Singer songwriter James M Carson has been busy making a name for himself with a folk sound that offers much. Due to this, his songs have been played on radio stations as far as Australia and America.
This self taught musician released his debut EP ‘Sold as Scene’ in 2014 which was well received. This led to him performing at a workshop in 2015 which included an amazing panel including Bob Harris, Jim Lauderdale and Grammy award winner, Don Henry. The feedback he received from these experts made his passion for music even stronger and ensured his journey would continue.
The spotlight now moves onto the man himself as he was kind enough to answer some questions about his world of music. He talked about his inspiration, influences and much more. This is what he had to say:
Who or what was it that inspired you to become a musician?
Initially, family. From Grandparents and their brothers and sisters, to my dad and his siblings, there have always been musicians and family bands. Growing up, my siblings and cousins would be encouraged to join in at family gatherings and parties to sing or accompany with an instrument. It literally was a free for all. Someone would start playing a song and one by one people would just jump in and add something – a harmony, some guitar, maybe even some saxophone or organ… I know, it sounds far fetched, but believe me, this is not a romanticised version of nostalgic events that has gotten more ridiculous over years of reminiscence. That is how it was. It was almost like a music school. I learned how to improvise, how harmonies work, rhythm and keeping time, not to mention the back-catalogue of old rock n’ roll music that I was being exposed to. Looking back I realise how lucky I was.
Having older siblings and such a large extended family of older cousins also meat that I had access to a type of music I wouldn’t ordinarily have had – stuff I was probably too young for really. While other kids my age (I was around 11-12) at school were listening to whatever childish junk mainstream radio was throwing at them, I was listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Guns N’ Roses, REM, Lemonheads, plus all the old stuff that the older generations of my family had already gotten me into – Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Beachboys, T-Rex. In fact it was Kurt Cobain and Slash that actually made me want to learn guitar. I was lucky that I had guitarists in the family to teach me bits to get me on my way. It was my dad and an uncle who initially taught me a few chords to start me up. Then another uncle showed me some blues scales and further down the line another uncle (who was mad into rock and punk) started showing me more advanced stuff. I filled in all the gaps my self by just listening and playing along and picking up the occasional book.
After your journey into the world of music began, which musicians have been the biggest influence on you and your sound?
In my teens I started a band with a school friend. He had an older brother who was at college so we got to know about all the cool bands that no other kids our age knew about. Oasis had just started to break through, Stone Roses had been and gone, Teenage Fanclub were still under the radar (and still are) and the Doves and Elbow were still playing the Roadhouse Manchester. We also had a soft spot for Crowded House – Neil Finn in particular. We were soaking it all up and learning their songs and eventually writing our own. By the time we were 17 we’d been playing pub gigs and watching bands in Manchester and I was hooked.
When I started college I discovered Elliott Smith, Ryan Adams and Jeff Buckley and that’s when I really started to think about writing more seriously. Those artists were definitely the catalyst for my first steps into the scary and exposing world of singer-songwriters. I got a little keyboard and started teaching myself piano by converting guitar chords and I spent most of my time locked away writing on either the guitar or the piano. Although Uni forced us to end the band, my friend and I kept in touch and he constantly fed me recommendations for new music to check out. He became friendly with Badly Drawn Boy and his label, Twisted Nerve, put out his first album under the pseudonym, Voice Of the Seven Woods.
At Uni, still Elliot Smith, Ryan Adams, Jeff Buckley and Teenage Fanclub mad, I started writing and performing as a solo act. I was picking up new influences all the time such as Wilco, Bright Eyes, Fleet Foxes, The Shins and The Flaming Lips, and allowing that to change and shape the music I was writing. Most of what I wrote during that time was garbage and I discarded it almost immediately after writing it, but the point was that I was learning all the time about what I liked and what worked for me.
Now, I feel I’m in a place were I’m clear about what works for my voice and personal taste and decision making is much more channelled rather than a slap dash of borrowing from here and there. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Grizzly Bear, Bill Ryder-Jones, Andy Shauf and Cate Le Bon. I like the noises they make and it inspires me to challenge the way I arrange my music.
When you write new songs, do you have a set process or do you go where the music takes you?
The process is always the melody first. Melodies based around chord structures – whether its a minor or major key, a sad or happy feel – that’s the thing the people always remember from a piece of music. Words, they tend to forget. Though lyrics are important to me, and I do spend a lot of time mulling over them, I just feel they have to be set first and foremost to a good melody – who’s going to pay attention to your words, if they can’t even get passed the noise your making? What I tend to do is noodle around with chords on the piano or guitar and hum along and it all just builds from there. And of course, this all depends on how I’m feeling at that time. So it very much is music set to a particular mood. Once something starts to form I start to nail down the parts that definitely work and I usually have a whole song, structure and instrumentation, worked out before I’ve even written a single lyric. There will be the odd lyric that fits the pattern of the melody which will later be the foundation on which the rest of the words are built, but it will be very vague and minimal at that point. The bulk of the lyrics will tend to come later as events occur in my life. I will normally have a demo recording of the song on my phone, which I will listen to over and over again, all the while humming the melody and jotting down lyrics.
On rare occasions, inspiration strikes all at once, and its usually when you are nowhere near a guitar or piano. And these are the songs that write themselves. Their usually the quickest ones to pull together too. It must be something that is triggered in your subconscious, that works its way to the forefront of your mind, and before you know it your humming something out loud, repeatedly, whilst frantically looking for something to capture it on. Many times I’ve had to pull onto the hard shoulder to hum into my phone.
