comes from, I don’t care where it comes from. You know, I didn’t really listen to loads and loads of soul music wither, I just let it come out of my head, it’s like my bastard eyes version of loads of different songs that I love, ‘like son of a preacher man’. I was thinking of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave and after I did the stacks gig, it made me think I need to do something like this because in that world I feel like a boss and everything else pop stuff, I don’t feel like I’m quite right. I’m excited to do more albums, more touring and keep the music consistent with where I’m at now. I’ve also got a little England and European tour in March and the new album ‘You’re Stronger Than You Know’, is coming out on 8thMarch.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JAKE TURNEY