James Vincent McMorrow
Let me start by saying that I was recently convinced to start watching The Voice. For seven celebrated seasons I had managed to stay away from this reportedly addicting television show, but I finally hit my breaking point and gave in. Likely what drew me in first was Pharrell’s presence on the show. If we’re going to be straight with each other for a minute, let’s just put it out there: Pharrell is the epitome of cool. After all, “cool” in the music industry in 2014 calls for us to be a little weird, for weirdness depicts creativity, and creativity lies at the center of cool. So Pharrell, the weirdo himself, had me at hello.
But let me stop talking about my crush Pharrell and focus on the focus of the show: the voices. The other main attraction for the show for me has been the incredible voices of the contestants. (Yeah, duh. That’s the point.) I know, I know. But really, it’s been cool to see music discovery on such a big scale while this is something I’ve been doing on a smaller scale for so many years now. We’re all in pursuit of the same attraction: beautiful voices.
One of the artists who I’ve been able to get the most excited about in my six years of music blogging is James Vincent McMorrow. I discovered his name in 2011 and was immediately attracted to his whispery falsetto and intriguing lyrics. If there could be a Power Rankings in the indie music industry at the time, surely newcomer McMorrow was creeping up on fellow falsetto crooner Justin Vernon.
I’ve been lucky enough to interview James Vincent McMorrow and critique his music ever since, but not until November 19th of this year did I get the chance to see him perform live.
A friend of mine sent me a message saying his friend recommended that he check out this artist performing at the Fillmore in San Francisco in a few weeks. He asked if I had ever heard of him and would I want to go. So we made a night of it and parked ourselves in the second row for what turned out to be what I would guess was a 90-minute performance by McMorrow and his band.
While I get goosebumps from watching performances through the television on The Voice, the feeling from seeing such a spectacular singer perform live — and from about 15 yards away — takes the chills to a whole new level. While he sings, you can visibly see his throat quivering as his vibrato carries through his vocals. It’s a beautiful sound and sight altogether. McMorrow and his band sang a large collection of his songs together, and I was impressed with each of them. I particularly love when musicians showcase their abilities to play multiple instruments, and the band did just that. McMorrow sang, played keys, played piano, and even played the standing drums at one point. I was equally as impressed with the lone female member of his band, who provided backup vocals and played both the keys and the bass guitar. She hardly looked the part of a band member, but she certainly proved herself to be a critical member of the band.
It’s hard for me to pick out a single highlight of the show, though my giddiness would likely lead my concert buddy and any surrounding fans to believe that it was when he played “Higher Love,” “We Don’t Eat” or “If I Had A Boat.” But I think I’d have to say that the true highlight came when McMorrow came out during an encore and said he would be singing a solo without any microphone accompaniment. The room, which I should note was pleasantly though surprisingly spacious, got quiet and James took it away. Do not be fooled into thinking the falsetto prohibits any force; the room practically shook along with the power and volume of his vocals. Beyond that, he was able to prove the range of vocals that he can hit, which would seem naturally for only two voices – male and female — to create together. It was a truly stunning experience, and one that I could only stand there witnessing with a dropped jaw.
To say I enjoyed myself would be an understatement. The whole thing was beautiful, even the galactic backdrop. If I had to critique anything, I would pin the venue for its inconsiderate staff who were inappropriately loud and rude during the performance. But that’s no fault of McMorrow’s, so I’d rather not focus on it. Perhaps I could argue that McMorrow needs to focus on distinguishing his songs from one another, as several of them sound the same. But sometimes all I want is to allow myself to let go of criticism, enjoy the moment and get lost in the art of the voice. So that’s just what I did.
