The list of my favourite Scottish singer/songwriters is as long as my arm - and I have very long arms. From Beerjacket to Panda Su, Shambles Miller to Anna Meldrum and many more in between, there's now another addition to that list - Jack James.
Armed with powerful, impassioned lyrics, a knack for storytelling and a surprisingly mature voice which never fails to strike an emotional chord, his brand of lo-fi, folk music is one that evokes a smile as much as it tugs at the heart strings.
"I think the songs I've written are pretty much lyrically-driven with quite simple arrangements" explains Jack. "For example, a lot of songs are just vocals and guitar. In the description of the latest album there's a part that says it's not party music, I think that's a fair description."
It may not be music to swing your cat to but it's certainly music that's able to resonate with its listeners.
"It’s great if people can relate to my songs, although I got one comment recently from someone who listened to the first two songs of the new album but couldn’t listen to any more. He said I was talking about things that were from a totally different life from his and that it was dark, disturbing and he couldn’t relate to it."
I wondered if Jack saw this as criticism. "I took that as a compliment actually because I like to read and listen to stuff like that, from different perspectives from your own. Music should be able to connect with people regardless of their backgrounds or perspectives."
With such an educated and open-minded outlook on life, it'll come as no surprise that Jack has a way with words that most people could only wish for. "I’m not sure if everyone actually listens to lyrics these days, but the people that do probably want to hear interesting stories or phrases and not cliché-ridden shit that’s thrown together just because it rhymes; at least that’s the kind of music I like listening to."
As far as his influences go, a mix of young and old help to inspire his music. "I listen to a variety of music, but in terms of what influences my songwriting I'd say contemporary artists like Damien Jurado, Elliott Smith and Bon Iver would rank near the top. I'm also a huge fan of Neil Young, he's probably my main influence if I was naming names, and of course Bob Dylan, who I just seen live a few days ago which was fantastic."
"Generally I'll get an idea on the guitar for a chord progression or a melody and lyrics will enter my head at that stage." says Jack on his method of songwriting. "I like to finish the song and record it as quickly as possible, though some songs will take a few months to write and others will be completed and recorded in a day or two, it varies. I also record live takes and try to capture the song when it's still fresh and newly written because I think there's a noticeably different feel to that."
"I try to be unique in what I write." Jack explains. "Occasionally I'll get an idea and I'll get excited because I think it will be a good song, then realise half-way through writing it that it's actually the same chords and melody to a Neil Young song or something. I try and avoid clichéd lyrics as I really cringe at a lot of the lyrics in a lot of songs these days. I also try and avoid choruses for the sake of choruses whilst not strictly following any structures; I just try and write how I think the song should sound and flow."
Jack released his second album, Quarter-life Crisis, back in May and it appears to be a step in the right direction following his impressive and well recieved debut, Lights off, headphones on. "Well the biggest change for the new album has got to be the additional instrumentation. I also think the songs are a bit more melodic. When I was writing and recording the first album I was getting into a lot of musicians that were new to me and discovering what type of music it was that I wanted to write, so I think those influences show. I also learned a lot more about singing from the first to second album and seem to have resolved to a certain accent now that feels quite natural to me."I noticed Jack had been pretty quiet on the gig front of late. "I played at King Tuts a couple of weeks ago but you’re right, before that there wasn’t much. When I’m writing and recording I tend not to book gigs because I’m occupied with everything involved in that."
So, any plans for gigging soon? "Nothing is scheduled at the moment but I think I’ll be playing some shows around Glasgow in a month or so."
As an independent musician from Glasgow, I wondered what Jack made of the Scottish music scene. "The Scottish music scene is quite strange to me sometimes" he explains. "Even the artists that are huge within it, the average guy on the street has no idea who they are. So I’m a big fan of artists like Malcolm Middleton and De Rosa and I listen to them quite a lot, I think more people should."
I couldn't agree more.
"I think a lot of people are realising that they don’t need a record label to release music these days, so I admire guys like Beerjacket who self-release. I guess you could call him unsigned, but that term may be irrelevant in the future."
Any plans for the rest of the year?
"Well 2010 is half-way through but at the same time, it’s a bit early to tell. I released the first album in May 2009 and Quarter-life Crisis in May 2010 so if someone was extrapolating this then they might say there’s a very good chance of an album in May 2011."
So is there? "If you were to ask me I’d say that’s a bit unrealistic but we’ll see what happens. I’ve had my longest break in writing for quite a while so it may be good to get back to it soon, though I’m not going to force or rush anything. Hopefully there will be a few more gigs too."
Quarter-life Crisis is available now as a 'name your price' download from Bandcamp.
You can also download Jack's debut album from his Bandcamp page.
As well as Bandcamp, you can find Jack James on MySpace, Twitter and Last.fm.