Monday 19 February 2018

Music: McMorrow's world just around corner

Stripped back: James Vincent McMorrow says his third album is more true to himself
Stripped back: James Vincent McMorrow says his third album is more true to himself
John Meagher

John Meagher

Paul Jefferies is a Canadian hit-maker and producer who is best known by the Nineteen85 moniker. He was one of the main producers behind Drake's hugely popular Views album and had a major part in fashioning the R&B star's inescapable single 'One Dance', a UK chart-topper for 15 consecutive weeks this summer.

Now, he's the main producer on a forthcoming album from an artist a lot closer to home. We Move is the third long-player from Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow and it might just be the one to deliver the big time. With Nineteen85's commercial gold-dust sprinkled over McMorrow's finely crafted tunes, it's got every chance of reaching an audience hitherto unattainable.

"85 has become one of my closest friends," the affable McMorrow says. "He was definitely the catalyst for making this record. I don't want to undervalue anyone else who worked on the album, but he really got it. I had a vision for the record that was really clear, but I needed someone to push me, to almost approach music from a clinical standpoint and 85 was perfect for that.

"He has a job that requires a certain amount of efficiency and a certain amount of ruthlessness. What he does is write and produce a hit, and if you're working for Drake and you don't do that, it doesn't get in the mix."

It was the Dubliner's publisher who suggested the two get together. "She said to me, 'You're both doing something very different, but I think you guys would really connect. So he came to see one of my shows in Toronto and we hit it off from the start. That made working together so much easier. I had tried it the other way, where I'd met someone and we'd go to the studio straight away, but we just wouldn't connect."

McMorrow has no qualms about admitting that he had commercial considerations in mind when he was recording We Move and there are songs here with the potential to enjoy significant chart success. "I've never been unambitious - my mission is to make as many people hear my music as possible," he says. "I've always been fascinated about how big hit records are made.'Marvin's Room', the Drake song, really resonated with me because as a singer-songwriter I thought about how good it would be to write a song that direct and employ really top production and electronic aesthetics, but it not to feel overly laboured."

He believes the new album doesn't sound laboured and there's a directness to the tracks that simply wasn't there before. "Previously, I'd layered my music, but this time it was stripped back - and that's one of the first things 85 did in the studio. He cut off all the things I had recorded because he thought they weren't necessary. And it was the first time I had recorded vocals live with other people in the room - like, people who don't know me, not just engineers."

McMorrow seemed to arrive from nowhere with a compelling debut, Early in the Morning, in 2010 and he was much praised for its soulful follow-up, Post Tropical, which landed in 2014. But now, looking back, he sees issues the critics appear to have missed. "I used to wrap songs up in so much metaphor and imagery," he says, "and although I knew what I wanted to say, I wrote them in such a way that it was very hard to get to me. To be honest, it was a way I could protect myself. I'm pretty sensitive to other people's opinions - you always want people to like your stuff and the trap you can fall into then is trying to design your music to appeal to people. I mean, there are musicians out there who design their music to get good reviews and to be well received."

He is candid enough to admit that when he looks back on his previous work, there's a sense of regret that he wasn't more true to himself, to what he really wanted to say. "I'm proud of those records, but I wish I was more truthful. I wish I had sat down and owned the things I was writing that little bit more. The songs on those records that I can hear most truth in are the ones I enjoy singing most."

He says he has a much greater sense of confidence now than he did when he first started making music. "I used to get tongue-tied when anyone would ask about my music," he says. "[The late] Derek Nally [the respected booker at Whelan's Dublin] was a huge catalyst for me in the beginning, and I remember him saying to me to go down to this IMRO showcase thing in a hotel on Pearse Street and give my CD to such-and-such and say to him, 'Derek said you'd listen to it'. So I got there, and I met the guy and I gave the CD to him but I was so nervous, I couldn't get a word out.

"Now it's all so different: about a week and half ago. I met one of my musical heroes [a huge name, he asks not to be mentioned] and I was able to chat away without a care in the world. I think that sort of confidence is coming through in the songs now."

The comparatively stripped down songs - with his vocals very much in the foreground - will, he is convinced, make his live shows that bit easier to perform. "The last album was so hard to replicate live it almost felt like we were a covers band trying to make them work when we went on the road. I don't foresee a similar problem this time."

The day after we meet, McMorrow journeys to Australia to play a show there. He's likely to be travelling to other far-flung places as word spreads about the album. A substantial European tour is already lined up. "I'm lucky to be doing something I love," he says. "And I want to keep getting better, but there's this strange thing in music where being new and young is valued more than anything else. I find it baffling that people talk about a 22-year-old and say, 'Your time has arrived', as if that's their only time to make a mark. I'm 33, and I've lots to learn."

We Move is released on Friday. James Vincent McMorrow plays Black Box, Galway, on October 5, and the National Stadium, Dublin, on October 7.

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