2010 has been a busy year for James Vincent McMorrow. The Irish singer/songwriter released his debut album, Early In The Morning, overseas in February, and on the back of some serious touring he reached number 1 success on the charts in his homeland. Thanks to some network TV spots and a dynamite showcase at CMJ, it’s only a matter of time before James’ captivating vocals and powerful storytelling catches on in the states.
A month ago, we posted a couple of McMorrow’s tracks and we’ve been hooked on his self-titled EP ever since. Early In The Morning doesn’t hit stores in the US until January, but we were lucky enough to ask the Dubliner a few questions about his new album, his recording process, and what’s been on his playlist in 2010. Hit the jump for the results.
SR: Ireland’s produced its fair share of talented singer-songwriters. Glen Hansard, Fionn Regan, and Damian Rice are a few more recent artists that come to mind. Do you see yourself as a part of any sort of Irish musical tradition? Did you grow up listening to much folk music?
JVM: I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of folk music. My dad was a big Luke Kelly fan, as well as a lot of American singer/songwriters like Neil Young and Don McClean, but I didn’t pick up on that kind of music myself until I was out of school and learning to play guitar.
Historically, there is obviously an incredible tradition of singers and songwriters in Ireland, for me personally right now i feel very lucky to be making music here. I think there’s a really exciting group of musicians coming out of Ireland at the moment. All the ones you mentioned are wonderful, but it feels like there’s a new group emerging now as well, with a slightly skewed and interesting take on songwriting and recording.
SR: I’ve read that you chose to record your album in an isolated house on the Irish Sea. Why the isolation? Can you shed some light on the experience and recording process?
JVM: I realized from the times I had recorded in studios with others around me that isolation was going to be the only way I could make something from start to finish that was indelibly mine. Plus it was how I started making music, in my room by myself trying out different sounds, stacking harmonies. Being by myself for all those months was amazing, my pattern was extremely nocturnal, wake up late, then work until 4 or 5 in the morning. Being limited by the equipment and my own capabilities as an engineer was also a blessing looking back at it, it gave everything a pretty singular sound, especially the vocals, without a compressor there was a lot of stepping away from the mic and yelling from a distance!
SR: Once your album hits stores in the states its going to be difficult to shed the “Irish Bon Iver” tag. We don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Are you familiar with Justin Vernon’s work? Maybe a tour is in order.
JVM: I am of course aware of his work and I think his record is a thing of real beauty. It feels like that tag is based purely on the nature of our voices, our love of harmony, and the way we recorded our albums more than the actual finished music. I mean musicians singing in falsetto certainly isn’t something either of us invented, nor is making music in isolation. Personally it was “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen and hearing about how it came to be that made me want to do something like that myself, and my love of harmony is due to my overt obsession with D’Angelo!
As for a tour, I’m not sure how much audiences would want to hear 2 bearded men with high voices playing guitars one after the other, but then you never know!
SR: What have been your favorite spots to play in the states and how does it compare to playing in your homeland?
JVM: I gotta say, every show I’ve played in the US and also Canada so far has been a bit of a delight. The crowds have all been incredibly receptive and have seemed to really get what it is that I do. My personal highlight of my time over there so far has to be one of the CMJ shows I did in the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. Everything about it was perfect, it’s definitely right at the top of my ‘places to play’ list now!
SR: You mention in your press release that your debut was heavily influenced by the writings of John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Roald Dahl. What are your favorites by those guys and what’s on the shelf these days?
JVM: “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I read that a few times while I was making the album, the imagery and characters he writes about are perfect.
I love the jazz era novels, so “The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald is the one for me, and [as] for Roald Dahl, everything he’s ever written is pure gold as far as I’m concerned, but “The BFG” in particular for nostalgic reasons [was] my favourite book as a child, [and remains] one of my all time favourites to this day.
SR: Vagrant Records has some great artists in their ranks. Was it difficult choosing a label in the states?
JVM: I was talking with some other labels at the time, but when Vagrant approached me and I spoke to the guys that run it, the decision to go with them was easy. I was initially a little skeptical, it was a label I loved when I was in school, but their roster was predominantly punk and emo bands. In the last few years though there’s been a real musical shift within the label that I really loved. They’ve been signing some really exciting music, School of Seven Bells, Stars, The Hold Steady, and they’re putting out the new PJ Harvey album. They’re just a great group of people. It feels like we’re all in this together.
SR: You mention being inspired by the production work of Timbaland and the Neptunes. We cover quite a bit of hip hop on our blog. Do you have a favorite rapper?
JVM: Of all time? Jay-Z for me is No. 1. There’s a cleverness and musicality to his music that I’ve never heard in another rapper. Recently i was put onto a guy named Freddie Gibbs from Gary, Indiana, who’s really impressive, really dark stuff.
My favourite record of all time is “Shook Ones (Part II)” by Mobb Deep, it’s one of the most amazing songs.
SR: What have you been listening to lately? Favorite albums of 2010?
JVM: “Mines” by Menomena and “High Violet” by The National are my favourite records of the year, they’re both brilliant. I also love “Here’s To Taking it Easy” by Phosporescent, “My Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West, “Lisbon” by The Walkmen and “Swim” by Caribou.
James Vincent McMorrow’s self-titled EP is currently available for download over at iTunes and don’t forget to grab a copy of Early In The Morning on January 25, via Vagrant Records. Stream two tracks, “We Don’t Eat” and “Red Dust,” from the new release below.
“We Don’t Eat”: