Talking with Musician James Vincent McMorrow

Talking with Musician James Vincent McMorrow

VMAN Caught Up With James Vincent Mcmorrow In New York Days Before The Release Of His New Album, 'We Move'

VMAN Caught Up With James Vincent Mcmorrow In New York Days Before The Release Of His New Album, 'We Move'

Photography: Mat+Kat

Text: John Brian Pierce

James Vincent McMorrow is the man behind the two-way mirror, so he says. With his new album out and the conversation centered around his new sound and the powerhouse crew behind it, the Irish singer-songwriter shares his progression as an artist, growing up on hip-hop, and why this is the album he’s always wanted to make.

Where is your mind right now, James?

It’s up and down today. The record is coming out and everybody is talking about it. I hate being in this position. People judging your work. There’s an episode of Frasier where a focus group is listening to his radio show on the other side of a two-way mirror. Everyone in the room likes the show except for one guy who can’t give a reason. Frasier obsesses over the guy, tracks him down and then accidentally burns down his newsstand. When you put records out it’s like that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but most days I’m waiting for that guy. And then I’ll probably burn down some newsstand.

Let’s hope not! How do you disconnect from it all?

Leave the Internet alone. Don’t go near music blogs. I never read that stuff. At all. I hate it.

Do you think that’s the case for all artists?

Some people like it. You’d be amazed at the number of people who are super big time that spend their days googling themselves. It becomes an obsession. When somebody does say something good it makes you feel amazing. People want that. It’s a very euphoric thing. So I stay away from it.

You said you grew up on hip-hop. What did you listen to?

Almost exclusively The Neptunes. It was more production than rap lyrics. I used to play drums and Timbaland, Just Blaze, Pharrell, they were all drummers, and so that’s why I listened to them. I own a lot of hip-hop records that were trash but had one or two amazing songs produced by Pharrell. I really just wanted to listen to Pharrell.

How did you get into playing music?

I bought a drum kit when I was 16 and my parents let me take over the shed. I never cared about the type of music. I just liked playing instruments. It really just came from a desire to hit things aggressively. That was the inception of it. I never considered doing anything [other than music] since.

When did it start to get serious?

It was back when MySpace was a thing. An A&R guy in London came to one of my early shows. My early shows were terrible. I was really nervous, but he liked my voice. He offered me a deal a week later. That was the turning point. I went from hanging out in my parent’s house to putting songs on MySpace to signing a publishing deal in the space of three months.

I saw you perform in New York about two years ago on tour for your last album, Post Tropical. How have you changed since?

I definitely have a better sense of myself than I did before. I’ve always been inhibited by my own introverted nature. It prevented me from pushing things very early on. I’m very proud of my first two albums because they were made despite this. Now I’m better at being okay with fucking up and being judged. I'm making the music I’ve always wanted to make and I’ve opened myself to a conversation that, yes, will make me uncomfortable.

The conversation around We Move tends to focus on your new sound and direction. Is that what you had in mind recording this album?

Yeah, a lot of the sound bytes are about exploration and I get it, but I’m not Magellan out there searching for Ireland. I know what I’m looking for at all times. I don’t set out with an abstract course I know where I’m going it just takes time to get there. It’s a progression. It’s music.

I could probably play you a bunch of demos I had when I was like 16 that were closer to this album sonically than what I put out in my first record. Once you start putting your stuff in the world people start judging it. If you’re not really self-possessed and confident in what you’re doing, people start telling you things and you make tiny adjustments and before you know it it’s a world away from what you imagined it being. When I started I was using a Korg Triton, the keyboard Pharrell used. All of my songs had those drums sounds. When I started playing for people they said maybe you should think about using a guitar because you’re going to need to play live. I had never really thought about using a guitar. It’s a tiny course correction, but before you know it you’re on stage playing songs with a guitar. So this album is almost like a return to the beginning. These are the sounds I’ve always wanted to make.

What was it like working with guys from OVO? How did they help develop your sound for We Move?

They were influencing my process before we even met, especially on Drake’s Nothing Was the Same. I loved how the record was produced and curated by 40 and Drake. I know it seems like a reach when I talk about my records with theirs, but I’ve been searching my whole life to figure out a way to merge those sounds with emotional music. Songs like “Marvin’s Room” where they roll all the high end off and leave his voice to occupy that space so you can push the low end and the drums. It’s really aggressive beats at times but the voice never gets lost. So just getting to hang with Nineteen85 and Frank Dukes was super inspiring. The way they talk about music is so deep. And the way they think about sound is so specific. Frank still wants music to sound like 90’s hip-hop. I love those massive drums sounds and loops. That’s what he gave me on this album. They are the greatest people I’ve been in a room with.

How do you feel about the blending of genre? Is genre becoming an outdated term in music?

I love it. I wish it would’ve happened sooner. I remember having a lot of pointless conversations about genre in the beginning because people were like “you hold a guitar, so you’re a folk guy.” I hold myself responsible for it. I actually don’t know much about folk music. I came from a position where I put my album out in 2010 and nobody listened to it. Put it out again in 2011 and a lot of people listened to it. So I was never in a position to dictate the conversation. I was just so grateful that anyone gave a shit.

You’re a self-proclaimed introvert. So what drives you to keep putting yourself out there as musician?

I’m a bag of contradictions. I didn’t have the confidence to go out in the world and meet people, but I could be in a room by myself and know I was going to be a professional musician one day and people were going to come see me live. I just believed that and never wavered from it that despite everything that has held me back. If you want do something you absolutely have to figure out a way to do it. I think that’s the only way to live your life.

See James live on his We Move world tour. Tickets  here.



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