An Interview with James Humphrys

This week, we caught up with Bristol based playful-pop multi-instrumentalist, James Humphrys to discuss the Bristol music scene, playing Glastonbury and of course the release of his latest EP, Colours which is released today!! Have a read below now…

When did you discover your love for music?
I think I discovered it pretty early on – My neighbours got me into playing guitar, they owned a sort of miniature, children’s guitar and I used to love playing it. They taught me a few of the basic chords and then I’d go off and write silly little songs and imagine I was in a band. I think that’s why today I still own and like playing short scale guitars. I remember the first song I learnt on that guitar was ‘That’s Entertainment’ by Paul Weller. I also recently watched a home video of me when I was about about 4 drumming on some pots and pans and apparently even then I was taking it very seriously..

You are from Bristol, how would you describe the scene and what local bands / musicians would you recommend?
So I moved to Bristol in 2015 from Guildford, which has a good reputation for music and there are a few venues but I love the music scene in Bristol. I remember when I first moved there I was shocked at how many events were happening every night. I didn’t know how I was going to get any work done. I wouldn’t say the scene was dominated by a particular genre either. There’s pockets of amazing music being made and played all over the city every night of the week. I’d say the city’s predominantly known for its electronic scene but Bristol doesn’t like to play it safe, so there’s actually a fair amount of experimental music also being made. A few artists and musicians I’d recommend checking out are; Joe Probert, Conal Kelly (who I collaborated with on my latest single ‘Tongue Tied) and Make Friends. 

Who were your musical influences growing up and what drew you to them? Growing up I listened to a whole range of different stuff that my parents were into, cause that’s how it works really. It was mainly cassettes that we used to play in the car while we were on holiday that seem to be ingrained in my memory as big influences growing up. I remember particularly loving Carlos Santana, Jamiroquai and this band called Cake. Now I think about it, all of the above have a huge emphasis on rhythm, groove and the use of layers, something that I really like to incorporate into my music today. In my early teens I got into Foals, Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees in a big way and I still consider them as bands that I take a great deal of influence from. 

Photo Credit: Dominika Scheibinger

Your next single, Colour is due to be released on the 15th May – what was the creative process behind it? Is there a particular message that you wanted the song to represent? I started writing and recording the song whilst I was away in Alaska, working as a musician on a cruise ship for 4 months. Once I was back I then re-recorded it at Numen Studios in Addlestone, Surrey with Jordan Timms and Max Smith, which is kinda near where I grew up. We spent five days in the studio getting the EP done and it was so much fun as previously I have just recorded in my bedroom with a very minimal set-up. I really wanted to develop my sound and make the next bit of music I’d release a step up. I think having a creative space where you’re able to bounce off others in the studio has really helped with that. The song is basically about observing someone you know well putting on a different persona and talking differently in a group context. You can see through their mask and the colour of the words they speak.

Last month you released the official video for ‘Tongue Tied’, where did the idea of the storyline originate from?
The song is about being caught up in the middle between two best friends that have just broken up. At the time I was feeling frustrated because I was basically feeling exactly that and the whole dynamic and ease of hanging out with my friendship group had changed overnight. So the song is like a conversation between me and each party, reassuring them on the other person’s wellbeing etc. For the video, the director Zak Watson wanted to include moments in a couple’s life that demonstrated the destruction of love. He took inspiration from many onscreen relationships that demonstrate this sense of disconnection, for example Karen and Henry’s initial interactions with each other in Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’. The way it was shot was inspired by the latest work of Roger Deakins, who incorporates the long one shot style. Zak and I have currently been working on a video for the new single ‘Colour’ from our respective houses during isolation, which has been really fun. 

You’ve supported the likes of Cassia, San Cisco and Shortstraw, has there been a particular support show that has stood out for you and if so why?
I think our San Cisco support stands out in particular. It was a surreal gig because I used to listen to them a whole bunch when I was younger and the lead singer, Jordi, went to school with my cousins in Australia. I was obsessed with their song ‘Awkward’. The show was at Thekla in Bristol, which is one of my favourite venues to play and it’s inside of a floating boat. The gig went great and it was lovely to meet them but at the end of the night I stupidly left my guitar pedals backstage. To be fair, a good excuse for an upgrade, and I fondly imagine them being stomped on in Perth somewhere today. 

You played Glastonbury in 2018  – one of the biggest festivals in the world – how was that experience for you?
Glastonbury is the best festival in the world hands down and also possibly my favourite place in the world. I’d never been before but had always wanted to go, so to be able to play at your first time at festival is amazing. I did three sets over the weekend, just on my own, stripped back, but it went down well. There is just an amazing energy there. I remember on the first night sitting up on the mount looking out over the festival: the sun was setting and the lights had just been turned on and you could see the great expanse of the festival and how immense the scale was. To be part of that is a something truly special. 

Do you have a particular songwriting process and is there a specific place that you like to write your music?I wouldn’t say I have a particular songwriting process as such, but normally if I have a little idea recorded on my phone, whether that be a guitar groove or drum pattern, I start with that and try to see it through and develop it from there. I can tell early on if it’s going to go anywhere to be honest, but I think that’s the joy of writing and recording, is not knowing where you’re going to end up and being able to create something out of nothing. I use the recording process as a songwriting tool so I can layer up sounds as they come to me and then I can strip it back and form an arrangement from that later when the song starts to reveal itself. I tend to write lyrics last but I can almost organise and hear what should happen next in my head before I’ve even played it. 

What advice would you give to musicians starting out in the industry?
My advice would be to not worry about the industry too much, it’s forever changing anyway. Love what you do and believe in it. Surround yourself with creative, like-minded, honest people who you can learn from and collaborate with, whether that’s in the music itself, artwork, visuals or whatever. Play to your strengths and enjoy it!

What are your plans as a musician after the world returns back to normality?
I suppose it depends on where we are in July! If the world has returned back to normal by then, I’d love to put on a release show for the upcoming EP in Bristol and Guildford. I know a lot of artists have postponed releases for this reason but I think we need music now more than ever. So hopefully that can happen but in the mean time keep an eye for my upcoming releases and stay safe!





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