“It’s not that I’ve tried to get away from anything, it’s more that when I started out the guitar was the thing I was playing because it was the thing that I could carry everywhere on my back. As time goes by and more things happen, more stuff gets added,” says James Vincent McMorrow, explaining his transition across three albums from folk troubadour to slinky R&B artist.
“To be honest, I don’t think about music necessarily in those terms but I understand when people look at the trajectory of the thing, they see it moving away from me just playing guitar to me doing a lot more and playing a lot more and the albums I guess being a lot more, that is the conversation that I do tend to have. But from my perspective, it’s all about just getting better and wanting to try more things.”
The songs on his new album, We Move, crystallised while McMorrow was on the move from Los Angeles to Toronto to Dublin. It seems to have brought out something new in the 33-year-old’s writing. “I’ve a big belief that the place that you record has a big impact on the overall sound,” he says. “It could be as simple as if you’re in a warm climate, like I was in LA, I might be inclined to use brighter chords. If you’re waking up every morning and it’s beautiful outside and you’re going out and doing things there’s a reason I guess why LA music historically has been so bright, even the more melancholic stuff has a brightness to it. I definitely wanted to have that in the record.
“It always tends to be the way that I make albums tends to be between October and February. If I was back in Dublin then it’s obviously quite dark at night and it’s quite cold and I didn’t really want that to be the thing. I wanted that to be part of it but trying all these other places brought out the aspects of those cities.”
McMorrow says producers such as Nineteen85 and Two Inch Punch played an important part in shaping We Move. “Without them I think the record would have been a completely different animal,” he says. “The thing that I’ve been missing for all these years is the right musical partners who can I guess to a degree stand up to me.
“I’ve worked on albums before with engineers and stuff but it’s always people that I trust but also I’m paying. There is that sense that ‘are these people necessarily telling me things that they believe or are they telling me the thing that I want to hear?’ and ultimately they’re there to serve my purposes, not necessarily their own.
I didn’t want to be the person that was letting myself off the hook any more. I didn’t want that to be my excuse that I was afraid to do this thing, so it was vital that I did it, there was no other choice.
“When you bring in producers whose job it is to come into a studio in a short space of time and create something out of nothing that’s their bread and butter, that’s what they do day in day out. So to bring that into a process like this, where it obviously required a lot more time and attention than they would normally give to a record, you’re still getting that cold, clinical eye which is required because otherwise I just fall down the rabbit hole and they just are able to tell me when I’m going off track, which is key.”
Several of the songs on We Move address mental health issues. McMorrow admits it’s not something he had felt confident in talking about in his work until now. “It’s not something that comes easy to me. I guess it’s fairly ironic because my job night in night out is to stand on stage in front of people and share these things that I’ve created with them, but I was still working really hard on the first two albums to say the thing that I wanted to say while also not having to expressly say it.
“It’s a hard thing to do in theory but once I got on board with the idea that I was going to do it it actually became very easy. It helps when there are other musicians out there that you can see are talking about really personal experiences and personal situations, and doing it in a really beautiful, poetic way. At the moment the Frank Ocean album is a really beautiful example, the Anohni record Helplessness from a little while back – Anthony Hegarty in general as a human being – it’s inspiring for me to see people put themselves on the line like that in their music. I didn’t want to be the person that was letting myself off the hook any more. I didn’t want that to be my excuse that I was afraid to do this thing, so it was vital that I did it, there was no other choice.”
James Vincent McMorrow plays at Leeds Town Hall on Thursday October 13. For details visit http://www.jamesvmcmorrow.com/