On the first Tuesday of
every month most months, Arjun (pictured above) graces us with a free mixtape of songs he collects from all corners of the Internet. He calls it Tape Tuesday, because alliterations are tight. Anyway, along with the music Arjun includes original artwork and words that inspire, make us laugh, and sometimes—on rare occasions—words so beautiful that they make us cry (or at least that’s what I hear). Last month he wrote about how he feels he doesn’t do enough with the ideas he has. I think we can all relate to that. It’s so easy to brush aside ideas and come up with excuses as to why our lives are just too busy to follow through on creative pursuits. I mean, there are eight seasons of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia on Netflix to get through. That screenplay you always wanted to write can wait until tomorrow. Or next month. You’ll get to it sometime, right?
After reading through that post, I was driving to work and had an idea: What if I put together a mixtape called “TAPE WEDNESDAY” the day after he posted his monthly “TAPE TUESDAY” mixtape? I’d put his face on the cover and post it here without him knowing about it first, so he’d discover it on his own along with the rest of you. Basically, the whole purpose of the post would be for that singular moment when he randomly checks the site and sees his face staring back at him from the cover of a mixtape. It would be a weird way of using a very public platform for what is essentially a stupid joke between two people. It just seemed like a funny, simple moment and I wanted to make it happen. Plus, you guys would get two full mixtapes of awesome music within 24 hours of each other.
Then the more I thought about it, the whole thing started to feel like a pretentious meta art project that the corny philosophical guy who makes my coffee every morning would come up with. The little voice in my head that keeps me from turning ideas to reality was speaking up again: “This is dumb. You’ll look stupid. Don’t do it.” I was ready to scrap the idea.
Then I realized this was turning into another one of the hundreds of ideas I have every week that I never actually end up executing. Or even attempting to execute. As horrible/uncomfortable/awkward as this turned out to be, it feels good to see an idea materialize. Arjun was right. Now I won’t regret not doing this, which is the worst kind of regret there is.
Here’s some music.
Daylight Saving time always sneaks up on me. Every year, twice a year, it sits there on my calendar, but it seems as though my eyes have trained themselves not to notice it. So I thank god every time it comes around that my mom still knows me well enough to know she needs to remind me. Sure, I have devices that automatically update themselves (though now I sometimes wonder why the heck my wall clock, microwave and stove wouldn’t know to update themselves…like come on, it’s 2014!…what?), but it’s still worth knowing that there’s going to be a significant change in your days.
Everybody always says the one in the spring time is better. Spring forward. The sun stays out longer. The warm weather is on its way. Yeah yeah, you lose an hour of sleep, BUT IT’S WORTH IT.
This year, I’m ready to spring forward. I’m ready for longer days, new beginnings, and refreshed motivation. I’m starting a new job and am excited about it.
This latest Listen While You Work playlist stands for finding your new beginnings. Seek motivation. Chase your passions. Work for a reason. Let this be your soundtrack.
It’s the little things in life.
When I got up this morning, there was this stunning pinkish light coming through my windows. The sun had reflected off the building across from mine and was peeking into my apartment as if to beg me to wake up and come play. It’s pretty damn cold in San Francisco right now, but it wasn’t hard to get up and want to go outside. I got out there and had to take some pictures because I couldn’t get over the color in the light.
I thought that would be the highlight of my day. But I listened to this new James Vincent McMorrow song and again felt this feeling of natural beauty looking me in the face, as if to say hello. There are few things more beautiful than James’s voice, but the instrumentals on this song add icing to the cake. A mixture of simple piano chords, layered choral hums, a heartbeat pulse of the drum start this song off slowly, but all I could do was stop and say “holy shit” to myself when the deeper bass came in right around 1:20. Something as little as that, and I was blown away.
It’s the little things. This is one of those things.
i will not trouble your rest
for my heart is infinitely blessed
When I first heard of James Vincent McMorrow, it was in the form of the single, “If I Had A Boat.” From there, I heard the full album, and the song that stuck out the most to me was “We Don’t Eat.” Today, James Vincent McMorrow released the official music video for “We Don’t Eat,” and to this day, I stand by my original claim regarding his music, and more specifically his lyrics, that “whether or not you listen for them, you will likely find yourself drawn in by the lyrics.” The same way that the song takes me back to the kitchen table at home, every night being seated in the straight-back wicker chair at the end of the big table in the kitchen fit for all seven of my family members, the song reminds me of road trips from the Houston airport in the dark along the highways lit by municipal lights and activity. It feels so close to home, and it has more to do with the feel of the song than the lyrics themselves.
