“It’s all about the feelings you get” James Morrison muses around the halfway mark of our interview. “It’s about how a song can make you feel, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re saying as long as it’s making people feel something”. He takes a moment to pause as he considers his next words. He states, almost nonchalantly, “it could almost be about a badger if you really wanted”.
it almost doesn’t matter what you’re saying as long as it’s making people feel something… It could almost be about a badger if you really wanted
It’s been nearly thirteen years since the release of Morrison’s debut album, Undiscovered. But his fifth and latest album, You’re Stronger Than You Know, is the one he’s always wanted to make. An ultimately empowering 12-track album with a potent mix of rousing soul and pop ballads glued together by his distinctive, refined vocals.
I had the pleasure of being able to talk to James on a Tuesday afternoon and over the course of our interview, we spoke of recent music trends, how he’s developed as an artist and both the limitations and opportunities of creating music in the exponentially increasing digital landscape.
When I ask Morrison if he believes his fifth album is his strongest, he responds that he’s still trying to improve. “I’m not saying this is the best album I’m ever going to make but equally I think the production, the sound of it and the whole way it was created was very natural,” Morrison states. “We had a lot of time to be able to write the songs but most of the recordings are actually the very first take. It all felt very fluid and very natural and it all came together really quickly. I just love the album for that, it just sounds like the kind of live music that I grew up with”.
It all felt very fluid and very natural and it all came together really quickly
One can easily detect the zest and ardency that Morrison possesses for his music when speaking. He’s almost insouciant about the composition process despite his lyrics being acclaimed for their depth and poignancy. “I don’t know if there really is a secret for me but trying to be prolific when writing a song can definitely stop you from being creative” Morrison reveals. “Sometimes you just need to write something you like. So, I took all the pressure off myself and I tried to write songs that were small and personal to me. It’s not a mopey album, it’s more positive, coming out of the heartache I’ve been through. It’s about making you feel that something. If it’s a guitar lick or the way you’re singing a line, if it makes you feel a certain way, that’s important and that’s the goal for me”.
Morrison has had a countless number of interviews since his breakthrough in 2006 and I was curious to inquire further about his thoughts on music journalism and the press that surrounds mainstream artists. Various individuals in the music industry often remark on the pressures to adopt another public persona for the various talk-shows and music journals but Morrison doesn’t feel that way. “I don’t really have a filter so much,” Morrison claims. “There’s that quote, if you tell the truth, you don’t have to worry about the lies you’ve told. I think I just like saying it how it is.” Regarding the often-exhaustive interview process, Morrison remarks that “if I get a question that’s not very interesting or that I’m not bothered about or isn’t evoking anything in me, I’ll try and turn it around and turn it into something interesting. Admittedly, I am asked a lot of questions like: “oh so you’re similar to James Blunt?” or “oh you look like Chris Martin?”, which I don’t disagree with but it’s not great when you’re being dismissed for looking or sounding like someone”.
Nevertheless, if there was a theme to be surmised from You’re Stronger Than You Know, it would be the ability to rise above the pain and anguish of your past, an element that Morrison talks about at length in our interview but something he continues to struggle with. “Any negative stuff, I do try to ignore. I was singing at a gig the other day and this woman was just grimacing all the way through and I thought I was singing pretty good! But she just looked so pained. So, I concentrated on her face for ten minutes and at a point, I wondered why I was focusing on the one person who wasn’t enjoying it. But I suppose that’s the way my mind works, but with time I’m learning to enjoy the little moments that come along. Like right now, I feel so positive about the album”. I was eager to know more about Morrison’s thoughts on touring and how he feels returning to a stage to perform in front of thousands of people. “I’m always aiming to get the hairs on your arm to stand up,” Morrison says with vigour. “That’s what I’m aiming for. That’s what I love about Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, there’s a truth in their voices. The way they sing is a representation of who they are, it’s full of expression, it’s powerful, it’s beautiful”.
Seeing his enthusiasm, I asked Morrison of his first-hand experiences of how music is able to change people’s lives. It’s clear he remains humbled on how songs like “Wonderful World” are able to help people undergoing traumatic periods of their life. He recalls a story of when he gave a charm from his necklace to a young fan of his, who had been told only had a few weeks left to live but miraculously lived another year and a half. “It’s more than just putting a song on a radio, it can affect someone’s life. Like ‘In My Dreams’, it’s a song that has people coming up to me and saying how it’s really helped them through grieving, those are the things about music that I really do love”.
It’s more than just putting a song on a radio, it can affect someone’s life
We briefly discuss how, in the four years since his last album, the digital music world’s influence has radically changed the way people listen to music. One of the main elements James discusses is how songs will be cherry-picked and dropped onto eclectic playlists of various artists. “I’m still a big believer on putting on an album start to finish as a whole body of work, but that’s only mainly because I’ve got into vinyl again in the last five years so that spurred on my inspiration. I did a night at the BBC, and I got to play ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ with Steve Cropper and Booker T and it gave me a sense of “wow this is the world I want to be in where real singers sing pop songs”. It reignited my fire of going “yeah I need to make a proper album with a good bunch of songs, instead of concentrating first, second, third singles and then album tracks, which is how it works now, but equally I need to try to make each song the best song I’ve ever written”.
As we talk about hip-hop and the rise of the tinnier and distorted sounds that can be found on records nowadays, Morrison’s final notes remain poignant and perhaps a strong representation of his thoughts on the album as a whole.
“It just needs to be real people making real music,” he says, he then pauses and with equal parts humility and jocularity claims, “but then again what do I know!?”.