Written by Kai Feltham
To put it simply, James Vincent McMorrow is not your average musician.
As a notable admirer and long term listener of his work, I have always found McMorrow to be one of those truly rare artists whose music sincerely and precisely captures every miniscule iota of passion and emotion imaginable. Through his majestic vocal tone and stellar songcraft, McMorrow possesses the ability to showcase deeply ingrained human sentimentality that all of us hold, yet often struggle to genuinely display. It is this uniquely ‘real’ quality and open nature that has drawn myself and others to McMorrow’s music for the last seven years of his career, and will continue to do so for as long as he graces us with such exceptional work.
With three well received and equally varied records under his belt, one would have forgiven McMorrow for falling into the standard rhythmic conveyer belt of album release cycles and their subsequent all-angles marketing assaults, as the expectation in the ‘music world’ appears to be. Yet, as we have already established, James Vincent McMorrow is not your average musician, and wanted to write and release his art on his own terms.
His latest effort True Care was released on online platforms on May 26th; so far ahead of the curve that fans were left to eagerly await the physical release of the record on July 28th. Coming only one year after his third full length LP We Move, the album came as an almighty surprise to fans and critics alike, at a time when very few ‘surprises’ manage to slip through the increasingly interwoven net of news and social media. True Care as a work of art is intriguing, vulnerable, unique, relatable and ultimately stunning, managing to underline the emotional ups and downs of true human existence, whilst being almost exclusively written autobiographically. In McMorrow’s own words, “this album is life… sometimes life is magical, but other times it’s scary and fucked.” Coming as both a fan and a budding music critic, I have not heard a better record all year.
As well as going it alone with his lack of marketing and surprise release for True Care, James Vincent McMorrow was generous enough to open up his email inbox to attempt to answer questions from smaller, lesser known bloggers and magazines just like ours. We feel extremely humbled and grateful to have had the opportunity to talk to James about his work, artistic processes and inspirations. Chances to speak to our very favourite artists in this world don’t come along very often – this was one of those rare and crazy moments…
Q: You released True Care online with no marketing fanfare, very little notice for anyone at all and so soon after your last record We Move. How liberating did you find it to be able to carry out the entire process on your own terms?
James Vincent McMorrow (JVM): “Definitely liberating, and eye opening. The turnover of music right now is kind of insane, fighting for oxygen in a campaign can be a really exhausting prospect. With this album, I bypassed a lot of that by simply removing expectation from the initial equation. I’m relying to a degree on the situation I’ve built for myself to this point, rather than sitting in marketing meetings trying to figure out how to widen my fan base. It’s a risk for sure, but then I’m still within the cover of We Move to a degree, so if I was ever going to do something like that, it had to be now and it had to be like this.”
Q: The album True Care is your most open and frank autobiographical discussion about yourself that you have released to date. Do you see the medium of music as your own personal release? Or is the music you create for ‘the fans’?
JVM: “Music creation is two things at the same time; it’s creation for the self, and it’s creation for others. You spend so much time trying to reconcile the two. This record I simply made with the desire to make myself happy in the process; to say things that impacted me, to use sounds that I enjoyed manipulating. I always knew the record would come out and people would hear it, so the other side of the transaction – how people receive it – was very much in my mind. It just didn’t make me alter how I approached the record, which is the first time that has happened.”
Q: Although a number of features still remain intact, much of your recent work on True Care and We Move appears ‘different’ in a sense to your debut album Early In The Morning. Was this ever a conscious decision to allow more varied musical elements into your work?
JVM: “I’ve always done my own thing; my songwriting has always been a little different to my ears. I’ve got better at making music, I’ve found myself more in tune with the ideas when they come. The experimental and progressive nature of music has become more and more tangible to me. You can of course choose not to engage with those aspects, but I would be bored out of my mind if I was sitting in a room trying to repeat ‘If I Had a Boat’ or ‘We Don’t Eat’. I love those songs and have never grown tired of singing them live, but that’s done, that exists, I’ve already written them. My goal is not to repeat in the hopes of maintaining; the mere possibility of that equal diminishing returns to my mind. The goal is to push the ideas outwards and test the boundaries of what’s possible for one person in a room.”
