Artist Of The Week // JAMES HUMPHRYS
Swing into a kicked back weekend with All The Same, the glittering new single from James Humphrys.
Bristol songwriter and multi-instrumentalist James Humphrys sets the UK music scene alight with his kaleidoscopic blend of dream pop, and his newest release All The Same continues hinting at the exuberance to be expected from his upcoming EP Memory Palace, which is set to be released on July 10th. Written and produced off the coast of Alaska, All The Same came into fruition during James’ time as a cruise ship musician, before being re-recorded at a later point. Swinging with defiant rhythms and triumphant brass sections that work together to create an irresistible, full-bodied texture, All The Same is a sonic shot of adrenaline that will leave you buzzing with excitement. Ingenious in its complexity, every repeated listen of the track will unveil yet another hidden layer or playful corner that you might have missed previously, and you’re constantly kept on the edge of your seat for what more you may discover.
Telling us about the music of the track, James starts:
‘All The Same’ began in my cabin with a clapping rhythm I was messing around with over a four to the floor beat I was tapping with my foot – it created this intensely swung feel. It was inspired by American Composer Steve Reich’s ‘Clapping Music (1972)’. I found it fascinating how a short, simple piece like that could bring so much satisfaction and move me in such a way. It was the foundation of the track, and the rest of the song was built around it with syncopated guitar rhythms and riffs. I had a very minimal setup in our tiny one-porthole cabin; just a midi keyboard, a mic and an electric guitar to work with. There’s a full horn section at the end of this track but needless to say I didn’t have one of them in my cabin, so I sang the melody into my voice notes on my phone and then scored and recorded it properly on my return. It was amazing to hear and work through an idea that began as a ridiculous trumpet impression on my phone.
He continues onto the inspiration for the lyrics:
Lyrically the track was inspired by American professor and podcaster Brené Brown and her documentary ‘Daring Greatly’. One of the things she says is, “We are so afraid that if we feel joy, something will take it away from us. Whilst great things are happening to us, often we dress rehearse tragedy. So sinking into joy is just allowing ourselves to enjoy things as they are.”
Enchanted by his fascinating sources of inspiration and method of creating, we delve deeper into the origins of All The Same, and fuel our excitement for his upcoming EP by discussing it in further detail.
Can you tell us more about the experiences you were going through when you wrote All The Same?
I wrote this song while I was working as musician on a cruise ship around Alaska. My girlfriend, Beth, and I were the duo onboard and we’d often play up to five half-hour sets daily. It was a surreal experience. The ocean and the scenery which we experienced every day for the best part of a year was expansive and freeing but the monotony and regimental tendencies of ship life would conflict with this; you could very easily feel confined and trapped at times. I think this has come across in the music I was making out there, as it was a refuge from the work routine. I made the music I would want to listen to and I tried not question it. I had fun with it and as a result I think this release really encapsulates me as an artist. I would often work on the track between sets or late after finishing entertaining the guests. Occasionally I’d look out of our porthole and there would be breaching humpback whales; they became kinda regulars during my cabin recording sessions.
You mentioned that it could be quite easy to feel confined and trapped when you were working on a cruise ship; how did you cope with these feelings, and what advice would you give to someone who is experiencing a similar situation?
If you’re feeling trapped, confined and all cabin fevery, I would suggest trying to acknowledge and understand why it is you are feeling that way. If you’re able to, get some fresh air and have a walk. Also remember that you’re going to have good days and bad days and that this day too shall pass. I found a strong sense of routine really helped also. God, imagine being an astronaut… Here’s a motto for ya, ‘If you want to be happy, be’.
What’s the most memorable story that you have of your time working as a musician on a cruise ship?
My girlfriend Beth and I were the acoustic duo onboard, she played a grand piano, I played acoustic guitar and we both sang. We had a lot of memorable stories but here’s a sweet one, we were on a contract around Australia and we had an Australian couple who really enjoyed our sets ask us if we would learn Green Eyes by Coldplay for them. They were getting married and it was going to be their first dance, so we learnt it and sang it for them. After they invited us for a drink to say thank you. We got chatting and I asked where they were from in Australia and it turned out that the girl knew and went to high school with my Australian cousin in Perth. It really made me realise how small the world actually is and added an extra layer to that experience!
Where are the most unexpected places that you have found influence for your EP?
A lot of my songwriting and production is based around the use of rhythm and how rhythms can interact with each other. So I would say an unexpected place where I’ve found inspiration and influence would be from the mechanical, engine sounds of the ship? When you’re onboard there is constant noise, turbines, generators and what not. So sometimes I would try and use these machine-like rhythms as a sort of hypnotic beat and try write and add over them.
What are your fondest memories of recording the EP?
I guess the journey of the songs. From starting as an idea on the ship to then being re-recorded with no limitations. There’s a full brass section that features on most of the tracks, so that was a great memory being able to involve other talented musicians and get them on the EP. I’m used to normally playing all the instruments myself so this was a really valuable part of the process.
Did you come across any surprises, whether pleasant or unpleasant, during the recording process?
Yes, I did. Like we mentioned above, the EP was written onboard a cruise ship around Alaska in a tiny little cabin with one port-hole. I’d often record during the day, whilst we were at sea and I remember one time I was recording some guitar and I happened to have glance out the port-hole as a humpback whale was breaching. It was very pleasant but also very surreal. So yeah, there was a lot of unexpected wildlife appearances during the recording process.
You mentioned that we should seek for positives amidst life; what are the things that never fail to bring you some joy and optimism during more trying times?
I think simple, quality time with friends and family can really ground you and bring joy and optimism when times are feeling weird. Being able to share the load and speak about wellbeing and things that are also good is important. During lockdown I’ve gained a deeper understanding and love for my cat Minty and I think she feels the same.. She never fails to bring me endless joy. When she pays me attention anyway.
What’s a motto you live by?
A motto I try to live by is the classic ‘Work hard, play hard’ and be nice to people? I guess it’s a sort of hybrid of the OG motto but I think it’s a goodun’ because it’s easy to remember, balance is super important and treating everyone with respect and kindness goes a long way. My mother’s motto is ‘Just f*****g do it’, which is also a good one to dip into. I sometimes find just getting started can be the hardest challenge to overcome.
If your sound had a colour, what colour would it be?
I think my overall sound would be an orange / yellow colour. I can’t fully back that up as to why but I’m seeing and feeling zesty, beachy tones. Almost sand like… Sometimes I do wonder if I actually have synesthesia because I can definitely visualise and hear colours for each track I’ve released. I’m practically Kanye West…
If you could set Memory Palace to a film or TV show, what would it be the soundtrack for?
Maybe the series Vikings..? And if I’m honest I know it wouldn’t fit. At all. I’ve never been much of a TV head but this was the first series I really got into and was really obsessed with, so just out of personal interest I’d like to see how that would turn out haha.
And finally, what does music mean to you?
This is an interesting question and one I don’t know how to answer without sounding all cheesy. But I guess music is a sort of voice for me. I’m not always the best at articulating myself with words day to day but I think getting lost in performance and the process of making music is a sort of solace and refuge for me to make sense of stuff. Like why do we like music so much and how can it touch and connect with people so powerfully? No one really understands it but it’s a deeper universally understood feeling.