James Vincent McMorrow embarks on a North American tour with his latest album
James Vincent McMorrow is excited.
The Irish singer/songwriter, who originally caught the world’s attention with his cover of Steve Windwood’s “Higher Love,” has just embarked on his most extensive North American tour to date, something he has been looking forward to for a long time.
“The idea of playing shows in North America is incredibly romantic. There’s this idea of being in a bus or being in a van and just hauling ass between places,” McMorrow said. “It doesn’t matter whether [you’re performing in front of] 20 people or 200 or 2,000, just the idea of it is compelling…there’s something great and vast [about North America] that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.”
On the tour, which began on March 16 in Hollywood, CA, McMorrow is performing songs from both his first record, Early in the Morning, and his second record, Post Tropical, which was released in January.
Post Tropical is completely different from his first, leaving behind the acoustic guitar and piano, and instead replacing them with a
layering of many new, electronic instruments, like keyboards and percussions. His signature haunting falsetto, of course, remains. This change in style has made performing live more dynamic.
“It’s live touring and playing shows the way I always wanted to play shows. This is really me doing exactly what I always wanted to do,” he said.
McMorrow built Early in the Morning from scratch. He wrote, produced, and recorded the album in a house in Ireland, with no help whatsoever. The second record was recorded and produced in a studio in Texas. Having a team who worked with him to create Post Tropical made the experience fantastic for McMorrow.
“I like working for myself in certain instances, but I think the more people that can add something, the better,” McMorrow said. “Everyone who worked on the record did things I feel like I couldn’t do, and they opened up my musical world to different sounds and different textures that I might not have considered.”
McMorrow knew from the beginning that Post Tropical would be very different from his first record.
“It sounds really silly but I’ve had [Post Tropical] in my head for a really long time, and none of the sounds on it were, you know, just me and a guitar,” McMorrow said. “They were these vaguely surreal sounding and quite hard to find sounds, so it was important that I try all these instruments and really discover what everything amounted to.”
Although both albums are very different, they come together perfectly when performed live, something McMorrow was pleasantly surprised by.
“What was really unexpected and really compelling to me was how songs from the first record folded so beautifully into those newer textures and those newer sounds,” McMorrow said. “It was really supple, and that was brilliant.“
Throughout the years, McMorrow’s writing process has remained relatively the same.
“I start up with an idea I’m really excited about it. Then I live with it for a little while, before I really make it into something that is an actual song,” McMorrow explained. “Then I spend another two to three months yelling at a page, and I feel like it’s never going to work, and suddenly something clicks, and I can hear it.”
In order to write, McMorrow has to work alone, surrounded by instruments, for months at a time.
“No matter how many times I do it, I still get to that point where I think it isn’t going to work. Even though I know historically that it will work,” McMorrow said. “I’ve persisted and given myself the headaches and kind of moved through it and gotten to the end. Every single time feels like the first time, which is really strange I think.”
By working alone, McMorrow can experiment knowing that no one will be able to tell him that they do not like the music he is creating.
“If no one is around to tell you that something is crazy, then it’s not crazy!” McMorrow said. “For a moment to be able to just sit in a room and not have anybody question that idea…for you to be able to pursue it, and then realize for yourself whether or not it works, personally, I thrive on that.”
Sometimes, McMorrow finds it helpful to write songs on his drum kit. It was the first instrument that he learned to play (he now plays eight or nine, he’s lost track), and certain nostalgia comes from playing on it.
“There’s a certain sense of ‘this is where it all began’ whenever I sit behind a drum kit, which I really love,” McMorrow said. “I tend to sit behind the drums and record myself for two to three hours and then listen back to it, then I hear little patterns. A lot of songs have come out of those sessions.”
McMorrow is not interested in defining his music, or in conveying a particular message.
“I want to make music that resonates with me. I can hear the intent and the purpose in it, but I’m not interested in defining it, if that makes any sense,” McMorrow said. “I just know that it’s there, and that it matters to me. If I’m not messing around and I’m not faking it, then when people hear it, they’ll know that I’m not messing around and that I’m not faking it. That’s really the goal, to try and make the most beautiful and the most profound thing that I could imagine.”
This is not the first time that McMorrow will be performing in Montreal. He remembers a particularly stressful show at the Osheaga Arts & Music festival two years ago, on a day where, typical of Montreal, it was pouring rain.
McMorrow remembers being worried that he and his band would not be able to play, since it was raining so hard that the stage had become soaking wet, making it dangerous to perform.
“It stopped raining maybe an hour before we played…we played and the sun stayed out. And then we walked off stage, packed up our gear, and then five minutes later the rain came back…it was one of those moments when someone was smiling down on us,” McMorrow said.
He’s excited to be returning to Montreal. This time, thankfully, he will be playing an indoor venue.
James Vincent McMorrow will be performing at Club Soda on April 3.