Photo by Emma J Doyle
Editor's Note: This story appeared in its original format in the Winter 2014 issue of Variance. Click here for the full version.
Sure, we’re only weeks into 2014. But James Vincent McMorrow has already released one of the best albums of the year.
His sophomore record, Post Tropical, marks a noted shift in sound, something many fans are quick to point out. But for 31-year-old McMorrow, whose birthday was the same day as the album’s stateside release, the only thing that matters is his fans finally having their hands on the record.
“It’s a feeling of relief mixed with excitement and terror,” he says, speaking with Variance ahead of the album’s arrival. “It’s strange because I’ve been living with it and thinking about it for years now, and I’ve been making it for so long. But then when it was finished, you kind of have to sit on your hands, almost—for seven, eight months, to do all the other parts of it, which are relatively unexciting but important.”
Thankfully, the singer has had plenty on his plate in the meantime to keep him busy.
“We’ve had the rehearsals, traveling, talking to all the labels, making sure everything’s set up,” he recalls. “So you don’t really have time to think about the fact that a record is about to come out. It didn’t hit me until recently, and I realized that everybody was about to hear it and people were about to start talking about the songs on the record. It overwhelmed me in a way, but I’m just excited for people to finally be able to hear it.”
Of course, the James Blake/Bon Iver/Alt-J comparisons are inevitable, as the singer’s second offering veers from the folksy roots of freshman set Early in the Morning to a majestic, glowing world of soul and synths.
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While some may question his entry into the column of alt-R&B, one thing is true: The honest lyricism fans came to love before is still there. In fact, with those sweeping falsettos and soaring vocals, the authenticity of the words spilling from his mouth only seems further highlighted. And according to McMorrow, one of Variance’s 2012 FutureSounds picks, it’s a natural progression.
“I don’t think there was any thought on my part to challenging implications or ideas,” the singer explains of having previously been lumped in with other folk singers. “I wasn’t trying to surprise anyone, no. My instincts are always pretty clear, and with this album, more than anything, this is a completely unfiltered version of what I hear in my head and what I would want to listen to and what I wanted to make. People will make up their own minds when they hear it, but I always call myself a soul singer.”
As McMorrow explains, it’s much different for those of us hearing the finished product without having experienced the struggle of its creation or the process from beginning to end.
“It’s easy for people to hear an album and go, ‘Here’s my opinion,’” he says. “But when I’m the one actually making the record, pulling those songs from the depths of my soul, I wasn’t thinking about defying expectations or about people’s response. I just literally wanted to make the best possible music. Whatever it was, was whatever it was. I wasn’t thinking about where it would fit in or where it could go on a chart or how it would even relate to the first record. It didn’t even occur to me that someone might listen to it and go, ‘Wow, these are big changes.’ I’m learning and growing as an artist, so I think it’s natural that I would want to apply the production with the knowledge that I’ve learned, things that I understand for the first time. People have to understand that musicians have to live and experience life between records, and that will affect their music.”
The singer isn’t shy about admitting the influence of others’ work on his material. In fact, he believes it’s unrealistic to claim otherwise.
“I’m a lover of music first,” he admits with ease. “So all the music that I love is rattling around in my head. Of course, I wanted to walk into the studio with as little real estate taken in my head as possible, but it’s still in there. I remember reading an article of Fiona Apple saying she doesn’t listen to new music—and there are others who won’t listen to any music after 1925 or something. They don’t want new music to influence what they do. That’s not how I approached my album.”
Instead, McMorrow sought to capture the inclinations of his own heart while marrying contrastable sounds.
“There are all sorts of songs that sparked my creativity,” he recalls. “I remember listening to the Flying Lotus record, Until the Quiet Comes, and thinking, ‘What a beautiful, densely-crafted record.’ It amazed me that people don’t try to go for that production in my world. They don’t try to create these beautiful, big productions. Instead, that’s over there and songwriting is over here, and the two never meet. That was a catalyst in my mind. I thought, these beautiful records exist and maybe some of my fans wouldn’t listen to Drake or Neil Young or Pusha T, but this is the music I love. So I draw from it and then watch it become its own thing.”
Ultimately, McMorrow is trying to push music forward. And he hopes that’s what he is doing with this new album.
“Sometimes we forget the context for all the records that we love,” he says. “We think that a record that was made in 1950, 1960, was trying to be nostalgic. It was trying to be cutting-edge. Marvin Gaye was the first to use a 808 on a commercial record. Some people were like, ‘What’s going on? This is conceptual, it’s progressive.’ The label struggled to release it because it was too far ahead of the curve. And even James Jamerson; he was pushing the limits and I think that’s good for music. We need that.”
As the new album has finally begun making its way to fans’ ears, McMorrow hopes it’s simple enough to make sense upon first listen but complex enough to require some effort.
“If people keep coming back to the record and discovering something new about it, then I know that I’ve done my job right,” he declares. “I just hope it keeps giving back. And I hope that whatever people take away from it, that it resonates and that they’re able to carry it with them as they go about their lives.”
Post Tropical is out now in North America. For McMorrow’s upcoming tour dates, go to jamesvmcmorrow.com.