From the songs you have created which is your favourites and why?
Favourite song I’ve created? That’s tough. I am my own worst critic and I get bored very quickly of my own music. Always looking to start something new. Sometimes I can’t even listen back to my own voice without wincing.
My personal favourite at the moment is The Pest. It’s a reflective piece. Probably the only one that is directly and wholly about myself. It was one of those, take a good long look at your self in the mirror moments. I like to play this song last whenever I gig. It’s like a nice little 2 minute footnote for the set or like the concluding paragraph of a book. It’s deferent to all my other songs in that it came together in one quick burst of writing. I didn’t have to tinker with it for weeks or paw over the lyrics. I was just noodling with the chords for a couple of minutes and the lyrics and melody came like a stream of consciousness. Its very rare that I write songs in that way. I must have had a lot on my mind that day. I think its a well rounded and balanced song. After I first recorded a simple guitar an vocal version of it, I listened back a few times and thought about adding keys and harmonies to it, but then, after a few listens I liked the purity and simplicity of it and felt the song was strong enough without any additional production so I decided to leave it – as naked as it came. I’m glad I did.
If there were to be a film about your life with music. Who would you choose to play the part of you and why?
I’d chose… someone who didn’t really break through until later in life. Someone who’d been working at it for a long time but hadn’t quite figured themselves out or caught a break until they were older. Let’s see… who is there… There’s Sly Stallone. He was rejected and ignored until he struck gold with the Rocky script. But then he went on to do a lot of cheesy garbage following that. There is, Sean Connery, who went unappreciated until he landed the James Bond role. He went on to do so many great films and also won and Oscar, but then again, he can’t get rid of that Scottish accent so it would never work. Then there’s Harrison Ford, who’s big break was Star Wars. Ford was 33 and had already been in the industry for a while. His first big film was American Graffiti but it came with minimal success despite it’s cult status. Ford was only brought in to read Han Solo dialogue to help the other actors in auditions. He was not officially invited to audition for the role and there were many other younger actors being already under consideration. It took the word of a couple other big names in Hollywood who vouched for Ford, to convince Lucas to give him the Solo role. After that, Ford became a Blockbuster icon and even fulfilled some more critically acclaimed roles in films like Bladerunner. He strikes me as a man of good taste, experience, and he’s humble enough to make fun of himself from time to time despite appearing to be very serious on the exterior.
The obvious problem with all these options is that they are all very old men now and I don’t think either of them can sing for love nor money.
What are your future goals for your music?
I’m always writing and throwing things away but eventually settling on a handful of songs I’m happy to release. I have in the pipe line two EPs each with 5 tracks on, which for the most part are recorded and mixed and awaiting to be mastered. My plan is to put them both out this year as a volume one and volume two body of work. From that cluster of songs, I already have a couple which are mastered and ready to be released as singles to build interest in the upcoming EPs. One of which is called Calico (which is now available to buy). We (myself and the producer who helps records all my stuff) have talked about making an accompanying video with it but we’re still at the ideas stage on that. In the meantime I have almost completed writing another EP which I’d aim to put out in 2018. Most of the songs are of more of a fuller band arrangement and as such I’d be looking at pulling some musicians together to help me play those songs live.
Ultimately, I just want to spread my music as far and wide as possible with the help of followers, promoters, bloggers and radio stations. Getting people off the couch and out to see shows is really important as I want to move up to the next level in terms of gigs – such as festivals, bigger venues, better supports slots. Reviews and airplay are particularly important to me as they give me that little boost to keep going when I feel like giving it up and they give all your self promotion that little bit more gravitas.
Finally, and perhaps most glaringly obviously, I’d just like to have everything that I’ve written out there for all to hear. If I can be in a position where my debut EP, the two I recorded last year, and the one I have recently written, are all available to download, stream and share, I’d be really proud of that achievement alone – despite any monetary, commercial or critical success… or lack thereof.
‘Sold as Scene’ is an impressive EP which confirms that James M Carson is a songwriter that people really need to hear. It feels as if he has spent time studying his musical influences and learned what it means to assemble stories that leave an impact. His acoustic driven sound flows naturally throughout and adds great atmospheres to each track, but this EP is all about lyrical side to James’ songwriting.
From all of the artists that he says has been major influences to him, the one that stands out the most when listen to ‘Sold as Scene’ is Ryan Adams. Both offer detail and depth to their words which is something that is difficult not to appreciate. The way James shares his tales has an irresistible charm which sound even better thanks to his impressive vocal abilities. Listen to the outstanding songs ‘Money (we don’t need)’ and ‘A Raven’ to witness his talents in full effect.
As we mention during the interview, James’ latest single ‘Calico’ has recently been released. It offers a blend of Americana meets Indie rock and its really good. The time between releases has shown how much stronger of a songwriter he has become and the confidence in his own talent is clear to hear. This will make a lot of fans (both old and new) excited for his upcoming EPs. If you grab this track from his Bandcamp page then you also get the bonus of stripped back versions of ‘Beneath the Constellations’ and ‘The Pest’, both are outstanding.
Do yourself a favour and take a trip to James M Carson‘ Bandcamp page to listen to all of his music and let his talents do the talking. If you like what you hear then grab his songs while you are there. Alternatively, they can be found at iTunes and Amazon.
To find out when his new EP’s will officially get released or you want to find out about upcoming shows then head over to JamesMCarsonMusic.com. This information can also be found from his social media sites at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Don’t forget, if you like what you hear from James M Carson then help show your support. Tell your friends and the world all about his music today!