Hello James, how are you?
I’m very well, thanks for asking.
Congratulations on making the Fresh Faves with Post War Plans, how does it feel?
Thank you! It made me very proud. I’ve submitted countless tracks in the past and this is the first one that’s finally made it through to Fresh Faves. I don’t know if that means Post War Plans is necessarily better than my other songs, it’s just the one that resonated most with the mods and then the Listening Post listeners. I’m really grateful.
It’s a great track with an interesting backstory, how did it come into being?
The inspiration for Post War Plans, and all the tracks from my forthcoming album of the same name comes from a treasure trove of letters my grandpa wrote during WWII. He served in a regiment as part of the Desert Rats and the letters span from when he was first posted to Egypt right through to the end of the war. The particular passage that inspired this song was one he wrote in response to his brother Fred asking what his plans post-war might be; ‘’First, to be alive post war; second, a good holiday (not camping out either); third, the best thing available; fourth, look around for something better; fifth – a wife. Short and sweet, eh?’’
Being based on letters written by your grandfather during World War II, what really surprised you about those letters?
Firstly, how good the writing was. There’s a beautiful, lyrical cadence to his words that’s an absolute gift to a songwriter. The other real surprise was how much it helped me to get to know him. My grandpa didn’t talk about his experiences in the war and I never got the opportunity to have a proper adult conversation with him. These letters have given me a real insight into the drama – and mundanity – of war and helped me appreciate what a brave, principled, intelligent – and bone-dry funny man he was.
It’s from your new EP, what were the challenges and triumphs that you found recording it?
The biggest challenge recording the EP and album was my somewhat rudimentary workflow. I used mostly hardware instruments and effects hooked up to a ten year old MacBook running an ancient version of GarageBand. Each song has a gazillion separate tracks, so my poor Mac was constantly on the verge of collapse under the processing power required. I think I spent as much time freeing up hard drive space as I did making music.
The biggest triumph for The Empress Way EP was getting Rodney Cromwell and Magic Arm to do the remixes. I’m a huge fan of both artists and the way they’ve reimagined my track Losing the Matriarch has completely blown my mind. It’s been a real honour to work with them.
You use dusty synths and drum machines – these make some of the best sounds – what’s your favourite piece of gear?
I should say my Roland HS-60, which is essentially a Juno 106 but with built in speakers. It sounds lush, is incredibly versatile and worth a fortune nowadays (luckily I got it ages ago before prices got silly). I think my actual favourite though is my Casio VL-Tone. It’s very basic but just so sweet and charming, and with a really distinctive sound. You’ll hear it make a few guest appearances throughout the album.
What’s your favourite track from it?
My favourite track from my forthcoming album is probably Dear Fred. It’s based around a number of different letters my grandpa wrote to his brother and tries to explore their relationship against a backdrop of wartime horror, hope and humour. It’s also a bit of a departure in sound, making more use of guitar and samples, intertwined with the electronics. I recorded the vocals during a bout of Covid, so there’s a more fragile quality to my voice which I think helps to convey the sentiment of the song.
You’re an artist from Derbyshire, how did it all begin for you?
It all began around 25 years ago, playing bass in a covers band at the local snooker club. We used to play epic 2.5 hour sets, full of Manic Street Preachers and Blur album tracks and songs that were generally well above our fledgling ability, like Radiohead’s Paranoid Android. It was great fun and helped develop my songwriting and performance skills as we morphed into a fully fledged band with original material. A couple of bands later I moved more into the Manchester music scene, got into electronic music and switched to vocals/synths in My Side of the Mountain and Coves & Caves. We enjoyed varying degrees of success before I settled into family life up in the hills of the High Peak and gradually started a new solo musical direction with Debris Discs.
What did you listen to growing up?
My musical obsessions as a child were The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac. I just remember listening to The Very Best of the Beach Boys and Tango in the Night in my parents car on pretty much any journey we went on. The harmonies, arrangements and songcraft have definitely stayed with me to this day.
My older sister was also into dance music, which I kind of dismissed at the time except for a fascination with Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s Jack Your Body, which was included on her Now That’s What I Call Music Vol. 9 VHS. Looking back, maybe it’s where my love of electronic beats and bleeps first began. That, along with a mixtape my neighbour made for me called Computer Music, which basically had a load of theme tunes from ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 games. Still sounds amazing.
You’re part of the Fresh On The Net team now and have been for some months, what’s been a highlight for you?
Just discovering some amazing new music that I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise. It’s quite a commitment to listen to 200 tracks each week and I was a little daunted when Tom first asked if I’d like to become a mod. It’s well worth the effort though as there’s always been some real gems in every batch and it’s a nice feeling to help get those songs out to a wider audience. I’ve been made to feel very welcome by all my fellow mods too, which I really appreciate.
Post Covid what have you learned about yourself in the last three years?
To be honest, I didn’t find the pandemic to be a great opportunity for self-reflection. Working full time, while attempting to home school young children and make an album didn’t leave me with much head space. It did make me appreciate how much I enjoy spending time with my family though.
Did you pick up any new skills?
Joe Wicks taught me how to do a burpee.
What are you listening to at the moment?
The Fresh On The Net Batch 502 inbox of course! I’m also listening to a lot of my AnalogueTrash label mates Flange Circus, Vieon and Kat Bryan, the latter two of which I played a gig with a couple of weeks back. I feel like there’ve been some really strong album releases this year too. I’ve got LPs from Glüme, Free Love, The Lemon Twigs, BC Camplight, Maps, Blur, Veryan, Nation of Language and loads more on constant rotation.
What are you looking forward to doing next?
Releasing my debut solo album Post War Plans on the 20th October. It’s taken me 25 years to get to this point, so it really does mean a lot to me. I’ve been fortunate to work with the lovely folk at AnalogueTrash with this release and I still can’t quite believe we’re putting it out as an actual, physical record. Test pressings are due next week and I can’t wait to hear it.
I’m also very excited to take the album out on the road. I’ve put together a solo live set involving a ridiculous number of instruments and effects that I’m attempting to play all at the same time. It’s quite a challenge. I’m taking the set to Sheffield and Salford at the end of October with Lucy Dreams and some other cool bands, with more dates to come.