Interview: Patrick James gets shit done
This June, Australian songwriter Patrick James will be playing in Sydney and Melbourne to preview songs from his upcoming debut album, including launching brand new single “California Song”. Ruth Hodge had a chat with him:
I remember once I was standing on the platform of Wauchope Train Station with a ticket for my destination (sneaky Simon & Garfunkel reference, you’re welcome) and you were there standing with your guitar in one hand and a little old suitcase in the other – circa 2010. The image, years on, is still vivid – especially with your ‘Message’ videoclip. Do you see yourself as a bit of a traveller? How does being on the road inspire your songwriting?
Haha. Thats amazing. The good old Wauchope train station… Well I guess you’re right about that. It’s not something that you consciously think about but as a performer and a singer/songwriter starting out with just a guitar, it seems almost natural to want to explore and travel. In some ways the two things go hand in hand, especially when touring and getting to see the country. That definitely comes out in the writing at some point. Although apart from all the touring and shows I’ve done I haven’t actually gotten the chance to JUST travel much and often with touring you are only in the one place for around 24 hours so you kind of skip over the sightseeing at times.
How do you think you’ve “grown” as an artist since 2010 when you moved to Sydney, released your first little EP ‘Turn To Fake’ and found yourself in the big bad world?
Well, when I was a teenager I thought everything was going to be easy and I thought I would move to Sydney and my world would change – I had a lot of inner belief about music especially (I was way wrong). I soon found out that this is going to be one of the biggest challenges of my life and is not going to be a walk in the park at all. Obviously not knowing anyone who played music or who was in the industry was my first problem so I pretty much devoted all of my time to that and I feel that now the drive that I had back then is still so important right now with my music. All the ways of approaching things from back then still plays out with me being an artist in 2015. So I think that I’ve hopefully grown as an artist from simply just hanging in there and immersing myself in music. With my songwriting especially… you are always looking to impress yourself really, making something ‘new’ and not copying yourself is always important for me.
Your songs often toy with images of home, of friends and of bustling about on the road and great stories seem to be behind them – how did ‘California Song’ come about specifically?
‘California Song’ came about from going on my first holiday in a long time. I went to Hawaii and pretty much lay on a beach for about a week, and ate way too many pineapples. I think I wrote the lyrics ‘meet me in California ‘ before I left and in some ways the vibe of that lyric related to what I was about to do in my own personal life. So I kept the idea and came back to it when I got home. The song is pretty much about that though, giving yourself a break, allowing yourself to have fun and not taking things so seriously just for a second. There is something so universal about the whole ‘California’ thing in songs. That’s why it stuck.
You’ve toured with some pretty big Australian acts in the past – who do you think has shaped you as a songwriter and performer the most? What insight did they offer you as a developing artist?
First and foremost, it’s crazy to tour with artists that I am a huge fan of. Its just mental, especially Boy & Bear. I have been into their music for so long and I was that kid in the crowd just watching on a few years ago. So it’s a bit of a spin-out at times to be up there playing with them. The best thing is that you then become mates and you learn so much from just being in front of so many people in so many different towns. Live performance definitely helps with all other aspects of music, especially recording.
Your supporting band has grown from your close-knit group of friends with offshoots like Rargo: what’s the ratio of mucking around to actually getting shit done?
At the moment it’s all ‘getting shit done’. Sometime soon it would be good to have a jam/write with a lot of different people but there isn’t much time at the moment. I am loving what I am doing though and don’t really want to drop the pace off. Working really hard on something that you are passionate about doesn’t ever really feel like work. It just makes you tired but then you push through that because you’re just stoked to play music at the end of the day.
Being from a relatively small town, do you prefer coming home and playing to the local audience, or is the thrill of city gigs more?
I think playing in the city is something I always thought about as a youngster. Growing up in a small town made me strive to get to places like Sydney, Melbourne etc and they seemed to out of this world in a way. In saying that, playing to friends and family is great and is always a special show.
Is breaking into the international music scene necessarily important for you? Or is charming and loving the Australian audience always going to be paramount?
I think that being successful in your own country is really important and I won’t ever want to not play music in Australia. At the same time I have always wanted to take my music overseas and hopefully we can start that process with my next release. There is so much world out there and I really want to see how my music is taken in countries like America and England.
What can people look forward to when they see you perform live?
I just want everyone to have a great time at my shows. That’s my main objective. If people can walk out and say ‘that made my weekend’ then that is the best feeling in the world. I am genuinely stoked every time I play a show and there are people waiting to hear my songs that I’ve written mostly in my room, it’s an incredible feeling. Sometimes I like to do a few different arrangements from the recordings, like doing a song in the crowd or around one mic or whatever it may be, to create a really intimate vibe.
You’ve always stuck with releasing EPs in the past, what was it like to have that moment of “this is it”, deciding to produce and release your first proper album?
I can’t wait. This album has been a long time in the making and releasing it now just seems like the right time. After a few years of touring and building a fan base, there are a handful of people that know some of the songs that I am going to release and hopefully that brings another level of excitement to what I am doing. It feels totally right to self-produce the album with my left-hand men Scott Steven and Mark Smithers. We all know what we want to get out of the songs and now it’s just about getting that right.
Describe your soon-to-be-released debut album in haiku form:
I’m on the seaside
Far away up in the air
and covered in rain
Jia sits on the chair
observing the recording
we will finish soon
Catch Patrick live at the following venues in June.
SATURDAY JUNE 13 // NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB, Melbourne
SATURDAY JUNE 27 // NEWTOWN SOCIAL CLUB, Sydney
Interview by Ruth Hodge.