James Harries comes from Manchester but lives in Prague for many years. Who heard him playing live, never misses the next opportunity. And who attended the launch of his latest album Until the sky bends down in the middle of September, knows that James can throw a great party.
Do you often write songs while travelling? Does that inspire you more than being at home?
I don't think it inspires me more, I've got a little bit more free time when I'm travelling around. A concert only lasts a couple of hours plus couple of hours afterwards, the rest is travelling and waiting. And as I have kids I tend to use that time – try to use that time as effectively possible.
The new record seems to be different from your previous albums. And I also read this is your first record made in Czech Republic, right?
It's the first record that has been released by Czech label first.Nobody else in the world has it except David Landštof and Tranzistor. I had a record in Indies but it was on British label at the same time, just with a different cover. It was also distributed in Germany and Holland. I hope this record will be distributed abroad as well. And I'm looking for people abroad to do something with it.
You're getting good reviews for the new album. You're happy about it, ain't you?
I'm happy about it, I'm happy about it regardless of reviews. I've read two and they were nice to me. Maybe nicer than I expected
Did you expect such success?
I didn't know what to expect. Success? I don't know how you measure success. I've had a couple of nice reviews which is lovely I suppose. I probably wasn't expecting it, I don't know. I've never thought of reviews, journalists. I thought maybe some people that like me might not like some of the aspects of the record. I also hoped maybe some people didn't like what I did before or didn't even know me or didn't like me. I thought it might attract different kind of audience. I don't mean wide scale, huge mass audience. I thought it might resonate with different people. But I didn't expect anything.
There's gonna be a vinyl released as well.
Oh yeah, the way the record's put together - side one with the band and side two solo. It's also question of money, someone stepped forward from Bratislava and said they'd fund it which I'm grateful for. So there's gonna be a limited run of vinyl and I hope it will be done very soon but there's a massive queue in the factory. I was told two reasons, first- there are no factories in Europe anymore and everyone is making vinyl now and also the hot summer, they had problems apparently with making vinyl because of the heat which is bizarre but that's what I was told. So it will take a few months. I don't know exactly when it's gonna be done but it will be done.
Your producer made you go for the inspiration instead of waiting till it comes. Was this attitude new to you?
I tried to do it, he just forced me more. He forced me to mess with the songs. Before I'd think that I have a song, I'd just write it, sometimes they come very easily. I really had to sit down and write the songs. I always felt it wasn't the same, it wasn't as natural. And when the song was finished in my head, I revisited it and thought "I can do that better". He really made me think like "yeah, you can improve it." There are some songs I was writing on and off for a long time. We'd have long skype conversations and he'd be like " why do you use that word there? you can come up with a better word" ... He was really digging deep into the songs and he helped me with a number of songs on the record, the three band songs especially. He's a co-writer of some of them as his imput was that big and he really forced me think about songs in a different way. Definitely taught me quite a lot. His way of working is interesting. He's written and co-written with lot of people. He was talking about co-writing with big artists in London. They'd go in in the morning, the team would sit together ( it's like 9am to 5pm) with a cup of tea, a computer, a piano, a guitar, whatever and at 5pm you knock off having written a song or hit record for somebody or something. That's the kind of thing I didn't really understand. I know Nick Cave does that or Neil Young supposingly writes a song a day, the guys from Abba used to do that. I haven't written a hit song anyway. I don't think I'm capable of writing hit songs. That's a special talent I think.
When I told him how I write songs he was actually amazed. He wouldn't think people write things like that, he thought that's something people make up for the press. Because I get an idea of a melody or of a line of a song, I wanna capture an atmosphere, a feeling or a moment and that moment might be with me for a while in my head. I'm wandering around waiting till the song drops into my lap and the next day I still have to sit down and try to change them improve them, mess with them at least.
You often collaborate with Stefan Osciatka, he's the graphic designer of your albums. How did you meet him?
I first met him when he came to a concert in Ostrava many years ago. He was studying at university in Ostrava and showed up at the concert. We went for a drink and have been in touch ever since. Then he moved to Prague, we've become good friends, seeing each other quite a bit, he's very very talented. I sometimes think I ask him for too much but always seems to wanna do it. He always seems really happy when I ask him. I really like the stuff he does.
What the inspiration of your songs, where does it come from?
They maybe inspired by stories, something that happened, a story of something. I take that story – those stories are quite personal and although I'm a personal writer – I guess everyone who writes it's coming from within them – it's more my interpretation of the story I try to make it maybe more universal.
Tell us about the CD launch. How do you feel about it?
It was great fun, I was enjoying myself on stage. When I'm on stage that's when I feel very comfortable. Other than talking about being on stage. Being on stage is always a joy. No matter who's in front of you. The night was great, I love that band! I put this Czech band together with amazing bunch of people. Kuba Vejnar is amazing bass player, Jan on drums is great, Pepa Štěpánek, Honza Steinsdorfer is amazing pianist, I really really really like what he does. They serve the songs and also they're all really really lovely people. It was a lot of fun, it was full, people seemed to enjoy it, I had fun. The feedback I've had has been good. I could play with that band every night of the year.
Photo: Markéta Bendová