INTERVIEW with JAMES YORKSTON

whose excellent album with The Second Hand Orchestra "The Wide, Wide River" is out Friday, January 22nd from Domino/Redeye

PHOTO: Copyrighted - Ren Rox and The Skinny

In the twenty-plus years, James Yorkston has been playing, recording, and creating music, much of his time has been spent in collaboration with others. Whether with his own longtime band The Athletes, or a diverse group of musicians from Four Tet to Norma Waterson, Yorkston has stayed steady and true to writing in his voice. Perhaps that confidence and experience led Yorkston to his latest project with the Swedish group The Second Hand Orchestra and his newest Domino/Redeye release "The Wide, Wide River."

T-BONE'S: So the genesis of “The Wide, Wide River” is that you had some songs and went to Sweden. You were friends with Karl-Jonas (Winqvist, the conductor of the Second Hand Orchestra) and just decided to spring these songs on them and see what happens?

JAMES YORKSTON:  That’s pretty much it. We agreed to spend a day recording, so I bought some new music over. The other option would have been jamming, or old songs, or covers, but none of those really appealed to me at the time. That one day went well, so we turned it into three.

T-BONE'S: This “roll-tape” as you are hearing them creates and captures a lot of the immediacy of these songs. Is that what you were after when you wrote them or did their direction change when you played them with the SHO?

JAMES: Their direction did change, but only in that the other musicians began adding their colours. I was definitely after that immediacy, yep, that initial, direct response to what they were hearing. I didn’t want anything over thought or overworked.

T-BONE'S: So much of Folk music is about literally being in the moment. But like acting, it takes years of experience to gain that level of confidence. As you listen to them now, do you feel like they represent your career of writing and serve as part of its continuation?

JAMES: Folk music, for me, is traditional music, whereas I’m a songwriter. Of course, it gets confusing as I also play and record a lot of traditional music, but primarily, I’m a songwriter. I do feel confident though, with my music. When one looks around the world today and sees all the stresses we’re under, the thought of a bad review or whatever doesn’t add up to much worry. I guess this album represents where I am right now, sure, and it is part of the continuation of my career, but I hope I moved beyond it, also.

T-BONE'S: A lot of what I hear in the songs is quite “mantra” like. You are not chasing the next word so much as the next “feeling”. Do you think you drew on this notion from the Yorkston/Thorne/Khan experience? When you are writing prose, do songs come to you?

JAMES: I just try and look forwards, never backward. Little bonus gifts. But usually, I stick to the job in hand, and if that’s prose, that’s what I’ll stick with. I don’t look for them, really, they just pop into my head. The important thing to do then is write them down straightaway, wherever I am. I had a great idea for a song last week, but I was walking through a gully with my son and I didn’t have time to note the idea down, and now… it’s gone. I’ve been trying to remember, but nevermind.

T-BONE'S: Can we drift back to the beginning. You played with the amazing Bert Jansch, how was that for you as you recall it?

JAMES: I played a few times with Bert, my memory of him is entirely positive. He was a very sweet man to me, my first solo show was supporting him, and he was encouraging and interested. I was genuinely sad when he died, I enjoyed his company. The last time I saw him was at a show in London, and I was invited backstage to say Hi, but I never went, as I figured he’d be worn out after the show. I kinda wish I had.

T-BONE'S: Then you pressed a single and sent it to the fantastic John Martyn. What was that initial reaction and how elated were you to play with and be in correspondence even with players you idolized?

JAMES: I didn’t press it, it was a label in England, called Bad Jazz. I was astonished by the reaction, to be honest. Being played by John Peel was incredible. The John Martyn thing was different. I didn’t know his music at all, but I knew he played acoustic guitar – although he didn’t on that tour at all. But getting offered the entire tour was very special. I’ve pretty much done nothing but music ever since then – early 2001.

T-BONE'S: Who else inspired you to play music?

JAMES: Anne Briggs, D’Gary, LKJ, Jacques Brel, Oumou Sangare, Dead Kennedys, Prince Far-I, Scott Walker, Lal Waterson, Martin Carthy, Dick Gaughan, Bill Haley, Roy Orbison, Dag Nasty, Nurse with Wound… too many people.

T-BONE'S: Who would you like to collaborate with next?

JAMES: I always seem to have things on the go. At the moment, I’m working with three very different people. We’ll see if any of it sees the light of day.

T-BONE'S: Finally, this album is sure to bring you a lot of new listeners. How do you think people should approach your music and Folk in general.

JAMES: The simplest way I’ve heard it is this – There are three types of music – Music that interests you, music that doesn’t interest you, and music you haven’t heard. Follow the music that interests you, explore the music you’ve never hear, and leave the other stuff for other folk.

Thank you to James for granting us the interview and creating this fantastic record. "The Wide, Wide River" is available now on LP and CD from Domino Records at T-BONES.

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