Irish folk singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow chats to Aoife Valentine about songwriting on the road, the magic of the Olympia and almost giving up
Choice Music Prize nominee James Vincent McMorrow released his debut album, Early In The Morning, almost two years ago, in February 2010. Before he had even begun writing the album, he came close to accepting defeat after he allowed the opportunity to record the album in a studio with all costs covered to slip away. Convinced that the studio route just wouldn’t suit him, he went his own way and spent all his own money trying to make it work, but had little success.
Eventually he returned to Ireland and at that point, he admits, he was “very close to calling it a day” as it seemed like he “wasn’t meant to make a record”. It was then that the now infamous seaside house that would become his secluded hideaway for the next six months was offered to him. He moved in, but had no exact intentions to make an album; he had simply come to certain realisations. He explains; “The time in my life that I was happiest up to that point was just existing in my own little space making music for no other reason than to make music. It wasn’t like I had any particular goal in mind – it was when I set those silly industry goals that things just went all wrong… This is how [making the album] needed to happen.”
The writing process for his second album is already underway, but now he doesn’t have the option of hiding away until the record is complete. He has just completed his first headline tour in America and is about to embark on a European tour that will keep him occupied until the end of November. That doesn’t leave him much time to retreat into seclusion, but it’s not something he planned to do a second time.
“It’s gonna be a different kind of record, way more collaborative… I’m writing the songs as I go. I hear them differently now because obviously there are other people in there, the way they’ll play is different to me. It’s a whole new thing for me and I’m really enjoying it.”
It’s well documented that McMorrow’s song writing process is painfully slow, a habit which must cause difficulty when his mind can’t be focused solely on writing a new record, but he maintains that this an art he has mastered by now. “I guess every musician develops a rhythm for their song writing and understands the animal that it is. I know what to do these days to avoid as much frustration as possible. With me the key is to never be working on one thing for too long and to always kind of have four or five songs on the go that slowly come together at the same time.”
With such a hectic schedule, McMorrow would perhaps be forgiven for feeling a little fed up with it all, but he is nothing but grateful for the experience. “We’re always in new places and there’s always new crowds. Those things are compelling. To me, we’re way beyond what I would have deemed to be successful for the record so at this stage it’s all fun. We were in the US for two weeks and we drove from New York to LA and never in my wildest dreams last year did I expect that to happen. You hope for it but you don’t expect it. Everything is a bit of a win at the moment.”
In between everything else, McMorrow has made time to get involved with various charities, which he feels is an important thing to do, especially in his position. “There’s certain things that have come my way that sound like the right thing to do. With Amnesty International, it just felt important to lend whatever meagre voice I have to the process so I’ve done some things for them.”
He also recorded a track for Silver Lining, an album produced by youth mental health organisation, Headstrong. Recently that song has been doing the rounds online and McMorrow has taken advantage of this. “Unless you write this article in the next two minutes it’s not going to ruin the surprise but I get to call the Headstrong people now and let them know that it’s going to be in a big ad in the UK. I’ve managed to get the record label to give the fee to them, so that’s going to be pretty good. It’s a nice thing to be able to do.”
The end of this month marks McMorrow’s return to Dublin to play two shows in the Olympia, which holds a special place in his heart. “The Olympia is where I’ve seen pretty much all of my favourite shows. It’s sort of a place that even in my childhood was sort of omnipresent because you’d go to musicals and pantomimes and stuff at Christmas with your family and I always have these vivid memories.”
He continues: “Even last year during the snowstorms, I went to see The National there and the place is just sheer magic. Everything in there is always memorable so the prospect of playing even one show there filled my heart with joy and to do two is just ridiculous.”
Once the European tour is complete, McMorrow goes straight into pre-production for the second album. He had hoped to record it in January, but with so much going on, he admits that’s probably an overly ambitious plan. “It’s not going to be recorded until February or March, but the early stages feel exactly like I hoped they would feel so that’s got to be a good thing.”
James Vincent McMorrow plays the Olympia Theatre on October 21st and 22nd. Tickets are priced from €21. Early In The Morning is out now.