“I had to push my boundaries to get something fresh” - hmv.com talks to James Morrison
As he releases Higher Than Here (which you can preview and purchase on the right-hand side of the page), his first new album for four years, we sat down with James Morrison to chat about why he needed a break from music, whittling 80 songs down to 14 and some of his fans’ strange signing requests...
Your new album Higher Than Here is out today, it’s your fourth album, do you get still get nervous putting albums out?
“I don’t take anything for granted, every time I make an album I get scared, but making music is more exciting than nerve wracking. I’d had loads of time off this time, so I really felt ready this time, I’d taken stock and I got to spend time being a dad. I ended up taking six months off and just being at home, it was great. I went on loads of holiday, I got myself a motorbike, I even went to see a spiritual healer…”
Why did you need the time off? Were you burnt out?
“I’d worked solidly for a long time. It was do an album, tour it, take two weeks off, start again, I had to get my head out of it and re-focus. I’d much rather be a failed singer than a failed dad, so I needed to give my family that time.”
How long did this album take to come together?
“Longer than usual. It usually takes me eight months to get a record together, anything up to a year, but this one took a year and a half. I needed to make sure I pushed myself and tried different things, I didn’t want to come back with another version of the same sound.”
So did you end up with loads of songs?
“I had about 80 songs by the end and I cut it down to 14. It wasn’t actually that difficult to choose which ones, I hammered the ones I liked, played them everywhere, in the car, at home, made sure they were the ones I’d stick with. They’re all quite different, I go from gospel to nothing but a folk guitar, from old soul to more dancey stuff.”
Is diversity important to you?
“I wanted lots of different flavours. I had to push my boundaries to get something fresh. Part of me wanted to make a really old school record, really soulful, part of me wanted to make a really modern record, I tried experimenting with breakbeats, the same sort of territory as Sigma and it just sounded s**t. I thought to myself ‘What am I doing?’. Cutting out tracks like that wasn’t too hard.”
Does this album have a strong lyrical thread?
“It does. It took me a while to find it, but I think it’s about discovering your inner strength and resilience, not letting your inner demons getting the better of you, embracing the negative and dealing with it, taking power from the s**t times in your life. I always want to be simple, I don’t write clever lyrics, I’ve tried that and they always go over people’s head. I never want to over complicate things.”
Why did you decide on Higher Than Here for the title?
“As soon as I wrote the song it just summed up the album, it’s about getting to that place where things are better and working towards something. It summed up the personal journey I had to go on, a journey to feel positive about the world again.”
Are you looking forward to taking the album out on tour?
“I can’t wait. I torment myself over songs to make sure they’re good live. I wanted a darker record and a record that hits harder. The last record my dad had died and it’s downbeat record, I wanted something more strident this time. I’ve got a new band, a couple of younger guys, we’re a hungry band again, these songs sound fresh."
What are your favourite kind of gigs to play?
“I love dirty, sweaty pub gigs. Venues where they smell like p**s and there’s sick up the wall. I started out in pubs and I loved it. I like getting close to people.”
You’re doing a couple of hmv signings, what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever signed...
“It tends to be boring s**t, mainly people’s phones. I did sign a woman’s t*t once, that was odd, she was like six foot and had huge b**bs, I managed to fit ‘I bet your kid is really well breastfed’ on one t*t. That was pretty amazing. It doesn’t tend to be too weird, it’s a shame, I’m always up for being weird, but it never gets crazy…”
James Morrison’s new album Higher Than Here is out now.