BeardedRadio caught up with singer/songwriter James Grant before his concert on the 21st May 2016 at the Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline. James Grant has been a prolific figure of the Scottish music scene since his days of fronting the critically acclaimed “Love and Money” through to his solo albums and collaborations with Karen Matheson of Capercaillie. This September, James Grant will release his first album since “Strange Flowers” in 2009 and play a concert with “The Hallelujah Strings” at Glasgow City Hall on the 23rd of September. BeardedRadio had the opportunity to talk to James about working with “The Hallelujah Strings”, the new album, song writing, the current climate in the music industry and his feelings about the passing of David Bowie.
Working with “The Hallelujah Strings”
There is something of a vanity project for musicians like myself but there’s almost something like kind of holy about when they make their sound and you can’t no matter how good your software is, recreate that, it’s a completely unique thing. When we did the two concerts it was like a complete sort of communion between band and audience. It might sound pretentious but I’m just been honest. It was just absolutely amazing because I want it so much for so long and when it actually happened I just absolutely wanted to nail it. To make sure everyone had the best time. It was just really fantastic and I’m looking forward to doing it again.
I have got arrangements for “I Can’t Stop Bleeding”; it sort of gives it another dimension. “I can’t stop bleeding” I really like it but it’s very restrained, what the strings seem to do is it almost seems like Dusty Springfield, who I love. It’s very Bacharach with major seventh chords and it just gave it a new dimension. I felt like I could float on it and yeah it’s an amazing thing and for songs like “you’re not the only one” it’s sort of emotionally underscored it. It brought out the dark shadows of the songs and maybe emphasized them so I totally loved it. The strings brought “I Can’t Stop Bleeding” back to life for me, it became this Bacharach type of thing, there was more grandeur and it wasn’t so reticent and miserable but it became an anthem and I thought that was amazing.
The new album and likelihood of vinyl reissues of the classic albums
I think there is going to be vinyl and going be available on download. There is a plan to do it on vinyl and is a sort of best of with some of the strings stuff and a few kinds of surprises in there as well. It should be released hopefully in September, were getting it ready now. It’s a good way of selling things when you have punters actually there because the process of selling is a long tiresome extraordinary complicated thing that starts with almost begging someone to actually just listen and that starts the process. It’s just different to what it used to be, it’s so unnecessarily complicated but that’s modern life and I’m shite at it. I think a vinyl release of “Dogs In The Traffic” would be really good but I don’t want to have to facilitate it. It’s a job in itself curating all of that. It’s never really been my thing, I have to be honest. I don’t have old photographs of myself. Its just because I have never been a collector, I tend to just move on to the next thing.
On song writing
I wrote “You’re Not The Only One” in a night at my old flat and I can remember writing it. At that point I was just writing all the time. I’m not like that know, I just live a different kind of life. There are other songs that take me longer, “My Father’s Coat” (From the solo album “Strange Flowers”) took me about a year to write. I had the idea which I thought was a really good idea, basically I had this old mohair coat and when it rained it used to smell of the previous owner. Then I thought about my dad and how you could always spot him with his jacket and how if you were estranged from your father and saw that coat hanging up somewhere, I saw it kind of like a movie or a play, thinking the son would know his father is dead because he would not be separated from his coat. I was sitting watching telly one night and the idea came to me so I wrote down the idea then I had the idea of breaking down the time frame, which is quite complex. It took me an awful long time and it wasn’t until I came across a particular tuning that everything fell into place. I had the idea, I had the song but I just could not find a way of doing it. It was like the idea for “Papa Death”, I had this idea but I could not find the way of executing it and every-time we played it in the band it sounded terrible until I decided to turn things on its head a bit and experiment and find a way of doing it.