When Sunset went down for a few days last week, I was crushed. I think it was only down for 2 days, but it felt longer. During the 2 day hiatus, I started compiling this mix. I wanted to give you guys something with staying power–something to stick with in case Sunset ever goes down again. This mix is not chalk full of singles and Hype Machine hits. Instead, it is a slowly building, patience testing, and ultimately rewarding hour and a half long mix. But don’t get me wrong, in between the electro buzz of Neon Indian, Toro y Moi, and Chris Taylor’s (of Grizzly Bear) CANT, lie some instantly catchy indie pop gems like Oregon Bike Trails’ “Cayucas”, The Postelles’ “White Night”, and Mates of State’s “Palomino”. These songs give the mix the flair that James Vincent McMorrow just can’t provide.
I highly recommend that you download the entire tape. It is reflective (“Rivers and Homes”), funky (“All Alone”; guaranteed to get you mini-dancing in your desk chair), angry (“Don’t Fuck With My Money”), somber (“Higher Love”), hilarious (“Girls on Girls”), and simply adorable (“Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”).
This is Recreation. Let’s start a movement. Tweet me your thoughts on the mix at #ThisIsRecreation.
01. J. Viewz – Rivers and Homes
02. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – John Taylor’s Month Away
03. The Kooks – Is It Me
04. Neon Indian – Hex Girlfriend
05. Toro y Moi – All Alone
06. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Misspent Youth
07. Rachel Platten – 1,000 Ships
08. Oregon Bike Trails – Cayucas
09. PLAINS – Judy
10. Be Like Pablo – Julianne
11. The Postelles – White Night
12. CANT – Too Late, Too Far
13. Blood Diamonds – Move The Stars
14. Mates of State – Palomino
15. AM & Shawn Lee – Somebody Like You
16. Penguin Prison – Don’t Fuck With My Money
17. Young the Giant – Apartment (Captain Cuts Remix)
18. James Vincent McMorrow – Higher Love
19. Sims – Here I Stand
20. The Herd – My Sister’s Place
21. Beyonce + Beastie Boys – Girls On Girls (Captain Cuts Remix)
22. M83 – Raconte-Moi Une Histoire
Secondary shout out to my best friend Josh. It’s his birthday today.
Arjun || Twitter
My grandfather is turning 85 this weekend — he was in born in Berlin in 1926, and he came to the US when he was 11, in 1937. That was a hell of a long time ago. I don’t know if any of you have experienced something similar to this, but every time I sit down with him and chat or, more likely, listen to one of his thousands of stories, I get this incredible feeling where I can see a huge part of myself in him. Like, this man is definitely my grandfather. We’re different people from extraordinarily different backgrounds, but at the end of the day, way at the core, it’s almost as if we’re the same person. It’s bizarre.
Like me, my grandfather loves music. But unsurprisingly, our musical tastes aren’t so similar. Almost exclusively, he listens to classical music. Piano, orchestra, opera, waltzes, and on and on. I couldn’t even name all the subgenres, let alone the composers. Classical music is beautiful, and I love it too, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to it with entirely the same ear that he can. And when it comes to the music I listen to, well…he doesn’t listen with any ear. The music my parents grew up with — the music I call oldies — wasn’t around until my grandfather was almost 40. And hip-hop only began to appear when he was in his 60s. Like generations before him, my grandfather grew up listening to classical music. It’s what he knows and it’s what he loves. Here’s one of Chopin’s amazing Nocturnes. Ever stressed out? Throw this on and watch it melt away.
