Irish singer/songwriter Gavin James is probably going to be a household name by this time next year. We caught up with him at Barn on the Farm Festival to chat about his debut album, working with Simon from Biffy Clyro, and hiring jet packs in Dubai…
How would you describe your music for people who don’t know you?
‘It’s kind of melancholy, but also kind of not melancholy. It’s slow, but not that slow. It’s singer-songwritery, but also not singer-songwritery… That’s still the hardest question I ever get asked! I’ve never answered it properly in my life. It’s impossible.
You released your debut album Bitter Pill earlier this year – was it easy to write and record?
‘The recording was the hard part. I’d done a live album before; I was playing a lot around Ireland at the time, and I’d done a few tours around England and the rest of Europe, so the live album was a useful way of just getting my music out there and letting people know what it was that I was doing. From that, I started recording Bitter Pill.
‘I wasn’t in any rush to get it out, really.
‘At the time, I thought ‘oh, it’s okay, I’ll just let the live album trickle away and get the album done in the next two or three months’. It ended up taking a year and a half to record. Every time I tried to get into a studio to record, I ended up getting dragged to somewhere else in the world so I could tour over there. We got it done in the end, though.
What’s your favourite song from the album?
‘I’m not sure, really. Either Coming Home or Nervous. Those were the quickest songs to write, and I think the quickest songs are usually the best ones. Actually, there was another song on the album that took even less time to write.
‘There’s one on there that’s three-and-a-half minutes long, and it took me two minutes to write it…
‘It doesn’t make much sense at all, really! I can remember writing it; I’d just gotten home, and I just sat at my kitchen table and wrote it in two minutes, and then I didn’t think anything of it!
Didn’t Simon from Biffy Clyro play guitar on one of the songs, too?
‘Yeah, he did! He played on 22. He’d heard the track through one of the lads at the label, and he really wanted to play guitar on it. He just showed up to the studio one day, and I was just like ‘whoaaa!’. I was like a proper fangirl. Damn, that man can play guitar. I saw Biffy Clyro supporting Bloc Party in Dublin six or seven years ago, and I’d never heard three people make that much noise before.
Out of every song you’ve ever written, which one means the most to you?
‘The song that means the most to me is actually 22. I had a really rough time in school when I was growing up, and I really just wrote that song about wishing I was older when I was younger.
‘I actually wrote it when I was 23, but 23 would’ve been a crap song title…
‘22 rhymes with who, and you, and all these other words… It works a lot better! I did have a crappy time at school, though, and it was only once I left school and got more into music that I started to feel a little better.
You’ve also just announced a UK tour! What’s your favourite thing about playing live?
‘I love having a laugh and a joke with the audience in-between songs. See, my set could easily be really sad and melancholy, but I like to mess about a bit before I play each song.
‘The one thing I love when I go to gigs is actually feeling like I’m getting to know the artist a bit.
‘Sometimes, you go to see someone, and they just play the entire album, and you’re a bit like ‘oh, I could’ve just stayed at home’. I love the little banter bits.
Do you prefer playing festivals or your own headline shows?
‘There’s always a good vibe at festivals. I love seeing people around, too – when you’re gigging all over the place, you do get to know other artists, so it’s always nice to bump into them at festivals.
Out of every song ever recorded, which do you wish you’d written?
‘Damn, that’s hard. I’ll have to go for You Don’t Know Me by Ray Charles. That’s my go-to jamming tune.
If you could be in any other band, which would it be and which instrument would you want to play?
‘The harpsicord in Coldplay. I don’t even know how to play the harpsichord, but it’d be grand.
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
‘I’m doing V Festival at the end of August, which should be good fun. I’m then over to the States again to do some writing, and then I’m coming back to do Electric Picnic. From there, it’s Australia, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. That should be great fun. We get a day off in Dubai, which’ll be grand. I’m going to hire a jetpack and have a bit of fun…
Describe yourself in three words?
‘Leprechaun on speed.