Interview | James Yorkston Looks Back

TEN YEARS AFTER James Yorkston’s beautiful album Moving Up Country hit our ears it’s been reissued with a bonus disc of demos and Peel sessions. FFS caught up with James to talk about listening back to an album, what it was like recording a Peel session and hear about his new projects.

 How does it feel listening to Moving Up Country again – is it a bit like finding an old diary?

It was a bit odd, it wasn’t like a diary – it’s like looking back on a school project or something.  I’ve played the songs throughout those ten years but I haven’t listened to the record so it was interesting hearing things I’d forgotten about, like all the instrumentation – the  Hammond organ and the electric guitars and all that sort of stuff. In my mind it was a mostly acoustic record but it’s not, it’s quite big and beefy.

People will have first listened to this album on a CD or record but those buying the new release will hear it ‘shuffled’. How do you think this might alter the listening experience?

I think the songs pretty much stand up wherever they are. I do programme the album for listening to the whole way through and I certainly did that for Moving Up Country, so I guess it will be different. I still prefer having things mastered quietly to give them room to breathe so it will be a lot quieter than anything else they have on their playlist!

The second disc is full of lots of lovely demos and Peel sessions. What was it like recording a Peel session?

We were down in Maida Vale and we had an idea that we would record something nice and good, because we had recorded the album itself just in a cottage, so we thought ‘Well this will be our first time in a proper studio, let’s make an effort!’ But then the engineers told us John Peel didn’t want it to be like that, he wanted it to be off the cuff. So it was a bit odd – we weren’t allowed to do overdubs and we wanted to do overdubs, but it was quite fun. We argued a lot because we were kids and we were excited.

Do you think John Peel’s shoes have been filled in the music world?

I don’t know if they have. I mean, there is no-one who you could really tune into for those two hours and get that eclecticism. But there is BBC Radio 6, and a lot of good DJs out there like Rob da Bank or Vic Galloway who are certainly following on from Peel. Although he’s not there, his legacy does live on to a certain extent, if not just the fact that people tend to judge music a lot more now not as a genre, but either as music you like or music you don’t like. Which is brilliant because that’s what music is.

So tell us a bit about the new album

I love it…it’s a funny thing, you do an album and normally once I’m finished I have a period of wild panic thinking, ‘Oh no, this is terrible!’ With this one I haven’t had that. That doesn’t mean it’s not terrible, but no, I’m delighted with it – I’m over the moon.

Is the place you record an album, [Bryn Derwen, North Wales] important? Do you need to get everyone together in one place that you feel comfortable in?

Exactly. I’ve recorded five albums there now and it’s all about hitting the ground running. So you’re there, you know the studio, you know the engineer, so straight away you can work, straight away you know what’s there at your fingertips and you can just get on with it. We try to create a good, relaxed atmosphere and then encourage the musicians to be themselves and I really felt it this time. Every single player on the record brought their ‘A’ game as they say in the football world – I was delighted with them all.

You recently wrote a book, It’s Lovely To Be Here. Was that a different process to writing the album – was it harder?

No, I found it a lot easier. We’d just had our first child and we weren’t getting much sleep and I found that, at the end of the day, I could go upstairs and sit beside my computer and write and it was sort of like a Charlie Parker record or something, it just cleared the brain. I found the freedom of writing prose, rather than lyrics, very liberating because you can just go off on one and you don’t have to worry about keeping the numbers of the words down. But having said that, there was no deadline, so I only wrote when I was in the mood and because of that it was easy peasy.

Who have you been listening to lately that has excited you?

There is a guy called Seamus Fogarty. I met him over in Ireland – he supported me once – and then he started badgering me for gigs, and Fence have signed him up and it’s my favourite release on Fence for a long time. There’s a girl called Elle Osbourne who I really like and Adrian Crowley, over in Ireland, he’s great .Then there’s a new girl, Lisa O’Neil, who’s song-writing I’m in love with….I guess I’d also have to say Michael Hurley because I heard him on my first tour in America – I love his music, he’s a big, big influence.

words: Jessica Abell