Singer-songwriter Chris James makes cinematic-folk with new EP Space In The Clouds out now. It’s about overcoming a difficult, dark period in his life and James combines influences from his days as lead singer songwriter of electro-rock pioneers Stateless with folk and modern electronica. We chatted to him about the results.
Always try and challenge yourself to come up with new sounds, or at least a new angle on your sound.
First up, tell us bit about yourself - what was your entry point to the music industry?
My band Stateless got picked up by BBC radio, which led to an album deal with a major label. That was an exciting entry point but then the major label machine let us down, as it does in so many cases. I’ve learned that now, but I was naive at the time. Still, it was exciting, and we learnt lots so can’t complain! This new project is more of a singer-songwriter project. I still use electronics but in key places, and in more of a subtle way.
Who has been your biggest influencer so far?
I guess it’s got to be Prince, RIP. When I was growing up, I listened exclusively to Prince records. Whenever I heard anything else, I just thought: “Well, that’s not as good as Prince.” and went straight back to my Prince records! I’ve listened to a really broad range of stuff since, but that was really my main musical education growing up.
You’ve been living in east London for the past eight years, meeting a whole host of respected acts such as Lorna Rose (vocals), pianist Nick Ramm (Cinematic Orchestra), bassist Arista Hawkes (Guillemots), Ben Trigg (cello), Gillian Wood (cello), producer Suneil Pusari (Michael Kiwanuka) and Barny Barnicott (Arctic Monkeys). How have they influenced Space in the Clouds?
They’ve influenced it hugely. I’ve been very lucky to meet lots of amazing musicians, and I’m very grateful they’ve made the time for it, and applied their talents to help create this record. I’ve also been loving playing live with Lorna, Nick and Gillian, that’s been really exciting. All these guys are great people too, so it’s ace working with friends.
Tell us about your forthcoming EP ‘Space In The Clouds’. What’s the overriding theme of the songs?
The narrative starts off searching for a ‘Space In The Clouds’, you know that feeling when you can’t see the wood for the trees, and you need to find some head space. Then it goes on a journey through these key experiences, and arrives at the conclusion that I’m ‘Goin’ Home’ to the music that I grew up with when I was learning guitar, stuff like John Martyn. His album Solid Air was a big influence on me (on those rare occasions, when I wasn’t listening to Prince)! So it’s maybe a case of grounding myself by going back to some of my musical roots.
The EP begins with you talking to your younger self through a time lapse with DM Stith (Sufjan Stevens) playing the counter voice. What is the significance here?
DM Stith is one of my favourite artists, so I was very keen to work with him, after Shara (My Brightest Diamond) thankfully introduced us. I wrote these vocal parts with his voice in mind. I thought an interesting way of using two voices would be as if it was the same person, talking to their younger self, through a time lapse.
What are your hopes for the EP?
I hope that people get something out of listening to it. Those songs have taken years to finish and put out. I think they probably take a few listens to really sink in. It’s probably not that immediate. Hopefully they’ll grow on you.
You’ve toured with DJ Shadow, how was that? What did you learn from him?
Amazing. It was a real privilege to tour the world singing with such an outstanding artist. It was also on that tour where I met my producer and now close friend Suneil Pusari, he was doing sound. I learnt from Shadow to work hard, and stay true to yourself. To be patient. He’s a really decent, nice person. He works really hard, so any success that he’s had, he deserves it.
I think that’s the main thing I learn’t from him is just to work hard and be commited. Music making can be very time consuming, so we have to put the hours in, which can be very difficult sometimes when other things get in the way. I also learned to always try and challenge yourself to come up with new sounds, or at least a new angle on your sound.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Hmmmm, that’s a tough one. I guess: nothing ever goes to exactly to plan, so don’t be too set on things working out in one particular way.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
Wow, that’s a pretty epic question, as there are sooooooo many people I’d love to work with. I guess Bjork, because ever since Debut I’ve been in love with her work, she’s amazing.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
It would be last time I was out with friends, and I’d say “stop looking at your phone and actually listen to what people are saying.”
Finally, if you could wish for one thing to happen to the band in 2017, what would it be?
I’d like the full length album to come out, we’ve worked really hard on it. And we’d love to tour it!
Watch the video to ‘Space In The Clouds’ on YouTube below. Find Chris James on Facebook.