Superb Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow has just released his debut album Early in the Morning to much critical acclaim. One reviewer even referred to it as “the best album to come out of Ireland in a decade” or somesuch (read that full review here). He’s about to embark on yet more tour dates around Ireland including the Kilkenny Roots Festival, and took some time out to talk about playing solo, his influences – both musical and literary, learning to play a variety of instruments, as well as his music being featured on American television shows.
How did you start in music?
I started playing drums when I was around 17, a lot of my friends were in bands and there weren’t many drummers about. Didn’t play in many bands in the end, rehearsed with a lot, but got quite frustrated, everyone wanted to sit around and talk about making music, I just wanted to make music!
Is that why you chose to go it alone? No constraints of being in a band?
I think so. it wasn’t a conscious thing, I’ve always just enjoyed my own company, and when you’re working with other musicians ideas inevitably change and become diluted. By learning all the instruments myself, it meant that whatever i eventually came up with would be 100% mine, for better or for worse.
Was it a conscious decision to learn a variety of instruments, or just something that happened?
I think it was just the challenge of it, I have quite a strong competitive streak, I’d look at musicians like Sufjan Stevens, who was essentially writing, recording, and playing almost everything on his records, and it just inspired me so much, I’d sit there day after day, learning everything I possibly could.
Obviously he’s a big influence, but who else influences you?
i mean my favourite bands on the planet are the national and band of horses, it’s so rare to hear bands that can do skyscraping epic music, but without it being overblown and lacking sentiment. Also bands like Bowerbirds, The Antlers, people like Joanna Newsom and Bonnie Prince Billy, musicians who are constantly testing the limits of their own writing. I read a lot of books, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck. I think the theme that runs through everything that inspires me is incredibly dense imagery.
How did the album come about?
I think it initially came about due to frustration. I tried to make a record in London with a really great engineer friend of mine, and after 2 weeks we had about 2 drum tracks recorded! i just wasn’t enjoying the music i was making, it wasn’t what i wanted to do, and the studio environment just wasn’t for me. so i moved back to ireland, sat down and thought about the type of music i love, and what i actually wanted to say with a first record. Making music on my own in a room is exactly how i got started, so i figured if i was ever going to figure it out, i would probably be by going back to that.
You camped out in a house in Drogheda by the sea, which has been mentioned a lot in reviews of the album – and brought a lot of comparisons to Bon Iver’s cabin in the woods story – do you feel the comparison is accurate?
Well, the house I made my record in is inextricably linked to how the record sounds, and the house he made his record in is inextricably linked to his albums sound also, so the comparison on that level is inevitable I guess. They’re both rustic loose records as well. But his is about the breakdown of a relationship, mine is a document of the journey I’ve been on for the last 2 years, so on that level they are completely unique things.
Do you pay much heed to reviews in the media?
Not really, or at least I try not to. Music is such a subjective thing, the amount of reviews I’ve read of albums that have either said they were the greatest thing since the sliced pan, or the worst thing since the unsliced pan, I’ve sought out the records in question, and completely disagreed with the reviewer. I am proud of the thing that I have made, it’s out in the world now, and everyone is free to say whatever they’d like about it really. I’m just happy it’s out!
How have the songs progressed to a live setting?
Well, because the record is very much not a solo singer/songwriter record, I was fixated on putting together a big group of musicians to help me properly articulate that live. But I was having trouble finding anyone right, so I started playing the songs just myself and my nylon string guitar, and it started to really click for me in a way that me and my guitar never did before. I’m finding new paths through the songs, it’s actually really exciting for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to find musicians to help me make it sing like the record does, but right now this is working quite nicely!
Your songs have been featured in Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill in the US, and you’ve appeared on Other Voices and the View over here. Do you feel TV helps your exposure to new listeners?
Yeah, I think its incredibly important, especially in the initial stages when you’re putting your record out independently like I am. I mean I have no budget for promotion or radio luggers, so getting a song in a tv show can in one fell swoop get you into 10 million people’s homes, that pretty big for me! The response I’ve gotten from the few things I’ve been lucky enough to get into has been immense. I think it’s a balancing act when it comes to that kind of thing too though, pick and choose wisely, I’ve made a record, it’s a collective piece of work, and I want that to be what people are talking about, not 1 song I had played for 2 minutes in a massive tv show.
Early in the Morning is out now.
12 March – Sugar Club, Dublin
18 March – Roisin Dubh, Galway
19 March – Auntie Annies, Belfast
2 May – Kilkenny Roots Festival
3 May – Kilkenny Roots Festival