“I never feel there is nothing left to prove…” hmv.com talks to James Vincent McMorrow
As Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow releases his third album We Move (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page) we sat down with him to talk about making the LP and why his Mum’s opinion of the album may be the one that counts most...
The new record is truly international in provenance: written in L.A., Barcelona and Dublin and recorded between Toronto, Dublin and London…
“I didn’t plan on it happening that way. There was a period of time from the start of 2015 until I started recording that October where I was just kind of living in various places and writing as I went. Then I was in Canada on tour, then I moved to L.A. and at that point I kind of dug in more meaningfully; thinking about who I wanted to produce. It was decided that Nineteen85 would do the bulk of it so that took me to Toronto, and then later to London to work with Ben (Benjamin Ash, a.k.a. Two Inch Punch). I went to where my producers worked because they’re busy guys.”
It sounds like you’re the kind of songwriter with a million voice memos on your phone at any given time.
“Exactly. I have lots of apps on my phone where I can do little four-track recordings with drums and synthesizers really quickly which ends up getting dumped on my laptop and ending up in Logic Pro X. And I can typically tell if an idea is just something that needs to get out of my head or could be the seed of something bigger. I always feel that if something is good enough, it will find its way into something. So my writing is very piecemeal in the beginning and then it coalesces over the course of a year.”
This is your third album. Are the stakes higher – more people paying attention – or lower because there is nothing left to prove?
“It feels like they’re higher. I never feel there is nothing left to prove. My goal is to push myself as much as possible. I think the distinction is who you’re trying to prove it to. On my second record I was in a zone where I was almost retroactively building my music around this idea that some hypothetical music blogger somewhere would think it was great. I personally know musicians who live and die by ratings they get on websites. And it really cuts them up if they don’t get the rating they think they deserve. And I was like that too, until recently.
“I mean, obviously I take a lot of pride in the music but you can’t live and die by what Pitchfork says. With this record, it was all about proving things to myself and that I had the fortitude to see it through. There are definitely more people watching now and there are things happening with this record that are new. I never existed at radio before. Now I am hearing the singles all over the world. But that’s cool; the record can hold up to scrutiny.”
Have any especially meaningful compliments come your way about the new songs?
“Actually yes. I am a big basketball fan. The other day I was listening to a podcast with one of my favourite players, J.J. Redick of the L.A. Clippers. He was talking about a song he was obsessed with: my song, ‘Rising Water.’ I was very, very star-struck about that. When people you admire say nice things about you, it has this resonance.”
Maye you can get courtside seats to a Clippers game!
“Ha! I’m really bad with that kind of stuff. I never like being worked by people, so I’d never do it to someone else.”
The track you did with Kygo, 'I’m In Love' is awesome. How did that association come about?
“We share a publisher. He had mailed me a few ideas over the years and I always appreciated his enthusiasm. I go on instinct. When the idea first came to me I was really confused because he was framed as the next EDM star. But his record seemed to be laidback - like ambient pop – but I wasn’t in a positon to do anything. Then he heard a Lana Del Rey cover I did in Australia and he cut it up, presented me with the premise, I wrote it and it went from there. I like that guy a lot. And he has invented – or at least popularized - a genre. And I don’t think that can be undervalued. He’s a really clever musician and I was really jazzed to be part of it, and to defy people’s expectations of me. That wasn’t the intent but if that’s the byproduct, I’m fine with that.”
It sounds as though this record already feels like a success for you, yes?
“Anytime you take something to completion – especially when it’s gruelling and hard – it’s a success. And it feels like you’ve achieved something. Because music and art are so subjective, where one person’s genius is another person’s nonsense, it’s sometimes hard to gauge the achievement. Is it people responding universally well to it? Is the achievement commercial success? Is it your Mom thinking it’s good? All of those things are true. I mean seriously, if Mom likes it, I am thrilled because we all grow up trying to impress our parents. And my Mom really loves it; she emailed me to tell me radio back home is playing it. It may sound ridiculously cheesy but that’s cool! And if a big magazine gives it five stars, that’ll be pretty amazing too.”