James McCartney became a road warrior as a mere toddler when his famous parents, Linda McCartney and Paul McCartney, ambitiously took their family on the road with their band, Wings. It didn’t take long for their only son to subsequently blossom; he initially honed his skills on a second-hand guitar once owned by Carl Perkins. He contributed greatly to his father’s solo work: executing a sizzling electric guitar solo for ‘Heaven on a Sunday’ on ‘Flaming Pie’ (1997) and co-wrote ‘Spinning on an Axis’ and ‘Back in the Sunshine Again’ for Paul McCartney’s ‘Driving Rain’ (2001). He also played lead guitar on his late mother’s posthumous ‘Wide Prairie (1998) that same year, when, sadly, his beloved parent, a devout animal rights activist and concert photographer, died of breast cancer.

Fast forward a decade to 2010, when McCartney played multiple instruments on ‘Available Light’ and followed it up with another heartfelt EP ‘Close at Hand’ (2011). It was already evident that James was developing a unique singing style and was able to pour his energies and emotions into original melodies and chordal progressions.

In 2013, James released, what would be noted as, his first critically-acclaimed album, ‘Me’, which he supported with concerted touring around intimate venues. The buzz he created generated a multitude of fans; some originally came to pay tribute to his father’s legacy, but as James rightly observed, they wouldn’t have stayed if they hadn’t been moved by his own musical style. He balanced the club dates with outdoor festivals and appearances on late night TV. The set lists illustrated that James McCartney could compose a heart wrenching ballad as well as a kick ass anthem.

James is currently supporting his brand new CD ‘The Blackberry Train’. And whilst ‘Me’ could be classified as somewhat confessional, the long-awaited follow up greatly transcends that descriptor. True, James expresses his thoughts freely here, as well, but he also experiments with phrasing and dynamics like a seasoned pro, whether crooning haltingly or bellowing in naked anguish, as in the contemporary ‘Unicorn’.

James has also paid strict attention to the instrumentals, working in fevered tandem with Dhani Harrison on electric guitar (‘Too Hard’), and treating fans to a Thin Lizzy/Allman Brothers sonic swell. There’s the mesmerizing back beat and gentle sway and ambience that underscores ‘Waterfall,’ inspired by Linda McCartney.

There’s an undeniable optimism to ‘The Blackberry Train’ even when the emotions are embedded in a swirl of madness. In ‘Too Hard,’ James struggles with confusion, yet ultimately forges a path: “I’m going round and round / take a breath and recognize my feelings / I’ve got to slow it down.” He’s “strolling down rabbit holes” in the psychedelic ‘Alice’, inviting us back to a hazier time; luring us into a world of mystical drones, couching each phrase with layered emotion: “rain on the glass looks like tears” and preps us with a heavy metal intro. on the painfully astute ‘Paralysis’, where you can easily spot his reverence for Nirvana.

Although James McCartney is incredibly busy with his current tour, he graciously agreed to answer several personal questions about his songwriting and the fine work he has done on ‘The Blackberry Train’ for his first Pennyblackmusic interview (although we have published before British/US-based concert reviews…)

Striking a balance between touring heavily and finding free time must be a continual challenge for all hard-working musicians, but one James McCartney lyric seems to convey a particularly universal sentiment, one that bulldozes beat-the-clock barriers between us, which instead highlights our commonalities: “Peace and stillness in your heart is what I wish for you…” (‘Peace and Stillness’, ‘The Blackberry Train’, 2016). Now here’s
James.


PB: Congratulations on ‘The Blackberry Train’ and on the news that you will be supporting your latest album with your second US tour over May and June. How do you feel you have evolved musically and personally since the release of ‘Me’ in 2013?

JM: Thank you. It’s all been an evolution. This set of songs definitely has a harder edge, but it’s a continuation of the last album. The main thing for me is to not conform or compromise.

PB: You collaborated on electric guitar work with Dhani Harrison on the opener, ‘Too Hard’. Who did what?

JM: I wrote it in L.A, and tried to infuse it with a country feel to really bring out that desperation, and the idea of trying too hard. Dhani Harrison came into the studio and we both collaborated on the guitar solo in the song

PB: On ‘Me’, you employed metaphor as a story telling technique: ‘Butterfly’, “Little bird you don’t quite understand /Everything is lying in the sand” and on ‘Snow’: “New York, like white snow, I’m on the fence for you…” and ‘The Blackberry Train’, you draw even more comparisons between concrete objects and pure emotion. In ‘Unicorn’, you sing about electric cables: “Nothing but lost grids” and on ‘Ballerina’, “The rain on the glass looks like tears.” What inspires your lyrics at this point in your career?

JM: It really varies, but I usually start with music first, and then lyrics. I try different approaches though, because sometimes you can find something for a song in a way you wouldn't have thought. Just singing nonsense words to a melody, or bouncing between different instruments, for example. Sometimes you can get a foothold in an unexpected way on something, and suddenly it starts to take shape. I've often blocked the lyrics out or written them in my notebook too, sort of like poetry. But in the end it's about having as much emotion as possible for me, musically and lyrically. Cathartic, heartfelt and true.

PB: The official video for ‘Unicorn’ features vintage equipment and swirling, psychedelic images, but no unicorns! A few YouTube viewers commented that is “fast-paced” and “punk.” Was that the intention?

JM: ‘Unicorn’ is a song that has elements of the avant-garde and psychedelic in it, and I wanted to use those elements in the video as well. The video was a lot of fun to make, with all the different layers and colours. It’s very trippy and cool, just like the song.

PB: In my opinion, ‘The Blackberry Train’ draws from many styles of music: metal, punk, hard rock, folk and country. What have you been listening to these days? Would you describe yourself as eclectic in your musical tastes or do you prefer certain genres over others?

JM: There are so many influences for me: Kurt Cobain, The Smiths, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, The Cure, The Beatles (‘Let It Be’ is one of my favorite albums), Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams. I could name so many more! In the end, I don't really prefer a particular style, just great music, a truly great period.

PB: Thank you.

Photos by Mary McCartney











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