Music Interviews

Interview: James Yuill

James Yuill is celebrating. Not a birthday or passing an exam, or anything like that, but the release of debut album Turning Down Water For Air, finally breaking cover on Moshi Moshi. He’s also just completed a session with BBC Radio 6 Music’s George Lamb, designed to promote the album and its leading single, This Sweet Love. “It was good fun, and he (Lamb) seemed like a nice guy. I didn’t really know what to expect, but he just came across as a really nice guy – not like some people who don’t like his show would have you believe. He’s really massive, though.”

Softly spoken as he is on the record, Yuill gives quietly considered answers but gives off plenty of enthusiasm, particularly when talking about music. My first question to what could be called a one-man band concerns the interesting way in which he blends acoustic and electronic music. “When I first started recording I was doing acoustic stuff for ages. Then I set out to combine acoustic stuff with Amon Tobin and stuff like that.”

He moves on. “As I got familiar with the software I was able to incorporate it into my work more. It was a natural progression then, between natural electro and acoustic. I’m actually working on the next album now, and I’m hoping it’ll be harder, more electric than the current one.”

Turning Down Water For Air was not released in its original incarnation, however. “I did the album a while ago, but it took a while for it to be noticed and signed up. So in that time I’ve been busy writing.” Unfortunately his plans then took a turn for the worse. “I had my laptop stolen and it was too much of a task to go back and record the album, so I started from scratch again with most of it in my head. It was finished that way.”

So how does he meld the two when playing live? “I’ve had to re-record stuff and remix it. Live is a lot more like what I’m trying to do now. It’s a lot harder in style, it’s become more electro as I’ve developed.”

While developing his live style, one of Yuill’s highest profile gigs this year was at Fabric’s sister club matter, part of a Moshi Moshi label event. He needs no prompting to gush about what was clearly a landmark event. “It was a fantastic night, and was an absolute pleasure to play with those fantastic bands. I hadn’t met any of the Moshi artists before, so it was great to meet people whose music I love, people like The Wave Pictures.”

Headlining the night were Hot Chip, with whom Yuill identifies. “Yes, they are a band I admire – and that’s how I got into Moshi, through the Coming On Strong record. The way they do things is certainly an influence on me, though I would say that we’re not aiming at the same crowd. They write the song and then remix it, that’s how they approach it.”

“Live is a lot more like what I’m trying to do now. It’s a lot harder in style, it’s become more electro” – James Yuill is already looking to expand his style

Perhaps Yuill’s most explicit combination of electronic and acoustic to date is No Pins Allowed, which breaks out into full scale house music a short way in. “No Pins Allowed is definitely a mutual thing between laptop and acoustic”, says Yuill. “I wrote the riff, then laid it down with the beats, and it came on from there.” He turns to the song’s subject matter. “It started off being about people who have really thin skin, and it also made me think about Nick Drake, and about how people said he had a skin too few. It’s saying that you should hide all sharp objects, because this person can’t take anything like that”.

Mention of Nick Drake is fortuitous, for he appears to be the single biggest influence on Yuill’s music. “I only really discovered him at university, when I went to the Anglia Polytechnic in Cambridge. I bought the rereleased Family Tree album just recently, and I remember walking down the River Cam listening to River Man, which I believe is where he wrote it. I got totally obsessed by Nick Drake, I don’t mind admitting it!”

Yuill is fine with the idea of using his influence in explicit musical form. “I’ve written some tracks that use his picking style of playing the guitar. For the newer tracks on the album, I’ve been discovering these things sometimes while listening under Newmarket Bridge. So the new album sounds more folk and more electro, and I can’t wait to get started on recording it!”

On Turning Down Water For Air, one of Yuill’s more striking lyrics occurs in Head Over Heels, where he speaks of needing someone to “make me tea, and kiss me when I’m yawning.” Presumably this represents domestic bliss? “No, I guess it was a thing from my ex-girlfriend. She didn’t drink tea or coffee, and I longed for a relationship where someone could do that. It’s an equal thing though, I have to stress! That sums up how I was feeling, because I was quite lonely growing up, and that signified a happy relationship, something I really longed for that when I wrote it.”

He talks more of his upbringing. “I lived in Eastbourne from the age of seven to 18. I’ve been writing since when I was like 13 or 14. To start with it was mainly rock stuff, then in early teens I started to get more folky. I used to tape songs off the radio, but I’d tape them over and over, so you’d have the same song on the whole side of one tape – things like Placebo‘s Teenage Angst, which I absolutely loved, then The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Bullet With Butterfly Wings. I think I was 14 at a time. Now it’s a bit different though, I just bought the Clark album Turning Dragon, and I think it’s fantastic!”

Time is nearly up – so given his ability to cross between acoustic and electronic, does Yuill have much else going on? “Yeah, I do have loads of side projects, but I just want to do as much as possible and at the moment I’m focussing on the new record. I’d like to be successful in the way that Damon Albarn manages, with loads of different projects.”

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More on James Yuill
James Yuill – A Change In State
James Yuill – These Spirits
James Yuill @ XOYO, London
James Yuill – Movement In A Storm
James Yuill – Turning Down Water For Air