So, as I was saying, my grandfather never enjoyed the music my parents grew up with. I remember hearing stories of my grandparents giving my aunt shit when she was a teenager for listening to Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan. (Are you kidding me?!) But, like fate, my parents don’t enjoy the music I listen to. Admittedly, I’d be more than a little taken aback if I caught my dad listening to Biggie…or even Andrew Bird to be honest. But still, why is that? I like to think that I’m pretty open-minded about music, but what will I be listening to when I’m 40? Or 60? Or 85? Will I enjoy the new music of my kids’ generation, or will I think it sounds like crap and wonder how on earth they do it? A related South Park clip where Randy (one of the fathers) tries to prove to himself and his wife that parents can enjoy the newest rage in music that their kids are listening to… (If you don’t like poo jokes, skip this one):
Haha god that clip always puts a smile on my face. Anyways. A few months ago I got new headphones, and I was back at home visiting the family and my amazing dog. My dad wanted to try the headphones out, so I thought just for kicks I’d throw on some, err, electrofolkstep and see how he took it. The James Vincent McMorrow dubstep remix posted in april. He could barely take 30 seconds before telling me to put on some “real music.” I succumbed and threw on Led Zeppelin.
Surprisingly, I’ve made progress introducing my mom to hip-hop. She most definitely doesn’t listen to it or know the names of any artists, but I was able to break down one of the biggest barriers — that mass rejection of hip-hop on the grounds that it is just vulgar, or violent, or mindless. I took her to my room and brought up the lyrics to 2Pac’s Dear Mama on my computer screen. I didn’t play the song for her initially, I just had her read them.
Pour out some liquor and I reminsce, cause through the drama
I can always depend on my mama
And when it seems that I’m hopeless
You say the words that can get me back in focus
When I was sick as a little kid
To keep me happy there’s no limit to the things you did
And all my childhood memories
Are full of all the sweet things you did for me
And even though I act craaazy
I gotta thank the Lord that you made me
There are no words that can express how I feel
You never kept a secret, always stayed real
And I appreciate how you raised me
And all the extra love that you gave me
I wish I could take the pain away
If you can make it through the night there’s a brighter day
Everything will be alright if ya hold on
It’s a struggle everyday, gotta roll on
And there’s no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated
MP3: “Dear Mama” – 2Pac
It’s real, honest, heartfelt poetry, and she saw that. But when I played her the song, no matter how powerful the lyrics, it just wasn’t something she could sit down and enjoy.
Is the ability to enjoy new music quashed by age? And if so, why? I heard a statistic somewhere that if you’re over 35 years old when a new genre of popular music comes about, there’s a 95% chance you’ll never listen to it. This might be a nonsense statistic, but it actually sounds kind of true. It makes me wonder, though, how and if the internet might change this. Discovering and exploring new music is easier than it ever has been. It’s leaps and bounds easier for us than it was for our parents, and even more so compared to our grandparents. There’s definitely a social aspect of learning to enjoy new types of music. That is, you’re more likely to give music a chance if you have people around you listening to it and enjoying it themselves. Maybe that environment has historically been harder to come across as you age, but perhaps the existence of social media might change that.
It’s hard to imagine what music will be out there when I’m 85. Maybe I’ll still be truckin, giving the iTunes its daily injection of new music. Or perhaps I’ll longingly look back on the days when electrofolkstep reigned king…
What’s Left: 87 Days. 41 Bands.
Band #59: James Vincent McMorrow
When/Where: June 8, 2011, The Paradise, Allston, MA
Expectations: Very excited to see the much-adored Irish folk singer, especially since he’s a Sunset in the Rearview favorite. Read Lydia’s interview with him here.
Concert: There is something unbelievably lonely about a man and his acoustic guitar standing by himself on a large stage in front of 100 or more people. James Vincent McMorrow played his entire set solo and looked even lonelier up there when the crowd persisted in a dull roar of conversation, even in the front rows, making it impossible to block out the chatter. All of the wonderful subtleties that come through on James Vincent McMorrow’s album were lost to the chatter. Songs like “If My Heart Should Somehow Stop” and “Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree” felt more desperate and meloncholic sung through the talk.
However, the parts I love most about McMorrow’s music still shone through, which is a testament to his talent. His songs are full of “ohh ohhhs” and there is as much beauty and emotion conveyed in those as his well written lyrics. Live, his voice is just as amazing and ravishing as it is on the record. His emotive falsetto can absolutely soar. Despite the talk, he was even able to provide some pleasant banter that reminded me of the great personality he has in his interviews. He really let loose and sang louder for the last two songs of his set. Hearing “Sparrow and the Wolf” stripped down to only the acoustic guitar made it a different song (I’d tell you more about it if I could’ve heard it). His last song, “If I Had a Boat” was sung with all his might and got more of the crowd’s attention and was the highlight of the show for me. It’s unfortunate that the crowd made any James Vincent McMorrow fan want to get in a boat and sail away.
Concert Afterglow: I wish he had stuck around after so that the folks who listened and bought his album could have told him that he was appreciated and wonderful. I passive aggressively crushed a beer can in my hand instead. Still, he’s a fantastic musician and the next time I get a chance to see him, I will.
Recommendation: Putting James Vincent McMorrow on the Bell X1 tour might not have been the best match up. I am sure he shines in an intimate setting and if you get a chance to see him in such a setting, jump on it. It’d also be nice to see him with a full band. Just be wary of this particular tour, and if you do go, I hope your city has a more respectful crowd than mine.
Below is a live recording of “If My Heart Should Somehow Stop” from the concert. You can clearly hear McMorrow’s voice but you hear a lot of talk as well. I know Sunset readers respect music so please take this as a friendly PSA to not talk like this at a concert. This isn’t just the one guy or because it’s an iPhone recording, it really was this loud and chatty throughout the venue. I am in no way associated with the person who recorded and posted the song. It’s a shame a review of a talented musician had to get bogged down with concert manner issues. Sorry for that.
Save the date. Lydia has just posted a dubstep song, which falls in a genre that she has denounced for a long time. But this time, it’s a remix by Adventure Club of one of the best songs off James Vincent McMorrow’s latest album, Early in the Morning. Something tells me this is a perfect song for today’s Friday at 5track. I will be wobbling to this track this weekend. You too? Cool. Let’s womp and wobble together.
Yall wont believe this. Indie-folk-acoustic up-and-comer James Vincent McMorrow recorded a cover of Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair.” Never did I ever think I would say I like “Whip My Hair,” but of course James Vincent McMorrow had to come along and prove me wrong. I’m flabbergasted. You too? Cool. Let’s both whip our hair back and forth.
Oh and by the way, this was recorded live – if that gives you any indication of how flawless James Vincent McMorrow’s voice is.
When I first heard the name James Vincent McMorrow, it wasn’t because I had received an email about him from his PR company. Though that email was sitting waiting to be opened in my inbox, the name became familiar when I noticed thatnearly every blogger I follow on Twitter was talking about him. I noticed the pattern and had to ask myself, who is this man? Is his music really THAT good? I went back to my email and immediately downloaded the album. The second it started playing, I nearly fell into a trance. Sure enough, James Vincent McMorrow’s music is THAT good.
In just a few days, I listened to McMorrow’s album at least four times. I knew I had to speak with this man. I had already answered my first question about the quality of his music. But one still lingered: who was he and where was he coming from? Just last week I did have the opportunity to chat with the man himself. Here are a few things that I learned about budding artist James Vincent McMorrow. Get excited, we even talked about face tats!
“Five years ago, I don’t even think I’d ever sung in front of anyone publicly!”
After talking to him, it comes as no surprise that many were unaware of James Vincent McMorrow before the recent press release. When I asked him what his life was like five years ago in comparison to where he stands today, he said “Five years ago, I was probably still dreaming of having an album out in the world to be honest! I was only starting to write my first songs at the time, hadn’t played any shows, I don’t even think I’d ever sung in front of anyone publicly.” It seemed to take time before McMorrow came out of his shell, but now he’s moving full speed ahead.