Q: Having just finished a three-night residency at Village Underground in London, how did you find the experience of playing the new record from cover to cover?
JVM: “To me there is no better way to showcase the album than like this. I think people who hear about it are skeptical, but the reality is that it just simply works. In a way I’m supporting myself, and support slots historically to me are places where I have to go out there and impress a crowd who might not know me, or might not be predisposed to listen. That’s ultimately true of what we are doing right now. Obviously the crowds are mine, but still there’s that sense of “ok, you’ve chosen to do this James, so impress us” and I think we have been. You can see lightbulbs going on within the crowd; they get quieter and more focused, not louder. It’s been kind of magical to do. Tiring, but magical.”
Q: Do you have a favourite track of your own from True Care, and if so, which is it?
JVM: “National is my favourite to perform simply because it’s the most sincere and simple opportunity for expression that I have in my entire back catalogue. It’s the only song where I don’t play an instrument; I simply sing. Vocally it’s incredibly taxing by the end so you have to be totally locked into it or it will absolutely steam roll you.”
Q: In that track, National, you sing about listening to The National in the car. How much truth is there behind that lyric?
JVM: “That’s 100% autobiographical. I first heard that band exactly 10 years ago. I had just started going out with the girl who is now my wife, she was obsessed with Boxer and we’d listen to it in her car endlessly. It was strange putting that story out there, but it actually rounds out an arc of a story I’ve been telling on albums for four albums now, starting with ‘Hear the Noise…’ on my first album, ‘All Points’ on my second, ‘Rising Water’ on my third, and now this song. They’re all different parts of that same timeline.”
Q: When it comes to the writing and recording of your records, how does your band operate in studio? Do other members of the band contribute to the writing process, or do you prefer to write and compose alone?
JVM: “I’ve never used a band in the studio in my entire life. The band who play with me live have never been in a studio with me, except Joe my bass player adding some bass solos to True Care. It’s no disrespect at all to them or their level of musicianship; simply put I just play all the instruments already, and it’s quicker for me to create, learn and play the part than it is for me to explain it to someone else. I’ve just always loved jumping from instrument to instrument, it’s part of my genetic makeup at this point.”
“There are people who I’ve wanted on records before but just haven’t followed through on it. I wanted Stella from Warpaint to play drums on We Move… I think there was an initial conversation, but by the time I got to the drums part I’d just played everything myself. She’d have played it better though, she’s my favourite drummer on the planet. Maybe on the next one I’ll bring in some people to hang.”
Q: Who has been the greatest inspiration on your work?
JVM: “Is it narcissistic to say myself?”
“I guess most musicians never say that! But it’s true, not in a bullshit pretentious way; there is no greater inspiration for my work than me and my life. I love other musicians, love other painters, authors, and they all play a part. But fundamentally this is my life I’m living that feeds the work.“
Q: Who is your favourite band / artist of all time and why?
JVM: “I don’t have one. I can’t fathom the idea of there being one person that I love more than others. My wife is in the room next to me listening to Déjà Vu by CSNY and I’m sitting here thinking “there was a time in my life where this album was more important than anything else”, and I still love it. But I could equally say that about Boxer by The National, or Everything All the Time by Band of Horses, On the Beach by Neil Young, When the Pawn by Fiona Apple, In Search Of by NERD….”
“The point is, why pick one when you can have them all?”
Q: If you could have been responsible for writing one album other than one of your own, which would it be?
JVM: “Probably Voodoo by D’Angelo. Its just an impressive piece of work on every level imaginable.”
Now, If I could have been responsible for one album, I can tell you in absolute honesty that it would have been True Care by this man himself, James Vincent McMorrow…
If you enjoyed hearing it in his own words, then read our review of James Vincent McMorrow’s exceptional album True Care here.
Finally, check out a live performance of the fragile and beautiful song National below: