How do you write songs?
I tend to have 2 ways of writing songs. The first is “sound driven”. By that I mean that I start with beats or an atmosphere first. Perhaps I have a certain sound or sample that is inspiring and that sets me off on a creative path. A certain rhythm pattern or a bass line. Something to set a groove and create a “riff”. In this instance it’s all about production and is done at the computer in the studio. If this is the case, the writing and recording are often the same process. Something that is the original creative trigger for a track will frequently end up on the finished song. “Starting to Love it” was like this. I had the drum loop and the “submarine sonar” sound and then added strings and bass. I actually recorded and arranged the whole song before any vocals were laid down. The vocals came last and came out of editing a bunch of ideas that Siobhan had recorded. I rearranged her performance to make it fit the song. This approach tends to produce more upbeat, faster tempo tracks that are heavily drum driven. The other way I write is at the piano. The traditional way I suppose. I’ll start by practicing classical pieces and then just let myself drift around the piano until a mood strikes and then off I go. “Come Around” was like this. I wrote the whole thing in about 10 minutes from start to finish with full lyrics. That’s a great feeling when the creative energy is just flowing. It’s like time is irrelevant and you just flow. I think that’s how the best songs come. If you can sit at a piano, play and sing it then you’re on to a winner.
Who are your main influences?
Bjork, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, IAMX, Nine Inch Nails, Blur, Linkin Park, early OMD … the list is long. I’m drawn to unique voices and soundscapes. I have very little time for pop music and singers who sing too many notes. It’s got to be different. I tend to be very unforgiving of anything mainstream. I’m a big analyst so I listen to the production and if it’s already been done then it’s a big turn-off for me. Martin Gore, Chris Corner and Damon Albarn are three of my favorite songwriters. They have a very identifiable “image” that you can tell is them and only them as performers and writers. Geniuses really. I also have some classical influences. I grew up at the piano. The follow-up album to “Home” is already largely written and produced and you can hear a lot of classical themes in there.
Tell us about your collaborators?
I found Siobhan Lynch through Alan Wilder who used to be in Depeche Mode. I met him on tour and found out that we strangely lived in the same small Sussex town in England at the time. I kept in touch and asked for her contact after hearing her on a Recoil album he’d made. Great voice. Again, unique. I’ve never actually met her. We did it all by email and phone. Melinda Smith and Angela Bartys came through craigslist ads in LA. The song “Home” was already recorded with a few ideas for vocals but I had no verses. Melinda filled in the gaps. It actually took about 5 years from meeting her to finishing the recording of that track! Angela is one of my favorite people to work with. On a personal level we’ve been running parallel lives and so we really connect. She also has a great voice that is pretty adaptable without her needing to “be someone else”. She can go from “Sweet Little Girl” to “Come Around” with ease. She’s the only person I’ve “in person” collaborated with for writing. “Snd Me Ur Luv” is the first thing we did together and will be on the “Home” album. We just got very excited with that track. She is great at just taking a mic and laying down great first take performances in the studio control room. No headphones, no separation. Very Bono! Myself and Adam met through our kids at a playdate. We get on really well and have ourselves in hysterics in the studio. We often find ourselves doing a “jazz version” of a track for giggles. You should hear “Sweet Little Girl” with just piano and congas in 6/8! When I met Adam I was looking for a “finisher”. Someone who could help me get the production and mixes 100%. I’m a bit of a control freak and I have a very specific sense of what I want to hear and how things should sound and look. Adam is great at getting things to that place. Genius engineer and technician. He was the one who thought “Starting to Love it” could be even better and brought in Christian Eigner to play drums. We skyped with Christian, sent him the audio files and he laid down track after track of drums and percussion for us. It then took us weeks to edit and tweak all these tracks. We cut and pasted and moved things around. Replaced his kick and snare sounds with samples. It was a unique way of working and part of the reason that track sounds so new and different. There’s nothing else that sounds like it. Michael Fitzpatrick was brought in to do cello overdubs on “Home” to fill out the string parts. He’s a fascinating dude and insanely amazing player. Check out his 7 minute piece he plays for the Dalai Lama on Youtube …. “far out!!”
Describe the [debut] sound?
It harks bad to old influences but it’s something new. The palatte is a blend of electronic beats and synth bass with live strings, pianos and drums. There’s always some unique samples and sounds in there to spice it up. It’s for sure got a filmic element and I write in a very visual way and see tracks as film scores. “Alternative Electro Rock with Classical undertones”!!
What is “Home”?
“Home” is designed to be a really new way of launching a band. I wanted to do something different and I don’t think there are many bands making films right now. I wanted to combine the album with an artbook and movie to really allow people to get in to what [debut] is all about. Pushing the music video concept but in a cohesive, whole project way so that everything makes sense…… the music, the lyrics, the visuals, the people and the art. One theme.
The idea is that the film is a solid story in itself but created and driven by the lyrics of the songs. Not in a rock opera way. This isn’t Meatloaf. The band are characters in the film but we’re not in a band in the film. The concept is that, it’s easy to be off track in your life, doing things you’re not put on this planet to do. That leads to allsorts of problems and lack of fulfillment. I’m quite a spiritual guy (though not at all religious) and I‘ve found that when I’ve been off track, if I tune in to the signals and things happening all around me, I can re-plot my course and get back in the flow. I can find my “Home”. It’s like the universe is watching over us all and helping us if we just open ourselves by being aware and listening. So “Home” means several things, from a roof over your head to fulfilling your purpose in life. It’s a place of safety where you’re in line with your “dharma”.
Tell us about your hopes for the “Home” project
Number 1 is to just get the thing made with as little creative compromise as possible. To fulfill the original vision. Make something beautiful and complete. Next I want to share it with people and move them. It has to be financially successful too. It’s tough to make great music, film and art and enjoy the process if a lack of finances rules and dilutes every creative goal. If a track needs an orchestra then I want to have it. Money to allow creation. I can pay my bills even if [debut] doesn’t work and I don’t need a private yacht or mansion. Life can stay as it is as long as I can creatively flow with freedom and smiles.
What are the best 3 songs EVER?
“All is Full of Love” by Bjork – she did a live version for the “Screaming Masterpiece” album and there’s a long note towards the end that makes me shiver every time I hear it. It’s the loudest, most violent note I’ve ever felt. She poured everything in to it – it’s from her soul.
“Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode – genius song, genius production, great video.
“Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” by The Police. Amazing song and the recording captures that moment in time and the location perfectly. Every note is spot-on, even the mistakes sound great. There’s a moment when the sequencer and drums are a bit out of sync and the last note Sting sings flat but its magic. Best ever.
That’s pretty impossible but I’d have to say, “Dazzle Ships” by OMD, “Thousand Suns” by Linkin Park and “Songs of Faith and Devotion” By Depeche Mode.
What’s next for [debut]?
After “Home” I have specific plans for the next album. I want to record it in Berlin in the winter. It’s cold, eastern European and grand. Pianos, chandeliers and suffering.
And the good old standards to finish off ….
Roast Chicken or a good burger
Black or shades thereof!
A bit of a Blur by Alex James
“Layer Cake” starring Daniel Craig before he was Bond.