Maxim Meyer-Horn

9 Feb
Music

Interview: James Smith Reveals His EP Title and Details on His Debut Album

If there’s one thing the British music scene is known for, it’s their great taste in music. The upcoming singer James Smith is next in line to become the new chart-topper after the recent success of Celeste, Lewis Capaldi, and Dermot Kennedy. In our interview, we discussed his upcoming EP including his new single “My Oh My”, what Brexit means for an artist, and we also got some exclusive details on his highly-anticipated debut album.

A new year often means a lot of New Year’s resolutions. Do you have some or are you already leaving them behind?

Number one is to stay focused and use my time wisely because the end of last year was so miserable. I sat in my room, wasn’t getting up early, and spend too much time on my phone. A lot of my New Year’s resolution was about focussing on my work and not get caught up in all the misery. The other things are to read more, be less on my phone, and appreciate doing live shows.

When I was playing live, I sometimes moaned about it. I played a lot of gigs in pubs and clubs when I was younger, and I used to think that I only wanted to perform once a month. Now, I want to perform every day because I’m missing it so much.

Did the lockdown make you more productive, or did it prevent you from being creative?

For me, the quarantine has been super productive in music-making and creating content. With my social media, it’s been a lot better because I had time to focus on that even though I can’t social media. I obviously know that it’s very important, but I do believe that it made me more productive on the music side. I just really miss gigging and hope to return on stage soon.

Singer-songwriters remain very successful if we look at the charts. Why do you think that is?

It’s so classic and timeless. From a young age, I knew that I wanted to do the singer-songwriter lane. Looking at singers like Adele, Sam Smith, or Ed Sheeran — they are the acts I grew up with and I still admire. When the songs aren’t great, it means that they don’t hold the timeless thing. My main thing is that I want to write that great song that lasts for many years and still gets played in about fifty years. That’s the aim.

Will you always make this kind of music, or would you like to experiment more in the future?

I actually produce songs for a lot of other artists as well but, in that sort of thing, I produce more the real sound in music. I don’t do a lot of electronic stuff, so I think that I’ll definitely stay in the lane of real musicianship. I want to make music I listen to myself, but the focus will always be the song itself rather than the production. If the song can be played acoustically, then it’s perfect.

You have a giant vinyl collection. What makes it such a different experience when you listen to vinyl?

I’m just a huge music fan and probably a lot of people say that, but I really do appreciate different types of music. Having a vinyl is something special because you have something physical, and the master of vinyl is totally different. It’s a very individual experience when you listen to vinyl because The Beatles sound so different when you compare the vinyl audio with how they sound on the radio.

You’ve recently released your new single “My Oh My”. What’s the message of that song?

It’s quite depressing, to be honest. I left my record label just before quarantine because I was trying to get out of this label for a long time. It was the first time I was doing something independent, and this single is part of an EP that is my first independent project. I wanted it to be super stripped back, and I didn’t want to do any big production on anything. When I wrote this single, I had this big chorus, and my first thought was that my production has to be massive for it. Eventually, I thought that the lyrics were so powerful on their own, that my production for it didn’t need to be too massive.

The lyrics are about loss, and it’s just big and dramatic, maybe even a bit too dramatic. It cringes me a little bit, but I am very proud of it. (laughs)

The music video has a very diverse cast and is quite emotional. What does this visual symbolize for you? 

The different people represent the choir for me in the song, and the song is super open. It’s not necessarily so personal to me and talks about the different kinds of loss. I wanted to explore that with a lot of people, and my family and friends shot the video. All these people you see in the clip are my friends and are actors, so that was ideal to make it feel like home. The video really matches how simple but powerful the song is and underlines unity and different voices.

Why do you think that this song can become a big international hit or could potentially resonate with a huge amount of people? 

I really hope it is a hit, but I think people will like it because it’s quite similar to hits of a.o. Lewis Capaldi. They write the most simple songs that really cut through. I don’t try to write poetic lyrics and think it’s just super simple — it hits home and has this big chorus. Hopefully, people connect to it because it’s very broad to many stories.

The Brexit has caused a lot of trouble for musicians. What are the consequences for you?

It’s a real shame because I’ve done a European tour last year, which was the best experience I ever had. London is quite spoiled for music, and a lot of people don’t show up for the support acts. We’re all a bit snobby here, and the vibe isn’t always right because people get drunk and talk over the music. Whenever I came over to Europe, the fans really appreciated music, and it was such a new experience for me.

With the whole Brexit thing, it drives me crazy because it feels like our government doesn’t appreciate what we musicians bring to our nation and the culture. It’s a shame that it’s going to be harder to travel, but we’re going to have to do it. If that means that we need to spend more money, we don’t have any other option.

A second EP is set to be released soon. Can you already reveal something to us that was a secret until now?

The EP counts four songs, with two singles you heard already, and will be called District Line. I basically grew up on the district line of London because I lived in a few places in East-London, and not great places either. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I went to school on the other side of London, which meant that I had to sit on the tube for two hours every day to get there. I used to write a lot of songs on that district line, and all the songs of the EP were kind of started on the tube. I don’t think that the title and the story behind it have been told yet … but I can’t say anything more.

The third is always the charm. Does that mean that your third project will be your debut album?

I believe so, yeah. After this EP, I’ll probably go into the album, and I’m actually working on it at the moment. My manager is the owner of the grime radio station Rinse FM and started an independent label I’m part of. He’s a real legend in the game and, thanks to him, I grew up between the grime MCs like Stormzy. It’s a totally exciting atmosphere, and he set up this beautiful studio, where I’m sort of living right now, to make the album. The songs I’m making right now are my favorites to date, and it’s going to be crazy after this EP.

Is working on the debut album a little bit stressful for you?

Of course, because I’ve done a lot in music already. Whereas back in the days, you’d usually release your first album straight away. For me to come out with my debut, it will be a massive statement. I’ve already done some great numbers on Spotify and YouTube, which has been great, but it’s stressful to keep that up for the album. Still, not many people know who James Smith is, and I’m not in the A-tire yet. Hopefully, the EP will introduce me to that side of the industry, and I could come forward with my album.

I’ve always wanted to do an album because I like to listen to it myself. It shows a lot of personality in an artist, whereas at the moment, I’ve already put out a lot of singles. It’s very exciting but scary at the same time.

Pictures by Louie Mire.

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