In little time, McMorrow has already garnered comparisons to artists such as Antony Hegarty, Steve Winwood, and Bon Iver. Perhaps the reason that he garners comparisons to Bon Iver, other than their similar falsetto voices and comparisons being what he calls “part and parcel of what I do [so that people] can get their heads around what [I’m] doing,” is that it took McMorrow locking himself in a room for hours on end teaching himself how to sing and play Donny Hathaway songs before he began to believe in himself.
“I used to set myself targets: play piano for an hour, then sing for half an hour, play drums for an hour, and on like that.”
Just like Bon Iver’s self-seclusion in the woods when creating his breakthrough album,For Emma, Forever Ago, McMorrow admits to a personal lockdown and an arduous schedule. “When you’re making music you have to constantly be motivating yourself to keep going, which is really tough, especially when you have a really short attention span like I do. I used to set myself targets: play piano for an hour, then sing for half an hour, play drums for an hour, and on like that. It was pretty workmanlike, but it’s what it took to really learn. It was the same when I made the album; put yourself in a room, remove all distractions.”
For somebody who is now receiving attention from all over the world, it struck me as remarkable that McMorrow always considered himself shy when it came to music. “I was real shy about it, much more of a bedroom musician. That’s where I learnt to play and write. I always knew if I was going to make music the thing that I did with my life, then I’d have to learn as much as I could on my own. I’m the type of person that if I’d gone out and not had my stuff together, I’d just have given up.”
I’m pretty confident in saying that not only are bloggers and listeners around the world thankful he didn’t give up, but McMorrow himself is thankful, too. The album that will be released in the US on January 25th is the same album that he released in his home country of Ireland a mere thirty days after it had been mastered. Though he claims he “didn’t give it a lot of time before [putting] it out,” the album was an immediate attention-drawer. “It was only after the album had been out a couple of months that a lot of publications and blogs started to pick up on it. I was essentially starting from scratch. I hadn’t played a huge amount of shows or had much profile going into it, so initially I think I was almost a surprise/curiosity to most people! As the year went on, though, it was amazing to see how everything kept growing, people kept buying the record and coming to shows. The way it was built was really perfect, gave me a chance to grow with it.”
“…you can hear whatever you want to hear in it, in a way that’s personal to you.”
The forthcoming album, Early in the Morning, features eleven songs, each of which has a hauntingly soothing vibe to it. Whether or not you listen for them, you will likely find yourself drawn in by the lyrics. Just where did McMorrow pull these stories from? “I like to keep things like [my lyrics] as un-interpreted as I can. My favourite lyrics are the ones where I hear them and I can read countless different things into them every day. Take “Ballad of a Thin Man” by Bob Dylan. I was sure for years I knew what that song was about, then someone told me what they thought it was about one day. I listened to it again, and everything he was saying suddenly meant something different. I love that about music; you can hear whatever you want to hear in it, in a way that’s personal to you, and I think musicians should keep any intent behind a song to themselves so people can get what they want out of it.”
So McMorrow wasn’t quick to let me in on his soul and personal stories. I suppose I’ll have to keep digging and interpreting his lyrics as I wish. I wasn’t about to completely let him off the hook though. I had one question that I forced him to answer straightforwardly. After just finding out that Gucci Mane had gotten a face tat of an ice cream cone with lightning bolts coming out of it, I had to know: what would James Vincent McMorrow get tattooed on his face if he were as crazy as Gucci Mane?
“If I were crazy enough to get a tattoo on my face, I’d probably try and see if I could get an eagle with its wings spread across the span of my face. I reckon that would be pretty intimidating, people would not mess with crazy eagle face tattoo guy, they would cross the street!” Well, it doesn’t seem like McMorrow is going to commit to a face tats anytime soon, but I think he’s got something else going for him: even without the eagle wings tattoo, I’m pretty sure after hearing his album, there aren’t going to be many people out there messing with the incredibly talented, mighty promising James Vincent McMorrow. He’s already been nominated for Ireland’s Choice Awards and winning the hearts of bloggers and critics alike. Let’s hope James can spread his wings sans-eagle face tat and see his career take flight internationally.