James Morrison: “I don’t want to write little pop songs. I want them to mean something.”Posted April 16th, 2012 At 3:18 pm By MTV ASIA
Text and Interview: Natalie Yeo
For an artist who went through life where “The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore”, played with “Broken Strings,” decided that “(He) Won’t Let You Go” and recognized that the only way is “Up”; James Morrison sure knows how to bring soul to life.
He’s not about making his music sound cool, neither is his objective to get his songs on the radio. He simply wants to share his deepest emotions through his music and hopes for his listeners to understand who James Morrison is as a person and an artist through every song.
Before he took the stage for MTV Sessions at Waterfront Studios, Resorts World Singapore, James shared his thoughts about his new album, his songs, and his vulnerability and talked about his daughter, Elsie. Read on to have a glimpse of James’ wit, his personality and to top it all off, find out little trivia facts along the way such as what kind of fruit juice he loves!
Your new album, The Awakening, was recently released in September last year. What was the heart and direction for the album?
I wanted it to be a live album and a cross-over between folk, soul, pop, rock. I didn’t really over think it. I just wrote a lot of songs that I felt good about, that were personal to me – About my dad, losing my dad, about being a dad, about life in general. I wanted it to be an awakening to life, for me, and for listeners. That was what I was going for. I wanted it to be, “Wake up to life again!”
Is the phrase The Awakening significant to you in any particular or significant way?
Yeah! In all of those ways. As an artist, I’ve woken up to my ability, the potential of what I wanted to do. I was more confident as an artist, I was more confident as a person. All those things – It was an awakening of all those things really. Before I had a kid and I lost my dad, I didn’t trust myself loads. Whereas now? I trust myself a lot more. So it was an awakening to me as a person, waking up to who I wanted to be as a person and as an artist.
I’ve learned a lot over the last 6 years anyway, by performing at lots of different gigs – big gigs and small gigs. I think the more comfortable you are with being you, the easier it is to perform. I always used to struggle with performing in the past, nerve wise. I’d always be really nervous. I was so nervous that I looked like I wasn’t enjoying it. Whereas now, I look like I’m enjoying it [Smiles].
Your heartfelt and personal songs like “You Give Me Something,” “The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore,” “Broken Strings,” “Please Don’t Stop The Rain,” “I Won’t Let You Go” and “Up” have all made it to the top of charts. Lyrically, it seems like a lot of “James Morrison” is being exposed through each song. Do you struggle with allowing people to see your vulnerability?
No, I don’t at all actually. I think it’s quite a freeing thing; it’s quite an honest thing. You know, there are a lot of people that try to hide it with different gimmicks. They play in rock bands [Strums with a rocker face] but they’re like crying every night anyway. I don’t know! I feel really free when I sing songs that are personal, but I think people take it as me being this guy who is sensitive all the time? Which isn’t me! I’m not over sensitive. I just like writing songs that mean something and that evoke emotions.
What was the process of writing these songs like?
It was quite natural. I just sat with a guitar. I get a lot of the ideas on my own and then take them into the studio and say, “This is the sort of thing I want to do.” Or they form fresh on the day. I just let it be as natural as possible, and try and let the lyrics write themselves and not worry too much about whether it’s a cool lyric or what everyone is doing or what’s fitting in with the radio. I just did what felt right. I just trusted my instincts and tried to think of melodies that would represent the lyrics in the best way.
Like “Broken Strings”? The initial idea was there for it, but it needed more work to get the chorus to work with the verse. I had to rewrite the chorus three times but the main bulk of the idea is always there. As long as you get the core of the idea right, or you know where it’s coming from, everything else just fits around it really. You can move the things around as long as the idea is there still. Then you can kind of change stuff and it’s still the same thing.
What was the greatest challenge for you in creating and producing The Awakening?
I suppose capturing the emotion I was feeling at the time was the greatest challenge for me. I just wanted to make sure that it was there, and people could feel it, without overdoing it. The greatest challenge for me actually, as well, was keeping myself calm and not getting too excited with the singing. I started doing stuff that was quite out there – volume wise, rift wise. And Bernard (Producer of The Awakening) was just like, “You don’t need to do that. Just be simple, really laid-back.” It was quite hard for me to just sit back and not go for it. The main thing was getting the emotion across; it was something that was important to me because it’s all personal stuff. If I don’t get it right, then I’m a failure as an artist. If I didn’t get this album right, I wouldn’t have made another album.
How has your daughter Elsie inspired you and your music since her arrival almost 4 years ago?
I think I just want to write music that, if I’m not around anymore, she gets a feeling of who I was as a person, or who I am as a person. But as well, I just want it to be meaningful music; I don’t want to write little pop songs. I want them to mean something. That’s the thing that changed, I suppose, when I had a kid. I want her to know that I’m not just doing it to be famous. I want her to know that I’m doing it because I want to write good songs that make people feel something.
What was your first response upon hearing about MTV Sessions?
Well, MTV, obviously as you know, has been around since I was a kid so I always feel excited to be a part of anything to do with MTV. I’m more relaxed than I’ve ever been! So I just go with it. I try not to know too much about what’s going on and keep an open mind and just roll up and see what happens. I like keeping it spontaneous. I don’t like having a pre-worked out thing I’m going to say to try to look cool. I just like kind of saying it how it is and keeping it fresh. I’m just glad to be in Singapore – I’ve never been here before, never thought I’d come here, let alone with my music. I’m just stoked to be here!
What does MTV Sessions mean to you and what message would you like to share with fans through this event?
In general, Singapore people have never seen me so I just want to leave them with a good idea of who I am as a person and what I’m trying to achieve with my music. I just want to enjoy it! It’s quite a laid back thing really. I’m going to get up there and sing and hope that everyone likes it [Laughs]. You know, there’s no more to it than that really! I’m just going to be myself and hope I give enough away for people to know where I’m coming from. That’s my job: To convert people who don’t know who I am to know who I am and like my music. That’s what I’m here to do.
And just one last trivia question: If you could be a fruit juice, what juice would you be and why?
Ooh, I would be orange and pineapple, with a bit of mango. All the tropical juices are the ones I like really. Pineapple and orange together – I could drink that all day. I have Piña coladas when I’m away on holiday. That’s like coconut. Anything tropical! Tropical fruit juice, I’ll be that one. Different couple of flavors, mixed up flavors. Just a little bit of everything in there. I wouldn’t be orange juice, or lemon juice. I’ve drank lemon juice, and that’s pretty harsh. I’d be tropical. Tropical’s my favourite. It reminds me of the Caribbean sunshine and stuff like that!
*** Catch James Morrison on MTV Sessions which airs 28 April 2012, 5pm (WIB), 6pm (SIN/HK/PH), 7pm (MAL)!
Repeats will air on 6 May 2012, 5pm (WIB), 6pm (SIN/HK/PH), 7pm (MAL) and 8 May 2012, 12.30am (WIB), 1.30am (SIN/HK/PH), 2.30am (MAL) respectively.