“You’re Not The Only One”, I wrote in a night but it took us an awful long time to record it. There is a demo of it that I would not want anybody to hear and it’s like a really bad Eagles cover band. If you look at the song, it’s really just a simple country song if you like and that’s how we recorded it initially but I put this big pedal steel sound on it and it sounded really shite. We all sort of knew it was a good song but we could not get to grips with it. Its one thing writing a good song but making a good record is another. The songs, it all varies; “Does It All Add Up To Nothing” (from the album “My Thrawn Glory”) took me a long time to write although it’s incredibly simple. My wording is quite complex and I remember struggling with it for months and sweating over particular lines and writing and rewriting them and I probably have about a hundred different versions of it
On music streaming
Artist make jack from streaming, there is an interesting case on Spotify right now, the guy who wrote “it’s all about bass” which is a massive worldwide hit which made a lot of money but he made something like £40.000 from Spotify that would have been something like a billion plays so that does not seem like the right level of remuneration for that amount of plays, it doesn’t seem right. It is what it is and he will have money. He will have alternate revenues but if that’s it for you, Spotify for me is 15 quid a couple of times a year, it’s practically nothing so I’m not engaged with that, I would probably listen to an album or a CD or whatever so I am an anachronism as I don’t feel part of it.
The change in the way we listen to music
I don’t think we give music the space it had in our lives. I think that is a hard thing to argue with. Because there is so much else, if you look at a classic record shop, this is maybe a good analogy like HMV, music will in the third floor past the play station games and DVDs or whatever else, music is almost a subsidiary in the public consciousness. I don’t think just music but it’s my area of expertise, there is a guy called Bill Drummond who done KLF and he is a bit of genius, I don’t really know him but he had a really great idea I thought a few years ago and that was to have a national day with no music so you would not be able to hear any music in the shops. Obviously you would not be able to impose it but I thought it was a brilliant idea, when people asked him why do you want to do it he said it might teach us the value of music. We might realise what we are missing, if you walk down Buchannan Street in Glasgow you are bombarded with background music, it’s just maelstrom of noise. I just remember it been so precious and you been so precious about it. When you had an album, you took it home and you went into your bedroom and you put the album on and you listened to it but I don’t think people do things in the same way to that degree now, there is too much else to do, you know snapchat, need to take another photograph of myself, maintain my twitter whatever, life is very complicated now
What music he is currently listening to
Sharon Van Etten (Are We There) or the Caribou album (Our Love). There is something about that (Caribou) record that got to me. I can’t really put my finger on it but it’s all programmed but it sounds like they are playing it. It’s so quirky and the mixes are so brilliant and there is a couple of things I suppose is left-field that took me by surprise there was big vogue within dance music, there are vogues like fucking up the bass so much so that its distorting or leaving it out for three verses then there is a massive mad drop but I don’t know the terms and I’m going to sound like somebody’s granddad if I try to talk about it. There was vogue for detuning, completely detuning to a certain degree which I thought was really cool and on that record there is one track that it almost makes you sick listening to it, the way they detune a piano but there is something really brilliant about it and you think I have not heard that before or I had not heard it before. This isn’t the underground, The Caribou project was really popular but it was something that opened my ears, it was one of those records I thought this was really cool, I get why people are into this, it really opened my mind up. The Sharon Van Etten record is for the reason you buy Nick Cave records, it’s just good songs and good singing and quite simple good productions. I’m not active listener but I’m always involved but it’s just a question of time.
On David Bowie
He was my hero; I was really upset in ways that you don’t think you will be. It was quite strange because I’m a real Bowie fan and spoken about it before. The day he died they repeated a programme I had done and I was basically eulogising about him and they asked me in that night and I had managed not to hear anything and as they introduced me, they played a wee medley and it just broke me up. When they woman started speaking to me I had to say sorry, that’s completely thrown me, I just haven’t heard it before today so was totally welling up. It’s funny; it’s still hard to think of him as dead, we are always thinking what will he do next? Bowie taught people to be brave and trust themselves, a lot of artists are racked with self doubt and I’m no different but he always seemed to be up for taking chances. Going places he hadn’t gone before doing things he had not done before and I absolutely think there is a lesson to be learnt.
Then we bid our farewells as James Grant had to prepare for the concert including ironing a shirt. Around 7.30pm he took the stage with only an acoustic guitar and held the audience transfixed for the next two hours. The set list was mixture of the “Love and Money” classics and songs from his outstanding solo albums intermixed with anecdotes about his father, growing up in Glasgow and recording in the studio next to the late great “Prince”. As always James Grant is an entertaining but deeply profound live experience and I can’t wait to hear him live with “The Hallelujah Strings” in Glasgow this September.
For upcoming concert dates, tickets, music store, videos and links to social media and his journal visit jamesgrantsongbook.com