Propelled by the success of ‘Do You Remember’, which received double platinum certification and won James and ARIA for Best Pop release, and its follow-up single ‘Give Me Something’, Thirty One debuted at No.2 on the Australian charts.
The success of that album for James – who previously played in Matt Corby’s band and was employed as a social worker in Brisbane prior to the release of ‘Do You Remember’ – drastically altered the course of his life.
He spent the following couple of years touring his atmospheric blend of R & B, soul and electro-tinged indie-pop extensively throughout Australia and overseas, with headline performances throughout the US, France, Germany, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark and at festivals including Splendour in the Grass, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.
James took an intentional break from touring in late 2016 to focus on his songwriting but as the now Gold Coast-based musician told InQueensland, P.M. – which will be released tomorrow – was originally intended to see the light of day much earlier.
“I was due to put the album out a lot sooner and then I kind of put it off because I had a bunch of things go down – I changed management and a whole lot of boring stuff – but I’d already put the release of the album off by a substantial amount anyway,” he said.
“Then I was getting what I thought was close to putting it out, and the coronavirus hit. I was going to start playing shows, I had things booked and right when I was supposed to go for a week of rehearsals in Sydney was when they started cancelling flights.
“It affected me pretty heavily, to be honest, because it was a long time between drinks for me – I hadn’t played a show in Australia for a couple years at least.”
James collaborated with a host of big-name producers on P.M, including Clams Casino, FrancisGotHeat, M-Phazes and Grammy winners Malay and Joel Little, both of whom he worked with on his debut album.
“I returned to [Malay and Little] because I really enjoy their process and making music with them is always enjoyable and I feel like they bring out the best in me.
“With regards to Clams, it was pretty much by word of mouth that we ended up in the studio together – we had mutual acquaintances and friends and so for want of a better word, it was quite organic.”
The resulting nine tracks that comprise P.M. are more heavily influenced by R & B than those on its predecessor.
“I’ve been so close to the songs for so long that I don’t really know if I’m qualified to speak on the genre,” he joked, “but I feel like it’s definitely in the R & B corner, which is kind of what I wanted to make in the first place.”
Although COVID put a stop to James’ touring plans last year, he said the enforced break had given him a chance to hone his production skills.
“I just had a lot of time on my hands to practise stuff, so I’ve really delved into the whole production side and I’ve been working with other artists and being in the studio in that context has been productive, for sure, and I don’t think I would have gotten to that point, if it weren’t for the lockdown.
“It’s such a black art, learning production stuff, and you really can only learn it by doing it over and over and over and refining the skills.
“I think in the future I’ll definitely look back on 2020 for myself as a really productive year and I’m probably one of the very few probably few people that can say that.
The past year has also afforded James plenty of time to become even more familiar with P.M. – which includes the already-released singles ‘Slow Motion’, ‘Let it Go’, ‘Problems’ and ‘Miracles’ – and rather than that familiarity breeding any sort contempt, he remains entirely contented with the end result.
“I’m really happy with it, to be honest,” he said. “I think a lot of people just feel as though they have to say that but I genuinely am so happy with it – and I know that because I’ve had so long to sit and analyse it, because I finished making it ages ago.
“I’ve just tried to make music that really does reflect exactly what I want to make and if it can bring people any kind of peace then I’ve done my job.”
As for what’s next on the horizon, James said he was itching to get back on the road.
“Me and my manager have been trying to organise some shows and I don’t know how much I can really say about it yet but we’ve been talking with Event Cinemas about doing a series of shows in the theatres, mixed in a surround-sound setting, which hasn’t really been done in Australia yet.
“It would be performing inside the cinema and utilising the screens for visuals and making it a whole experience. I’m feeling positive that it’s going to end up happening and it could be a really, really cool thing and a way to repurpose the cinemas because I think they’ve also had their worst year on record.
“That’s all dependent on borders being open, so we’re gonna have to wait to see but there are definitely going to be some shows to tour the album – at least in Australia.”
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