"I was very insular for years, I did everything on my own..." - James Chapman talks his new Maps' LP Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.
James Chapman, better known to us all as Maps, made his name back in 2007 when his debut album We Can Create unexpectedly scored a Mercury Music Prize nomination.
Created by Chapman on his own, the album was a sprawling hybrid of electronica and shoegazey indie. It was charming, it was spacey and hugely ambitious. Chapman has harnessed his sound on two further LPs, 2009’s Turning The Mind and 2013’s Viccisitude, he’s toured and played some memorable shows. But it’s now been six years since we last heard from him under the Maps moniker.
For most of that time, Chapman has worked in a pair as part of onDeadWaves, the duo he formed with Mute Records label-mate and singer-songwriter Polly Scattergood. The pair released an acclaimed self-titled album and went out on the road, including a tour with M83. Now though, with that in the can, it’s time to return to the world of Maps.
With this album, his fourth as Maps, Chapman is opening up his world to a few guests. There’s a significant contribution from the avant-garde classical group The Echo Collective and vocals from choral singer Cecilia Fage as well as Jennifer Pague and Rachel Kenedy.
As Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. arrives in stores, we spoke to Chapman about how he put the LP together...
It’s been six years since we last had a Maps album, we know you’ve been busy with other projects, so what’s brought you back now?
“I’ve been working on the album for all the time. Even during the Dead Waves period, I kept working. It just took me a long time to get there.”
Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do differently on this album?
“At the beginning, it was just writing. With me, I tend to just write and record all at once and I’m building the sound of the album. The more you write, the more you find the path of the album and a cohesive sound. That took a while, but I don’t know if I was trying to do anything different. I wanted to experiment and I wanted to involve other people, something I’ve never really done with a Maps record before. I knew I need to push myself.”
Why did you want to get more people involved? Did you want to expand the sound?
“I wanted to create more of a human sound. To do that, I needed to have more humans. I’ve opened up more now. On Deadwaves was the first time I’d really worked with someone else for a period of time and I enjoyed it, so that helped. Also working with an orchestra has been a dream of mine, I really wanted to push myself and go as hard as I could.”
You worked with a classical group called The Echo Collective, how did you find them?
“They were awesome. I got to know them through my label and we got on. I did the arrangements before I met up with them and I was so nervous. But it was really exciting watching it all come to life, they’re amazing musicians and they gave the album so much life.”
Did you enjoy being a conductor for the day?
“I was very, very nervous. I didn’t occur to me that I’d actually be stood there telling them what I wanted. It was so different from what I’ve been used to doing. Once I got over the nerves, it was fantastic.”
You’ve got three female vocalists on the album, were they people you knew already? Or did you go looking for them?
“I knew them. I’d done a remix for Cecilia’s band and we got talking and she said she would do vocals in return for my remix. I think I got the better part of that deal. She was brilliant. Jennifer Pague was another singer I met from a remix. Rachel was working in the studio where we recorded the drums and she was singing along. I loved her voice and I asked her to sing on the album, it was a wonderful discovery.”
Having opened yourself up this time, are you keen to keep going? Or are you looking to get back to working alone for the next record?
“I’ve learnt a lot from making this album and I’d definitely be open to doing it this way again. I was very insular for years, I did everything on my own. Now I feel like I’ve opened out a bit more. There are people who can play instruments better than I can and if I want their sound, I’ll go to them.”
When did you settle on Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. for the title?
“It came very late. It was weird. Normally, the album title is there early on and it informs the album, but with this one, I had no clue. It came to me in a dream. I woke up with those words in my head. That felt right, this is an album about memories and subconscious."
It's a 10-track record, how many songs did you have to choose from?
"There were about 20 demos, so quite a lot. But these 10 were the purest realisation of what I was going for. Some were close, but didn't get quite there."
How easy did you find it getting down to 10? It's not like you have a producer to help you decide...
"It's not easy and sometimes it would be great to have. Another opinion. When you finally feel like you're ready, you've had these songs for so long, objective opinions are invaluable are at that point. It's part of my opening out process."
In terms of what you'll be doing live, you've only got four shows booked in, are more planned?
"That's it for now, but we are hoping to do more. The album is quite tricky to do justice in a live setting without bankrupting yourself. You just can't reproduce the scale, you have to approach songs differently. It's a different experience to the record, but I'm really looking forward to doing it."
Maps’ new album Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. is out now in hmv stores.